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Friday, 31 January 2014


Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be popping up all over the place. I was asked to be Hammer & Tongue's guest poet for the month, which means, from next Tuesday, 4th Feb, I'll be performing at Hackney, then Bristol on Weds, Brighton Thurs, Camden Monday 10th, Oxford on the 11th and Cambridge the 12th.

Before that, I'll be easing into the week at Rrrants at the Camden Head - my old local - on Monday. It's free - a mix of music, comedy, poetry and easy vibes.

Afterwards, I'll be at a school showcase on the 13th, and Brixton Library on Feb 14th (more on the last two to come!). The 16th, Utter!'s 10th birthday event (which I've posted about before) will be my last gig of the month. I'll be doing a couple of things in March, most notably Polari Up North in Huddersfield (more to come) and winding down almost completely in April, while I sort a plan for the rest of the year. 

I hope it'll be a good opportunity for me to see new places, get inspired by new poets,  rock out some new poetry and meet some people I haven't seen in ages too. I'm really excited about it. 

I'll be doing a few mini-updates at least once every couple of days, so stay posted.



  • Chance of Rain 11°C / 7°C
  • New year, new venue!
    Same amazing standard of poetry, same brilliant slam opportunities!

    Hammer and Tongue Hackney has moved to a new home in Dalston - Bar Hysteria, just down from Dalston Junction.

    We are celebrating this with two fantastic poets, Keith Jarrett and Chimène Suleyman performing and our monthly open slam.

    Previous London and UK poetry slam champion, Keith's writes and performs, “lyrically rich poems, charged with emotion, passion and lots of humour” (Sabotage Reviews)

    Chimène is a poet who regularly writes for the Independent and Poejazzi. Her new poetry collection, 'Outside Looking On' will be published by Influx Press in July. Her poetry has been heard all over country including performances at the Royal Opera House. She represented the UK at the International Biennale in Rome in 2011.

    Aaaaand the Open Slam!
    Come down to take part in our legendary open slam, which can lead eventually to the Hammer and Tongue national final, and accolades beyond!
    First 8 to sign up get to slam.

    Hosted by the ever entertaining Sam Berkson (aka Angry Sam), the irrepresible, globe trotting Paula Varjack and with soulful vibes from the record collection of Kit Caless (NTS/Resonance FM).

    Doors, DJ and slam sign up from 19:00.

578 Kingsland RoadE8 4AH London, United Kingdom

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Postcards from Home... and short Update

The last few days have been stressful. Last week - somewhere between Wednesday night and Thursday evening - I lost my pad with a lot of notes and some draft poems in it. I'm old school - if I'm sitting in a meeting or I'm outside, I like to jot things down on paper, and not on my laptop or phone, unless absolutely necessary. I've been retracing my steps and called up lost property departments... all very sympathetic until I tell them that by "notepad" I don't mean an expensive piece of electronic equipment, but a few sheets of paper....

I had two deadlines for Monday and Tuesday - one for the Royal Festival Organ project, the other an essay for Goldsmiths University - which I had to stick to, and I had important information for both inside. The good news is both projects have now been handed in and I can think about getting some sleep and moving on. (The bad news is I wonder what has become of all those unborn poems which are out there somewhere, almost illegible).

Even greater news, I was really pleased to see Anna Hope on BBC news this week - I'm extremely proud of my Unwriteable friends!

Next Up

I'm looking forward to Polari on Friday, and I'll be reading a 15 minute set. Looking forward to seeing Joelle Taylor (and I've been wanting to buy her Ska Tissue for ages!) And I'm looking forward to hearing Christopher Fowler! I mean, what more could you ask for? (Well, apart from having my pad back as well...!)

**Next Major Breaking News: I'll be doing a run of Hammer & Tongue gigs early next month, as their special guest!! **The dates are on their website and on my Upcoming gigs page.

In the meanwhile, it's back to school tomorrow, so goodnight!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Arbitrary List: 2013 (part 2)

A couple more links to come, plus a couple more details... stay posted

Flicking through my diary, emails and blog posts, I feel I achieved a lot last year. I was part of several whacky poetry projects and spent my time around some great people which has, in part, counteracted some of my more challenging experiences when it came to my personal life.

Here are some more highlights:

6, Slams, More Slams... and a few game shows... 

In my limited experience, the poetry slam scene here isn't nearly as competitive as other countries; its format is also more open to appropriation by comedy nights and regular poetry shows - promise a slam at the end and it sounds a little more interesting!

I missed Farrago's London and its UK Slam; I also missed Hammer & Tongue's National Final. I wanted to go, not to take part but to get in touch with my roots - I owe much of my poetry writing to the slam and I doubt I would have ended up performing poetry without it.

