Monday, 4 December 2017

The Science of Poetry... (UPCOMING: Experimental Words, THIS EVENING)

[Cue dramatic music]

Just when you've been complaining that not enough poets/ people in general collaborate across disciplines.... 

[building up]

just when you've been writing a chapter for a book on the need for interdisciplinary both within and outside of academia...  

[peak crescendo]

and just when you said you'll be involved in just one more public gig before the end of the year...

[dun dun duuuuhhh!]

EXPERIMENTAL WORDS

According to the flyer, this is a high-energy collision of science and spoken word. Bang! Whoosh! (etc.)

Specimen A: flyers
According to me, this has been an opportunity to team up with the brilliant Dr Jess Wade, share ideas about her research on LEDs - and how to find poetry within it - and combat the fear of physics and biology I've harboured since falling asleep during my GCSE exam at 16 (long but true story). I can't really divulge too much else, except for the fact that we'll be creating some multimedia magic on stage this evening, along with other poet/scientist teams.

So... sign up to the waitlist here (there's a waitlist as it's SOLD OUT!) or just turn up and hope for the best, or better yet, stay plugged into the website to see what it's all about and to stay up to date on the ticket situation. There's also info about previous events in other cities - and the project will hopefully appear in other places too!

In the meantime, here's a link to the poem I wrote in collaboration with Jess after our first conversation.

And here's a lovely trailer for the project:



Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Upcoming: Reverb Chamber

I've been thin on blog posts of late, mostly as I've been overwhelmed with work. So I'm particularly looking forward to three things:

1) Christmas break
2) stuff I'll put in my next post
3) tomorrow! 

Tomorrow? Yep, tomorrow I'm in Gravesend for Reverb Chamber in Gravesend. Just a few minutes on the high speed train out of St Pancras and fabulous company, a pleasant tea and cake (possibly more) accompaniment and an evening of poetry awaits.

Do come along!

No automatic alt text available.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Postcard from Home: Either dead, dying or hazardous in Autumn

"Unfortunately it has become necessary to remove this tree as it is either dead, dying or hazardous" - LB Camden.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

October Update: 5 things

1. Reading List (in brief): We Need New Bookcases...

My reading list has grown exponentially over the last year, and shows no sign of slowing. At some point, I'll have to cull some books, if I'm going to achieve balance in my life!

In the meantime, one book I'm VERY excited about it the biography of Patrick Nelson by Gemma Romain, and it's just in time, incidentally, for Black History Month. I've been waiting for my copy since I first read about the book and subsequently wrote a monologue based on Patrick, 'Safest Spot in Town'. I can't wait to geek out properly on this slice of history.

I've also got Danez Smith's collection (OMG!!!) on the go and The Complete Works anthology, which has me struggling to read and breathe at the same time; there's some brilliant writing in there - and I was glad to be at the launch last week and see most of the poets read. 

keeping me company at the university office

2. Balancing Act (basically a rant.. tl;dr)

Right now, things are chaotic. I've just started what is set to be my final year of PhD study. I'm also:
- running seminars for a module at university
- running a couple of schools projects
- occasionally leading creative workshops
- performing poetry (I have a few events coming up in the next month or so, but won't be doing many more after then).
- doing some occasional mentoring
- writing the occasional poem/essay/short story
- about to take on some more research...

I also do all of my own admin (including tidying my flat, chasing invoices, replying to demanding emails that go back and forth for days and spread across different formats until I lose track - Messenger/Whatsapp/email/text but rarely a call -, posting on social media - if that counts as admin -, answering calls about 'that accident you had in the last 2 years?' etc. instead of actual calls)

I'm also trying:
- to keep up an active artistic life (reading some of the books I've been buying of late, going to galleries and poetry gigs, seeing new films and trying not to fall asleep in the cinema)
- to look after my physical and mental health (sleep is non-negotiable right now; and I didn't know antibiotics rage was a thing until this week when it became A THING)
- to keep a half-decent personal life (friends and family are apparently THE MOST IMPORTANT THING).

 As a result, I have my priorities - PhD; sleep; close friends/family and so on - and I know other things will just have to fall back in line, but I have had a couple of overwhelm moments lately where I've wanted to throw stuff at people. I've been assured this is normal and this is what I've been missing out on for most of my adult life. So yay!   

3. TOMORROW! 

I'm performing at Backstory Cabaret as part of the Bloomsbury Festival at Goodenough College. There's so much to look forward to, with music, dance, poetry and storytelling taking centre stage. It's gonna be brill! And... I've heard there are only 10 tickets left, so get them while you can.

4. Next Up

My 'Upcoming' tab is up to date, yay! I don't have many London poetry gigs coming up: in fact, next week's Stablemates is the last time I plan to hit the stage in London with a full poetry set for a while, so please come! And if I can't convince you, I hope Hollie McNish and Kate Fox can - two amazing fellow poets I'm performing alongside. 

5. And finally... 

In case you missed it, here's a link to my performance (intros in Spanish - and my accent is a little weird at the beginning - eek!) the other week at Naves Matadero. I had a lot of fun there and hope to be back again! 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Upcoming: MIR:Live Anthology reading

MIR14 anthology reading 

Image may contain: 14 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor

Tonight, from 7.30pm, I'll be reading my short story, 'Mug' at The Harrison (my local venue!), alongside some of the other writers in this brilliant anthology. Please come!


Also, coming up: Backstory Cabaret - on Friday (20th); Forbidden Fruits on Saturday (21st); Stablemates next Thursday (26th)... more info soon.

Friday, 22 September 2017

September Update (the Keith Jarrett experience)

1. READ


I have a story coming out in The Mechanics' Institute Review, Birkbeck's annual anthology of short fiction. MIR14 (yep, it's been running for fourteen years!) will be launching next week and copies will be available here (or you can ask me nicely and I'll source a signed one for you).

