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Saturday, 8 December 2012

Tonight... Comedy vs. Poetry

Stand Up & Slam!
Tonight in Bethnal Green's Gallery Cafe!

See how we fare... Expect funny and fresh words in what promises to be a hotly-contested battle. Bring it on! More details here

Archway Station...

"Be a good listener; your ears will never get you into trouble."

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Determining Tracks to Sync...

A friend of mine has today just announced his departure from [takes deep breath] Facebook, as of the end of this year. He's a prolific poster and uses it not only to keep in touch with people globally, but also as a gallery for his artistic photos and a platform to highlight the human rights issues he campaigns for. I imagine his "unplugging" from this particular social network could feel like a retirement to him - as many of my friends spend at least the equivalent of an extra working day on network sites. It could feel like a bereavement to others - i.e. those who have no real contact with him - a concept not lost on the programmes that claim to assist users in committing "social network suicide". I hope however, that it will have the desired effect of enabling him to spend more time offline.

There isn't much use commenting on the value of real human contact over the virtual world. We all know the benefits and pitfalls of both and I have particularly strong versions on the latter: I simply believe that technology has advanced quicker than we're able to handle effectively and it's starting to show (a simple look at the news in the past year or so and we can see how it has affected access to information, libel, incitement, racism, bullying, suicide, civil unrest and more - and although many of these changes are, in fact, positive, the new virtual contexts we now find ourselves in needs much more in-depth consideration and debate, from the classrooms to the courthouse and beyond).

Meanwhile, I'm constantly debating how much time I devote to feeding my virtual Keith. Virtual Keith has a Facebook (two accounts, one for family, the other more public) which needs a photo change every once in a while - and a Twitter feed, which goes through binge cycles (maximum of about 15 a day, I think to a minimum of 1 in a month). Oh yeah, I forgot, he also has a blog (HELLO!). Virtual Keith wants to be cool, and wants to be seen in some cool places, although you'd probably think all he does is go to poetry gigs. Sometimes I don't like him and I starve him; sometimes I wish he'd just die. I have other things to do but I also recognise the value of having the virtual me around. Staying plugged in means interacting with other virtual people out there, talking about what I'm doing offline, finding out what's happening with people and issues I care about and feeling "connected" with the world. It is this need for connection that keeps me online, and I imagine keeps most of us networking on the Internet.

Moving away from social networking, I love the idea of being "unplugged". I went through last week boycotting the news - more out of practical, time-management reasons than anything else - and I realised no-one was missing my opinions. I also spend so much of my week commuting between places that I rely on my headphones for moral support. In the past few days I've left them at home a couple of times and I've also tried to cut down on listening time in order to "tune out". We'll see if/how that works in the next few days. (Having said that, a lot of the time they're keeping my neck warm or, when on my head, keeping my ears warm, so I think of my bass-boomers as an expensive multicoloured scarf - I'll paste a pic later)

 What to Do With Your Poppy after Remembrance

Ooooh, oooh, ooh, how I've held my tongue! I decided not to comment on Remembrance Day because I wasn't sure I had anything of value to say, nor did I want to get on a conveniently-timed high horse about it. War is a horrific reality for millions of people worldwide and I feel largely outside of it because it's nicely packed away here. British soldiers are fighting in different corners of the Earth and, simply by virtue of being a British citizen, I'm associated with what they do, despite how I feel - and protest - about it, whilst reaping the benefits of a relatively peaceful society.

I chose this year, for the first time, to wear a poppy as a personal statement. I do want to remember all those who have died - not just soldiers - in the pursuit of peace and I believe "peace" to be a more powerful, life-affirming statement to wear for a few days on my lapel, so I chose the white poppy rather than the standard red. Also, finding a red poppy would have been easy and would require little thought. I went in search for the white poppy, in pretty much the same way I go about seeking peace (yep, you've guessed - I found it in a quiet, old-smelling bookshop a mile away from home).

A couple of weeks on and it's now standing upright on my bookshelf, amongst some of my books (top shelf - read and loved, second shelf - unfinished). Whatever I think of the poppy thing, every time I look at it I hope that peace will become less of a symbol and more of a reality for everyone. I hope that I can promote peace, on a basic level (by not picking useless arguments on poppy-wearing, for example) and perhaps even on a more profound level (by mediating conflicts and changing minds).


In due course, I should be able to post a video of my performance of "War! Hmmph" at Jazz Verse Jukebox, Ronnie Scotts on Remembrance Day. The house musicians (Simon Wallace, Winston Clifford, Oli Hayhurst) are excellent and I got my wish (to perform a jazz poem which riffs off and plays with the "War!(What is it Good For?)" refrain. Here's a severely-truncated extract:

[...]War is a song conducted by a chorus of camouflaged percussionists
Arms orchestrated to hold collateral damages
War is a song they composed
Based on an overture they call freedom:
Freedom before peace, Freedom before love
Freedom to bear arms and fuel the instruments of fear
We’re tearing up the studio here! We’re cranking up the notches with war
Bullet-sized bodies dancing on the floor. And it’s a hit!  
The roof is on (friendly) fire! The roof is on (friendly) fire! War is tearing the roof off
Turning truths into terrors and echoing its tenor through history
Scattering the enemy with earth-splitting frequency

War is in the key of a minor now left motherless in a discordant town
Neighbours are killing neighbours and houses are burning to the ground
Here are your strings of no-fly zones, here are sanctions and transactions
Here are bones making bone-shattering sounds
Hear the word of the war! Hear the word of the war!