But whilst I haven't connected with some of the more established slam competitions this year, I've ended up taking part in other interesting slams and poetry-related competitiveness.

One of the most notable was the Human Rights Slam for the Bloomsbury Festival at Senate House. I was there to defend my title as Human Rights poetry champion - and to attend the launch event for the Human Rights Poetry Anthology In Protest (still available from several outlets, I hear.) Of course, I was excited to have one of my more experimental poems in there, on an issue I care about a lot, but months later, I still flick through and am struck by the different struggles and injustices from around the world, collected into a 150-poem volume. It doesn't pull any punches, but it doesn't set out to shock. Art with a political purpose is a tricky one - it's difficult not to sound preachy when you bring issues to the forefront of your work - but I've really engaged with many of the poems here; I've learnt and been inspired - and sometimes angered - and enjoyed them as poems.

 150 Poems for Human Rights

I also took part in another round of Stand Up and Slam! after partaking at the initial night in 2012. It's proving to be successful - and pretty entertaining too. After a terrible, terrible time way back many years ago, I promised never to share a stage with a comedian again ever in my life. But this has been a lot of fun. And a lot of laffs. And I've only gained more respect for the skills of a good stand-up comedian; and like any other good performer, they make it seem effortless.

I've also gained more respect for rappers after doing two Rap vs Poetry nights - one in an East End boxing ring. Talk about poetry with punch! Other unusual locations for poetry battles: the streets of genteel Canterbury, standing on a box/mini-stage, and then, later, under a gazebo, hoping it doesn't rain again, while a "random navigator" holds up a sign above your head. Life is anything but dull for me.

Dan Simpson looking shifty
Back in the Edinburgh Fringe, I took part in Michelle Madsen's 'I'm Sorry I Haven't a Haiku' poetry game show down in the Banshee Labyrinth. Our teams had to write haiku on the subject of Dr Who, Dr No and the NHS. Then, in a bonus round, we were given a couple of minutes to write about Ghostbusters. I surprised myself with the following:

Let's deconstruct this:
Ghosts are just a metaphor 
For male privilege  

My Dr. Who was a lot less successful, as I fell prey to the temptation of "knock knock"...

7, and Anti-Slams (and alter egos)

pic by Rob Sloetry Covell
Seriously - I've done two of these things and it's been so much fun. The Consciousness (that's "Conscious Yes", to you folks) has been on the rampage, warning audiences to step up and get wise, then not actually getting to do the poem because they're not ready to hear "real talk". Or to buy flyers.

Being able to caricature others is wicked, evil, and oh so fun. Being able to have a joke at yourself can also be liberating. I can be overly-earnest, rash, ill-informed, circumlocutory... and sometimes I start sentences I can't finish. As well as mimicking a few extremes I've heard at various open mic nights, I'm sure I brought some of the worst aspects of myself to the stage and turned them up to max. The Anti-Slam feels like a carnival for poets; we all dance onto stage in our brighter-than-normal costumes (in Amy McAllister's case, in the form of a bright orange Sainsburys bag) and let loose for a bit - just before the police come.

Tongue Fu vs the Anti-Slam was especially fun because it was less in-house. We all got to do our thing on the Tongue Fu stage ("This is how we do Tongue Fu/ Get on this train of thought/ Because we're coming through/ Choo choo!") with the live band responding in unpredictably brilliant ways. The audience got to settle in to the atmosphere and hear us in our regular personas with the band first, and then the night took on its carnivalesque twist, with in-jokes for the poets added to the mix, and with the band adding to the grotesqueness.

Regardless - slam or anti-slam - what's made these nights worthwhile for me is feeling like part of a community. Often, I'll get to perform alongside the same poets working on similar projects and no one cares about winning - it's more about challenging each other to be more daring and to enjoy creating poetry together.


8, River House

I wrote about this project last year. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, neither Anna and I have been able to commit to another term of creative writing sessions there - but I hope to hear more from team River House soon! There's nothing like being around someone who hasn't written in thirty years but has now taken the steps to reconnect with his passion. And there's nothing like helping facilitate that process. I could never forget.

9, Hainault via Newbury Park, and other broken tracks

I've written about this already. And probably a couple of times, too. Last year was the first time I had the confidence to collate my poetry and attempt to make a thing of it. It's not perfect, but it's a great feeling to have done it.

10, Unwriteables

It's been 6 years (maybe more - too early for maths!) since meeting this bunch when we were all students at Birkbeck. We created a regular workshop group that catered to our needs as emerging prose writers. Most of us were working on a novel; some - like me - just on short stories. We've all continued to meet, despite various commitments and life patterns. Last year was massive for some members of the group - and I'm proud to feel part of it. Here are a few measurable writing achievements of the last year:

Anna's novel, focussing on the aftermath of the First World War and the lives of three women is haunting at times, just brilliant in others. After being bought by Random House last year, it's already started a minor buzz - it's had amazing reviews and a Sunday Times feature - and it's not out till next week. I can't wait!