I'm also keen to have my latest book of poems read more widely. So, anyone who orders a copy of Selah directly off me (either through Paypal link on this page, or by emailing me) will also get a copy of my last pamphlet I Speak Home.  

If you've already got copies of those, and you're sick of reading me, then MIR14 has some great stories by other people... and I have plenty of other reading recommendations!


2. LISTEN

There's just over a week left to listen to me on the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show with Jonathan Ross. Tori Amos, among others, is interviewed in this episode, but if you just want to hear me, I come on around 1:13:15.

Again, if you've already heard me - there's live poetry from Malika Booker on this episode which aired last night (the night of the Forward Poetry Prize announcement... drum roll...).

Seeing as it's back to school/uni/work for everyone, there's a special back to school Lunar Poetry Podcast on air, where Jacob Sam La Rose, Miriam Nash and I discuss poetry and education. Please check it out!

And again, there's a whole host of other interviews on the Lunar Poetry site also worth checking out.



3. SEE

I'll be updating my Upcoming tab soon. In the meanwhile, I'm popping up at various places: Madrid in two weeks (I'll talk about that in another post), then Cheltenham for the literary festival, and doing some teaching and reading and general life stuff. I've just started my (projected) final year of my PhD so that will be the biggest priority for me for the next year - and I'm likely to go AWOL at various points.

My only London poetry gigs in the next month will be Backstory Cabaret at Bloomsbury Festival on October 20th (my local!) and Stablemates on 26th October at the (new, improved) Poetry Caf√©.

As far as other people reading/performing, I'm looking forward to National Poetry Day. There are so many events going on, it's ridiculous! I'm also going to Southbank's Poetry International Weekend on October 14/15, which looks promising.



Ok, back to work! 





Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Brief End of Summer update!

1. The Arts Show with Jonathan Ross


Post-carnival, I rocked up to the BBC Radio 2 studio and had a conversation with this legend and read out two poems. You can listen in soon here or catch it live tomorrow (Thursday), 10pm.

2. Safest Spot in Town

It's been a real joy hearing from some of my friends who watched this, but nothing lasts forever. This monologue will be going off air Friday just after 10pm, so you have 48 hours to watch. Last chance! (Some of the earlier Queers monologues are already expired, but go to the website and check out the ones still left).

3. Upcoming

Tomorrow, I'll also be stopping by for a pre-launch edition of Reverb Chamber in Gravesend (and I'll be featuring there in November!) Can't wait... I hear there's a few special guests, so it's one to look out for.

I've tried to keep September free as I'm cramming in lots of reading for the beginning of the new term. And I'll be teaching at uni from October, but that's another story...

I have a story published in the Birkbeck anthology, The Mechanics' Institute Review* (14th edition), coming out in a couple of weeks. And there's a few other gigs to come in October/November. All of that will be updated in the Coming Up tab over the next week or so.

*fun fact: In addition to MIR14, I also have a story published in MIR5 (i.e. 9 years ago), the only creative work I had published under my pseudonym J. D. Keith. Sadly, I killed off the pen name in a quest to be more 'authentic', and to try and own whatever I wrote, however embarrassing...

Ok, finally, if you don't have a copy of my book, Selah, and you want one, free of charge*, email me with the subject END OF SUMMER in the next day or two (or before I delete this part of the post) and I'll send you a copy. (*excludes non-UK addresses unless you can pay postage!)

Friday, 4 August 2017

Coming Up: Wilderness and Edinburgh (3 Things)

NOTE: I will be updating this post over the next few days as things develop


1. Wilderness

I'm heading over to Wilderness Festival in an hour, and I'll be there today until Sunday. I'm performing at The Forum on Saturday evening, with some amazing people - including Sophia Walker and Sophia Blackwell.

I'm also looking forward to catching up with Raymond Antrobus (running the Apples & Snakes event this eve) and Katie Bonna (whose show is on TWICE today).

And of course, hearing Renni Eddo-Lodge and other writers/speakers... and Grace Jones and Bonobo and plenty of musicians. I'll have to pace myself but, hey...

If you're there, please come say hi! If not, wish me dry weather! :)

2. Edinburgh (so far)

I'll be one of the BBC Edinburgh Fringe Poetry Slam judges this year. The heats are on at 8.30pm from 7-10 August; the final is on the 13th.

So far, I'm also guesting at Other Voices on Tuesday 8th in the Banshee Labyrinth 

I may have a spot at Hammer & Tongue one of these days...


BUT :
My biggest single aim this year is to see at least half as many NON spoken word poetry shows as I do spoken word ones. I'm always keen to be signposted to any unmissable theatre/comedy/art/whatever, but I'm on a limited budget after forking out half my life savings on accommodation [ouch]. I'd forgotten what last minute room finds can be like!

3. Safest Spot... update

Well, the first ever script I've written was aired on TV 2 nights ago. And I feel great about it. I could write a much longer post, but I won't. In the meantime, it will be on iPlayer for another 28 days, alongside all the other monologues - and if you order a book, you can read along with it at home, like I did :)

Well, I'm off to find my tent!




Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Safest Spot in Town

I've mentioned the Queers monologue series a few times now.

Safest Spot in Town, the play I wrote, will be on at The Old Vic on the 31st July - now just a couple of weeks away - alongside three other plays by Jon Bradfield, Michael Dennis and Brian Fillis. I'm pleased that Kadiff Kirwan will be doing the stage version as well as the film version. I couldn't have wished for a better actor to take on the role... seriously, he's legend, and I'm saying this as objectively as possible (watch it and see if you agree...).

The Old Vic show SOLD OUT! (and pretty quickly - which probably had something to do with Russell Tovey starring in Brian Fillis's More Anger). Not to worry, short of queuing up for reserves, the film version will be on BBC Four in the next few weeks to watch at leisure in the comfort of one's own home.

Meanwhile, here's a trailer:

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Book Overload!




