Hammer & Tongue headline tour!!

Not many UK poetry organisers can hook you up with 6 great gigs across the country in just over a week. Hammer & Tongue been doing their grand slam plus poet on tour thing for long enough to be really very excellent at it, and I’m thoroughly delighted to be the headline act for them in March. Dates below are links to be clicked…

Tue 3rd Mar – The Book Club,Shoreditch

Wed 4th Mar – The Big Chill, Bristol

Thu 5th Mar – Komedia, Brighton

Fri 6th Mar – The Junction, Cambridge

Mon 9th Mar – Green Note, Camden

Tue 10th Mar – The Old Fire Station, Oxford

No More Worries

Hiya, just a quick one to let you know that over the summer I’m going to be doing more blogging over at the website for my new show No More Worries.

“Ever wanted to get away from it all? Kieran is 27 and stuck in a dead-end town. He wants to see the world. Paul is passing through, 55 and on the road again, one holiday snap at a time. No More Worries takes this mismatched couple on a road-trip to the edge. Sometimes, the past is the only thing you can’t leave behind.”

The show is a collaboration with theatre maker Peader Kirk, who also creates Live Art and site-specific performance. Having worked together in a more traditional director/performer relationship on my first show (Indiana Jones and the extra chair), this time around the piece is evolving through a collaborative process that moves between devising and writing.

Join us for one of the scratch sharings listed below – we’d love to hear your thoughts on the piece so far. If you can’t make it along in person, you can still interact with the show through the website.

Sharing Dates

Thursday 26th June | 7.30 pm |ARC, Stockton
Thursday 7th August | 7.30pm | Canada Water Culture Space, London

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No More Worries has been co-commissioned by Apples and Snakes and the Albany, and developed with support from Arc Stockton and Spread the Word. It is funded as part of the Arts Council Grants for the Arts programme.

The Poem as right now, again and again and again

Some days I am moving easily through the world & I am aware of being present & I am so full with this feeling I could burst. In a good way. Mostly though, I find it hard to relax. I rush to finish things, to have done something rather than be doing it. That restlessness worms its way into my writing process. And this makes me mad but it is hard to stop. Learning to stay is the work of a lifetime.

For me, poems are part of that work. Seeing and re-seeing the world. Writing and re-writing what I see. And then occasionally crafting a poem which feels like a living thing in it’s own right. Something that is of the world as well as referring to it. Something which exists in the moment, again and again and again. I like this feeling. It makes some of the other bad feelings feel better.

The lovely folks at Now Festival have got me thinking about this stuff and so I will be talking about this stuff and doing poems and getting other people to do poems at Wilderness Festival for them this coming weekend…

Chill Pill brings the beach to Deptford Market!!!

We did our Chill Pill stall at Deptford market on Saturday, but this time we brought a beach for those summer vibes…
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Our stall and general presence in the market works in three main ways:
1. We wonder around offering people a lucky dip bag of themed poems and reading them the one they pick…

2.People come to the stall and ask for a poem about a particular theme, moment, whatever – we ask them a few questions and then they head off for 10/15 minutes while we write the thing…

3. We write poems similarly ‘instant’ poems inspired by chatting to market traders, bigging up what they do, connecting with them or their story in some way…

On Saturday I got talking to Evelin who runs a mobile coffee shop out the back of a little red van, and wrote something for her. Check the shaky video here (which gets a little too close to my face for my liking!), or read the piece below that…

Karu coffee, from Estonia with love
Arabica beans freshly ground, we make moves
Evelin, our house proud host, hoists a parasol
high above her little village of six chairs
and three tables. Six years ago to England
she came, having never made a coffee, not one
plans change! Her face holds the warm humble blush
of a craftsperson proud of their trade
back home, Karu means brown bear
which is kind of like ‘Pumpkin’
a name you call your lover maybe…
steam froths milk, wipe the nozzle clean
tap the base of the milk jug and pour
we make moves, summer tunes float
from the radio. And every day a new spot,
the little red van opens its doors
feel the buzz, from Estonia with love

