Monday, 28 October 2013

Assemble!

Yesterday I took part in something called "Sunday Assembly". For the uninitiated, this is best described as a humanist celebration of life, where people enjoy a lot of the good things about religious gathering (starting the day with energy and ritual, meeting like-minded people from across the wider local community, listening to good advice about how to live life in a more enriched way, singing together, listening to readings, messages of hope, drinking tea and eating cake, catching up on people's news, getting together for something the whole family can do together, raising awareness of community issues, a brief moment of meditation, etc.) without the bits they don't want (religious doctrine, guilt, being told you're not good enough, strict dress code... Help me out here: I'm not super-religious).

You can find out more about what TSA do here: http://sundayassembly.com/ and plenty of other people have already been writing about the Cambridge angle, as the 40 Days and 40 Nights tour spreads across (parts of) the (English-speaking bits of the) globe - do the Google!

I very much enjoyed the experience. I first met the founders - Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones - when they'd put a call out for poets for their Edinburgh Fringe Assemblies. A friend tagged me in, I applied, and - almost before I knew it - I was walking into a bingo hall, watching the band warm up and being enveloped in the whirlwind of relentless energy that is Sanderson (in all his big-voiced, 6'6", long-haired, bearded, cult-leader-cliché glory). I did them a couple of standard poems ("Blissful Chance" - greeted mainly with indifference/ incomprehension, and "Swarm" - more enthusiastically handled - if you're interested), sang and clapped with the congregation, watched Arthur Smith deliver a talk, listened to an enthusiastic but scientifically dubious "sermon" by Sanderson, shook hands with randoms, handed out flyers, then changed and went flyering on the Mile. I thought no more about it until Sanderson got in touch, asking if I was free for a Cambridge Assembly meeting. Sadly, I was working, then doing Hammer & Tongue - did he want to come to that after his meeting?

He did, and rocked up to our Final with a networking fervour that was close to terrifying. Several people found themselves agreeing to get involved, including me (it's hard enough to say no to an invitation to perform at a local community gig without it being delivered at super-close quarters by someone resembling a genial Norse god).

Shortly before the gig, I realised that I didn't want to short-change the good Assemblers by just rocking up with something old I'd shoe-horned into "new beginnings" so, at 1:30am, having got back from a gig in London (watching - and dancing to - Dizraeli and the Small Gods), I decided to write a new piece. Since the clocks went back, I technically went to bed at 1:30am...

"Write drunk, edit sober," apparently. For this teetotaller, it appears that "Write while tired and elated, edit while slightly less tired and somewhat less elated" is the equivalent.

I gave them this (and gave them drums to accompany "Swarm" afterwards):

Arise

It starts with a breath
Deep as oceans,
Echoing everywhere,
The prelude to that first cry.

Dry-mouthed,
You are forgetting to remember:
You are a torrent,
The wellspring of everything

Reach out, touch fingertips
With existence,
embrace it,
Toe to toe with the moment

You are the boldness,
The heat in the heartbeat
The spark in the dark
That heralds the flourish of day

You are birdcall
And dewfall
And all that stirs before
Morning

You are thirst,
And its quenching,
You are strong muscles clenching
Before the first step

You are the elegance of
Potential catastrophe
And the forces summoned
To meet it.

And you are not the one
Who slept on
The one who kept
In darkness

You are the sunrise
You are the brightening skies
You are the one
Who opened your eyes.

Open your eyes.

You are the one who
Took breath and raised your voice
You are the billowing echo
Of making a choice.

Stand up,
Reach out, and
Don't stop.
It is a new day.


The whole thing was a properly joyous experience, with the emphasis on the positive (what's great about people) as opposed to negative (what's not about religion - there was none of that). The talk (sustainable lifestyle) was fun and useful and un-preachy, and the band (check out Tiger Blue) were exactly the right kind of awesome.

It was particularly fab to meet old friends afterwards and have some great conversations with them and lovely new folk.

The next one in Cambridge is on 1st December (somewhere!), and you should totally check it out if you like people, sharing joy, and getting your Sunday off to an energising start. You don't even need to be an atheist...

Friday, 18 October 2013

Women's Work

I was asked, back last year, to perform in a show in February 2013 called “Women’s Work” – an all-female line-up of poets, musicians, a dancer, a storyteller, and anything else we could make happen.  It was in aid of the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre (CRCC) and, as far as I know, our donated time, effort and merchandise raised good money for a good cause.

Alice Nicholls, who organised the original, asked us to come back and, in slightly different company, we are about to do a very similar thing again in the same place, on 1st November at The Fountain, Cambridge.

I posted the following on my Facebook wall a few hours ago:

“Have just finished putting together a creative fanzine of local women’s work with the aim of raising money for CRCC, featuring work by: Alice Nicholls, Ashley Fox, Carla Keen, Cathy Dunbar, Elaine Ewart, Emma Ormond, Hollie McNish poetry, J.S.Watts, Kay Goodridge, Leanne Moden, Netta Chachamu, and Nikki Marrone.

“Special praise and thanks go to: Leanne, for help, support, and co-production; Carla for a remarkable and inspiring cover design; Alice for getting us all together in aid of CRCC in the first place and, of course, to the Centre itself, for all its amazing work.

“You’ll be able to get your own copy at Women’s Work: A Celebration of Female Performers on 1st November at The Fountain Cambridge.”

I was stoked.  Not only had we produced this in record time, but it was rather beautiful, and will hopefully raise another little bit of money for a very worthy cause.  In addition, I’d managed to say “yes” to someone who’d offered to help.  I even delegated tasks and everything (don’t faint!)…  Yes, we’ll make it available online, but only after the “launch” of the physical version on 1st November.  I’d also broken the back of fear around producing another Allographic anthology (I may go into this at some other point on this blog; who knows…) by just getting on and doing it.  Expect more goodness in the near future.

Anyway, I was then asked (by a friendly, feminist, cis-male friend) on Facebook if there was any justification in having the aforementioned pamphlet raising funds for CRCC featuring only work from female artists (takes action from both sides of an equation to break down inequality, etc.).  Without revealing who this was, and in the interests of keeping everyone informed who’d like to be, opening the debate to anyone who’d like to get engaged with it, here’s the justification (warning: potentially tl;dr):

Firstly, it was meant to be a fund-raising publication of work from the female performers who would be appearing on the night (people seem more likely to donate if they get something back; people like to buy stuff by people they’ve seen; this was a good solution to combine forces rather than providing separate merch so that potential punters had to choose between artists; not everyone on the bill would have merchandise to offer for the donation stall in any case).

But the women from the 1st November gig didn’t respond in sufficient numbers (for a start, not everyone had the right genre of material to go into print) to fill a decent-sized pamphlet, so we expanded it to those who’d been in the previous show, and then to other notable feminists from the local area (Rebel Arts Women’s Radio), etc.

I decided to stick with female contributors for several reasons:

1. It was the original remit as the performers in the show(s) were all female.

I’m not saying that only women can talk about feminism, or sexism, or rape (which involves all genders in all parts of the issue).  Not in the slightest.  However, the CRCC is run by women for women and girls, the night chose to highlight the work of women, and I chose to follow that theme with the accompanying product.

2. The title of the show is “Women’s Work” - producing a pamphlet entitled “Women’s Work” filled with work by women seemed pretty logical.

3. It’s still very much (in fact, more so now than previously) the central tenet of Allographic to provide showcases for “other words, other voices”; since women’s creative work is still, to my mind, under-exposed in many (if not most) fields, I figured that retaining that theme would fit nicely with Allographic’s core position.

4. You know what? Still, and all too often, even strong women get stuck in that “so pleasantly assertive it’s borderline apologetic” mode, so why not positively celebrate the creative work of women rather than just emphasise the nature of victimhood associated with rape, and emphasise not only the fight of feminism against the negative things that happen to women but also in raising the profile of the positive things that women do?  This is something that local homeless charity FLACK does particularly well, for example.

Was the person who opened this debate with me worried about that notion that feminism is seen as anti-men rather than pro-women?  The thing is: to be feminist is to be pro-people; to raise people up who are in a position of being discriminated against is to elevate the whole human race and to improve the lives of those who’ve just been stepped up to as well.  Feminism is a human rights movement while women are still in a worse position than men.  When the lot of women across the globe is as good as that of men, I will no longer need to call myself a feminist, and I’ll hang up my spurs with a smile.