Here's the full list:

Jay Bernard - English Breakfast
Kayo Chingonyi - Kumukanda
Lorna Goodison - Collected Poems
Roger Mais - Black Lightning
Nick Makoha - Kingdom of Gravity
Nate Marshall - Wild Hundreds
Karen McCarthy Woolf - Seasonal Disturbances
Miriam Nash - All the Prayers in the House
Olumide Popoola - When We Speak of Nothing
Leone Ross - Come Let Us Sing Anyway

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

UPDATE: the last 2 weeks

It's been the most full on couple of weeks for me. Like EVER.

In chronological order, some of the printable highlights:

i) As per my last post, I took a school group to Parliament, in between conference sessions at the British Library and a bunch of other stuff, like going to Tate Britain.

ii) I co-presented work with Malika Booker at Birkbeck University and then, the following day, was performing in Basingstoke for Come Rhyme with Me, alongside Fergus Evans and Toni Stuart!

iii) The Golden Shovel event (also mentioned in the last post) was off the hook. I got to meet two of my poetry heroes - Patricia Smith and Terrance Hayes - and managed to string a coherent sentence in their presence. I also caught up a lot with my mentor, Peter Kahn, who's now back in Chicago.

iv) I went to Madrid for the weekend... I won't say more, but it involved catching up with friends and hanging out, and avoiding my birthday.

v) I went to Huddersfield and had the most amazing time in two schools, doing workshops with young people. I'm still impressed by what they had to share.

vi) I performed as part of the Penguin Pride live event in Camden, alongside Toby Campion, MC Angel and Kele :)

vii) I got on a 7am train to co-chair a conference panel in Newcastle. Later, I over-napped and almost missed the entire reading of Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Lorna Goodison (I'll never forgive myself that). But, the next day, I woke up in time to present as part of another panel at 9.30.

viii) Back in London, I somehow ended up on a pride march with UCL staff (long story!) and met friends at UK Black Pride.

ix) Oh, and of course, my bookshelf has grown by about a dozen books! Grrr... that will have to be another post.

After all of that (and more), understandably, I'm a bit tired! I may provide links later...

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

JUNE UPDATE (in brief): 5 things

WARNING: several links ahead!

1) Golden Shovel Anthology

On Thursday, I'll be at the British Library, reading out my Golden Shovel poem alongside 18 super poets, as part of an anthology launch. The line-up is immense! I'm not even going to begin... Ok, more details can be found here. You can also get the anthology here (it's already been described by NY Times as one of seven timeless poetry collections - ever - and it's only been out a couple of months!).

You can also hear me discussing it last Sunday on Jumok√© Fashola's show Inspirit, BBC Radio London (from 2:48:52). Strangely, there are still tickets available for Thursday's event, so get them!

2) Penguin Pride @ Proud (there's a tongue twister for you)

I've also been busy at Penguin HQ, being interviewed for Gay Times and reading out a poem as publicity for the Penguin Pride event at Proud Camden (scroll down for an interview with Toby Campion, and follow links for his poem as well). I'll be performing alongside Toby and MC Angel and... check it out, KELE!! Whaaaaat???!

Once again, there's still a few tickets left so, er, get them!



3) Other related stuff...

As part of a series of events commemorating 50 years since the (partial) decriminalisation of sex between men, I was interviewed for an exhibition, currently on at the British Library (so check it out). I also have a monologue which I've mentioned before, on at the Old Vic Theatre, in just a few weeks' time.

4) Recent and upcoming: a week in the life...

It's been a busy few days and I've hardly had the chance to catch up with myself!

a) A week ago, I chanced on a poetry trail at my local park! I wanted to write more on this but, alas, I haven't had the time. I may do later:



b) One of the highlights of the last few days has been attending the Goldsmiths Caribbean In/Securities and Creativity conference.

one of the opening panels including Dr Pat Noxolo, Sonia Barrett and Dr Ronald Cummings 

Indigo Williams presenting workshop art from I Shape Beauty collective

Huw Locke presenting on his pioneering work
c) I had to interrupt my conference attendance yesterday to slink off to the Houses of Parliament! There, I met with young people I've been working with at a Hackney school over the last couple of months, for a Speak Up project designed by Ministry of Stories.

First, we did a tour of the Palace of Westminster, then headed off to a room where they were able to deliver speeches in front of a mixed audience: their local MP Meg Hilier and Hackney councillors, Ministry of Stories leaders, including Nick Hornby, volunteers and more...

I was extremely touched by their passion and confidence. In just seven or eight sessions, these young people managed to think about what they strongly believe in, create a two minute speech expressing these beliefs and then work on public speaking skills, battling shyness with each other, plus all the usual self-esteem issues 12-14 year olds have, plus the prospect of speaking to an unknown crowd in a grandiose building such as that one! It's the third time I've led this project and I'm really honoured that I get to do work like this!

d) I could go on... but, looking ahead, there's more great stuff. Tonight I'm presenting some work in a conversation with Malika Booker for Corkscrew, a society for practice-based researchers at Birkbeck. Then I'm in Basingstoke for Come Rhyme with me, then the Golden Shovel launch, then I'm doing a school event in Huddersfield, which I'm super excited about, then Penguin Pride... then... then... I have links to all the public gigs in the 'Upcoming' tab on this page.

Meanwhile, I'm writing up some of my research and my novel, so it leaves me little time to update on here, so expect shorter updates (but hopefully more regular)!



5) Selah

If you've managed to read this far then.... [applause] well done!

I've spoken a bit about my new book Selah and I think I've shared the interview I did for Burning Eye. I was also chuffed to see it in the window at Gay's the Word bookshop on Marchmont Street (right next to Ocean Vuong, who is a poet you MUST read!):

Spot the Selah

There it is!

I haven't had an "official" launch because, reasons. But I genuinely want people to read it and, hopefully, enjoy it. So, the first 5 people to read this and email me (before Thursday 29th) can get a free copy. Postage, everything included. In addition, I'll give another five copies away to those with a ticket for the Golden Shovel event or Penguin Pride. Just email me by Thursday, turn up and I'll sign your book.