War is a song they never play until another hundred British musicians go down
And they sing a shrill rendition of Bring Back Our Boys! Bring back our Boys!
On the front of our tabloid hymnals.


And Today's Random Word Is...


(And clearing now) 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

October gone... and that Black History Poem. 2012 stylee

General Update...

So we're 8 days into November already. Last month passed pretty quickly for me and I kept busy for most of it. 

The Spoken Word Educator project is going well and I'm learning about teaching theory while practising it, learning about the education system while trying to break some of its restrictions and learning about poetry while still wanting to break some of its rules. I'm also learning that I have to manage my time more effectively if I'm going to cope over the next few months. Writing is much more than the physical act of putting words down on paper or on screen and to think creatively, I have to allow myself the space to do so. 

I generally write poetry as a reaction to stimulus - be it adverts, in the case of M&S, workshops in the case of my last poem posted here, or conversations in the case of most of poems. I need to have those conversations, go to those workshops or watch those adverts. And then I need to allow them to implant somewhere in the back of my brain so when I come to my writing time, something will spark up. 

So far, I've been lucky - there's always enough going on in the world to react to and it's great to flick through my notebook and see my different thought processes over time.

I'm also going back to a couple of short stories I drafted a year ago - it's weird coming back to it as my style seems to have changed without me being conscious of the process. I guess much of life involves these gradual changes and it's not till you look back you get the full picture.

As promised, I'm posting one of two Black History Month poems I completed last month for local libraries. It's had some unexpected reactions and, like most of the things I write, I wrote it for the questions and not the answers...

BHM 2012
When they tell you this is Black history
What do they mean?
Do they mean this is history without the whitewash?
Without the grey areas or red herrings – just one big old black hole
For school kids to sink their kissing teeth into?

When they tell you it’s a black history they gwine teach
Of what do they speak? And what do you seek?
Another Windrush square for brown rears to park
On its grey benches?
Another bronze Mandela statue for tourist cameras to capture
And tag on Facebook and Instagram?
Or maybe this history is not a man
But a Seacole, a Parks or a disputed Nefertiti
Unearthed from out of the long lines of long-necked African Queens
and tall pyramids
And crossings-out on buried textbooks
And complex theories put out of context
Until the history is no longer black but simply murky and unclear...

When they tell you a Black History dis
What is it you want to hear?
Is it carnival steel pan music?
Or the sound of slave ships treading Atlantic waters?
Or the slash of backra’s whip on the backs of his own daughters?
Or freshly-slaughtered flying fish
Dropped into fry pan?
Or plantain or ackee or yam
Or the thread that connects them with fufu
And jollof and egusi soup?

Is it the languages silenced
Or the violence from which they survived?
Is it the clans, the classes, the tribes that thrive?
Is it the many-hued skins that decorate walls come October?
Or the sobering lessons they teach...
Like King’s I have a dream speech?

When they tell you this is black history what should this inspire?
Beyond the several rounds of kum-by-yahs fired from the mouths
Of cross-legged children in damp halls?
Beyond the applause from parents proud to dress in newly dusted-off dashikis?
Or that dreadlock wrapped around that bald-patch?
Or that catch-all catechism
We roll out once a year so black is seen to be respected?

Tell me again, what do they mean when they say black history?
And what do you expect to learn?
Your name... in the Ghanaian way?
Kofi for Friday
Or Kwame for Saturday
And someday you might get to grips
With the way Nigerian vowels 
Hang on your lips 
And with the way it sounds

But for now, they have pronounced that this is black history
For now, what do they mean with this mystery of this name for this month?
Because black is infinite
And history is never over!
And this is something we must muse over come October
And while libraries are open and minds are too
I want to know what this month means to you...
I want to know what this month means to you.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Coming Up Next: Jazz Verse Jukebox @ Ronnie Scott's

Next Sunday, I'll be performing at Ronnie Scott's Upstairs and it'll be part of the London Jazz Festival, alongside Malika Booker, HKB Finn, Rachel Rose Reid and Nicola Emmanuelle. It's going to be a great evening so come along!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Name Poem in 3 drafts...

...a new spelling of my name

For my birthday they rescued my name from a bargain bucket in Barking
Too cheap to afford a new one

Dog-eared and ragged, they wiped it down best they could
Said I was an old soul anyway

I would have been a Lindsay Russell Daniel or Kurtis
But they gave me this one to suckle on

So I chewed on it, kicked it, rattled it
Till jazz piano lullabies tinkled out on my baby stool

I carried it to school on my shoulder
My friends called it Parrot, Chief and Mellow Man:

It was the way its yellow eyes shut on top of class desks
I guess it was because it lacked focus.