I want the need for “positive discrimination”* to be dead and buried, having done its job and been retired. But, until that halcyon day when 51% of people in the limelight are women, I’m going to keep trying to positively promote the creative work of women, LGBTQI* people, people of colour, disabled people, vulnerably housed people, and anyone else in the margins until I no longer need to.

Have at it, interwebs.


________________

* A friend has just mentioned that “positive discrimination” should more accurately be called “positive action” - I like!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

What's all that equipment you bring to poetry nights?

Glad you asked:

1. 4 x spotlights.

2. 2 x T-stands for the spotlights (each component ~>=1m long).

3. 1 x mic stand.

4. 1 x music stand.

5. One 50l box containing:
a) cables for the lights;
b) microphone and associated cable
c) spares of a) and b);
d) various sound cables for e.g. iPod into sound desk, not being sure which sound desk we'll get;
e) spare bulbs

6. One 20l suitcase containing everything else we might need, e.g. signposts for the venue; posters for the night's event; flyers for the next event; books and magazines for sale; spare spotlight gels; hand stamps; cash box; notepads; camcorder and tripod.

7. A2 swing-sign to advertise the night's event outside.

8. Laptop for Hammer & Tongue to do slam scoring.

9. Personal belongings and other random stuff. Sometimes hand drums (medium-sized djembe).

I can't store any of this stuff at the current venue and, lovely though thwy are, they do not have sound or light equipment that works for spoken word...

I'm thinking of buying a new car; it needs to be, ideally: light and easy to park, with room in the boot for that lot, comfortable to drive for long journeys, and be able to take passengers without squishing them.

Suggestions? :D

Friday, 6 September 2013

Political Correction

So, it would appear that I’ve been ranting about the lack of diversity on the spoken word scene. Again.

Why?

Well, let’s get some groundwork down, some initial assumptions out of the way:

  1. Diversity is important and A Good Thing™. Shh. I’ll get onto that later. Just bear in mind that it is, that I’m right, and that those groups who vociferously oppose this notion are wrong, ‘kay?

  2. The actual spoken word scene is diverse - in the open mics and collectives and organisations and workshops there are LOADS of people whose story and perspective is not that of the white, cis-gendered, straight, able-bodied male (WCGSABM).

  3. What I’m talking about here is the visible spoken word scene - the headliners, the A-listers, the Names, the ones who even people who aren’t on the scene, even those who otherwise confess despising poetry have heard of. The people who reliably sell out gigs, who tend to get interviewed, and reviewed, and paid attention to.

Okay? Okay, then I’ll begin. My (increasingly detailed) essay will be broken down into a series of headings:

The Importance of Diversity

Making The Scene More Diverse

With some sub-headings in between...

(If I use a term I’m not sure that y’all will know, you’ll see it underlined with a dotted line (this is how Blogger does it, apparently) and you’ll know that you can hover over it with your mouse and it’ll tell you a definition of that term. Yes, you may argue with the definition if you like. I may even change it... :) )

So, why is diversity important, then?

Okay, fair enough, I said I’d get onto that, didn’t I? Here are my thoughts on this:

It’s just more fair...; it’s proportionally representative; and it’s aspirational and more artistically (and politically) viable.

It’s just more fair...

Okay, this is just my initial, gut reaction - it’s not fair that some people seem to get to play and others don’t, regardless of merit, talent, innovation, hard work. Quite apart from the fact that I’m in a couple of the under-represented groups, the whole “but why can’t everyone have a go?!” thing is something that’s been part of my mental makeup for a very long time.

In case you weren’t aware, yes - performance poetry is subject to the same kind of tokenism and disproportionate representation as, say, comedy. You know those panel shows where it looks like a row of white, cis-gendered, straight, able-bodied men with - if we’re lucky - someone stuck on the end who’s of colour, or female, or maybe out as queer . Hey, sometimes you get a female comedian of colour, or a lesbian. For a while we had Eddie Izzard as the Token TV but, well, he stopped dressing up in public and is all focused on his acting career so we don’t see him performing that role these days. Anyway, in comedy when you’ve wiggled a woman into the line-up it’s apparently called “token tits". Charming. I hate to think what the equivalent is for people of colour or non-heteronormative “lifestyle”.

Excuse me for a moment - I just freely used the words “heteronormative” and “lifestyle” and feel a little queasy... Okay, that’s better...

I have been asked, in the past, to perform in shows because “otherwise it’s going to be a bit of a sausage-fest.” Seriously? I mean, maybe your heart was in the right place, but I really wish you’d told me it was because I’m a good poet, or that my style or delivery or content made for a more varied line-up, because one woman in a five-poet line-up is not balanced in terms of gender... that’s maths, right there. (Yes, I still took the gigs.)

It’s proportionally representative

While the performance poetry community may indeed be small, you’d expect opportunities and talent to fall in a demographic Bell-curve - i.e. roughly equal numbers of male and female performers, and proportions of other factors that roughly mirror the UK community at large. When we’re talking about the visible big names, these proportions are WAY out of whack.

Name ten famous (living, performative) poets - go on, now, and without thinking about it consciously. How many of them are female? How many of them are of colour? How many of them are out queer? Add your own “minority” group status of choice and check your list for that. Is it in proportion to society’s general figures?

If they’re actually more represented in performance poetry’s higher echelons than in society, let me know - I’m intrigued!

(It should also be pointed out that my scientific research on this is, well, scanty - where are the lists of performance poets? Well, there’s one in Wikipedia, and after that it’s all lists of other individual’s opinions - find me stuff!

It’s aspirational and more artistically (and politically) viable

If spoken word is to be taken seriously, it’s got to, between us, represent the feelings and lives and experiences and concerns of everyone, so they can relate to it. And if spoken word is to help unite society, it needs to tell the stories of the people who aren’t being heard to the people who have the power to make things happen - one of the reasons for art is to jink past people’s defences and show them what the world looks like from someone else’s perspective. And if spoken word is to be effective for change, it needs to show the dispossessed that all kinds of people can take power through art.

And if spoken word is already taken seriously, then it needs to be demonstrating role models that represent everyone.

I can strive to be as intersectionally-aware as the next liberal white cis-gendered person who has no visible disabilities, but I can only assume that my difficulties growing up a genderqueer bisexual woman in an atmosphere of no visible (positive, proactive) role models are echoed by my trans* or disabled contemporaries, or those of colour, during their growing up.

So how can we make sure that the opportunities and the talents represented on the scene are properly diverse?

Gah. Good question. Okay, there are several strands to this, as I see it (not necessarily in a linear order of priority or chronology, but potentially in a wash, rinse, repeat series of widening cycles):

1. Demonstrating the value of under-heard stories to those who have the power to raise their profile


2. Normalising the “other” by raising the profile of “minority” performers


3. Raising the aspirations of traditionally marginalised voices by providing diverse role models


Again, let's take these in order:

Demonstrating the value of under-heard stories to those who have the power to raise their profile

This thought makes me feel a bit squirmy. It is because I have trouble with the notion that the power sits in the hands of the privileged and that we need to wait for them to “get it”. Having said that, I’m pragmatic enough to know that this is important. So this step involves finding ways to show promoters the importance of voices they're not considering.

I don’t just mean the big festivals, the big venues, the people with funding, the people you’ve heard of. I mean everyone who puts shows on and publishes work (written or performed) anywhere ever. At all. From the tiniest open-mic-with-features all the way up to, I dunno, stadia events promoters.

It’s everyone’s responsibility. All the time. It’s not like it isn’t happening already, but more needs to be done. e.g. Glastonbury and Apples & Snakes are pretty good at proportional opportunities for poets of colour, female poets, and queer poets, but they’ve arguably some way to go on disabled and trans* poets, and poets over the age of 30…

The other reason I feel a bit squirmy about this notion is that it runs the risk of ghettoising “minority” performers - of making a “special case” for something that should be second nature. But I guess that kind of conscious thought is going to have to suffice until... oh, here’s my next sub-heading:

Normalising the “other” by raising the profile of “minority” performers

How do I put this? I, personally, don't want to have to do this. I don't want diversity to be something I have to think about because I want to live in a society where it's not an issue, and where people are given opportunities based on merit – hard work and talent – not on societal appearance. But the only way this is going to happen is if “visibility” of those not currently being heard is ubiquitous.