If you miss out, it's only a tenner, otherwise. Just click on the link to buy at the top of the page, where you can also get a hold of my I Speak Home pamphlet. Or come see me at an event. Or go to the Burning Eye website. Or to Gay's the Word. Or pester your favourite bookshop... oh, the options!

Monday, 15 May 2017

UPDATE: GREAT NEWS! (3 things)

1. Queers series - 'Safest Spot in Town'

I've given some small details about this project before but here's more!

I was commissioned to write a monologue script for the BBC in conjunction with Old Vic Theatre, with seven other writers. The whole project is to commemorate 50 years since the Wolfenden Report, which part-decriminalised sex between men in England and Wales. Even with mixed feelings about this law and everything attached to it, I was thrilled to be asked to write one of the stories.

Mark Gatiss has been curating and directing the project and I've had a blast being mentored for this project, as well as meeting all the other writers. I'd never written for TV before and had never written a script, either, so it was back to basics in many ways. Storytelling is storytelling though, innit?

That said, I find the monologue a tricky genre. It's a challenge getting a character to speak in one long torrent of words - without the interaction of any characters or significant changes in time - and still be believable AND compelling AND easy to follow. Better yet, by the end, the audience usually needs to feel the character has 'gone on a journey'. I had my head-banging moments; thankfully, they were short-lived and I'm happy with how it's gone (and ready to do another!).  

My final script, Safest Spot in Town, is set in 1941, during the Blitz, and it's based on a true story. I enjoyed the whole process from researching the character and the slang right up to getting into his poetic voice. For now, I shall say little else. There'll be a chance to watch it in July/August, either at the Old Vic or on BBC Four.

The biggest part for me was turning up to the studios during filming, having been informed Kadiff Kirwan is starring in my script (I'd seen and loved his character in Chewing Gum). He's a legend! It's a big head trip knowing someone has memorised fifteen minutes of words you've written and arranged through several drafts, while a film crew has built a set which brings a physical reality to those words. There's a massive rush that comes after a whole day filled with take after take of the words you set down on the page coming to life, in bits and pieces. After spending the entire time trying not to burst into tears/laughter/overwhelm, I was exhausted. For some people, this experience is everyday!

2. Selah

Something else I've mentioned a few times, which I'm also super excited by...

New book. New poems. COMING SOON!


[IMAGE NOT AVAILABLE... yet]


I'll be able to reveal a publication date over the next few days, plus a flash of the cover and some of its contents. In the meanwhile, some pre-empting is due:

Q. SEE-luh... or seh-LAA?
A. I say the former but go with the latter if you want to sound fancy. That said, there's no consensus on how to pronounce it.

Q.Where does the title come from?
A. Well, it's a Hebrew word that features in the Psalms a lot. And Habbakuk, 3 times. (In the bible)

Q. So is the whole thing some kind of biblical allusion?
A. Not really... that's just the launch point. I have a couple poems in there that mesh the Psalms together with modern day concerns like migration and border detention... but there's a lot more to it than that.

Q. Ok, so what does Selah mean?
A. Erm. There's no straightforward answer. And that's why I picked that as the title. I like the ambiguity and the poetry that comes through interrogation rather than simply providing answers. Generally, though, people assume Selah means something like 'stop and consider', or as some kind of musical direction.

Q. Is this a full collection or a pamphlet? Are there any poems I've heard you perform in there?
A. Well, it's 32 poems so it depends whose asking... and yes, a couple. A few old(er) ones which I've reworked for the page, a few new that I'll be outing for the first time. All stuff that I'm proud of.

Q. Where and when can I get it?  
A. Well, it's coming out with Burning Eye, so check their website. And I'll be updating you in the next few days, so keep checking back here.

3. Upcoming Gig: TONIGHT!

It's Birkbeck Arts Week and I'm taking to the Harrison pub, just round the corner, at 7.30pm for Poetry Live!. There'll be readings from SoGul Sur, Julia Bell, Fran Lock, JJ Bola, Stephen Morrison-Burke... Come if you can! And check out the other events during the week!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Super Quick Update: 5 things I've been getting up to

1) Selah

Final preparations are getting underway for Selah, a bunch of new poems - and some not so new - which will be out at the end of next month with Burning Eye. It's been a long time coming and I'm massively excited (and equally nervous). Stay tuned for more...

2) Other writing

I also have another project in the pipeline which involves writing (and undergoing several redrafts of) a monologue. Again, I'll say more about that in the next month or so, so please stay posted.

I've also resumed work on my novel, having completed most of my research at university. It's now a question of riding out the ridiculous waiting period, after submitting 100 pages worth of work, to find out whether it's deemed of high enough standard for me to continue as a PhD candidate (fingers crossed!)

3) Reading





I've just moved Omeros to the top of my read list, while skimming through a handful of Derek Walcott obituaries. It's a classic of his which has been sat unread on my bookshelf for too long. I admit it.  

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago, I promised not to buy any more books in March, so I could catch up a little on what I've got! But that was just before I saw someone tweet about Danez Smith's new collection Black Movie, and I couldn't resist. I've been reading it over and over since yesterday.

Out of everything I've recently bought or borrowed - i.e. just before my NO MORE! vow - I've been trying to get a balanced diet of poetry, fiction and non-fiction/academic writing in there. I'm finding graphic non-fiction a particularly refreshing way to grasp information. In Portraits of Violence, for instance, key concepts of a few thinkers I've studied - Freire, Fanon, Foucault etc. - and some I haven't so much - Arendt, Sontag, Said etc. - are covered through well-sketched panels. It adds a lightness to the complexity and heavy-going nature of their writing (especially when framed against current political activity).

Emily Berry's new collection is unsurprisingly good (what else to say?) and Olio needs an essay... We'll come back to that!

