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Friday, 30 August 2013

Highlights of Edinburgh 2013: Part 1 (Life of Pie and London up North)

I think I ought to do several posts about this as the whole experience has been incredible. A fellow poet - probably Sophia Walker, or possibly someone else who Sophia then quoted - described the Edinburgh Fringe as a university for poets. Throughout August, the whole city is like a large campus, with the poetic faculty holding its own against a backdrop of theatre companies and stand-up comedians. Don't get me wrong - no jacket potatoes were harmed during the staging of our return to studenthood; however, I survived mainly on a diet of haggis pizza, steak and kidney pie, and donated beer when I wasn't burying into my rucksack for granola bars (the healthy option).

I initially attempted to avoid attending London poets' shows; I'm aware I'm stuck inside a "London bubble" at the moment; I have little awareness of the poetry scene in the rest of the country and rarely perform outside of London. That I hope to change pretty soon. I've met some sound poets from all over the country - and beyond - who I'd love to see more of so, train ticket price-permitting, I'll be travelling inland a lot more frequently.

That said, as far as Lahndaners were concerned, I enjoyed seeing David Lee Morgan, Tongue Fu (with guests Rob Auton and Inua Ellams) and then Beardyman's show, where he created an album in 60 minutes, based on the audience's bizarre requests for musical genres (sorry guys, no Gabber today).  

Identity Mix-Up

I can't believe it, but this went really well. After some well-delivered feedback from the preview (thanks to everyone who came - that really made me rethink a couple of things), I made some alterations. The poems themselves changed little, but the in-between bits did. I'll have more to say on this later, but I feel emotionally drained... I put myself into the show in a big way and telling strangers about your life (and not just the good bits) isn't easy.

The pay-off, however, was amazing. I bonded with the other members of the Utter! team who were there (namely James McKay, Caleb Beissert and Rosie Fitzmaurice) while we hurriedly tried to pick self-adhesive labels off the floor at the end of the shows, or ran across town with flyers. I also met a charming couple who we sat and had drinks with after one show - for two hours - who I almost certainly wouldn't have met in any other circumstance. I chatted with a woman who came to see me because we shared the same surname (Jarrett isn't a common name in Edinburgh); others who came from places as disparate as Aberdeen and Madrid, on a whim or on a recommend. I also had a few poets from London - and Glasgow - come down from doing/seeing other shows to show their support and I discovered, bizarrely, that one such poet went to the same school as me. I had a good friend and my brother turn up too - just for the day. And some people said some very nice things afterwards, including Joe Walsh in the review below:


Cutting his Keith

Broadway Baby Rating:
I don’t think I’ve felt as privileged to be in a performer’s company at a Fringe show as I felt when watching Keith Jarrett. He is astute, he is witty, he is charming, and I would have bought him a pint if only I’d had the chance. Praise all the greater considering La Tasca charge £4.25.This is a show in which Jarrett questions what it means to have labels attached to oneself. What does it mean to be black, to be British and Jamaican, to be middle class, to be homo- or heterosexual? He is not willing to accept any label as a given; he wants to interrogate it, to find out what it means at its core. That he is able to do so via the medium of poetry testifies to an intelligence that is as understated as it is incisive.
The poetry is fluidly embedded into a show that is composed of the conversational, the subtly academic and the interactive. He represents the constituent elements of the identity that he has built up throughout his life by way of donning disparate pieces of clothing: Socks, a string vest, a cap. All bring into poetic focus issues of gender, language, religion and so on as we are drawn through his life from ten-years-old to the present day.
There is much to be said for Jarrett’s engaging and affective style. His delivery is animated and his poems are challenging. He talks to his audience as though to a group of friends, interacting without ever making us uncomfortable. This is not about filling time – it is a launch pad in order to develop ideas of his own. He simply likes to ask questions: ‘That’s what a good poet should do,’ he says.
For whatever other label he may consider irresolute, his identity as a poet is something in which he is definitively secure. Jarrett is articulate, erudite and well-informed. He integrates references to a heritage both literary and musical, his beat reminiscent of Linton Kwesi Johnson and the dub poets of the eighties, of rap artists emergent since the nineties, and – of the most celebrated poets of the twentieth century. And for all the respect that he affords to his precursors, he never sacrifices his own voice.
Jarrett does not only know how to use words, he values them. Some of his rhetoric is outright beautiful, but to write it here would be to do it an injustice. It is a wonderful thing to play witness to. This is a man who looks at what our language is, at how it has evolved through vernacular and globalisms, and treats it with an eminent respect. This is by far the best spoken word show I’ve seen at the Fringe.