Mainstream media still seems to think that the experiences and opinions of WCGSABMs is the norm. We need to break them of the notion that anything other is “exotic”. e.g. media such as new-generation Doctor Who and other associated titles have put in sterling work on this with regard to sexuality – continuous images of not only fully-integrated, healthy, functional non-heterosexual beings, but the acceptance of such by those around them.

I also want to make something else clear here – I have nothing against the stories of WCGSABMs, I just want to hear more of what everyone else has to say...

Increasing normalisation hopefully then creates demand and subtle pressure on other media and promoters to showcase “other” stories, which leads us reasonably neatly onto:

Raising the aspirations of traditionally marginalised voices by providing diverse role models

Is it possible that part of the reason that we don’t see as many female, (openly) queer, trans*, disabled poets, or those of colour, is that they do not consider performance poetry “their” sphere? Or is it that they are conditioned against ambition because some message or other has taken hold that they are not worthy to share their words or thoughts or opinions or feelings, not worthy to take applause and adulation and congratulation? After all, speaking from my own conditioning and training - nice girls aren’t supposed to put themselves forward, raise their voices, get in the spotlight on their own. Sing in choirs, for sure, sing someone else’s words in aid of something, but not, you know, just for the sheer glory and adrenalin-spiking fear-joy of shining alone. Tut, etc.

The notion I’m driving at with this sub-heading is, in case you hadn’t grasped it, that we need to tell them that they can be poets, and that they can perform, and that they can still be true to themselves and do these things well. That talent and hard work should be the only barriers to doing this. And that this may mean raising flagpoles of people visibly representing the marginalised voices and saying: “these people are awesome... oh, and they happen to be [insert non-WCGSABM category/ies here], and that story is just as important.



I want to have this conversation, out loud and in public, and I want to know if I’m wrong and that the visible spoken word world is representatively diverse, or if you have an exceptionally compelling argument for why diversity isn’t important on the spoken word scene.

Dependent on the comments people add to this, the text of this “article” may change. If you have a go at me for being a middle-class, liberal, well-educated white person who hasn’t checked her privilege/ is being patronising, you may have a tougher go of changing my mind, but do try, if you think it’s important...

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Echo Speaks Panegyric

Sing me the chorus of solos
And say true, my brothers and sisters...
These double wicks blister fingers,
A sinister glint in the eye
As we burn -
A pyre, sky-high - sacrifice
To the first Gods of civilisation
Nations crush nations,
Then go home and make oblation
To Apollo's horses -
We let others let the beast out.

We walking mirrors, thinking
That we express our true selves
Are conduits,
Priests of fear-of-failure
Of the terror of success
Of the gift of gesticulation
In the face of the infinite.

We double in time -
Lambs in the train,
Baring our tender necks,
And the goat who leads the way.
Dance, goat, dance.

We are will o' the wisp,
Stepping stones through
The quagmire.
And we will never,
Ever
Be truly seen
Except by the blind eyes of love,
And the faith of our own kind,
Lights in the dusk of a world
That processes its pain
Through these hands,
These eyes and voices,
And then rolls on.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Addendum - Day 1

Can't sleep for some reason, so I'll post this.

One of the things of which I'm most proud yesterday is my trilingual flyering conversation with a deaf couple. From France. I can speak French to conversational level and sign BSL similarly, so combining/ switching between the two (and mostly miming) was fun; an intense patch of silence in amongst the bustle...

I now know the French Sign Language sign for French - every day's a school day! :)

The sleep-persuasion methods are kicking in. Wish the shouting people would stop, though...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Day 1

This will be brief as I am KNACKERED but:

1. Troops rallied in PBH Free Fringe Spoken Word meet 'n' greet. Good to see and hug so many poets and storytellers... :) Great to have cohesive "presence".

2. Housemates bloody lovely.

3. First Other Voices show was awesome - tight, well-performed, good audience (20+ by my count), nice "set" decoration.

4. Got a parking ticket through incompetence, and dodged another through blind luck.

5. Still fighting incipient cold.

6. Still can't do nail polish well.

7. Have been skipping physio exercises - need to remedy that or I'll be back on the walking stick.

8. Still fit into my corset (tried it out last night just in case - question: if you get stuck in your corset at midnighy and there's no-one to see you struggle, is it still funny?). Totally forgot the order that putting on the costume needs to follow in order to actually work.

9. Lovely flat is above two nightclubs. There's your other shoe, right there...

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Legend

So, second leg of the Big Road Trip is done and look - I'm in Edinburgh. On purpose!

Not, however, on time. In a complete reversal from last night, I left in time, but traffic made for some funtimes, leading to arriving 90 minutes later than planned. At least the landlord was only waiting 30 of them...

It's a pretty straight line from Cambridge up to Edinburgh, however you do it. You can either get on the A1 and never leave it, or cut up through the middle of the country via Jedburgh and A68 after the A1.

This latter is a route that's becoming familiar to me. I have my favourite bits of driving, which include some very loopy uppy-downies through border country, and the bosky roads approaching Jedburgh, as well as the wild actual border country itself. There's some boring country roads that are mostly straight lines across moorland, but we're ignoring that, except to mention all the outrageously cautious drivers I got stuck behind.

OCDs (hahaha) don't like gradients or corners, and are wishy-washy about the straight moorland bits. Theyonly go fast just before they slam on the brakes at a bend or just before a village. They just don't enjoy the ride, I feel. Which is a shame, but at least no-one died through overconfidence. I managed to overtake a JCB on a single carriageway, and that's not something I tend to do - my own driving cautiousness include just chilling out rather than overtaking. It pisses the people behind me off, so I reckoned more Zen would be accomplished (wrong use of the term, I know, but fuck it - I'm a poet...) cumulatively if I overtook. Behold the overtaking. Well done me.

An hour or so later and I was alternately drumming my fingers in Edinburgh traffic jams (they appear to have, with stunning timing, decided to rip up as many central streets as they can, and block off others with fairground shizzle) and gazing at the buildings and famous landmarks and people, people, people. It is now about twice as difficult to park in central Edinburgh (legally) as before, but I found a nearby loading bay and used it to unload my stuff. Then followed the landlord's advice and found paid parking nearby.

Dan Simpson arrived about the same time as me, so we explored the flat together (and he helped me drag all the shit I'm keeping in the flat up the stairs.)

I want to say a word about Dan here. He, along with other such notables as Tina Sederholm, Dave Pickering (and his merry Stand Up Tragedy crew), and Dom Berry (all for slightly different reasons, but hey) has helped to keep me sane in the run-up to Edinburgh. He pitched into making administrative things happen, totally made the London fundraiser fly, offered advice where it was asked for, and kept telling me I was doing a good job. I'm chuffed to be sharing a flat (and several stages) with him and getting to know him better. :) I'll also, oddly enough, be sharing with Tina and Dom as well...

All these people have shows at Edinburgh Fringe this year which you should go and see. I'll go back and put the hyperlinks in later, when I've more brain but, for now, Google 'em.

Where was I? Oh yeah - flat.

HOLY CRAP! Last year we paid at least 50% more each (and I paid a great deal more, covering various costs that I should have shared out) than we are for this one, and got a tiny basement dwelling I shall be discrete about in terms of location but fucking hell. We shared it with the landlords and their grim pets and hygiene issues, and it was TINY. And smelled bad. And the one (mouldy, noisy) bathroom we shared with them broke for a week and we had to use the scary one upstairs.

This one is HUGE - 6 bedrooms spread out over three floors, clean, airy, bright, and IT'S ALL OURS. There are three (count 'em) bathrooms, a massive kitchen, communal living room, nice dining/ hall thing, and more storage space than you can shake a big pile of flyers and costumes at (and I intend to). The landlord has provided clean towels, toilet paper, and nice kitchen goods. There are two fridges, so we can keep the vegan and vegetarians happy, and it's just. So. Nice.

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but maybe this is it - we found a nice place, and now we're staying in it. And maybe we needed the shit experiences of last year to be able to appreciate thia place properly.

OR we're going to get burgled...

Anyway, that's it - I'm safe, sound, settled, and starving. Time to investigate food.

Edinburgh-ho!