5 portions of books for March

4) Upcoming gigs

I'm limiting poetry performances over the next month until Selah is out, but I'll make sure to give plenty of notice as and when I do have events coming!

That said, I've had two great trips recently (just to read poetry!) First, I was in St Andrews for the Stanza festival and then from there to Birmingham for an LGBT history event. Needless to say, I got loads of reading done on my way. And I also had a great time taking in the atmosphere and meeting some great people. Again, that could be another blog post in itself. But I hope to do some more travelling around the country later in the year.  


5) In other news...

I'm pleased to be listed in the Breaking Ground booklet celebrating 200 writers of colour among some great people!


More coming soon.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Poetry Sells (Out?): reflections on the great poetry war of 2016-17

Poetry, or how (not to) get ahead in advertising

So, it's the morning after a conference at Leeds university - which was great, by the way, but irrelevant to this particular anecdote - and I find myself taking a stroll down a busy shopping street with Raymond Antrobus*. Our talk on poetry is animated (anyone who's ever engaged with Raymond in a conversation on contemporary poetry will attest to his dynamic enthusiasm in this regard, no matter what time of day), but we stop mid-sentence as, right there, in the middle of the street, out of the corner of our eyes, we spot Charlie Dark selling trainers and Jo Bell selling mortgages.

Ok, maybe I need to expand in detail: the life-size images of two poets** I know - and respect - are, just a couple of doors away from each other, in the window of a trainer shop and a building society, respectively. Poets have taken over the high street!

Over the last few weeks, I've been reading with interest all the conversations about the presence of poets in advertising and my personal reactions have mostly ranged from 'yay, poets getting paid!' to 'yay! I'm seeing people I know out there!' via 'why the hell would anyone have a problem with that?!'

Behind the scenes - or, rather, in the scene - there are people debating the moral and artistic merit of (spoken word) poets being used in advertising. Some of the arguments seem a bit stale - are we really STILL criticising poets for not adhering to our very specific quirky moral narratives (i.e. in real life, I can buy trainers and use a bank or building society; I can accept a lift in daddy's Jeep; I can even eat in MacDonald's... but the minute I use my creative talent and gain financial reward in campaigns for any of those things, I've sold out...)? Many such arguments are facile and often reveal the same kind of snobbery and sanctimony which we accuse our 'page-only' poet*** brethren of. It speaks of a limited worldview.

I subscribe to three theories in life:

1) if you care enough about someone or a group of people, you'll bend over backwards to understand and even accommodate them

2) the world is big enough for (nearly) everyone

3) implicit and institutionalised bias are the most corrosive evils in society: most people believe themselves inherently 'good' whilst perpetuating damaging behaviour.

In my initial thoughts on the matter, the second theory applied. I can be perfectly frank and say I don't like all of the Nationwide poems, for example, or that I find certain styles of poetry fail to touch me, or that I find certain poets - who I like as people - really irritating in the way they write and/or the way they deliver poems. That *should* be a given; if I passively sat and liked everything, I would be a very bland person indeed. That's also a two-way street; as much as it pains me, I'm sure many people don't like what I write and/or how I perform. Given all of that, I don't feel it should be necessary to voice that opinion all the time. As long as there is poetry being performed, and as long as there is space for poets to thrive, more power to everyone.

Disclaimer: there is also a big hole where more critique ought to be, but this critique needs to rigorous and measured, and conscious of its own space. In plain English: one can critique when it is asked for; one can critique in certain forums where it is expected - and more of these fora should be created; one can critique when one knows what one is talking about and why, and pays attention to the how of the critique. But critique for the sake of belittling, or gaining power, or attention is plain wrong.

When initially thinking about this conversation, the very first thoughts that came to mind were:

a) I had to actively seek out the (Nationwide) adverts online because I don't watch TV at home, so if I were that offended by them, they would be very easy to avoid

b) I've yet to see George the Poet's Jeep advert - mostly because I have no interest in Jeeps, and doubt I have anything to gain by seeing his poem

c) Again, more power to everyone involved: if I were commissioned to write a poem for a company - with some notable exceptions - I wouldn't be averse to it (Jeeps included).

And yet... more considered thought needed

All of that said, Claire Pollard's thoughts on the matter do add another dimension to the argument. Spoken word poetry, in particular, has a certain kudos, a claim to counter-culturality and to integrity which often runs against the principles of advertising. There are certain moral ideas at stake. It's not the poetry that's being sold - otherwise the adverts *could* simply feature long poems (which may or may not have anything to do with the product) with a tiny logo at the bottom - but the *idea* of poets as a wholesome subculture that is being exploited. Pollard argues her point convincingly, in a way that Luke Wright's video doesn't, in my opinion (Niall O'Sullivan's theories in the comments below her post, incidentally, are of particular interest - perhaps there are different approaches to the argument that run at cross-purposes).

All in all - as is often the case - I veer towards agreeing with James McKay, and Fay Roberts, who has written extensively on the matter (and Sabotage Reviews is hosting a series of posts on this, in case you want to read even more). What both of them patiently explain is that this 'controversy' is nothing new. What they then go on to point out is the implicit bias within *some* of the arguments against the 'sell outs' (claims that the poets involved are 'prostitutes' both demeans poetry and those who sell sex; ideas that a black poet ought to be writing angrily about 'the streets' instead of about Jeeps smells a little fishy too, whatever the intention behind it). These kind of arguments are almost as old as language itself!

Debate is good, on the whole but, when stakes are particularly high - the future of arts, literature, academia and critical thinking in the UK are all under threat - it needs to be conducted sensitively, and well. And here, the third principle in life I subscribe to comes out in full effect: we are all hypocrites and sell out in multiple ways.

Forgive me my digressions...