Older now, it became a pet I couldn't bear
To hear barked out on buses

I tried to drown it in the River Lea
It still skulked behind like a bad wind

My name was too dirty, too old
Too much like my father

I was LK Junior Ben Daniel D
And anything but
                            my name

But my name got bigger and grew claws
Stretched to 5'8" tall and became solidly built

It swallowed me up and belched proudly
Leaving me where I still remain: trapped inside

My name
                is now writing poetry, last I heard
Tells tall tales about its origins:

Far from the land of its adopted parents
Far from the bric-a-brac stalls lining East London streets

It can be found tracing its roots
To some old Celtic village where it once meant something.

Draft 1 
I thought I'd give a quick outline of how I sometimes draft poems...

Following a workshop in which a group of us used Patricia Smith's 'What It's Like to Be a Black Girl' as inspiration, I ended writing notes for something I titled 'What it's like to be named after your father'.

I numbered them, 1-7:
It is just one small syllable to swallow
One giant twenty-year leap to digest
After 1, I thought about 2 mistaken Facebook friend requests from my dad's friends, then created a number 3, skipped 4, thought about the 5 letters of my name, then the fact that there were 6 of us in the house when I was a kid, and I was the "Junior", before going through 7 more quirks about having my name.

Draft 2
I ended up with the first draft of a poem that I'll probably develop further in the future. Some parts worked, others not so well. For example, I used the numbering system to structure the poem. Instead of using the number "four", I used the word "for" and had a four-line stanza for the fourth item:
It is for not being a pianist, it is for not being named
After a pianist
It is for not being named
Just echoed.
By the time I got to seven, I ended up getting lost in the form and going away from the point, which was more specifically about having had a name passed down.

Draft 3
Continuing with the 'echoing' theme, for a school project I also had to write something about my name and where it comes from. One of the lines that didn't work from the 2nd draft was:
It is learning to recycle and re-invent.
I flipped that and started writing about a name that has been recycled. I also used the jazz pianist reference again but more subtly (in the original I relied too heavily on the fact that there's another famous Keith Jarrett out there with the lines: "It is two friend requests on Facebook last Friday/ from Jazz-enthusiasts, retreated in quick succession". It had little to do with the theme of the poem).

Draft 4 will come once I've given it some distance, and after some feedback.
So there you have it... my name in 3 drafts!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Quick Update: Poetry

I feel like I've been living and breathing poetry of late. During the last couple of weeks, there hasn't been a single day when I haven't written, performed, studied or taught poetry. There have also been a few days when I've managed a combination of three or four of the above. And, like any other art form, it needs a well to draw from, so I'm looking forward to spending two or three days next week on some completely unrelated projects.

The last three events I've been at have been exceptionally memorable for different reasons:

Alongside G. Winston James, I read out some poetry at Brixton Library on Thursday and it felt great to be around a very receptive audience to a mostly-new set of poems, ranging from topics such as sex within a forced marriage to the concept of Black History month, and more...

Friday, I performed at a fundraiser for Olive Branch / Sandblast Arts Youth Theatre productions; they're raising money for a trip to Western Sahara on the 26th October (i.e. end of this week) and more info can be found on here.

Sunday, as part of the Bloomsbury Arts Festival, I took part in a Human Rights Court Case 'Slam' at Senate House alongside some great performers, some of them good friends. We each had to present a poem as a human rights 'case' and I won thanks to some very generous judges.


My final gig of the month is still to come on Friday - I'll be at Willesden Green Library performing some reflective poetry for Black History Month - and I feel I'll have come full circle, after I ended last month in the opposite corner of London in a library, reading out poetry that connected up some of the dots for me about Black History and what it means.

Expect another update shortly!

Until then...

Deanna Rodger, Cat Brogan, Pete the Temp, Me, Ray Antrobus, David Lee Morgan and Hollie McNish

And Today's Random Word Is...


(And looking back, the last Random Word I picked up was "borrowing". Is there some kind of theme?)

Monday, 1 October 2012

October... BHM again! Guernsey again! And more...

When they say this is Black History
Do they mean this is history without the whitewash
Without the grey areas or red herrings – just one big old black hole
For school kids to sink kissing teeth into?

from 'Black History Revisited 2012'

It's the 1st of October and Black History Month is upon us. As I put in a poem I wrote for last Friday's event for Lewisham libraries, "black is infinite and history is never over". Incidentally, it was a really enjoyable night and I feel I learnt a lot and shared a lot with all those present.

The idea of a month to celebrate and learn about black history is at best a temporary solution to the fact that so-called mainstream history has been quick to omit much of what needs to be learnt about the nations and peoples who all too often end up in the chapter about slavery and Empire (turn to your GCSE textbooks and highlight page 364). At worst, it's a way to build up resentment on one side ("Where's our white history month then?") and a quota-filling culture on the other ("Let's pencil you in for October when we have a budget for your sort of thing...") I do, however, like to look on this month in its best light and take it for what it is: one of the only months when local councils and schools like to employ poets for added cultural value (don't worry - I'm pulling my best cheeky face as I write!)

I've a feeling I've said all this before though, so I won't go on much more except to say that I'll be using the month to read as much history as I can, via the stacks of fiction and poetry I have waiting to be opened on my bookshelf. Also, seeing as this summer marked the 50th anniversary of Independence for both Jamaica and Trinidad, there are a couple of events celebrating the two which look very interesting to me, and I'll keep you posted here.