So, after months of preparation, and two weeks of saying "no" ("can I make a last-minute sjow application?" "Can I have some extra days fir my show?" "Do you print my flyers?" "Do I get paid?" "Can I have a feature slot on your show?" "Will you watch my poem on YouTube and tell me what you think?" "Are you going to pay £600 more for your accommodation at the last minute?"), I set off on the first leg of my northward migration last night.

To say I was running late would be the kindest analysis. Try four hours delay. First I had to negotiate work argh, then greedy landlord emails, a recalcitrant printer (or, rather, it was my until-now collaborative laptop that refused), and a hire car a class smaller than the one I'd paid for, into which I was trying to ram a bewildering array (and quantity) of stuff.

Fucking lollies...

When the last stuff was rammed, the rear windscreen viewable from the inside, the last random things pocketed, the last goodbyes said, and the course plotted on my almost-trusty phone, I was off! 11:30pm is, in some ways, a good time of night to be driving, but a terrible time to set off on a 3:20 journey after a full day of work. Ach well, at least my lovelies made sure I ate first (Co-op posh pizza ftw).

Via mostly-deserted roads, lorry-racing (each other), absent roadworks and variable speed limits, a haunted roadside toilet, and the world's most random music mix, I found my otherwise untroubled way (thanks to Lucozade and Google) to

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Politeness of Princes

Quite a few of you will have noticed that I have a bit of a problem with punctuality. I genuinely maintain that this is because I'm slightly time-dyslexic, but that might just be a feeble excuse masquerading as Greek-flavoured verisimilitude (and potentially offensive to actually dyslexic people). Anyway, turns out that I wrote (another) poem about this about 2 years ago. Have just found the notes for it today during a tidying binge; tidied version below:

This morning, time refused to function,
Fainting and failing,
Flapping like a Georgian hysteric,
Clutching at a shawl-draped,
Snow-white bosom, all fluttering eyelids.

I blinked and missed dollops of minutes,
Handfuls at a time while the lady
Gibbered, rolled her eyes, tore her hair,
Gasped for and pushed off attention.

You see, last night's sleep kept out of reach,
A stony suitor, all dark Byronic profile,
This morning's slumber all over me,
Hanging off extremities like a clingy second choice
I may have kissed once at a party.

Let them fight it out between themselves.
I pushed through chores and breakfast,
Dressing mechanically, commuting stoically,
Trudging past temptations
To make it into work on time. Just.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Ahem. A Small Announcement...

So, after interminable internal wrangling, I've only gone and done it.

The next few paragraphs may give the impression that I'm not really excited.  This is untrue - I'm so excited that I've passed beyond it into a state of mildly disbelieving calm as though I've gone and done this behind my own back which, in a way, I kind of have done. I had to.

Done what?

This:

http://allographic.bandcamp.com/merch/spring-a-poetry-pamphlet-by-fay-roberts

And this:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CWOU890 (http://www.amazon.com/Spring-ebook/dp/B00CWOU890/ for those of you in the US)

Yes - I've put together a "pamphlet" (i.e. it's 4 pages short of a "book") of my poetry.  I've self-published it in a limited run of 100 copies, some of which - why not?! - will get sent to places that review such things, and hopefully most of which - why not?! - will get sold (at least enough to make me my money back).

Yes - I've self-published.  The reasons for this are many.  Some of them are these:

  1. This way it actually happened. Coz, you know...
  2. I'm pretty sure that many (certainly the more recent) of my poems aren't eligible to enter into pamphlet competitions anyway because they've already been published in some form (t'internet, anthologies, vocal recordings).
  3. It's about time.
  4. With the Saboteur Awards ceremony coming up, I felt that I needed more than a few home-printed 4-page booklets of haiku and senryū to punt at people.  When will I get a better opportunity in the next few months to have a stall in a room full of people who like indie poetry pamphlets...?!
  5. What's the point of owning a small press if I can't inflict my own stuff on people...?!

It's been sent off to the printers and will likely turn up just in time for the ceremony.  (I hope, what with me probably competing with all the people getting their thesis printed...)  It's also been added to Kindle (yes - Amazon are evil; no - I couldn't think of a better way to do it; anyway - I've not put DRM on it so feel free to lend it around...).

It's really real, I've really done it, and you can really get a copy if you want.  Review copies available on request.

Anyone who wants to discuss the merits and demerits of self-publishing can go at it - I'm all fired-up! :D

(Anyone who wants to ask about Allographic publishing their pamphlet should contact books@allographic.co.uk.)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

NaPoWriMo 2013 (or: what I learned in April)

So, this year I took part in NaPoWriMo for the first time - how did writing 30 poems in 30 days go?

You can see the (mixed) results at http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com and here, for my fellow-nerds, are some statistics (straight in - no messing):
  • Pieces written: 30
  • Finished: 30-Apr-13
  • Shortest piece: #3 Suddenly, at 3:45am - senr
  • Longest piece: #7 Excel Now - a series of seven chained pieces of various formats
  • Fullest day(s): 12th, 18th, and 26th - 3 pieces each
  • Longest gap with no pieces: 3 days
  • Forms employed: blank verse; free verse; haiku/ senryū (chained or individual); tanka; sonnet; terzanelle; triolet; acrostic
  • Themes explored: seasons; love and relationships; health and illness; true stories; religion, magic, and mythology (lots of these); triumphing over crap
  • Sources of inspiration: weather; crazy taxi-driver (person rather than game!); a witty friend's Facebook status; holiday in France; number associations; patron saints (St. George's Day); the difficulties of focusing on revision;The Bible; politics; The Louvre; public transport; my sign language teacher; NaPoWriMo itself
  • "Official" prompts used: tanka, triolet
  • Coincidental prompts (i.e. when it turned out I'd done a poem with the same theme or prompt for myself as others had used - usually on different days): in media res; mythological personae; un-love; fragments of languages other than English.

But how did that make you feeeeel...?

By turns ennervated and elated, mixed in with grim determination and workmanlike satisfaction at a job at least completed. Disappointed (and mildly embarrassed) that some of them should never have seen the light of day ordinarily - I rarely share poems until I'm at least 80% sure of them, but shocked at the ones that turned out Proper. Buoyed up by feedback. One of the things that really kept me going was, paradoxically, sharing them as I went along, and getting positive feedback (everything from seeing how many Facebook "likes" and Blogger hits the posts got, to the well-structured comments of people who a) enjoyed them, b) actually read them properly, c) clearly knew what they were talking about).

I'm now engaged in what experienced (and wonderfully supportive!) NaPoWriMo'er Martin Vosper calls NaPoEdMo - yes, May: National Poetry Editing Month... Fellow-RRRanter Ant Smith has made an e-book of his. I know for certain that only about 60% of mine are worth much more than cringing lightly over and saying "oh well, they fulfilled a purpose", but it would be nice to get the good ones (about 5?) out there accompanied by the ones that just need a bit of editing and polishing to fulfill more of their potential.

But here's a weird thing I've found since end of April and it turns out I'm not the only one who took part who's experiencing this - I've been writing more poems since. At the beginning of the challenge, writing was taking it out of me, and I'd feel drained of creativity and blank. Now it's like I'm apt to find inspiration from lots of things and instead of going "oh, huh, I could probably make a poem out of that" and it never seeing the light of day, I immediately start to write it down... Like I no longer get in my own way...

I made the terrible mistake of joking to an athletic friend that NaPoWriMo was like a marathon. They were immediately incensed and offended. Having trained for and run half-marathons they could not see the humour in the statement and were convinced I was at best delusional. The argument quickly became both bitter and sarcastic on both sides.

The thing of it is that I have stretched and developed poetic/ creative muscles that I thought were pretty buff to start with, discovering how very wrong I was. Owing to certain physical frailties, I will never run a marathon, or half-marathon. This is not hyperbole or cowardly giving-up but a plain truth which I suspect my physiotherapist would back up in a chuckling second. (Besides, it never being a dream I entertained for myself, how could it be giving up?) However, there remain a world of creative challenges to set myself, a whole plethora of targets and personal satisfactions to gain.