One of the most intense years of my life was during my training as a Spoken Word Educator, while completing my MA at Goldsmiths University (am I advertising them by mentioning them?). In one essay, written as part of a module on subversion within school education, I argued that working in schools compromises my practice as a poet/writer. I am compromised by choosing to operate inside a system that: prioritises rote learning over critical thinking; takes a segregated approach to what is considered 'academic' and allows little space for young people to be human/ised; perpetuates an infrastructure conceived of during the Industrial Revolution and is not fit for the twenty-first century, and individualised needs; has been exposed as institutionally racist, misogynist, and oppressive towards the differently-abled (and many others). That may all sound drastic but if you've taught in a school in the last five years, or have followed the political/politicised changes of the education system, you'll at least understand where I'm coming from, even if you don't completely agree. This is even without mentioning the various constraints and hypocrisies imposed by the schools as a writer/performer, where my own socio-political ideologies and personal expressions must be kept in line with the false neutrality of the school****. Teaching young people to express themselves in poetry, to think across disciplines and to perform does not sound particularly radical, but many schools are simply not equipped to enable the basic premise of having a poet in a school, even an unpaid one; it does not always contribute to the tight curricula prescribed by the schools and by government. A strong case has to be made each time for the holistic benefits of allowing creative writing, oracy and freedom of expression.

Given the context of the previous paragraph, an argument about poets on TV sounds a little off; we are all compromised in multiple ways and there are bigger causes to fight for. Sure, you may think that advertising/sponsorship is bad but that's only part of the wider debate. Our whole system is corrupt.

The concept of poetry in education is starkly different to that poetry to sell cars or mortgages but, in practice, as privitisation of schools takes hold even more, lines are blurred and other supposed acceptable spaces for poetry are also compromised. By accepting a paid gig from the British Council, am I selling out by 'advertising' the UK, a country which seems hellbent on pursuing isolationist policies while ignoring its own history, especially in relation to the histories of the countries where it operates*****? By accepting any form of state funding, am I doing the same thing? Well, how about the pubs and theatres I perform at? What if they also happen to have supported other shows I don't agree with (the Barbican springs to mind)? What about the brands I accidentally advertise by being photographed/filmed wearing or drinking them? What about the publishing houses I advertise by being published by them? How different is it to perform something that will be used explicitly to promote a commodity - and being paid for the privilege - to giving implicit endorsements, with or without your conscious engagement in that process?

This isn't a pointless exercise in whataboutery but a serious case for reconsidering the state of our current social interactions. Publishing - poetry, novels, whatever - has never been cheaper, but publishing houses are under threat; literary bodies are under threat; even the recession-proof Arts Council is under threat. The spaces in which we perform are under threat: pubs, theatres, libraries and arts spaces are closing at an unprecedented rate*****. It's truly alarming. But, in addition to bemoaning these particular challenges, we need to look across the borders at journalism, music, and even the High Street - whether in Leeds or Leith, or Shoreditch. Society and culture is under enormous pressure and its existence is precarious. How we consume ideas and art has changed radically in the past couple of decades and advertising has played some part in this.

I am writing this blog directly onto Blogspot/Blogger. When I first started writing here, it was an independent site, but was soon bought up by Google. Until recently, Google didn't sell anything tangible... but still was/is one of the most powerful companies in the world. Most of our information is free but most of it comes via just a few companies. Even our advertisement-free spaces (there are no ads on this page, to my knowledge) comes at a price. If, say, I disagreed with the amount of tax Google pays in the UK, should I boycott this site and move to another platform? If so, which? How about using Facebook to promote myself, even as it also perpetuates 'fake news'; even after it has been caught out in the past using its members to perform social experiments (and God knows what other manipulative practices will be unearthed in future years)? At some point, whatever I do, I will be making a compromise with my values. The only way to mitigate against this is to be measured in thinking about which battles to fight, and when, and why. And, most importantly, how.

Digression over (sort of)

The original title of this was going to be 'a few brief thoughts'. I stand by the title in principle; arguing about poets in advertising is like meditating on the comma in the middle of a huge paragraph on the purpose of art and literature. It's a brief pause in a long debate about something else entirely. Commas are important and change the context and direction of a conversation, however. How we handle the conversation about a few Nationwide adverts can set the template for a number of other, more pressing, concerns.


Spread Eagle pub, NW1
 
In one of Fay Roberts' posts, she makes oblique references to other controversies within the spoken word community, including physical and sexual violence and threats made by poets and audience members. The repercussions of these events can still be felt; for example, I know of people who still do not feel safe attending most poetry events in London, years later. How can that be?! 

Is there a shared set of standards that the poetry/spoken word community/ies can comfortably adhere to? Is there a united front that welcomes and encourages the voices that are often disregarded in other spaces? (Again, there have been heated exchanges recently over accessibility and inclusion of poets with mental health challenges******) Words are not neutral. Well-written, well-expressed poetry possesses the power to challenge the reader/listener and navigate them through imaginative leaps, through rhythm, through sound. In optimum conditions, it can delight, entertain and bind communities while shedding light on injustice; in other conditions, it can alienate and demean. The same applies to other forms of spoken word, incidentally. Stand up comedy is a very close cousin of live poetry.

The Oscars have just drawn to a close and there are, undoubtedly, numerous opinions on the merit of the host's and all the award-receiving actors' speeches that take relentless pokes at the current US administration (and the man at its helm*******). Some people feel actors shouldn't be poking their heads above the parapet to comment, especially when they are speaking from very privileged positions. That opinion is merely another side of the same Rubik's cube which argues that (Western, spoken word********) poets must always be left-leaning, must always eschew explicitly commercial pursuits in their poetry, must always be angry and working against power structures, even as they thrive within them (often taking up positions in schools, universities and arts organisations).          

We cannot escape our own positioning, as poets and as humans. In addition to picking apart those of us who have managed to get exposure and sell cars, we need to constantly pick apart the purpose of our art and the community. 