Spoken Word Educators Programme 

The most exciting thing for me this month, from this week onwards, is that I begin my course at Goldsmiths in earnest and I also start teaching Spoken Word at a school in East London. This is all for a new programme that will see six of us trained as full-time Spoken Word Educators; the scheme will hopefully soon be rolled out across London and beyond but this is the pioneering year and I expect we'll all learn a lot along the way.

The people I'm on the programme with read are real gems who I'm glad to know: Raymond Antrobus, Dean Atta, Catherine Brogan, Pete the Temp and Indigo Williams. And I see that Ray's posted something up about it, so I'll not say much more!

I shall be doubly busy, however, which means I've had to ask for extra patience from friends... and to forgive any emails not replied to - resending usually helps ;)

Other things...

Guernsey - So yes, being part of the Guernsey Literary Festival was great; yes, I promised pictures ages ago and yes, I have some right here:


Before - and perhaps during - the trip, I imagined my camera would return full of pictures of cows and farms or at least the outsides of the venues where we did workshops, went to festival events and set up the Slam on the final Sunday. But no, thanks to having people with better cameras snapping the juicy stuff from the Festival, I have tonnes of pictures taken near the sea, looking towards the sea, above the sea, in the sea... There seems to be a theme.


John Paul and Katie

I was lucky enough to travel with Katie Bonna and John Paul O'Neill, who runs the Slam. This is actually a standard snapshot of how we spent the day. We got to work with some enthusiastic people, and some really great kids, who were brave enough to suspend both their misgivings on poetry and their public performance nerves and work on wildly-varying and imaginative poems based around this year's National Poetry Day theme, Stars.

A brief summary of what went down at the Slam - the final event of the Festival - can be found here.  

scary propeller plane going back
The book - Having not had time to do any work on the novel for a month but wishing it complete, I'm redoubling my efforts this week and am aiming for another 5,000 words by Saturday. Doable, yes?

The poetry - I've also been writing loads and I expect to be putting a first pamphlet together over Christmas

The gigs - 3 out of my 5 weekday eves are guaranteed busy these days so I have less time to go to gigs. Which means I'll be a bit more picky about where I go. Which can't always be a bad thing.

The rest - Will update here again soon... Next gig is the launch of RTJ's Big Heart at The Albany, Deptford, next week.

Good times! 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Next Gig: Lewisham's (Pre-)Black History Month special

This Friday evening marks the start of Black History Month at Manor House Library in Lee, Lewisham. Alongside Andrea Encinas, I'll be taking you through some lyrical stories of Afro-Caribbean experience in London. This will be a warm event, complete with Questions and Answers at the end, so pull up a library chair (or bean-bag) and come along! More details here.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Listed Buildings

to those who understand...

She says they’ve opened up a new restaurant
up on one of the top floors
up one of those new supersized shiny skyscrapers that have recently risen up
in the square mile somewhere
with a perky waiter
with a smile as opaque and crooked as the Thames
each jagged-edged tooth a borough boundary
each curling lip an M25 pile-up

She says I’d like it.
If not the waiter
then, like, at least the plates
(which I imagine will be square
or, at least, oddly-shaped
and punctuated with a dot of food
or maybe a block
or a cube
and I remember the word soupcon makes me tingle)   

She says I’ll like the concoctions too
a cosmopolitan or Manhattan
shaken to match the skyline
while I’m elevated half a mile high up from the floor.

I say elevated because we don’t say lift these days
because we’ve shifted our language into globalisms
neologisms and semi-colloquialisms we used to get corrected for
like 24/7
and sometimes I need to sift through my lost vocabulary
and wonder where the words have gone
like a song eaten
up by the cassette player
chewed tape lost
to my parents’ attic
static from the TV screen I used to feel
until the crown of my head went numb.

Before they complained we’d all been dumbed-down
when we were really young
and not just pretending
there was a never-ending stream of words
we used to parade
on the upper deck of the 123 bus
banana-yellow and painted
blue with our pre-rehearsed curses
while Year 11s smoked out of scratched windows
and you and me chanted verses
from mixtapes you stole.

There are words that have long-graduated
from sink-Estate schools
queued in jobcentres
been left unemployed
and doled out
no doubt on some Essex barstool
where women dressed as schoolgirls order
vodka and lime.

I haven’t actually been to Romford
All those years I was just passing through
somewhere between Time and Envy
just me and my portion of chips
and a shoulder bag full of dirty clothes
waiting on the Friday-night busstop
with that top-of-your-voice karaoke belting
I believe that children are the future...

I felt that line
even with tinny headphones
a shivering puffa hood
and paranoia woven around my neck.

I felt that my future would come in time
and the space between us,
between our worlds,
would collapse.

And perhaps, while the helpline volunteer
with the chirpy voice of unreason
chipped in that everything would one day be ok
in that consoling way professionals always do
I saw myself
in the future
sporting a shiny new tower for a life
with a square mile for a job
and a wife with a smile that says home.

