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.

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