A conclusion, sort of

I'm walking down the street in the middle of Leeds with Raymond Antrobus, looking for breakfast. Most places are shut - it's Sunday - and all the locally-sourced, vegetarian, ethical, artisanal coffee-type places that my search engine promised in abundance are closed. I'm hungry and neither Jo Bell with her mortgages, nor Charlie Dark, with his trainers, can feed us. Right now, they are irrelevant to our more immediate needs. 

As we walk and chat, I'm also reflecting on the day before, where I sat through hours of presentations by writers, academics, publishers and social commentators on 'narrating the Caribbean'. During this all-day conference, over a dozen speakers - from their various angles, and from their various backgrounds - discussed some of the themes within this title. How do you narrate 'Caribbean' when it is no longer a geographical space? Narrating the 'Caribbean' necessitates navigating complicated diasporas, languages, ethnicities and histories. Since it was first ever inhabited by Europeans, it has been a massive social and racial experiment. And, tied in with that, an economic one, a template for what global commerce has become today, via sugar, bananas, tobacco, rum... and the commodification of humans. Narrating the Caribbean means going out of the way to counteract the silencing of certain voices (whether that be due to their race, sexuality or gender). It also means being brave and imaginative with vocabulary and with themes, playing trickster with speech and movement.  

It's not much of a leap to say that the spoken word poetry community must embrace some of the same challenges that Caribbean writers, regardless of genre, face. Funding is in short supply and imaginative leaps must be made. For some, this might mean using advertising as a platform to gain exposure. For others, this may mean the opposite. Either way, for all of us, if we are to thrive, we need to foster more space for community. That means, yes, critiquing, but it also means taking on board other opinions, being sensitive********* to voices that do not share the same privilege, being willing to apologise for falling short, being adaptable to a rapidly-changing society, being proficient at using language to subvert, satirise, educate and entertain, in equal measure. It also means being wise about the how

Somehow, I don't feel it is my place to judge what poets do inside the privacy of their own billboards and commercials. But I do think it is my place - and the place of other poets - to make sure poetry thrives inside the marginalised places where it can provide a vital lifeline. Despite my aversion to the school system, for the damage I've seen it cause to some young people - myself included - I recognise it is important to champion poetry within it, and 'spoken word' poetry in particular, because of its immediacy and because of the empowering nature of being listened to rather than just read. I feel the same for the prison system - and for other areas I have yet to explore (poetry in hospitals, detention centres, and even on doorsteps; and poetry that brings groups of people together in conflict zones). I feel that, if we are committed to making the art form shine, and if we approach it with passion, there will be no danger of it becoming diminished or cheapened or compromised by a few adverts. I also believe strongly that if we champion platforms for critiquing (Sabotage, fair enough is a good start, but there's space for more), we can learn from each other and make each other better. 


Ok, it's lunch time.



____________
P.s. Come to my gig tonight! It's free and not sponsored by any multinationals as far as I know.  




__________________________
Extensive notes

*who has work published in the March 2017 edition of Poetry Magazine #justsaying

**ok, Charlie Dark's notoriety as a poet is overshadowed by his involvement in the hiphop scene and his "Run Dem Crew", which makes his presence in a trainer shop a more natural phenomenon.

*** According to the KJ dictionary, Page (Only) Poets are those rare species who make an art form out of reading their poems as dryly as possible, eschewing any hint of 'performance' in poetry. POPs live outside their own bodies. They believe in concepts such as 'universality', 'transcendence' and 'purity' within poetry - and culture as a whole; the sea is universal, Autumn is universal, the poem transcends the poet. The fauna genus among them frown upon imposing any personality or autobiographical detail within their poems, limiting their creative expression to changes in seasons, flowers and classic fruits (excluding mangoes, which belong to the Exotic Other species).    

**** Example 1: The idea of a teacher/visitor swearing at school is controversial, yet most pupils use copious amounts of profanity, and are literate in it - also, even literary texts they deal with contain this language... it's a strange one.
Example 2: During one school assembly on Valentine's Day, a (straight, male) colleague dedicated a love poem to me. He was reprimanded for inciting homophobic behaviour - apparently, outside of explicit anti-bullying classes, even the suggestion of non-heterosexual love was controversial and likely to cause a riot.
Example 3: Many schools have explicitly banned pupils from certain vernacular tics - such as starting a sentence with 'Basically' - or from using Caribbean-derived 'slang', such as bare, in favour of 'Standard English'. Rather than promote literacy, it devalues their unique expressions and the social/historical context of their communication. Many pupils are thus less responsive to outsider 'poets', who are seen as part of the problem.
Example 4: 'Sir! Are you a rapper, sir?' When schools, and society as a whole, prioritise a certain canon (white, male, preferably dead), often taught by a certain demographic (white, middle class, deadened by work pressure) it perpetuates stereotypes. No matter how often I am introduced as a poet, no matter how I present myself, every time I am introduced to a new school, someone will refer to me as a 'rapper' or imply that I have some kind of 'street' cred. (Sometimes this is useful)
Example 5: Sometimes the poet - especially the 'street poet' - is positioned as an arbitrator for the disciplinary system: 'disruptive' pupils are offered up as experiments, and magical results are expected. (Again, sometimes this is useful. My work as an educator and mentor sometimes allowed me space to perform healing work; simply allowing pupils space to express their feelings within a creative framework is magical) Most often, though, this is an unreasonable expectation with dire consequences, especially when the poet's work is undone by other pressures of the school system.
Example 6: Pupils deemed too disruptive or under-performing could be pulled out of workshops with no notice; thus poetry is seen as a 'reward' rather than a natural element of learning. The poet's position is once again compromised
Example 7: Many 'performance' poets I know are dyslexic; many more have developed unique observational skills from having being othered/isolated when they were at school. Returning to unreformed schools often means revisiting places of trauma. Yet, still, schools are held up as 'neutral' places of positive learning for the benefit of 'all' pupils. Bullshit.
Example 8: In new, politicised learning spaces, workers at school must promote 'British Values'; they must subscribe to the Prevent agenda (which, while it has some important uses, can stop pupils from speaking in the first place - thus, instead of preventing terrorism, it 'prevents' teachers and pupils alike from voicing their truths. That is a dangerous space for a poet.) Oh, and any poet with a criminal record is likely to be prevented from working with children too, even when supervised by teachers.