Performance poet Tim Clare sets himself an annual challenge of writing 101 poems in one day. That, my friends, is a poetic marathon - that's the kind of crazy shit I'd love to work up to doing, maybe as part of a team doing it for charity - sponsor us a certain amount per poem perhaps - while people milled around us and flung suggestions. It's likely been done before, but how cool would that be?! :D

Lessons learned (for next NaPoWriMo/ writing challenge/ writing in general):
  1. Just fucking write - no excuses, just do it.
  2. Set yourself goals and concrete challenges.
  3. Do your own time (thanks, Neil Gaiman) - by all and any means encourage people who're doing it too, but your first focus is the challenge.
  4. Join a writer's group. Flesh-space or webby, that feedback and encouragement will do bloody wonders.
  5. Ask friends to help you - feedback or proof-reading or suggesting stuff or whatever. Chances are good that both you and they will be chuffed that you did.
  6. Just fucking write.
  7. Don't force the writing into a shape you think it should be.  Like any artform, it has its own shape and a major part of your job is to uncover that, rather than dictate it.  This is an organic process.
  8. Did we mention just fucking writing?
  9. Put time aside in the day.
  10. If an idea comes to you, don't assume you'll "get around to it later" - write it down. In this age of smartphones and tablet and whatever, the chances that you won't have something you can scribe on/ with are vanishing small, but while we're on that topic, always have a pen/ pencil/ crayon and notebook with you - preferably one that is dedicated to the project/ creative writing in general.
  11. Anything can be a source of inspiration. Seriously.  Pick a thing and write down the colours, shapes, sounds, memories that come with it.  Follow the shape its trying to show you and voilà: writiness.
  12. Just. Fucking. Write.
Well, I think that's it from me.  Have fun, enjoy the poems, and I'll let you know when they're (edited and) in a form that you can fondle...

Friday, 26 April 2013

Quick NaPoWriMo Post

Well, no-one said it was going to be easy, and it's not over yet.  It's been difficult, and I'm a little disappointed with some of the stuff I've come up with but, you know what?  I've written 26 poems (one of which was not for NaPoWriMo even) in the last 26 days, and now I've got this far, I'm damned if I'm quitting!

The NaPo blog is here: http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com

If you want to skip to the next one after I last posted in this blog, go to http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/15-lillies.html - my first ever sonnet (hard to believe, but true...) or otherwise just dip in.

Special mention has to be made of those lovely fellow-mentalists at the Facebook NaPoWriMo Sharing Group, and everyone who's given any kind of feedback at all so far, without whom I'm pretty sure I'd've perished of insular dismay.

One more to go today and I will have caught up. Any prompts, suggestions, notions, forms, requests, etc. considered. :)

Sunday, 14 April 2013

NaPoWriMo - some thoughts and an update

So I've found a way to persuade technology to do the tedious work for me of cross-posting my NaPoWriMo poems to Twitter and Facebook. This is pleasing, and would be great if I could find a way to put them on LiveJournal (for which I still have a soft heart - as well as a curiously large body of stuff!) as well, but it also kind of takes away the personal touch...

I've been enjoying NaPoWriMo for various reasons - it's an excuse to write, to write every day, share the process with others (both those taking part in the challenge and those outside it), and gain enjoyment from the sheer fact of having Achieved A Poem each time. It's surprisingly bloody tiring, mind, and I nearly scuppered myself with Poem #7 - Excel Now- which was a series of seven loosely-chained pieces as a kind of elaborate tale bound together with themes suggested by cultural references to the number 7. I took two days over it, slept little in the finishing of it, put myself behind schedule and drained a lot of creative juice birthing the bugger.

I wouldn't mind, but I'm not even sure it's that good, really. And the title is such an obscure, multi-lingual pun I've resigned myself that no-one else will get it and that it doesn't matter - okay, nearly.

Anyway, this afternoon I found myself writing today's poem well before schedule (now I've finally caught up via #11 and #12 I'm trying to do each one on its appointed day before I go to sleep, even if that's strictly speaking the next calendar day), out of the blue and with no elaborate prompt, research, or meditation. This is a big part of what the whole exercise is about to my mind - just writing the bloody poem - so I'm chuffed, if somewhat at a loose end.

(Never mind - plenty of Poetry Admin to do - gave myself a day off yesterday, but now it's back to the Edinburgh Free Fringe Spoken Word Allocations Mill.)

I've set myself other guidelines (I hesitate to call them rules in case I'm forced to choose between breaking them and losing my sanity later in the month):

  1. Only three emergency haiku/ senryū - I find them easy to write these days, so writing a single one for my poem of the day is only allowed under exceptional circumstances and only three times in the month so choose wisely (Day 10's tanka doesn't count as that was a direct prompt and I'd never done tanka before and hush!). However, I can chain three or more together as a single poem and that's okay.
  2. Do at least one strict form I've not done before during the month. I'm a blank/ free verse poet most of the time, so this stacks up the challenge stakes. I'm not sure tanka counts as it really is just a more indulgent senryū with a twist in the tale, and I'd done terzanelle before. Maybe a sonnet? Suggestions please.
  3. Try not to do the same form twice in a row. Try not to do the same theme twice unless it's a big one (e.g. relationships) or it's an explicit decision to continue where a previous poem left off.
  4. I'm allowed one extreme emergency meta-poem - i.e. one poem about writing poetry, especially if it's a poem about how hard writing poetry for NaPoWriMo is. My skin crawls at the thought, which is not to judge poets who write their way out of a block by standing on the block itself, but not if I can possibly help it. Maybe at the end... :)
  5. The death of Margaret Thatcher is currently off-bounds. No-one else needs to know why.

Here, for your delectation, are the latest poems since I last posted on this blog:

#10 Indelible http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/10-indelible.html - a bit of satire-flavoured tanka for you.

#11 The One Left Behind http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/11-one-left-behind.html - the third poem to be inspired by its number, and a reference to the penultimate verse in "Green Grow The Rushes O!" that had been going through my head since #7.

#12 Laborious http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/12-laborious.html - so, to continue the numerological theme, I couldn't give up on 12, of all numbers and, having tapped the Bible twice in succession, I chose a different mythology - the Twelve Labours of Heracles in a series of senryū. It felt both fairly pretentious and, latterly, like a series of tabloid sub-headings.

#13 Yours Always http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/13-yours-always.html - every time I had a thought to write a poem that wasn't triskaidekaesque I rejected it, which resulted in another late, solitary night, but some other ideas for poems. If only I'd written them down. Anyway, this one kinda leapt out of my brain as the beginning of a story and soon settled into a five-line-stanza internal-rhyme thing that only people who'd spent as much time on the Wikipedia 13 page would recognise as having anything to do with that number...

#14 Chatter http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/14-chatter.html - Boom! No numbers, just an internal-rhyming stream-of-consciousness that came out of nowhere. The internal rhyme/assonance trope is one I use a lot in my performance pieces, and is good for taking poems to interesting places through a kind of word-association. I need tomorrow's one to rely on it a lot less, though, to jibe better with Guideline 3.

Time to post this and go think about something else. Hope y'all are having a lovely Sunday in the bright blowy Springtime, or whatever the weather with you, and that you're having fun with whatever challenges you've set yourselves lately! :D

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

NaPoWriMo Day 9

Slippage is definitely occurring. I started this one last night, played a gig, did some more sections, then came adrift on the final one until tonight.
Overambitious? Maybe, it is one of my favourite numbers...
#7 Excel http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/7-excel.html

Saturday, 6 April 2013

NaPoWriMo Day 6 Part 1

Yep, slipped again. On my way back now, and internets don't cost a ton anymore. Soon I will be back in my own house, where WiFi will further enable me to read everyone else's poems at my leisure... :)
And do all those other poetry admin things I need to do!
#5 Metropolitan http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/5-metropolitan.html

Thursday, 4 April 2013

NaPoWriMo so far

It's been interesting so far; the biggest challenge at the moment being finding time to be selfish for writing.

Due to travelling, I started late:

#1 Printemps http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/1-printemps.html

Then another one yesterday, which grew without me noticing:

#2 French Swimming Pool http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/2-french-swimming-pool.html 

Then, finally, I caught up this morning. Ironically.

#3 Suddenly, at 3:45am http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/2013/04/3-suddenly-at-345am.html

Looking forward to seeing where this challenge takes me next... :)

Monday, 1 April 2013

Holy Moly - Shortlist-tastic!