And perhaps, after I put down the phone
and held down a dot of a tear
and forced a laugh right back at you
for the prank that you never knew went wrong
it was then I learnt to embrace long silences
for absent words
and I learnt to curse
and I learnt to downgrade my dreams from a skyscraper
to a grave where I could bury them
along with all those redundant phrases
lost somewhere between the North Circular extension
and the tension we felt on the Central Line.

I want you to know
there is no darker destination
than Hainault via Newbury Park
on a low battery
and an angry stomach
no flattery more odious than an insincere smile
and no square mile that I haven’t trod down
in this opaque city
looking for you
and finding God.

I want you to know that things get better
and that Shards of glass posing as monuments
will never rise higher than your questioning soul
and that there is a skyscraper within you
as odd-shaped and crooked
as the city you roam
and that there is a banquet on the end of your tongue
a restaurant rising from deep within
which you can call home.

I want you to pull up a seat on a barstool
get comfortable in your skin
and invite your friends to feast.

I want you to elevate yourself from under the giant thumb
you’ve created out of East End churches
and Mockney and Jafaican
and I want you to find your own language.

Then, and only then,
will you manage to order something
out of that chirpy, gravelly voice
that you can drink

Then, and only then,
can you bring up a laugh
that bubbles through the buildings
listed in your lungs
and break down the walls of this city
destroy the young boundaries that divide us
the tall towers that hide our shadows 
and find me, whole.

And Today's Random Word Is...



Thursday, 20 September 2012

Upcoming Gig... Last minute... Bang Said the Gun tonight!

Okay, very short notice but I'll be featuring at BSTG tonight in Borough due to a change-around with dates. Come along - it will great!

Poetry Update...

So, last month I left a few threads loose.

Rap vs Poetry again

First up, I wanted to comment on the Rap vs Poetry gig. Luckily, in my failure to do so, Angry Sam (is it me or does his name sound more like a rapper's than a poet's?*) gives a pretty good analysis of how the night went down in his blog.

I've found a video of Kat Francois during the final battle round and I only wish you could see some of the audience's expressions:

Let's just say none of the poets pulled any punches, while some of the rappers were far more respectful!* In any case, poetry won this time but it was all good - both rap and more conventional poetry (bearing in mind that rap is actually a form of poetry) have a lot to learn from each other. I think I said as much on NTS radio's Re:Versed show a few days beforehand (check August 13th show) but I can't be sure any more.

*that's what the night was about: flipping expectations.


In the run-up to the Rap vs Poetry show, I'd been writing a tailored poem for almost every gig I've performed at. For instance, at a student union gig at University of London, I researched some of the history of its colleges beforehand and wrote something just before the gig... What came out was something that surprised me (in a good way) but I'll probably not use it again, at least not in its current form.

Likewise, at Sage & Time's birthday in July, I was lucky enough to be one of the final poets, so I managed to incorporate some of the themes running through the night into a birthday poem. I've found it pretty exhilarating writing up until the last minute and delivering a personal response to the theme of the evening.

My Christmas poem (which I put most of up under my Edinburgh post) once again was a reaction to the night itself; there are few occasions where I'll reuse it but I'm glad I was able to come up with something for the night, rather than rock up to a show and recite from my back catalogue regardless of what the night's about. I hope that I can continue to do this!


Being in Guernsey for five days and part of the team organising their first ever schools' slam has been especially rewarding. At the very least, you feel a great degree of responsibility when bringing in concepts for the first time. One teacher introduced us, excitedly, as rappers: "Today, class, you're going to learn how to rap slam [does hand movement]". Needless to say, the kids were a little less excited when we said they didn't have to rap but we were really going to take them through a bunch of poems, and get them to write their own! All in all, it went well and I learnt a lot.

I feel this deserves another blog post but, for the moment, I'd like to end this with a pic from near the coast, where I stayed up till sunrise after a particularly deep conversation.

Spoken Word Educators Scheme

This also deserves another post, but so you know it's coming, I have new employment and new studies coming up in the horizon... Yippee! (horizon - see what I did there with the pic and everything?) I shall def fill in this space within the next 24 hours so please come back!

A'ite. Arrivederci!

And Today's Random Word Is...


(Does what it says, really)

Friday, 7 September 2012

Next Gig: Canterbury Street Slam on Sunday

Wise WordsSo, on Sunday, I'll be trotting off to a sunny Canterbury for the Wise Words Festival. Yes, you could call it a pilgrimage of sorts, or an arts extravaganza bursting out from the usual libraries, cafes and pubs you'd expect to find them in and hitting the streets instead.

I'll be slamming along with Peter Hayhoe, Paul Cree (I'll probably rob the former and pay the other), Emma Jones (of London Slam Team fame. Whoop whoop!), Paula Varjack and Christian Watson. If you haven't heard them, where have you been?

More info on the festival can be found here, plus you can engage with them on the twittersphere, as demonstrated below:

And Today's Random Word Is...


(in case you don't know what this is about, every few days I pluck a word out of the ether with the help of the trusty Random Word Generator - in my 'links' - and, voila! Sometimes I use it to string together a few sentences in a freewrite, sometimes I use it as a spark word, sometimes I'm too tied up with work to do anything with it, other than announce what the word is, and sometimes I repeat it out loud as I'm walking through the streets and no one else has any idea why).