Joe Walsh
Joe Walsh has written 32 reviews for Broadway Baby since joining the team in 2013.

Of course, it was very touching to read this and my head swelled for a few hours afterwards. Then it deflated again when I was talking to another poet (who I won't name) whose show I saw and really loved, who'd only got a two-star review from another reviewer who simply didn't get it. There's a saying about writers not reading their own reviews, isn't there? All I can say is I put a lot of work - and myself - into it and I'm really glad that, on the particular week I did my show - barring a few hitches - I felt connected with everyone in the room. I enjoyed every moment - even the cringey stuff I'll write about next time - and, somehow, this translated into really good feedback. I'll use it to hopefully get an audience next time I decide to embark on a project as mad as another Edinburgh show...

Dalry recordings

Another highlight for me was this (see below). In between gigs, we ("we" being Caleb, James and I) managed to find time to record a few poems with Rosie as sound technician. We took it in turns to step up to the mic, rigged to a laptop, and bounced poems back and forth, feeding off the vibes from the poem before. Caleb had done some Neruda translations (he translates poetry) and so I also attempted Oda al Tomate in my confused Spanish dialect (I've been spending time with Spaniards and I'm still trying to hold onto my Dominican accent, while in Scotland). He also read a poem by a deceased friend which made my skin tingle. James' pendulum piece is playful and particularly enjoyable. In fact, I could listen to all of the poems again and again. I'm glad to have shared the room with two excellent poets and friends, and to spend that time sharing poems together.

Hold on, I've just re-read this. It's not normal, is it?

Whatever. This will always remind me of my jam-packed, emotional rollercoaster of an experience up in Edinburgh.   

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Spoken Word Educators... now fully funded!


It feels like final validation for the hard work we've been doing this past year... The Arts Council has  agreed to match fund our residencies in schools for the academic year 2013-14. Which means all the Spoken Word Educators will receive a proper wage this year! More details on this can be found here.

This is big big news and I've been dancing around about it all week! I'll be starting work at my new school from next Monday and it's a relief to know that all I need to fund is my tuition fees for the next academic year. 

Mellow9 Productions have also been collaborating with us, in order to document what is a truly pioneering project. We are hoping the film will track the Spoken Word Educators through our schools and through the pupils we are working with. This, however, remains to be funded. Here's a taster of what they are doing:

The Spoken Word Educators website talks a  lot more about what we're doing and is due to be updated further in the next few weeks; we're also all going to be starting in our new schools in the next week; I hope to be interviewing my comrades over the next month or so as we begin our new posts, so stay posted for more! 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Edinburgh: Day 3

The last two days have been so amazing I haven't had time (or wifi access) to write about it.

The first two shows have gone incredibly well and I've met some warm, brilliant people too. I wasn't fully sure what I wanted to achieve from the whole experience at first, but I know now that making connections with other people is the most fulfilling part of it.

Flyers are at the ready and my pockets are bulging with flyers, flyer, flyers... This is the hardest part: convincing people you've not met before that they should come and spend an hour of their time listening to you. I've never been good at that kind of thing, but it's necessary.

Kirsten and Lee have returned to their homes but James McKay is still going strong with the Popular Reciter - a mad feat of poetry going back centuries that feel surprisingly modern.

I'm having to make space to see other Spoken Word shows. Most of the time, hanging around a lot of the spoken word venues, I feel like I'm in a convention of poets from all over, all bumping into each other, even though there's far more theatre and comedy about than anything else. (And literally - while texting this morning, I bumped into Hollie McNish, doing a one-off set somewhere)

I need to start getting ready for the next show starting in an hour.

Here goes again!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Edinburgh, ay ay!!

1 day to go to the show and I'm off to the Royal Mile now to perform at the street stage.

Other Voices was brill.