Sabotage Reviews hold a virtually unique position in the poetry community, being reviewers of indie poetry and short story media and - here's the special bit - performance poetry. All these things are taken equally seriously by them and covered with great passion and attention to detail and for these reasons if no other, we independent poetry types should be making more of a whoop of them.

This isn't the blog post to go into the details of page "versus" stage, partly because I'm not convinced the web connection on this device is up to the task and I may have to retype this from scratch, so I'm keeping witterings short. Let's just leave it at: it's very, very nice to have an ally in a publication that considers performance poetry something to put effort into reviewing and therefore promoting. Nice one, folks!

The first review I had from Sabotage stung. A lot. I'd never heard of Sabotage before then, and such a pasting rankled. But I had to concede many of the points and started working on improvements. I also looked deeper into the publication and found myself thinking: here is a good thing. A Very Good Thing, in fact. This was further backed up when I realised at Edinburgh last year that the reviewers were burning themselves rushing to every spoken word show they could to publish their reviews and recommendations, a particularly wonderful thing to behold when the mainstream press appeared to be so roundly ignoring us at first...

This year Sabotage are yet again giving us their anniversarial awards - a fact highlighted by James Webster and Claire Trévien posting in the Allographic and Hammer & Tongue Cambridge (to name but a few) Facebook Groups that the public had a chance to vote for (and thereby nominate) their favourite writers, publications, and publishers (in a variety of categories) for the Saboteur Awards 2013. I immediately pushed my lot to vote for Small Word as I genuinely think it's a wonderful little magazine due to the talented people who've been published in it so far. Allographic Press aren't going to be making Salt sweat quite yet, but I reckon we've got a good thing going already...!

Dan Holloway tagged me in a very late night/ early morning Facebook post to do with the Awards. I assumed this was for Allographic/ Small Word and started, frankly, wiggling.

In this I was to be disappointed. In what I can only describe as a shock move, I've been shortlisted for a Sabotage Award as best performer of the last year.

Now, I know it's been April 1st all day, and I probably won't fully believe it until I check the site again tomorrow, but yeah: somehow, I'm in some outrageously good company and am among some wildly good talent not only in my own "section" (how did this happen? How?!) - the nominees in the rest of the list are ludicrously good.

I am no illusions about my ability to win this. For a start, I'm surprised enough people who get involved in these things have even heard of me, but it'll be an amazing chance to go mingle with independent literature's and spoken word's great and good for an evening. I'll get a stand for Allographic if I can at the mini-book fair, and push "my" writers, artists, and performers while I'm at it...

So I'm encouraging you, please, to all go and vote - because I'd love there to have been so many voters that the notion of an apathetic independent publishing, writing, and poetry scene in the UK is completely exploded. And because I want people to have heard of the other nominees...

On that over-excited note - goodnight!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

National Poetry Writing Month ("NaPoWriMo") - April 2013

So, I saw that me old mucker Mark Niel, Poet Laureate of Milton Keynes1 is gearing up for his annual challenge of writing a poem a day for a month. I’m feeling seriously lacking in new poems at the moment, so thought I’d take up the challenge as well.

Turns out it’s all about NaPoWriMo (“National Poem Writing Month”2), something I’ve been considering going in for off and on over the last few years. And now, just as my life gets really busy (again), I’ve decided to give it a go. What could go wrong?!

I’ll be setting myself some ground-rules - things like the percentage of the poems that are “allowed” to be haiku/ senryū, whether I’m allowed to “double-up” if I’ve missed a day, that kind of thing. I know it’s not exactly Tim Clare’s “101 Poems in a day” annual challenge, but it’s quite enough for me right now! :D

So as not to overwhelm everything in NaPoWriMo stuff, I’ve set up a NaPoWriMo-only blog: http://fayrobertsnapowrimo.blogspot.com/. Feel free to keep an eye on it and comment where appropriate...!

So, join me and Mark and our fellow NaPoWriMoers in the challenge; see you on the other side!

_________________________________________

1 seriously - stop being surprised - there’s a lot of culture in MK; well... much more than you’d expect, anyway...

2Yes, like NaNoWriMo

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Advice from a Poetry Promoter

Originally posted on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/notes/fay-roberts-poet/advice-from-a-poetry-promoter/420621814674393. Note that most of my knowledge of open mics is in the south-east and central England, and that if I listed every open mic I would run out of usable space. So yes, I’ve missed some people out. Don’t hurt me - I was focusing on those that gave further opportunities for professional engagements.

So, someone asked me if I had any advice about getting more performance poetry gigs and getting on the Festival circuit. I thought “No, not really...” then started writing and ended up with this essay:

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

I would recommend going to as many local and further-afield open mics that encourage poetry and spoken word as you can to perform. If you’re getting good responses, start going to the ones that have featured artists and basically show off a bit! :) Look for ones that have competitions/ do lots of evenings. e.g. in London and nearby consider Bang Said The Gun or Utter! where they vote for their favourite quick-round open mic/ paid gig contest entrant to come back for a featured slot, or RRRants who book featured acts for their gigs around the country. MK, Bedford, and Luton poets, you should definitely be going to Ouse Muse and Scribal Gathering regularly. If you’re based in the Midlands or you can travel, I’d also recommend WORD in Leicester, Rhymes in Birmingham and if you’re out further East, of course, my own nights - Allographic in Cambridge! :) A great way to find out about gigs in your area is to check online guides like Write Out Loud Gig Guide and the Poetry Society Landmarks.

Slams can also be a good way of raising your profile and gaining the chance to come back and show off again once you’ve won a round, if you don’t find the idea of slamming off-putting, as many fine performers do. Good contacts for that are Hammer & Tongue (based in Oxford, London, Brighton, Bristol, and Cambridge - yes, this is another slightly self-interested plug), who encourage out-of-town competitors, and the Farrago Slams in London. Other competitions (written or performative) can also prove useful.

Also: go to as many feature-only gigs as you can - it can be immensely inspirational! :) Going to gigs where you don’t perform helps you to keep perspective and focus on the good stuff. Apples & Snakes are a great set of contacts for this, and are arguably the biggest promoter of performance poetry in the UK...

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

If there’s nothing round you way, consider setting up your own event. Dan Holloway suggests (after being inspired by Nikesh Shukla’s advice):

“I think I would encourage anyone outside of London to think about starting a night of their own. I started running shows in 2009/10 when there were slightly fewer, but still, the audience response is incredibly encouraging, both in terms of numbers and enthusiasm. You need though a very thick skin (your fellow performers will see you more as an organiser than a poet, which is a downside), incredible tact (poets are a very sensitive bunch of egos), supreme organisational skills (poets run on ‘poet time’), and extreme patience (you will have last minute drop-outs and late arrivals and venue problems and PA problems however much you plan).”

In my personal experience, it’s a good way to make contacts but a tad harrowing at times! On the other hand, my bar for “disaster” is really, REALLY high these days. :D

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

To move onto the festival circuit, it would appear that you often have the painful issue of being able to prove that you’ve done festivals already...! :) So I guess focus initially on smaller ones. Talk to your local poet laureate or bard (if your town/ a nearby one) has one. In MK, talk to people like Mark Niel (Milton Keynes Poet Laureate) and Richard Frost (Bard of Stony Stratford) about opportunities in your area.

(A quick Google search suggests that, for a start, there are official bards/ laureates in the following areas: Bath, Armagh, Barnsley, Exeter, Glastonbury, Winchester, Avebury, London, Ely, Bristol, Flag Fen, Brighton, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Birmingham, Luton, The Fens, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, and Wantage.)

If there are any festivals nearby (consider how far you’d travel to find a new audience if no-one paid you anything, draw the circle on a map, and start researching! :) ), find out if there’s a spoken word element. If there isn’t, ask if they’d like one and round up some poetry mates to put together a proper “bill” for a festival that doesn’t yet know that it wants poetry.

