Friday, 19 December 2014

Ahem. An announcement

So here's a thing. As some of you already know, I applied last month to go to part-time working in my day-job.  Today I heard that they have agreed "in principle". What this means in actuality is that I'll come back on 5th January full-time, but will swiftly move to part-time (3½ days a week, for those of you who really want to know) once we've worked out all the logistical details, signed the bits of paper, etc. After 12 weeks, we review and find out if it works (can I get all my work done in the time, can the people who deputise for me cover well, can I cope on less money, etc.?).

I couldn't be happier* - this is a chance for me to get a proper work-life balance, look after my health, enjoy more time to write/ focus properly on poetry promotion, etc., maybe even just sleep more. I suspect that, for some weeks, it'll be a case of just sleeping more. :)

You know what? It's beginning to look a LOT like Christmas... :D

* well, obviously if they'd signed it off last week and I was looking forward to starting part-time straight after the holidays, that would be

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


So, people have been getting stuck into debate about this article.  In “Slam Poetry Does Not Exist: How a movement has been misconstrued as a genre”, the author contends that people have misconstrued a poetical movement into a poetical genre. He contends this for the best part of 2,000 words, and is talking from the perspective of the North American slam scene, but much of what he says can be applied to the British slam scene, though more in some places than others (yay cultural diversity).

And other poets have been getting stuck into this, so I thought I’d give my personal take on it.

I love slams.

I hate slams.


Slamming got my poetry out from notebooks and onto a stage, where I’ve always felt more comfortable (I was a singer, now I’m a poet, this happens; also - poetry was wickedly badly-taught in my school). I started running a slam in Milton Keynes, which moved onto a mixed-slam-and-open-mic because people wanted to perform but not everyone likes to slam. Getting involved with (and now running) Hammer & Tongue in Cambridge got me exposed to more people, and upped my hosting game immensely.  Competing in (and then judging) the BBC Slam again linked me to performers and promoters I wouldn’t otherwise have met. I have friends I’d never have even met if it wasn’t for slam. I’ve witnessed poets I might never have experienced if it wasn’t for slam. Seeing people get poetry for the first time because they were drawn in by the more universally-understood hook of competition and having them come up afterwards and say “OH MY GOD! POETRY! I NEVER KNEW! WHERE CAN I GET MORE?!” and then running off to read All Of The Internet (Poetry Section) that very night - that’s exciting and humbling in one breath.

I can’t slam myself. It’s too much. I shake and freeze and the explicit judgement (and anticipation of the same) is like physical pain. I don’t care that I’ve done well in them in the past; I only remember the humiliation of doing badly, and the bored/ pitying looks of those who were expecting funny, or political, or just louder, please, louder, we can’t hear you... And there’s a style that’s creeping into (especially big city) slam that’s becoming a bit homogenous - a tickbox, cut-out-theatrical, three minute emotional blackmail personal story with artful gasps to break the flow into lines. It takes inspiration from some of the most beautiful artists out there and clumsily apes it, and it makes me bored, and angry that I’m bored.

We see people performing poems they clearly wrote in order to win slams, not as good performance pieces that fit the timeframe, and that annoys me.  But then, hell, page poetry has its forms where people compress thoughts into a set number of lines, and rhymes, and syllables, and enter those into the relevant competitions. We have people setting out to deliberately fling a string of vague-but-beautiful metaphysical bon-mots at their readers/ listeners. We have people who take easy political potshots for empty applause. EVERY form of poetry... hell, every form of ART has its hackneyed pretenders, and its cynical manipulators.

Recently I’ve seen a series of poets storm slams with brave, meaty, relevant, excellent, vital, original poetry, and the people who won did so with difficult, challenging, viscerally true pieces. Few of them, once you get to a certain level, are
slam-style poems, and I think for good reason: because people enjoy showmanship, but you need that and the truth to win a poetry crowd. It’s also important to note that - like X-Factor or whatever - it’s not the winning that necessarily gets you gigs, if that’s your aim: a promoter in a crowd may dig your stuff and book you, no matter what the judges say.
In short, in my opinion: slam poetry can be a genre/ style, but it is ultimately self-limiting. Slams are bringing people to excellent and exciting art in a way they can understand, and then they can choose whether and how they want to explore performance poetry (we see plenty of people who go from our slams to our open mics and decide to stick with the gentler nights; we also see plenty others “graduate” from trying it out on the open mics to competing the high-octane buzz of slam; and then there are those who like both...!). And I’m starting to lose count of those artists I seen for whom slam has been the platform for them to go on and do great work outside of the slam arena.

Slam can be exciting, and entertaining, and infuriating, and educational, and self-important, and inspirational, and nepotistic, and awe-inspiring, and dull, and connecting, and divisive. Like life. So I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lucky, really, as tomorrow I'll be running a slam: go to for more details.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

NoNoNaNo (Or: how I will be challenging myself creatively in November 2014.)