I also got to see James McKay's late night rendition to a raucous crowd, who loved it; Sophia Blackwell's engaging After My Own Heart, as well as bits of Rob Auton's show. All in all a really lovely start. (If that means nothing to you, just nod and say that sounds marvellous - I have a slow connection and have to be somewhere fast, so not gonna link them right now)

Ok, onwards!

...from my notes

25/8 - Added missing links and a couple paragraphs so it makes more sense! 

17/8 - Didn't post this before for a few reasons... mostly because these were my half-cooked thoughts I jotted down on scrap paper... but here goes:

So, I read this piece by John Grisham a few days ago and it keeps playing on my mind. (Digested version: he went to investigate why his book’s been banned in Guantanamo and met one of the guys who’d requested it… He was touched by his story… Been there for 11 years – no official charge of course – but it looks quite likely he’s no terrorist… Even so, the guy hasn’t seen family since… and the likelihood of him standing trial for something…. Erm??)

The idea that I don’t know the full extent of some of these injustices makes me feel a little nauseous (bearing in mind that President Obama once saw the unjustness of Guantanamo when he promised to close it within a year – that was in 2008!)

I feel, even as a British citizen, that I’ve unwittingly signed into a system that allows routine detentions, torture, and God knows what else to take place; what angers me is that it's done at the same time we engorge ourselves on concepts such as “freedom” and “democracy”, as if we had some kind of monopoly on them.

All the more frustrating are the several conversations I've had with people going on about “Third World corruption” and/or who raise their eyebrows incredulously whenever someone suggests corruption and discrimination are rife here. No, this isn’t Egypt or Syria. There aren’t hundreds or thousands of people being killed here. I am – we are – able to criticise the government on Facebook, Twitter, on blogs, or however/wherever we want to… but that doesn’t mean abuses aren’t being carried out in our names; it usually means a lot of it is being exported abroad where people are less accountable.

It also means the main perpetrators of such abuse in “Western” countries are people who know they will never be held accountable (who really thought a manslaughter charge would be brought against the police, who have finally accepted some responsibility for Ian Tomlinson’s death?) If we continue to accept the final say of the police/government and their small offerings of (very rare) apologies and payouts whenever they get caught out, we lay ourselves open to further abuses. It's not just about the partners of journalists getting stopped at airports; it's about a system that knows it can manipulate laws for its own ends; it's about a system that can manipulate the public so that it's only informed about selected incidents while at the same time purporting transparency and freedom of information; a system that can manipulate the public so that, even when informed, it only cares about selected incidents.     

Grisham’s post also reminded me of the student forgotten in a cell and left without food or water for days. Great, he was compensated for it – but I can’t help wondering whether the story would have been different if he didn’t happen to be a student, if he did happen to have drugs in his system of a higher class than marijuana, if he (dare I say it) happened to be of another race? The fact is, we don’t hear about a lot of stories simply because certain people have no voice the authorities – and by this, I include the media as well as political institutions – do not give certain people a voice.

I won’t write much more on this now; I just wanted to share it, perhaps as a follow-on from my post a couple of days ago about writing something meaningful. 

Friday, 16 August 2013


So excited!

This is the plan for while I'm up at the Fringe:

TODAY, 16 - Other Voices, PBH Free Fringe 

I'll be doing a special guest slot. 2.50 @ The Banshee Labyrinth. It's going to be awesome.

TOMORROW, 17 - checking out one-off show at La Tasca, 4pm.

I'll post a proper link later, otherwise just come along - poets James McKay and Caleb Beissert doing a really cool reading.

**18-24 - Utter Presents! Identity Mix Up ** La Tasca, 4pm PBH's Free Fringe (come along... it's free!! And it's gonna be wicked!!)

19, 24 - Poetry Under the Hammer workshop 

More details to follow

23 - Guest at I'm Sorry I Haven't Haiku, PBH's Free Fringe (more details to come)

Random outside poetry slots, to be confirmed!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

More things...

I've taken a few days' break in order to get ready for what's going to be an intense few weeks: taking Identity Mix-Up up to Edinburgh; coming back and teaching full-time at a new school; and preparing for a new term at university etc. 