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Mind (The Gap)

Another freewrite, just written now... I'll work on this in the morning. 

My mind doesn't work nights
Gets phased by off-licence strip lights
With thousand-watt bulbs
And unforgiving staff

And my mind doesn't laugh 
Not enough these days
Doesn't spend enough time in comedy clubs
Watching half-crazed clowns
Making fart jokes and anecdotes about TV shows
I should know but don't watch

My mind doesn't have a plot
To lose
Doesn't have feet to place
In others' shoes
Or a cubicle in which to change

In fact
My mind doesn't give a shit
It doesn't need to be changed
And powdered and wiped
Doesn't need to be freed
To run riot
Doesn't need to fight
Doesn't need to have an eye
For an eye's sake

Because my mind doesn't do nights
Doesn't like this shift
This shake
Of midnight makeshift landscapes
Threatening to make it slip
Make it lose its grip
Flip too much
Make quick misjudgements
That only fit the rhythm of jerky nightbuses
Snaking down avenues
It would never use come daylight

This time of night
My mind skirts bruised surfaces 
Gets dirt in its tyres
Gravel-punctured and hurt
And creates skid-marks
On paper

And, later, they'll call this a joy-ride

And Today's Random Word Is...


(And I'm sadly lacking the wherewithal to comment any further...)

Monday, 27 August 2012

August Mega-Rant

So I started writing this last week and already I'm finding I've cooled off a bit... My opinions on things change a lot but here are some of my thoughts and, of course, I'm willing to be challenged....

A wee while ago, before the Jubilympics cast a Union-flag-shaped patriotic gloss over this green and pleasant land, I had some – limited – faith in our news broadcasting systems. The format used to go something like this: we would start with some breaking international news, before some diplomatic incident or another, followed by the national political issue of the day, other national news, an and finally... type story and sport before the local news and weather.

More specifically, if thirty-four workers from a British-owned company were shot dead by police somewhere in the world, and a further seventy-odd injured – under very dubious circumstances – unless there’s a major sporting event on, I would have expected that it would get some decent coverage right at the start of a news bulletin. But when the police chief simply states that “this is not time for finger-pointing” (although evidently it was one for trigger-pointing) I was a bit put out to see these events disintegrate so quickly from the headlines.

The Pussy Riot Dolls

Ok, I admit I can often be premature and reactionary. Also, there hasn’t been a shortage of massacre and  maybe there isn’t enough space for more misery; it’s easy to be worn down by endless and seemingly senseless violence. Much to my shame, I’ve lost track of what’s going on in Syria – from what I read and view, there seems to be a continually rising death toll and a mass exodus for those fortunate enough to be able to escape to Turkey without being sent back. But the more bloodshed reported, the more it blurs into one huge killing zone that I feel unable to do very much about.   

All of that taken into consideration, I was saddened to see such a blatant example of the sexier stories winning over. One case that springs to mind is Pussy Riot. Let’s get this clear from the start – I greatly believe in freedom of speech (which includes the freedom to blog, express controversial views, demonstrate, protest and shock or offend people, without it being an explicitly criminal offence) and I think what they did was incredibly brave. In fact, I support anyone who cares enough about what happens to them and freedom of speech in general to protest about the matter (and, in fact, I know people who demonstrated outside the Russian embassy in Edinburgh, and I support them wholeheartedly).

Having made my disclaimer above, there is little too surprising about the story: plenty of people - and many women - over many years have found themselves silenced, in one form or another, in Russia for dissidence. Somehow, the way the news has treated the story and the perverse voyeurism of these women in a glass box, the way I’ve heard them referred to as “girls”, and the opportunism of getting a few popstars to comment about it has made it a juicier story. I can’t help feeling we play with their plight as if they were Russian dolls rather than the latest in an increasingly long line of protesters trying to be heard.

All the above said, it has drawn my attention to what is going on in Russia; it’s also drawn my attention to the way we still refer to women.

Rape: a love story?

Speaking of, there have been several incidents of rape gaffes, but two in particular drew my attention in a really bad way. On both sides of the Atlantic we seem to have out-of-touch men, prone to controversy, discussing the legitimacy and authenticity of rape. I’ve learnt that supposedly intelligent people believe that if a woman has been"legitimately" raped, they won’t get pregnant. And it kind of reminds me of a quote in the Old Testament about how to assess the "legitimacy" of rape; Deuteronomy 22: 23-28 would seem to suggest that women in the country can be legitimately raped, but in the city there are no grounds:

23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
It continues:
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

And those verses, of course, remind me of the recent Morrocan case, where 16 year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her attacker. Several commentators went straight on the rampage about Islamic law but this practice is certainly not unique to Islam!  

In my last post, I mentioned that I found it a bit overwhelming to hear three poems about rape in two nights during my trip to New York last month; now I can see how it might be necessary to voice out to the public that it isn’t cool to make these judgements about the men and women who have been raped, not about the “legitimacy” of the rape, the “genuineness” of it, or any other such moral pronouncements that have no legal or scientific grounding.

