Saturday, September 23, 2006

Saturday night.... Just back from ‘Lit Up’ – 3 day showcase/conference in Kendal for anyone and everyone with a passion for poetry performance and spoken-word. Here’s the stats: 21 events, more than 120 delegates, over 70 artists and performers – the biggest showcase of contemporary ‘live literature’ in the UK ever.
The aim was to show the range of work around, from trad performance poetry through storytelling and story-reading to poetry-led drama – with, of course, nightly poetry slams. All this in the superb venue (& with the top class organisation) of The Brewery in Kendal. As a Londoner I’m not a fan of North, and have to admit I didn’t even know where I was headed as my train journey tacked across country, simply assuming I'd arrive in a place of chill and darkness, and packing jumpers accordingly. Emerging at Kendal I find sun like apricot bloom on soft hillsides and a trafficky but beautiful town, with tiny alleys and archways and interesting charity shops… and a K shoe outlet with amazing bargains…
Back to the event. And to begin at the beginning: Aisle 16, bringing EDUTAINMENT to the people. The portraits in the attics may be losing their grip a bit, except for Luke (“Not streetwise, more cul-de-sac cunning”) Wright, but these guys are still a brilliant intro to Why Poetry Is Not Shit.
After supper with the other South-west delegates, we rush into the Being Alive event, where actors read the words of poems from this popular Bloodaxe anthology. For me there’s a slight Jack-factor (as in Will & Grace) in this representation of authentic personal experience through actors voices and timing, but I can see this might well widen the appeal of the Live-Lit genre, which is what we all want.
I’m wiped after the journey, and so is my friend Grace from Salisbury Poetry CafĂ©, so we go back to our B&B to redefine rocknroll as watching telly in bed with a cuppa….
Next day starts with a discussion session, and then stifled sobs throughout The Journey, a mix of storytelling and music which brings a Kurdish emigrant's journey close to that of every human heart. For contrast, there’s Rob Gee with The Brighter Side’s poignancy through humour, and then thought-provoking scratch performances from four of the Apples and Snakes stable of poets. Straight into the World Poets Tour – translations from African and Mexican poems – then just about time to grab a sandwich & a glass of wine before Patrick Gale’s crisp but ghoulish short story Wig, followed by the late night Poetry Slam which is slickly compered by that incomparable duo Marcus Moore & Sarah-Jane Arbury. Grace & I are judges of ‘audience reaction’ and the winner is Morag Reid, Apples & Snakes outreach worker. She's as surprised as she is chuffed.
Friday, and 10 more events lined up. I managed to see all the shows except one which clashed with a marketing talk - & which turned out to be the fave-event of just about everyone I spoke to: Four Fathers, one of whom is poet James Nash:
Part of the appeal, as well as excellence of writing, was agreed to be the simplicity of delivery – ironic, really, as nearly every other event bragged lighting, music, and state-of-the-art technology. It’s a fine line: Tell Tales, 5 writers reading their short stories, struggled to present words against the distraction of soundtrack – but I Hear Voices, 3 rap poets using sound and movement to create tales of alienation, was stunning - a real high-spot of the event.
But if poetry is a way to engage with feelings of displacement and isolation, let’s not forget it’s sexy too. Till Death Us Do Part didn’t. The Brewery Arts home team created a theatrical piece which has us all tingling, reminding us that words aren't the only, or even the most essential, communication.
The evening - and the whole Lit Up event - ends sensationally with the hi-energy of Mark Gwynne Jones & the Psychicbread, poetry you can dance to, and the final Slam, won jointly by Rob Gee and Ben Mellor.
And then we party…
Overall evaluation? A brilliant, inspirational event - tick-box 'excellent' for nearly every presentation. Discussions were useful too. It may be true that 'Live Literature is a genre that needs a kick-start', but there's a lot of dynamic people out here ready to put the boot in.

Me and Grace with poets Lucy English, Rob Gee, and Marcus Moore (he's the one with the ciggy)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

This week's highlight has to be the EXPOSED performance poetry event at the Merlin, a one-night only stop in this Apples&Snakes national tour which premiered in Birmingham to rave reviews - well, the You-Write review in The Independent was enthusiastic: "Poetry has enjoyed something of a renaissance lately, and with these performers the art form is in safe hands" observed Ben McNair from Lichfield, and I hoped the Frome audience would feel the same. I'm so pleased to have grabbed the wonderful Elvis McGonnegal as MC, and he led off brilliantly with caustic wit about politicians both sides of the Atlantic. The Exposed team - Yusra Warsama, Stickman, Claire Williamson, David J, and Polarbear - all gave powerfully moving performances and the whole event was dazzlingly polished. Afterwards some of the audience joined the poets in the bar for an impromptu 'post-show chat' and it was fascinating to hear how the concept was realised. Polarbear told us how the poets had explored the 'exposed' theme at a weekend retreat in Dorset. "And then we all ran in different directions as far as we could" he said; "We knew if we do this, we've got to do it well."
What a privilege, for me, to perform alongside this line-up!

And now I'm off to do some gardening, while the sun still shines. Next week is the Lit Up spoken word showcase in Kendal where the delegate list looks like a poetry Who's Who, and I'm going to be listening to them all, so watch this space...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A quick look back at summer snapshots...
Here's the Skyros writers, and this is the beach... The town is amazing too, white cubist buildings tumbled across the rock face like sugar lumps, but it's that fantastic, indescribable, blue of the sea that stays with me, almost stronger than the autumn colours here in England now.

Sometimes it's hard to come home, but not this time - September has been deliciously mellow, with hot days and balmy nights. Tonight I was in Bristol with my friend (and co-member of Liquid Jam poetry trio) Hazel Stewart, strolling around the quays amazed at the warmth of the evening. We'd gone in for the Big Mouth Cabaret Poetry Festival Show which billed some of my favourite poets - Byron Vincent, Dreadlock Alien, and (surely the next poet laureate!) Luke Wright - but sadly the event had to be cancelled at short notice. So we took the opportunity to climb the hill to Cabot Tower, and the tower itself which gives stupendous views all around Bristol, then sat writing in the gardens as dusk closed around the city.
And best of all, as autumn begins to lose its golden Keatsian glamour, I get another blast of Greek sunshine... I'm off walking in Crete in two weeks...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

September already... It's been a busy summer, and I've been aware that most of what I'm doing never makes it to my website. Maybe it seems like short notice, or local appeal, or I'm not sure where best to post my pictures or commentaries. And then I miss a chance to tell other writer how inspirational the Durham Writers Conference was, or urge people to buy Greece magazine (which published my piece after the June writing course in Crete) or to brag about the beautiful bay of Skyros where I led a course in August.

So I thought a blog would be a great way of celebrating the wonderful variety of things I'm lucky enough to be doing.
I thought I'd give myself a few guidelines, based on Jack Kerouak's 'list of essentials':

Something that will find its own form
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

Well, Kerouac had a few more, but that's a start.