Richard Grant advised on the Glastonbury Poetry and Words forum a couple of years ago:

“Glastonbury Poetry and Words sits amongst the best gigs for our artform each year. Selection for Europe’s biggest party always brings adrenalin, expectation and promise. Aiming for the top stages before trawling the smaller festival scenes seems a bit optimistic to me. My advice, check other festivals and start getting your work out there first. Trip Fest, Shambalah, Boomtown, Beautiful Days, Beat Herder, Big Chill, Womad, Green Man, Bearded Theory, Latitude, to mention a few...”
He’s not wrong. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface when you think of the likes of the Cambridge Wordfest, London Word Festival, the Norwich Fringe Festival, Nozstock, the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, the Camden Fringe Festival, the Buxton Fringe Festival, Boxmoor, Rickmansworth Canal Festival, The Wenlock Poetry Festival, and - of course - the big daddy: Edinburgh, to name, again, a pitiful few of the opportunities you could take this year to perform or listen to poetry and other forms of spoken word performance goodness. Go mad on Google, or go one better and check out the UK Literary Festivals site: http://www.literaryfestivals.co.uk/eventcalendar.html

Daunted by the idea of going up to a big festival on your own? Find out who else is going and go together. Form a troupe. Find the open mics at Edinburgh, Buxton, Hay, Wenlock, etc., and crash them.

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

The ability to get featured gigs can also be enhanced by preparing a show reel - YouTube clips can be collected together in “playlists” for this purpose if you don’t have editing technology - of both audio only and video. Consider also your USP (Unique Selling Point) - what makes you stand out from the other performers out there? Think about enhancing or playing on that. Write a CV - exactly as you would for getting a “proper” job - and a standard covering letter. And then? Just send it to people. Go on... But make sure you have the experience and good reviews to back it, and aim reasonably sensibly to start!

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

Get a solid online presence. It’s not mandatory by any means, but a good website will help promoters know exactly what you do, how you do it, and what you look and sound like doing it. If you’re not up for running your own website (and, let’s face it, it can be a right chore!), it’s worthwhile investing in one or more of the following social media/ online-presence-hosted-by-someone-else widgets:

Twitter - people can add you to their feed and will be kept up-to-date on your poetic movements. What you can do with 140 characters can say a lot about your poetic acumen. Haiku rock! :) Consider separating your personal and your poetical online essences out if you want to jabber about your socks or latest stomach complaints to a sympathetic group of friends, but want to keep a wider group of acquaintances and strangers connected to your appearances. Twitter can also be embedded into any website where you have at least minimal control of the HTML coding, and you can add buttons/ links for your Twitter to many other online accounts.

YouTube/ Vimeo - great places to upload/ link to all your video recordings of performance greatness. You can collect together playlists of your and others’ videos of your performances to use as show reels. Yes - you don’t need to record/ upload videos yourself to use YouTube to create a good online presence. Playlists, etc. also be embedded in web pages/ blogs, etc.

SoundCloud/ MixCloud - if you have decent audio recordings of yourself performing (and bear in mind that it’s very easy, nowadays, to record your performances at home on standard equipment), these are great places to put them, and you can also link updates to your Twitter, blog, etc., and can embed in web pages.

Blog - upload your photos, videos, audio and - most importantly - your words of wisdom - onto an online journal. Most of the fun and flexibility of your own website with a lot less coding hassle. Blogs such as Wordpress can even take the hard work out of putting your own website together by basically making it based on your WP blog... Other such as Blogger, Dreamwidth, or even LiveJournal for the old-school among you, can give you the opportunity to direct people somewhere they can see what you’ve been up to, and read and judge (and even comment on) your work.

Profiles on Other Sites - however much you do of the above social media and online presence, it’s really useful to get yourself a profile on specialist places like WriteOutLoud, etc., and less specialist places like making yourself a Facebook “page”, a LinkedIn profile (for the more professional-network-minded of you), and a SkillsPage profile (the latter is useful when looking for poetic opportunities).

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

Lastly: professionalism. If you want to be taken seriously, treat performing/ hosting as a job. Learn how long your poems are with applause - time them, learn them; if you can’t learn them, have them on something that’s nice to look at from the audience perspective (attractive notebook or folder/ Kindle/ tablet, etc.). Don’t make your entire set a “So, which one do you want?” thing - you don’t look professional, work out what you’re doing in advance. And work out what poems will fit (reasonably) with the tone, time limit, etc. Stick to the time-limit. We cannot emphasise this enough! Turn up on time, don’t get drunk/ high - whether you’re fronting or performing - and don’t be an arse. Anything that could get you fired from a “real” job will see you a) not asked back, b) talked about as an arse throughout the circuit. Don’t be That Poet, in short...!

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

I’ve revised this considerably in the light of other comments on the Facebook version, and have spent the last couple of weeks trying to take my own advice, especially in terms of online presence and marketing myself. If anyone has any other advice/ links to add, go at it in the comments section and I’ll revisit this as frequently as is useful! :D

Monday, 18 March 2013

Tweet Poems

Behold the nerdery! http://fayrobertspoetry.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/tweet-poems.html

Hammer & Tongue March 2013

Blimey. Well, the setup could probably have started worse. There could have been snakes...

Afterwards, we figured that every area of potential technical issueage had taken a hit. On top of me having a bruised neck joint and being halfway useless at hefting stuff:

  • The car (and therefore the gear) turned up 30 minutes late.
  • Our Chief Technician (let’s call him that - I’m sure he’ll approve :)) had food poisoning.
  • Snow started pelting down as I set out with the gear, and traffic - presumably due to snow - was dire.
  • One of our boxes finally completely broke.
  • The mic stand’s mic clip turned up broken and the spare mic clip didn’t fit the stand.
  • The Hammer & Tongue Cambridge banner was broken as the result of a) someone kindly taking it to bits last month, b) it getting dented in the meantime.
  • The complete lack of sound from the mic turned out to be due to the DJ desk not being plugged into the sound system in any way; it being an unfamiliar one, we’d no idea what to do with the trailing wires.
  • We had to shift the chairs (minor, I know, and there were at least chairs already set out, but let’s complete this whinge!), and there was no merch table available.
  • I forgot to bring the cash box.
  • The Council decided that 9:45pm was the bestest time to start digging up Regent Street, right outside where we were performing and just as our quietest poet started her piece...

However:

  • Wes, who’s swiftly becoming our Chief Technician this year, was there, and Got Stuff Done with admirable cheeriness, speed, and pragmatism.
  • Alex-the-Poetry-Stall hefted stuff, and magically fixed the banner in some kind of intensely Krypton Factor manner. It had long defeated me, so for once I was fine handing over such a problem to someone else (mental note: pride not always useful).
  • I used gaffer taper to Blue Peter the mic stand.
  • Diane came and made everyone feel welcome with a will. She has fast become a past mistress of persuading people to become slammers or judges... :)
  • The lovely Fountain staff (including our dedicated barlady Briony) were cheery and supportive, and manager Jordan sorted out the DJ desk.
  • Alex set up a truncated merch stall as part of the FoH area, and provided a float for the table.
  • We had enough people turn up to cover our fees to the featured acts and return Alex’s float to him (+£8!).
  • Our featured acts turned up on time (i.e. well before we kicked off) and not only turned in great performances but were polite, pragmatic, and friendly off-stage. No divas here!
  • We started only 7 minutes or so after advertised kick-off and everything ran very smoothly after that, despite my brain’s best efforts to trip me up throughout the evening.
  • The last few poets coped admirably with the road-drilling, and it was all over by the time the headliner took to the mic; I was even able to park the car outside the venue when we were loading up after take-down.
  • We didn’t lose or break anything else. (Okay, I left my new tablet charger behind, but hey...)

We had what must have been one of the most brilliantly surreal slams I’ve ever experienced, let alone curated. From the sheer range of the poetry (style, content, delivery) to the sheer range of scores (one person got a 5.2 from Consistently Low-Scoring Judge, and yet there were more Perfect 10s than we ever usually see!) to the guy who didn’t want to be scored at the end of his poem (but did want to distribute his pamphlet) to the drilling, to the polyglottal poet, to the guy who made roughly 97% of his allocated timeslot about the introduction.

Our top three scorers were all from the SKOPT group in Colchester and totally stole the evening! The overall winner was Tess Gardener with one of the meatiest pieces of the night, delivered with increasing confidence and verve throughout the poem, proving once again that you can be as funny or as clever as you like, but audiences really, really like verity. Doesn’t even matter whether it’s your actual story or not, if it speaks the truth, audiences will eat that up. Don’t get me wrong - they love to laugh and they love to hear great voices or be dazzled by terpsichorean vocal prowess, but poetry audiences hunger for the truth.