Thea is one of the most versatile writers I know. She's ghostwritten children's books and romance fiction and is working on her own novel... and she managed to research and write a comprehensive book about gin, which I've been enjoying (the book, not just the gin).

Olja decided to quit writing in English for a while. Since then, her Milena novel has been doing really well in the Balkans and I really hope we get an English version soon! Meanwhile, features from her weekly newspaper column back in Montenegro - writing from London - were finally collected in a book last year.

I have no idea what she's saying in the interview above, but I'll ask later...

First Novel MA

David spent last year on different writing projects, including this one - this course is now set up and it offers a much-needed space for writer development. The degree is specifically aimed at writers working on their first novel and, rather than a 15-30,000 word portfolio, this MA will help towards achieving a satisfying first draft.

I'm so happy to count the Unwriteables among friends - and critics. If ever I am going to finish the novel I'm writing, they'll play a massive part in supporting me through it.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Upcoming Gig... Stuart Hall Project! And synchronising...

Tomorrow, I'll be on a panel discussion with Njikdekah Iroh and David Neita - and performing a couple of poems, following the screening of The Stuart Hall Project at the BFI Southbank. More on the film here.

This will be the first time I've seen it and I can't wait to see what comes up in the conversation about Stuart Hall and the questions the film raises. I'm particularly interested in how we engage with Cultural Studies, whether as something strictly confined to academic circles, or as a useful tool for analysing and influencing societal interaction. Clearly the latter - and I say this after I spent the end of last year reading (far too much) about Lily Allen and then Beyonce (Hollie McNish's article last month was particularly interesting), and then seeing the intersectionality argument pop up again on Twitter, after some pretty vitriolic comments being served out by anonymous trolls. Certainly, there's a lot we can learn from how we represent age/race/gender etc. in mainstream culture. Pretending it doesn't matter isn't an option.

Btw, on a somewhat related note, I have a privilege score of about -190. Computer says so. (Check your privilege here if you're interested in oppression Olympics)

Updates: Synchronising

I'll be updating the rest of this blog page over the next few days, and starting to Tweet again. My Upcoming Events page is pretty much up-to-date - and I'll sort my What I'm Reading... panel and links soon. I'll also finish the highlights of last year before we've gone too far into this one ;)

Meanwhile, I'm about to do some writing and, meanwhile, listening to music on my new speakers. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Utter!: a matter of birth and death...

On 16th February, I'll be performing at Utter's Birth/deathday party, celebrating 10 years of Utter! poetry nights and slams, and founder Richard Tyrone Jones' birthday. Utter! is currently applying for funding to put on a series of events for its 10th year, including a tour of some of the shows put on during the Edinburgh Festival. My own show, Identity Mix-Up, would be a part of this tour - so it'll be a great opportunity to revise and repeat it alongside the other great poetry shows that went up to the Fringe last year.

Of course, any contributions would strengthen the funding application. Check this link for more info on how to get involved.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Another Arbitrary List: 2013 (part 1)

(links added... and stay posted for Part II....)

HNY! I'm back again, the glass is nearly half full and it's back to school tomorrow. Xmas holidays have whizzed by and I'm starting with an action-packed few weeks, just to wake me up from the post-Brussel sprout slump I seem to have got into.

It's only fair I welcome a few traditions into the 2014 - and one of them to list some of my writing-related highlights of the past year. But this time I'll keep it brief(ish). So here goes:

1, Spoken Word Educators project

I have to start with this project as it dominates most of what I do. We started the year with Raymond Antrobus, Dean Atta, Pete Bearder, Cat Brogan and Indigo Williams, with Peter Kahn doing the work of three people: project managing, applying for funds and supporting our training. Sadly, he had to return to Chicago from his sabbatical in July; and, happily, we gained three new project directors  

...And we keep getting bigger! 3 more educators are currently training to take on full-time posts this September. They're great poets/people! - and there'll be more on them soon.

Meanwhile, in the summer term, my number one highlight of the programme was our June showcase, which really showed up the transformation of our Spoken Word Club attendees. Following on from this, end of term performances (one commented on by Baroness Jones) and an event at the Southbank Centre were the icing on the cake.

Winners of the 'Power of Poetry' Competition

Since then, individually, we've been helping establish a culture of writing and performance in our schools. This has already led to poet-pupils winning competitions (see above), taking part in borough festivals, London showcase with worldwide links  and performing at the Houses of Parliament during Parliament Week. 2014 promises to be even bigger for the young poets and for the education programme. It will also be challenging - but the fact that we've managed to start this creative endeavour in a "difficult" time (or "austere", or however you choose to phrase it) within the politically-hot domain of the education system is a triumph. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

2, Capturing Fire

Wow wee! This was such a wonderful experience, which I wish to repeat again this year. I made new friends - most notably in the form of Sophia Walker - met some wonderful people in DC and I also faced some of my reservations/fears, with surprising reactions.