Firstly: I will not be taking part in NaPoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For a variety of reasons, it's not going to happen this year.

Secondly: I will be challenging myself to write something every day. Unlike with NaPoWriMo, I won't be aiming to write 30 brand new pieces during November.  Unlike with NaNoWriMo, I won't be stitching together a set number of words to make an overall product.  It's going to be a weird halfway house between the two with no set numerical goals except to be writing something (either as part of a larger thing, or a complete piece in itself/ themselves) every day.

This could be:
  • Poetry
  • Short stories
  • Bits of the one-hour, solo spoken word show I'm developing (of course I'm developing a one-hour, solo spoken word show - have you met a spoken word artist lately?!)
  • Other Stuff

Thirdly: this is where you come in.  I would like to take some commissions, to prevent me from losing momentum/ writing utter crap. I suspect I'll do better stuff if I'm writing for other people.  (Or will I? That'll be fun to discover...)

The options are:
  1. Give me a phrase, or a picture, or a place, or something of that ilk - whatever I write must be either inspired by, or about that item;
  2. Give me a precise genre (poem (and style within poetry, if appropriate), short story, or Something Else);
  3. Give me a person for whom I should be writing this (it can just be you); or
  4. Combine two or more of the above.

The rules are:
  1. You can't specify length above 20 lines or 750 words (but you can specify length below that, unless the form you've chosen is constrained to a particular length...);
  2. If has to be something it's feasible to write in 2-3 days max (and bear in mind that I work full-time, so use your judgement wisely!);
  3. You can give me a commission any time between now and 29th November 2014.
  4. I have to start it in November 2014 for it to be considered part of the challenge;
  5. If I start it, I have to finish it, even if finishing it happens in a date past 30th November (but no later than 31st December 2014); and
  6. I am allowed to turn down commissions on the grounds of the feasibility of the above.

The format of the finished product will likely mostly be electronic, though this is something we can talk about. You choose whether this is something I can share with the general public or if it's just for you.

You can submit a commission request by filling in the form here. I'll be blogging (naturally) about it here.

Fourthly: As this is the first year I'm doing this and I've NO IDEA how/ if this will fly, I won't be raising any money from it.  However, if you feel like you'd like to add an extra incentive, please make a donation to either Mind or Cancer Research and let me know about it. Ta! :)

Let's see what November brings...

Friday, 19 September 2014

A Voice for Cambridge

Right, this is it. We're going to be making a title of Cambridge Bard (or "Bard for Cambridge" - still under debate), as part of a mini-festival on Sunday 21st June 2015.

The Bard would stand for the Voice of the People. They would gain their title ("be chaired") after passing trials (all creative! :)).  They would hold their title for (at least) a year and a day, before passing it on to the next successful Bard.

A Bard needs to be: motivated by a passion for words; talented in crafting words (this can be in song or poetry - even in both!); motivated by a passion for representation and broad social justice (take that as you will!) rather than person gain; willing to serve the people who elect them with their talent and passion by taking the voice of the people to those with the power.

Okay.  I've rambled about this before.  Two immediate things:

1. Who wants to be involved in getting this off the ground? We essentially need a committee who can actually do stuff and are reasonably passionate about this concept.

2. Who wants to help me on Sunday (21-Sep-14) at noon by being physically there to support me when I go to Parker's Piece to ritualistically proclaim that this is going to happen...?! :D

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

April? It must be #NaPoWriMo time...

And this time I'm not in France, or other such shenanigans. Mind you, while this will make the technical act of posting poems to my blog easier, a) I'll be in work; b) I'll have to milk home harder for inspiration!

This year I'm teaming up (in a fairly loose sense!) with a group of six other poets, and we'll be posting to a team blog as well as anywhere else we pester with poetry.

Having, for once, written my first one quite early in the day, I'm tempted by the notion of building up a buffer, as opposed to having to catch up when the inevitable vicissitudes of, you know, actually taking part in life cramp my time and other resources.  Hmm.  Maybe what I'll do is just make sure that, if inspiration's there and I've already hit my target, I don't stop myself, but don't actively seek to get ahead.

(Yes, I'm thinking aloud here - thanks for listening.)

So yeah, go read the Cambridgeshire NaPoWriMo team blog (, or check out my solo one ( - also includes 2013's efforts) and we'll see you on the other side of the lyrical half-marathon... :)

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Yep, April Beckons

And this year I'll be doing <a href=" target="npwmblogfr">NaPoWriMo</a> again.

I have to confess, April's crept up on me, but I'm at least a little more prepared this year.  Unless, of course, inspiration is a finite resource, in which case I'm buggered...

Thinking of setting up a blog for those of us who want to do this together can post.  Hands up if you're in.