(Okay, that’s only my theory, but if you look at the people who place high in Slam Finals, meaningful almost always trumps cheap thrills. Don’t get me wrong - if you can do it all you’re on a roll, but still...)

Our features were cases in point - both of them have shouty and easy poems which got them noticed in the early days, but both “Angry” Sam Berkson and Adam Kammerling now specialise in the telling of stories. Sam’s set glittered with observations of the people who stand out from the dark shores of public transport around London, but had time for Hopkins-esque nature poems that literally shimmered. I’d only heard a couple of his pieces before, at the Hammer & Tongue National Final last March, and it went to show yet again that you should not judge poets on the pieces they pull out when hosting nights. My Hammer & Tongue hosty poems are not necessarily the style for which I’m renowned (I tend towards the easier pieces - certainly the shorter ones - when hosting), and Sam supported this notion - his work and his delivery was surprisingly gentle and considered (time to remove the “Angry” from his moniker?!), the set generous and eloquent with some neck-pricklingly pretty turns of phrase. Yes, there were some Tempestuous set-pieces, but my take-away sensation was that of a wide-eyed wonder and the feeling that I was being hugged by words.

I introduced Adam all wrong. ALL wrong. He essentially had to correct me in his introduction since although his website bio talks about his hip-hop roots and his music-and-poetry work it turns out his current style is a kind of darkly hilarious, occasionally surrealistic cinematic raconteurism. Instead of pounding rhythms and devastating put-downs (I once saw him do a piece where he essentially rap-battled his past Grimey self) he steered us through the choppy waters of erudite muggings, service sector revenge, and the problems with obsessive love. Sarcasm (or at least the overturning of expectations) seemed to be the strongest theme, and despite deprecating his own rambling-between-poems style at the beginning, the introductions were among the highlights. The revenge piece was introduced as a story about the time he and a troupe of Sadlers Wells dancers defeated a jewellery heist using a rusty Zippo (for what it’s worth, I’d love to hear that poem, if anyone wants to write it...). The poem Open-Ended Process illustrating the ludicrousness of the anti-gay-marriage camp (hah!) included the phrase “insidious wasp cock” when describing the title-providing MP for Hendon. I am using that. Fair warning, Adam - I am completely stealing that.

Recordings will go up soon. Some kind of podcastery is long overdue for Hammer & Tongue and Allographic nights, and since there’s no time like the present, um, it’ll be soon. Maybe when my annual leave kicks in at the end of the month.

See you all soon, spoken word fans! :)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Poems and Such

Just quickly - I’ve started putting my actual poems (mostly, so far, those that have already been shared online) into a blog. You can find it at http://fayrobertspoetry.blogspot.com/

That is all - carry on! :)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A long day of self-congratulatory code

Did that just happen? Yes, it appears that I not only decided this week to completely redesign my website by hand, but left until the last minute putting together a proper set of audio and video showreels and, due to these delays, left it until the 11th hour to apply to perform poetry at Glastonbury Festival’s “Poetry and Words” stage this year.

(Delicious though the frisson of delay and frankly autostimulatory antics of dicking about with HTML and CSS to make me look good may be, yes, I have actually submitted my application. I only sabotaged my sleep.)

A decent web-presence is pretty important - more important than it used to be to independent performers who need to stand out, especially as the baseline for a “normal” amount of web presence has shifted so much in the last 5 years. And with many people using Wordpress and Moonfruit to make pretty sites for themselves with little-to-no knowledge of the underlying code and engineering of a site, it’s also easier than ever. As a promoter and host, when I have an artist I’m going to be marketing, the very easiest thing is for me to go to their website, grab the best-looking (or most conveniently-proportioned) picture of them, a swift bit of bio-blah and chuck it into an event ticket site, flyer, Facebook event, etc. And then a quick click on their YouTube or Soundcloud presence and I can use that to whet the appetite of the audience. For me the best performer sites have been both easy to navigate and pleasant on the eye, and have contained all these elements in one central place while giving me a good idea of the character of the performer through little things like colour choices and layout. I wanted something like that for me.

It always comes as a shock to me when I ask a performer “And do you have a website we can direct people to?” and they shrug a “not really...” I’m expecting at least a WriteOutLoud profile page or free blog; Twitter and Facebook are less useful unless they have a well-structured fan page on the latter, but still something. I find myself wondering how they market themselves...

I guess that, for many people (and I’m thinking primarily here of Londoners), they’re not looking to travel much to perform - they’re looking to rock up to local open mics and impress, then get booked for feature slots. This is a good way of making it work for you, but what do you do if there isn’t much for you to rock up to where you live and no promoters with funding to see you if you did? And what do you do if - like me - most of the open mic nights on in your vicinity are run by you? Yep - virtual networking: make those intangible connections (much as our ancestors did by carrying out correspondences - sometimes for decades - with people they’d never met but with whom they shared interests, by the way - this is not a new phenomenon), publishing your best work (seriously - not a new thing, just a new technology), being cheeky and getting in touch with people you’ve never met, telling them about the good opinions of people you’ve both met who think you’re both ace, and doing people favours remotely.

I’ve spent the last week gathering quotes from people I trust whom I think that festival-makers will trust and asking them to say (nice) things about me. I’ve been poring through old pictures, video footage and audio recordings of me and splicing it (somewhat timorously, I have to confess, considering I have a lot more material at my disposal than I’ve used) into portfolios that might show me in my best light, critically examining photos, videos, and audio for ones that made me look and sound good. If you thought the website-building was Onanistic, you’ve no idea the horrific mingling of shame and pleasure all that’s brought me.

I love hosting. There’s nothing quite like bringing an audience along with you to cheer and clap for someone else - someone who may be terrified, or just uncertain. It’s amazing and I hope I never stop doing it. But I love performing too, as me, and for that I need to have gigs to perform for, and for that I need to sell myself, despite all the nice-girls-don’t-do-that memes in my head.

So, returning to the new-look website itself, why did I hand-crank the site when Wordpress is so pretty and easy to use? Good question, and one I’d seriously debated. I’ve been coding my own site for a long time now (in fact, for over ten years, now I come to think of it, especially if we count the Word-made sites!) so turning to blogging as a baseline for a whole site seemed a little... retrograde. And while Wordpress, Moonfruit, and Google Sites make things pretty, they’re also deeply limited, even if you pay for the more l33t versions, and can be very difficult to edit (Google, this means you).

So pride and stubbornness get us to the point where I’ve decided that Wordpress isn’t good enough, but my skills aren’t up to Da Pritty. What next? I ask performance-focused web professionals, and it turned out that if I want a pretty site I can subsequently edit myself it would cost a bunch (worth it, long-term) but also take a few weeks.

I didn’t have a few weeks, I had a few days, and the old site just wasn’t going to cut it. Which is why Thursday saw me starting to train myself belatedly in CSS language, and Friday saw me cannibalising other people’s sites to get an idea of how it works out for simple examples, and yesterday saw me bodge all that together in a new site. Going through the process was intriguing from the point of view of what I do as a day job - I’m a technical project manager, mostly for online applications. For this project I had to be client, sponsor, project manager, designer, developer, and tester. I drew it all out on bits of paper, set myself timelines, and wrote out a list of (seemingly endless) tasks. Like a good developer, I ramped up the thoroughness of the testing as the system became more complex, and I used templates and libraries where I could (where I understood them - CSS is stupidly hard for what it is and for who I think I am). I didn't do commenting or draw up any documentation, but luckily the handover process is pretty minimal, so I reckon I’ll get away with it...

Like every technical project in the history of ever, it went out late, incomplete, and with at least one defect. I’m inclined to blame the designer, though the tester missed a blinder. We had minimal scope creep and came in under budget while the product was fit for purpose in the right time-frame. So a win on points. And experience.

Hopefully my future blog posts won’t be this long, but I just wanted to document the thought processes and a little of the physical processes. There’s plenty more to do on the site, and I may well get a professional in at some point, but for now it’ll do, and for now I have something to wave at people from across the country.

Big thanks to all the people who’ve given me quotes to use. If you don’t see yours on there yet it’s because everything else became more urgent, and it will go up. I recommend this process of asking nice people for nice comments to anyone as a morale booster - it’s been like getting the nicest leaving card EVAR and I don’t even have to go anywhere! :)