The Launch

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So, I was officially ‘launched’ as the first Poet Laureate for the borough of Brent last Friday. Happy times at chateau Mole. For a while though I was unsure what this ‘launch’ would involve, would I be treated as a ship before its maiden voyage? Ok, I admit it, I’ve been having nightmares for weeks in which the mayor swings a large magnum of champagne full force into my hull, before pushing me off into the Welsh Harp reservoir! Thankfully, the poetry reading we held at the new Brent Civic Centre ran very smoothly indeed…

There was a lovely warm audience, and the feature poets I’ve been introducing on this blog were all as awesome as expected. John Agard performing his poem ‘Books make good pets’ in honour of the new Wembley Library was a personal highlight. I even tried out two brand new Brent inspired pieces myself, one of which I will put up as my next blog post. You can hear me reading a snippet of it as part of an interview on BBC London radio here:

As I said in the interview, as well as me writing and performing poetry about the borough, a big part of the project is creating a platform for other voices within Brent to be heard. This will take the form of a series of FREE writing workshops I will be running at different locations in Brent over the next six months.

The first one is taking place on Saturday July 6th at 2pm, in Brent Civic Centre, and will be a chance to write about places that are important to us within the borough, be that grand landmarks such as Wembley stadium and Neasden temple, or lesser known spots which resonate personally… Find out more info and book you place here!

Keep your eyes out for my first poem soon, and feel free to comment on this post with any ideas you might have for what I should write about next!

Brent Poet Laureate Launch – meet featured poet #3: John Agard

What can I say about our third featured poet for the Brent Poet Laureate launch this Friday?! Basically he’s a total legend and it’s a huge honour to have him involved. John Agard is one of those names that my non-poetry friends know and respect and get excited about, a lot of them probably studied him at school and I often find those that did remember his poems fondly…

This year John is the recipient of the Queen’s Award Medal for Poetry, and in the past he has been Writer in Residence at the South Bank Centre and Poet in Residence at the BBC. Nuff said.

Step one: watch him do his thing below…
Step two: reserve your FREE ticket to see him on Friday evening!

Brent Poet Laureate Launch – meet featured poet #2: Warsan Shire

I became a big fan of Warsan’s poetry after reading her first collection last year. The book is called ‘Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth’ and is full of powerfully affecting poems documenting narratives of journey and trauma with a strikingly simple beauty. Me and Raymond Antrobus booked her to perform at Keats House as part of an event there, and this first video is of Warsan reading her poem ‘conversations about home (at the deportation centre)’ at that event.

You can see Warsan read alongside Inua Ellams and John Agard as part of the (FREE) launch event for my role as the Brent Poet Laureate, which is on Friday June 21st. All the details for that can be found here…

I wanted also to include this video featuring Warsan’s writing. It’s called ‘Excuses for why we failed at love’ and has a really different feel to a lot of poetry videos around. Great stuff.

Brent Poet Laureate Launch – meet featured poet #1: Inua Ellams

This is the first in a mini-series of posts to introduce you to the incredible poets I’ve managed to persuade to grace the stage at the (FREE) launch event for my role as the Brent Poet Laureate, which is taking place on Friday June 21st. First up, Mr. ‘two of my solo shows sold out their runs at The National’ himself – Inua Ellams!

I first saw Inua performing in a library in Acton back in about 2007 when I didn’t even really know what spoken word was. It was another few years before the emphasis in my creative life shifted from hip hop to poetry and story-telling, but I always remember that funny little event as a turning point when I realised that poetry could speak to me so strongly through live performance.

This video is of Inua performing his basketball inspired poem ‘leather comets’, which is a favourite of mine.

Inua’s poetry is great to read on the page too, and his pamphlets ‘Candy Caoted Unicorns And Converse All Stars’ and ‘The Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales’ are available from Flipped Eye.

