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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...)