I was concerned about being labelled - particularly by family and possibly by schools I've worked at (a quick Google search for "Keith Jarrett" can bring up all sorts of early recordings!) - by performing a lot on the LGBT poetry scene. I mostly write about cultural identity and sometimes about personal/political conflict, and sexuality rarely comes into it in any overt way. To have people I've never met before question my sexuality within the first few minutes of speaking to them - simply because of one or two poems they saw on Youtube - can be wearying.

That said, I can't believe that nearly put me off... Because to be part of an amazing few days, with workshops, seminars (with donuts), readings, random conversations in bookshops, late-night cyphers and chilli dogs and an international Slam - and to place 3rd in the Slam - and then to fly back with a head full of ideas (and a bag full of books - which my bookcase is still groaning about) and a load of love for the international poetry community and those fighting to find a place within a sometimes homophobic - sometimes extremely hostile - environment, was worth it.

Back home, I've also used Capturing Fire's recording of 'Gay Poem' (see above) in schools to talk about how we tackle homophobic attitudes - both our own and others'. Overwhelmingly, the young people I've worked with have been mature, sensible and respectful to each other and I'm really privileged to be in this position (and to get so much mileage out of a three-minute poem!)

3, Fierce

Similarly, having a portrait for the Fierce exhibition alongside some pioneering people has been a massive confidence-booster. Back in December 2012, Ajamu asked to take my portrait for Fierce. The project is a bold one - a fierce one - and much-needed, and it's inspiring to see his passion.

The Guildhall Art gallery is full of imposing paintings charting British history; like many art galleries in London, few of the portraits look like me and few of the visitors look like me. Yet, outside - in the real world - London happens to be one of the most ethnically-diverse places in the world, featuring people of all ages, sexualities, abilities. It was a real honour to be asked to be part of this, doing a little to balance representation. And it was great visiting Guildhall in the Spring and seeing black, young and LGBT faces lining the walls, all known in their different areas for what they do.        

As part of the funding campaign for Fierce II, my picture was also alongside some of the other Fierce people in a pop-up gallery in the West End for a few days. And who knows if it will pop up again in the future. I'm looking forward to see where this project will go next. Meanwhile,

4, Identity Mix-Up

See 'Capturing Fire' above. I was conscious about being labelled, and conscious that most of my interests concern identities and political conflicts. And as I started putting together my Edinburgh show, I realised that something was missing. Me. So I re-wrote most of it by running through my own life in terms of different identity markers (Race. Religion. Gender. etc). And I covered myself in sticky labels. And I added in the bits that I'm most embarrassed by (at least 50% of the show makes me feel uncomfortable - and half again for the parts that are so personal I dreaded performing it in front of people I know for the first time, and nearly canned the whole thing).

I had a wobbly outline with most of the writing done and just two weeks to spare when I put on my first ever show. All these years where I've written, taught and performed and I'd never designed a poster, never hosted an event and never written anything longer than fifteen minutes! All that considered, I did pretty well - but I was devastated it didn't all go to plan the first time round. So I re-jigged and scripted and memorised everything. Then I reassessed why I was doing the show in the first place. I'd told myself that I wanted it to be interactive, to learn from the audience and share my own experience, and so that's what I came back to. I did learn from the audience, and I did feel connected to them and I'm so glad I did the show!

Being a part of the Utter! Team, and spending the week with James McKay, Caleb Beissert and Rosie Fitzmaurice was a wonderful thing. Our Dalry recording session in itself was a massive highlight

Grandbabies Dalry Session
click photo to listen

and getting great feedback and reviews was a (very welcome) bonus ...All that said, I'm definitely giving it a miss this year. I'll be needing the summer holiday!

5, Transport for London

Another battle that turned out to be heaps of fun. Despite really enjoying performing to a captive audience, I'm not comfortable drawing attention to myself. I thought I was done with that for a while, after Edinburgh, but no! Another madcap idea that had me reeling off poetry, this time to an unsuspecting public at various tube stations in London. Some of the passengers were bemused, some rude (understandably, thinking I was mad) but many really connected with the energy of the campaign, to make their journeys more inspiring, and to have us all think more about basic etiquette on public transport. I had a lot of fun with Amy McCallister (see her page on this) and Emma Jones and learnt a lot about the possibilities of the public address system, and the service update board. Mwahh ha ha! [my evil laugh]

(Coming up later this week... Part II, including Tongue Fu, Chill Pill Xmas and the Unwriteables)