No More Worries – Q&A

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What follows is an informal Q&A conducted for Pistols and Pollinators by Naomi Woddis with myself and Peader Kirk about our process when collaborating on a new longer show ‘No More Worries’. As a bit of background, Peader is an artist and director who creates immersive performance environments where the audience become a part of the work and encounter becomes possible. His work has recently been shown at the ICA, London, The National Theatre of Greece, Athens and the Academy of Fine Arts, Turin. He also directed my first solo show ‘Indiana Jones and the extra chair’…

N: The premise of the show has got me really interested – whose idea was it ? Or was that also a collaborative effort ? Can you tell me a little bit more about it ?
S: it was my idea.
P: 
I think the question of “whose idea” is really difficult to get at, what’s been interesting is that it’s been something that’s been batted back and forth. The initial seed of conception came from Simon, and was passed back and forth to the point that it’s almost impossible now to work out or remember which bit was whose idea, and that’s irrelevant anyway.
S: 
ok, it developed collaboratively – initially through chatting on breaks from rehearsing Indy, which is a totally different show. It was almost a release from the rehearsal process, which helped keep us fresh and creative.
P: 
Wasn’t it Dostoyevski who would work two novels at the same time – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
S: 
so. a bit more about the show – here’s the copy we used for the scratch:
“Ever wanted to get away from it all? Kieran’s 27 and he’s never been on holiday. Paul’s pushing sixty and looking to pull off his final disappearing act. Sometimes, doing the right thing means you tell no-one, because if you did it would stop being the right thing. ‘No more worries’ is a road-trip to the edge, two strangers in Hawaiian shirts staring out the windscreen at the rain, until the land runs out.”
P:
 but we’re also still playing with the idea that it’s a road trip through austerity Britain too.
S: 
What we found from doing the scratch is that it’s almost about too much at the moment. I guess one thing about an ideas based process is that having a good idea is one thing, but then when you have to make them do stuff, actually get up and come to life there’s less room. So we had a lot of exciting chats linking many themes and threads in mind-blowing ways but/
P: 
ideas don’t perform.
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N: Why did you decide to change the way you worked together? how did the process work and who did what when especially when the boundaries of performer and director are blurred ?
P: we didn’t change the way we worked together, it evolved.
S: I think we’d had the plan to devise this show more than me writing it and then being directed to perform it, which was our process before, but maybe the idea of you performing in it too was something that happened more naturally.
P: i have no idea what point i agreed to it. But someone did ask for my acting CV at the scratch.
S: yeah. That didn’t happen for me. It was kind of mad showing some spoken word story telling stuff, which I’m much more comfortable with and more known for, and then also some other stuff that really pushed the idea of what spoken word can be within theatre.
P:  its a difficult thing as artist – people always want you to do your thing, while you want to find a new thing. We’d already made one show that was successful in one way. We wanted to keep that partnership that worked, but discover what else was possible with it.
S: It felt like one show of me talking to myself was enough for now. Also, its knowing that while that show is something I’m really proud of, I’m not really a character performer
P: i think you’re a great character performer. It doesn’t mean you’re acting a character, but you are a great character performer. For me it’s more that there’s a certain dynamic bounce that you can’t get delivering lines to yourself and us wanting to explore that.
S: and wanting to honour the full dramatic potential of the story idea, and really bring it to life in a different way to how we had before, not to be restricted by knowing that two people talking in a scene would actually only be me.
P: and a bit like the American writers room model in that they start to act out bits roughly as writing , we did that and then somehow that bled into being those characters consistently in the show and ended up with the director being a performer in the piece…

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N: What were the advantages and what were the challenges of how you worked this time round ?
S: Peader, you having a role in the writing process was great in terms of sounding board and ideas and sometimes crystallising what would have been a 2 hr write around something down to a 20 minute chat which left me much clearer around what I wanted to write. Conversely it did make it harder in some ways because I felt a bit like stuff had to be signed off, similarly for you directing I guess, in that I had a say in certain elements I might not have done before.
P: collaboration is like co-habitation, you have to learn to live together
S: and i think that learning takes space and time within a process, some days it was just flying along because we could throw ideas back and forth. I think another challenge of writing collaboratively was that we didn’t have as much time to look at performance
P: My mind naturally sees structure and even when i’m inside it I can still sense that structure for an audience but it’s really hard to tweak it from within it, to find that flow and shape that i would if I was just the director. Again just a time thing but would have been great to video every rehearsal to get around that – in a way though the process was building the piece this time…
S: and knowing there would be another phase of development in which we could work on performance. Which did though leave us out of our comfort zones for the scratch
P: yeah. But that’s a good thing
S: and i think we learnt more because of that. It was a scary experience in some ways, but made a lot of things clearer much quicker than would have happened otherwise.
P: if you’re going to show something in progress, then you have to be risking something – if you’re totally sure in the material why are you sharing it in that format? No point bungee jumping off a chair.
S: no. Not to mention that would probably really hurt. Ha ha! Sorry to end on a cheap joke. Thanks for asking the questions Naomi!

