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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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:
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
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.
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!
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 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
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!
Being made to feel welcome is important, and when I went to Newcastle to run for the first workshops on the north east leg of the ‘Indiana Jones and the extra chair’ tour that was certainly the case…
First up, my mate Mark met me at the station and drove me via the beer shop to his house, where his partner had prepared us a mighty pasta feast (with home-made pesto no less!) – they continued to feed me like an absolute king all weekend, including home-made soup on saturday lunch and a packed lunch box of leftover pie from the night before to take with me for the train home on Sunday. Quality stuff. Cheers guys.
Saturday was the first time I’d been to Live Theatre, and straight away I was impressed by the location on the quayside, and by the building itself…
Walking through the front door I was greeted by this sign, and then soon after met by Rachel from juice festival and Laura from New Writing North – I’d been chatting to these guys on phone and email for ages so it was great to finally meet them in person. The welcome party was made completed by the arrival of Kirsten from Apples and Snakes, and also by the presentation of my Juice Festival ‘welcome pack’. These guys know how to do what they do properly!
The young writers soon started to arrive as well, and then it was up to the studio to get started – not without stopping to check out this awesome view from the third floor…
The whole building immediately has the feel of somewhere you know you will get good creative work done, and that very much proved to be the case for the participants over the weekend – each one of them came up with a quality draft of a piece inspired by one or some or all of the themes of family, food, and heroes. You can keep up to speed with the project as it develops on here…
Thursday 4th October was National Poetry Day, and by happy accident also the final event for Indiana Jones & the extra chair residency project I had been running with director Peader Kirk for Warwick Words Festival. By 7.30, the restaurant at The Grand Union was full up with guests, and by 7.40 they were being treated to tapas and sangria served by the kitchen team and poems served by the local writers who had participated in the project.
Later in the evening, I massively enjoyed performing my show in what was a fantastically warm and receptive space, but perhaps my favourite part of the evening was watching the participants sharing their pieces with the tables of audience members; seeing them adjusting their delivery as they went, really responding to the subtle signals they got from the live interactions between them and the other people at the tables.
The atmosphere was incredible, similar to that magic sounding buzz that you get when you walk in to a bar or pub and just know the vibe is right. After sitting in the space as they performed I was proper psyched up and good to go – I have genuinely never had to warm up as little as I did for the show that night which is a true testament to the work the local writers did.
Here are a few pics of them performing:
Towards the end of the evening, the audience got chatting amongst themselves – sharing their own ideas, reflections, and memories. Here are some notes they left on their paper plates about what they felt were the classic ingredients for a family gathering…
Creating the space for the audience to chat about the show and their own experiences of family is a really important element of the event, and is always a lovely thing to watch and be a part of.
“I have never seen the Alps, but the Cuchullins content me. Jaded and nervous after eleven months labour or disappointment, a man will find in Skye the medicine of silence and repose”
Alexander Smith (Scottish poet, 1830 – 1867)