*****I've written on the legacy of colonialism several times before so I can't be bothered to provide links right now.

*****As above, no links, but stats are easy to source online. I'm not just making this up!

******I won't go into those controversies here, but really being serious about including a wide range of people requires another series of conversations. In this podcast, Harry Giles, Abi Palmer and Andra Simons discuss some of the issues at stake. It's an ongoing conversation.

*******Again, it's not just about one man. In this illuminating post by Bernice King, she explains why it's important to not get distracted from the issues at stake by focusing on one person. That one person is part of an administration, even if he positions himself as a one-person shit-storm; he is a wheel in a larger cog and it is up to us to pick apart all the elements and unravel the threads.

********In many other traditions, spoken word has other cultural frameworks. There's a rise in Christian/Evangelical and Islamic spoken word poetry globally, and some crossover from other traditional forms of poetry and spoken word. They do not carry the same cultural weight of the Beat, working men's club, dub and slam poetry scenes that have influenced modern "Spoken Word culture" here, which tend towards being anti-establishment and working class-orientated.

*********Poets? Sensitive?! What?!!! I don't mean in the delicate, fragile sense of the word, but in the tuned-in sense. We need to hear and respond. And sometimes stay silent in order to listen. 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

UPCOMING GIG: Spin Cycle - TOMORROW (Monday)!




I am immensely looking forward to SPIN CYCLE tomorrow, part of the Extra Rinse Series. From 7.30, it'll be Sam Berkson, DJ Lethal Lew and me, doing some poems and spinning some music tracks at Machine No. 3 in Homerton, E9.

Do come!

FREE ENTRY

Extra details can be found here

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Upcoming: Spit & Polish TOMORROW!

Hey up!

Managed to get myself into this month's Kentishtowner paper with Spit & Polish co-guests, so check it out here.

In the meanwhile, it'll be great to see some local and not so local friendly faces there. Come along if you can!

All the details can be found here or here



Monday, 23 January 2017

UPDATE: We Real Cool (5 things)

1) News: We Real Cool

Modern poetry geeks will understand all the hype around the Golden Shovel, a poetry form invented by Terrance Hayes as an ode to the late Gwendolyn Brooks. Many American high school students are already familiar with Brooks' poem 'We Real Cool', although this side of the pond, her work isn't very well known.

Hayes's 'Golden Shovel' poem embeds Brooks' poem inside his; the technique he used has launched many poetry classes in recent years! It's a neat way of honouring poets you respect and I've used the form a few times... In case you don't believe me, I have Golden Shovel poems in my pamphlet (cough cough!) and in forthcoming work.

So... it was only a matter of time before the first Golden Shovel Anthology came out in honour of Gwendolyn Brooks. Peter Kahn, who set up the Spoken Word Educator programme, helped to bring about this mega volume, and I'm mad pleased to have a poem of mine accepted in the anthology alongside fellow colleagues Raymond Antrobus, Catherine Brogan, Indigo Williams and some heavyweight poets both sides the Atlantic and beyond. It's available to buy from the University of Arkansas Press, or you can wait 6 weeks or so for its Amazon release. I can't wait to get mine!



2) What I've been up to - in a nutshell

(or, to continue a previous theme... I'm a full time PhD student!!!!)

Part of the reason I've been quiet on the blog is I've been busy precariously balancing several projects. I'm now at the stage of my PhD where I go through the 'upgrade' process. For the uninitiated, that simply means I can't technically call myself a 'Doctoral' student until I hand in a third of my thesis and my supervisors sign me off as sufficiently proficient to continue. If I don't pass, then I stay in 'MPhil' limbo. Basically, it's a big deal!

I've also managed to perform at a couple of gigs, judge a Smut Slam, attend several workshops and generally ease into the year while trying to avoid any mention of Br**** or Tr***. I'm doing a couple of school projects too, and in two weeks, I'll be taking a group of students up to the Houses of Parliament to deliver speeches they've written there!

Meanwhile, now that I've conducted most of my non-creative research and I've moved on to the creative stage, I've started to work on my novel again. I've also taken on another couple of projects that involve me looking at the history of London and constructing short narratives around that. I'll be able to say more when I can make sense of it myself. And, meanwhile, the book loans have been stacking up.


3) Checked Out: 24 books (and counting...)



Current tally:

Senate House Library: 13
SOAS Library: 5
Poetry Library, Southbank Centre: 4
UCL libraries: 2
Birkbeck Library: 0
Total: 24 books on loan

Duplicate items: 1
Fines to date: £10+
Number of items directly relevant to academic endeavour: 6
Number of items directly relevant to non-academic research projects: 5
Number of items read so far: 3 (well, kind of)
Number of items expected to be returned unread: 2+
Number of items balancing on top of printer: roughly 12 (too tired to count)

Okay, better get reading!

4) Upcoming...

Stay posted! Public performances in February include:

Incite @ The Phoenix (Thursday 9th)
** (Feb 14 tbc)
Spit & Polish @ Lion & Unicorn, Kentish Town (19th)

and more info is on the Upcoming tab!

5) Other things I'm looking forward to, in no particular order...

i) summer
ii) more coffee
iii) my book release with Burning Eye in April!
iv) more books arriving in the post
v) time to read

Currently listening to: Solange (again)

Monday, 9 January 2017

Postcard From Home: New Year's Resolution 2017

Bloomsbury, WC1

Happy New Year etc! Back again after another hiatus. Updates coming soon!

There was an error in this gadget

UPCOMING....


See Coming Up tab at the top of the page