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Chill Pill Christmas special at Deptford Market…

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Deptford market it an amazing place with an authentically local feel about it that is too often missing at more trendy boutique style markets. This is a real place for real people. Also, you can get anything you want. Anything. And almost always at a wildly reasonable price. One stallholder told me he had been working there for 32 years and the man’s patter was so on point I could believe he was three decades deep in the game.

“if you can’t see what you’re looking for, just ask. I’m looking for your money, and so far I can’t see it”

A recent addition to the market has been young marketers, trainee traders if you like, supported by a council development programme. On the Saturday we were there (9th December) the young traders were housed in a little market on the square. As part of the overall aim of the project to bring more people to the market (crucially in a way that supports what is already there) Chill Pill were invited to collaborate with site specific theatre director Peader Kirk in order to provide some Christmas entertainment. We thought that the best way to do this would be to fit in with the existing market, and see what happened if we tried to run a stall ourselves! As you can see it was decorated ‘tastefully’, although we did have a few people enquiring after the trees rather than our poems…

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On arrival we got chatting to the young traders; about their wares, what inspired them to get started, their creative processes, business so far etc – The four of us chill pill poets (me, Raymond Antrobus, Deanna Rodger, and Adam Kammerling) then wrote little ‘instant’ poems about each stall-holder individually, before belting these out with a few of our own pieces over the PA. The marketers were really happy to have their stalls written about and promoted in this unusual way, as for young newcomers vocally attracting custom can be a daunting thing to go about.

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Apart from these sporadic performances over the PA (at which we also read some of our favourite ‘seasonal’ poems by other authors) we also tried to bring a bit of poetry to those stall holders and bargain hunters who weren’t naturally passing our way. Our strategy was two fold:

  1. Wandering with ‘the poetry stocking’, from which people could pull titles of Christmas poems, which we would then read to them. Check out Adam doing his thing below. These guys offered us a quid when we were done. Despite us reading them a pretty bleak (although brilliant) poem called ‘snow’ by Vladimir Holan
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  3. Chatting to stallholders and punters, and asking for their own Christmas moments or memories, or alternatively their wishes for themselves or others for this years festivities. We noted these contributions down on Christmas labels and hung them from our trees, before Ray compiled a beautiful little crowd sourced Christmas poem from the results.

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The final service we offered was an idea I pinched from Poetry Takeaway which I saw at Latitiude – where people could come up and ask to have a poem written for them, about anything they wanted – again the turn around for these was mega quick but this video of Adam reading his to the young woman who requested is evidence of what can be achieved in five minutes!

All in all it was a cracking day, and definitely considering trying to get a plot for another stall in the future! Below you will find the text for my pieces for the marketers… Enjoy!

Dr. Denim
A battered leather suitcase
Full of old jeans, but
Everything is in here
Un-pick and re-stitch
Zips, hems, pockets
Make ties, bags, wallets
Make anything you want
Made to order, man’s on it.
Dr. Denim, if you’re passing the stall
Pop your head in, certified swag
What d’you reckon?!

 

Niamh’s preserves
Niamh went from jewellery to jam.
24 carat cake jam.
sticky fingers in the workshop,
berry red splatters on the worktop
roasted red pepper and peach,
each deep flavour worked on and brought through…
Compliment your cheese with a chutney,
have it with a brie or a cheese that’s more crumbly
Perfect for a feed if you’re hungry
Deep in the fridge late night with the munchies
Branstons? What?!
Yeah that’s a brand that you’ve seen and heard
And so it may seem absurd,
but you’re much better off with one of Niamh’s preserves!