Right now, the washing machine needs a final spin and I can pack for my trip tomorrow, all of my identity-related accessories in tow, including an £1.99 automatic pistol (Poundstretcher to the rescue!)

After the preview event last week Monday, it was a good time for some soul-searching; I felt I'd written some great poems for it and had a decent concept, but what do I want people to come away with, once I've finished the poems, cleared the space and hauled myself halfway across town to see some friend's show afterwards? 

(oh, and btw, I need to have words with Angry Sam - he's only gone and booked to perform at exactly the same time I am... what I've seen of his I've really enjoyed though, so if you can't stand six days of Keith Jarrett, go and see Life in Transit!*) 
Just as importantly, what do I want to come away with? I think I've found some meaning through the whole process of writing about my personal journey of finding an "identity"; I hope it's all entertaining too (hence the gun and the socks and the dodgy string vest - tell you about that later!) but I also think entertainment should have a point. 

Take Pete the Temp's post here, for instance. Rhythm and lyricism and everything are all good but, like a takeaway meal or an orgasm - the example he used - the side-effects are short-lived. I won't repeat everything he said - and he was talking more about how poets use metaphor and push language - but I'm finding that I have to put more of myself into my poems for me to like them these days. And that means a sizeable proportion of the poetry I wrote for the show doesn't show me in the most flattering light... But that's ok, I think.


*There's also another half-dozen shows I'm planning to catch... including and not limited to James McKay's Popular Reciter, Sophia Walker's Around the World in Eight Mistakes and I'm Sorry I Haven't Haiku. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

IDENTITY MIX-UP: Just over a week to go (...and then I can talk about other things!)

The countdown continues: 8 days until Identity Mix-Up starts in Edinburgh.

I’m unable to update much as I’m travelling this week and mostly disconnected from the Internet (I know… shocking!) I’ll be back in London Town next week Tuesday and then up to Edinburgh on Thursday.

As it’s drawing closer, the excitement is building. On Monday, I previewed a slightly abridged version of Identity Mix-Up in Brixton’s Effra Social Club. The atmosphere was intimate: three pictures of Winston Churchill behind me with tea lights flickering close by as I read through it; a few chairs and two worn leather sofas with pull-out tables in front of me; and peopling them, some great poets, friends and former strangers who heard about the event and came along. I got some good feedback, which was nearly all positive; a couple of tricky parts needed a reshape and now they’ve got it. We’re (almost) ready!

I now need to gather together small, unrelated objects to go with the show: a small water gun, a pack of cards, a stopwatch and I’m good to go!

The actual show will be kicking off 4pm at La Tasca restaurant on the 18th and, contrary to what the programme might say, it’s running straight through until the 24th. Looking forward! 

Monday, 5 August 2013


... It's on tonight!!! Aaaaghhh! Other poets as below plus Pete the Temp.

I'll let you know how goes and I'll also update on the last week or so, which has been awesome.

See you there if you can make it!

All details here: 

Thursday, 1 August 2013


It's pretty exciting... after all this time, I've just realised I've never organised a poetry event of my own before; nor have I designed a poster. That it happens to be a scratch show of my Identity project - never before entrusted to an audience - makes it extremely nerve-wracking. But, once I'm done, I get to enjoy some of my favourite poets take to the mic in solidarity.

Among those confirmed are Angry Sam, who will also be previewing some of his Edinburgh show, Katie Bonna - an Edinburgh (and off-Broadway) veteran of the stage - plus E. Amato and Pete the Temp, both highly-skilled word artists who I have much respectation for (I'll link them later tonight). 
Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to going up to Edinburgh and seeing the other shows of fellow poets. Among my comrades in Utter! poetryship, Kirsten Luckins has already made her debut and adjustments in her scratch show, and gives some good insight on the power of feedback when testing out new material. Her show The Moon Cannot Be Stolen, goes up to Edinburgh on Saturday. I'll post details on James McKay and Lee Nelson, whose shows are also imminent!

Before we skip too much ahead, the next couple of days I'm excited about 3 gigs, all on my upcoming events tab. I'll be reading fiction this eve, revisiting an epic piece tomorrow and doing rap-themed poetry on Saturday alongside some excellent poetry performers. If you can, come along!