George Galloway, of course, commented about how he wouldn’t consider Julian Assange to be a rapist, even if the allegations that he had sex with a woman in her sleep without her express consent prove to be true; apparently, the fact that they had had sex before makes it clear that she has consented for eternity. And that kind of reminds me of the fact that before 1991 married women in the UK could not legally prosecute their husbands for rape, and many countries still do not recognise the concept of marital rape. The consent once, consent forever principle seems to apply here.

What both men, in my opinion, have failed to see is that rape does not have to be the violent, bloody, stranger-in-the-park with a knife type of experience that get all the headlines. The law regarding consent is simple enough: all parties involved must be of legal age and able to give consent, e.g. not asleep or too drunk to notice. Of course, up and down the country there are people who have drunken one-night stands on a Friday night followed by hazy-memory Saturday mornings; consent can be a (Shade of...?) grey issue in many cases, but it is up to courts to decide in these matters, and it is only with a touch of sensitivity that we can pass comment.

Naked Harry

And then, something else that ticked me off was all of this Prince Harry stuff. And I was kind of in two minds about the story. The excuses for his behaviour go something along the lines of: he’s a normal, red-blooded (read red-headed? or at least red faced... and has been read the riot act by Prince Charles, supposedly!), single, heterosexual young man; he’s in the army (and you know what it’s like in the army, eh? Bit of harmless fun for a change); he deserves some privacy etc etc.

My reason not to comment was the fact that I already spend too much time talking about the Royal Family for someone who claims to not care about them. But then a friend of mine made this simple comment: what if he’d been a woman? Far from being a “lad”, he would be a "slut". Let’s face it: a female Harry with naked pictures circulating the internet would be seen as an even more complete embarrassment to what he represents: the monarchy, the ruling class, the prim and the proper, an institution that not only rules over Britain and the Church of England, but over the Commonwealth too. They may have changed the succession laws so rights to the throne don't just favour first-born males, but it doesn't mean we'll see the rights to make an idiot of oneself gender-neutral as well.

It’s just another great reminder for me on how far we have to go... 


And then, speaking of how far we have to go, I feel a little disturbed about the way the Paralympics have been advertised. The tagline "forget everything you know about humans; meet the superhumans" was originally used to promote the games, with this video:

There's something slightly sinister for me about fetishising the differently-abled as something other than human. I originally thought the whole point of the Modern Olympics and Modern Olympic philosophy was to inspire a sense of togetherness and brotherhood. Perhaps this is not the same for the Paralympics, but how can I expect to feel any kinship with people who are not human but "superhuman"? 

I'm know I'm being very sensitive on wordplay and it's actually a cool advert, plus they've seemingly dropped the "forget everything you know..." part, so I'm happy to be corrected when I say it still makes me feel uncomfortable. 

Now I've got all of that off my chest and put the world to right, I can sleep happily :)

COMING UP: This month in Poetry...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Er, yeah... em, Merry Christmas (and Ciao, Edinburgh)

As expected, tonight has been a bizarre night, full of lots of tinsel, spray on beards and general weirdness added in! Pass the parcel didn't go as planned but I hadn't actually ever directed a pass-the-parcel game, only participated... and several years ago. However, it was an action-packed night with two other poets I'd not heard before whose words will stay with me beyond Edinburgh, so there's a bonus!

Armed with few self-indulgent references to two of the poems I perform most frequently, and no idea how I was going to inject some festive spirit into my performance, I wrote my first ever Christmas poem today. Unfortunately, I was unable to perform it at the gig, although I managed to get it out at the Free Fringe Spoken Word Awards afterwards so, voila, here it is:

Crepe Paper Hats

They asked me if I had a Christmas poem
So I said... Ho ho ho no!
I cannot not mince my words into pie-sized sound bytes
I get bored of these charades
Find it too hard a task
For you to ask me to cast a jingly glow over my words to mask
The serious word play crocheted into its foundation

My words are not turkeys to stuff full of James Bond clich├ęs
Reruns of Star Wars
Or Home Alone 1, 2, 3, 4... and how many more before we realise
It isn’t that entertaining watching mothers abandon their children over Christmas
Especially when you’re a child who just wants to be left alone?

But if this were to be a Christmas poem
I’d say this isn’t just any Christmas poem
This is a choice selection
Of cluedo, monopoly, monotony
And a lobotomising litany of all the films you’ve ever seen since you were five
Like the Never-Ending Story has really never ended
Just waited for you to return one year later to the bum-shaped dent on your mother’s sofa
You created at the beginning of time

Only each year it gets wider
Like an (unnamed) relative’s yawning mouth as she reaches out
With her bingo wings to retrieve another glass of Bailey’s

This isn’t just any Christmas poem
This is a carefully basted cut-and-pasted
Stitch-work of all the ghosts of Christmases past and present
That present itself annually...
Like the present they keep asking after
Like how are you to say you left the sweater
On the tube the following day?
But yes you really love it! And pink is so your colour!

This isn’t just any Christmas poem
This poem should be hanging off trees
And dancing in drunken office dos
Releasing itself from the grip of tongues
Loosened by libidinous Lambrini
And peach schnapps

This poem is more polished that the Queen’s Speech
More out of reach than those Ferrero Rochers way up above the cupboard
Your mother had been leaving for a special occasion

This poem, as violently sudden as an invasion of bombs on Lebanon
As a boxing day hangover looms
And your brother enters the room and says lets switch off the news:
Your nephew wants to watch cartoons

 This poem should be a Carol
A lullaby and hallelujah nativity scene
Printed on a last-minute card
You forgot to send before the last Christmas post

This poem is a ghost of white baby Jesuses
Decorating the walls in the Halal burger bar

This poem should be a Carol
Although if it has to be a man
It should be a Cliff
Hanging onto the charts with a dodgy rendition of
[sung] Our Father Who Art In Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name...
And if Pussy Riot can be jailed for defaming Christ
Then we should let Sir Cliff Richard suffer the same

This poem is a shameful gluttonous, overrated, belly-bloating
Feast you need to sink your teeth into

And this poem isn’t just any Christmas poem
And if it were to continue
You would have to release another notch on your belt
Ease yourself down into your chair
Borrow a pair of reindeer antennae
And tune in to the tinny tinge of tinselated references
Injected into its rump

But I shall leave this poem here as just a stump
An unwanted turkey drumstick chucked out
Onto the (Only Way Is) Essex asphalt
An unwanted burp emanating from a mouth that has already said too much
Drunk too much
Been fed too much
And as such, before I venture into territory I dare not tread
I shall leave this poem here
Like a crepe paper hat hanging over an embarrassed head

Upcoming Gig: Utter! Xmas special tonight @ Edinburgh Fringe

Xmas comes early tonight with some elf-friendly poetry and festival frolicking before we all head off to the Spoken Word Awards. 
Utter! Xmas will be a lot of fun, despite the disturbing picture (sorry, all I was able to upload quickly now). I'll be at the Banshee Labyrinth at 7.30, so come along if you can... and if you can't, Merry Xmas anyway!
More info later, otherwise check out Utter's Edinburgh webpage

Saturday, 18 August 2012

August Mega Update

The past few weeks have been pretty busy! After I'd planned a quiet summer, keeping my head down, working on the novel and otherwise doing nothing but soaking in sunrays and lazing on (preferably warm) green grass and grazing on ice cream and Olympic-sponsoring snacks (OFFICIAL CEREAL BAR OF LONDON 2012, one such snack wrapper reads. Say whaaat??) life decided to take another few detours, meaning I ended up in Boston for a couple of days, followed by New York a couple of nights, followed by London again then Edinburgh, then off again a couple of days before Edinburgh again.

So my jack-in-a-box summer has been a bit of a surprise, just like a long jumbled sentence that comes out at 3am on a Friday night after a late-night dash to the takeaway! But it's been pretty good...

In New York, I managed to make it over to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe just in time for the poetry slam. Coming second in a slam full of a very talented home-grown and international demographic was a thrill I won't forget any time soon. 

It also crystallised some of the feeling I've had about the transatlantic poetry phenomena. In short, most American slammers I've heard like to go in deep and heavy: as an example, in just two gigs I heard three poems about rape, another three about race, two about eating disorders, several about absentee parents, yet more that could be classified as feminist - in the sense that they were actively discussing gender equality - and the rest were either about growing up in a tough neighbourhood or about how idiotic One Direction are (poor things - we've let One Direction loose Stateside!) 

Most poetry slams I've been to in the UK are a lot tamer. I don't believe there's a right or wrong when it comes to what you write, provided it's authentic (i.e. from the heart) and not just following trends. But, of course, it made me consider why and how I write my own poetry. As I stated in a post just after Mother's Day last year, there are some places I never feel good to go, and I think it has less to do with my British reserve than a wish to keep just a few things to myself. But, who knows, that may change...

Edinburgh was also one cool place to be earlier this month. After finding the cheapest train tickets available (still more expensive than a flight to Barcelona), I found myself with a three-hour wait at dawn in Newcastle before catching the 6.20 beyond the border. I caught a beautiful sunrise over a five-ringed Tyne Bridge, bags in hand after trekking the drunken streets around Newcastle and Gateshead.

Edinburgh during the Fringe festival is always a dynamic place to be. I haven't been for a couple of years and forgot how tiring it is walking the Royal Mile, every last inch of space taken by student thrusting flyers in unsuspecting faces! I thought I'd mastered the impassive city look - head down, walking with purpose etc - until I came back home and realised I had an armful of flyers for shows and plays I will probably never see. 
But what I did see was either funny, heartwarming, challenging - or all three... 

I'll fill in more of this when I go back again next week! But so far so good from Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna's Dirty Great Love Story to Richard Tyrone Jones' Big Heart (complete with a fainting audience member) and right along to Monkey Poet's refreshingly raw show... Ok, I'm going on a bit... but it was good.

Back in London and we've supposedly been all 'Lympics mad. I think months of everyone telling us the world was going to end and the relief that it hasn't - yet - has made it quite touching. Whenever I got close to a TV, I ended up cheering for things I'd never dreamed of watching (WATER POLO???) and not being so bothered by sightings of the Union Flag...

Ok, it's late... to be continued....