Events and more...

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Tuesday, 31 March 2015


Great things come in threes, they say; so here are three things I'm really proud are happening, which I've had news of in the last couple of weeks:

Doctor, doctor

I am holding a letter in my hand - well, not right now, seeing as I'm typing this - and the words "I am pleased to inform you that your application has been successful..." are dancing in front of my eyes. As of October, I will be beginning a Birkbeck PhD studentship, with co-supervision from SOAS, University of London. Some of the hard work getting to this stage is starting to pay off, and more hard work is about to begin. I have six months to clear some more space on my bookshelf ;) and to begin the transformation back into studenthood.

Speaking of Bookshelves...

Things are picking up on the publications front. It's not quite real until it has a name, but my next poetry pamphlet* - which will either be called Falling Through the Unspoken or Seize - is coming soon. Expect more news in the build up to May.

*For those not in the know, the difference between a "pamphlet" and a "collection" is mostly to do with size, I've been told. I've seen smaller collections but, at 20 poems, this one will be a pamphlet. (The collection is coming next year!)

Lambda Writers' Retreat

I've been accepted as a Fiction Fellow on Lambda Writers' Retreat (described by previous fellows as a "literary bootcamp", rather than a retreat) in June! It will be a massive opportunity for me to write fiction, network, write some more fiction... all under the guidance of strong mentors. Any help towards my travel fund would be appreciated, whether it's spreading the word, tweeting the campaign or donating a small amount that will get me to my target.

Coming up, I have a couple of gigs in April... the next exciting one is Boomerang Club next Weds! Links will appear - like magic - in the next couple of days.

Following that, I'll be in Oxford and York... then Bilbao at the end of May. I'll update my 'Coming Up' page by the end of the week.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Postcards from Home... Keep Out/ Before your ex does

And there goes the market :(

Getting off the Northern Line

Updates are coming very soon... Stay posted

Monday, 16 March 2015

Disparate thoughts about fear/shame/(near-)nudity

I've been trying to Google the quote for the last ten minutes, but it goes something like this: if what you're writing scares you, if you're worried about friends/family seeing it, if you think it might offend but you still care about it anyway, then that is what you should be writing. Forget everything else. 

I think I'm working towards that. In the last couple of months, I've written poems where I compare my mother to a favela (disclaimer: that came from a writing exercise - and the fact I was headed to Rio at the time); poems where I list the pitfalls of popular 'dating' apps such as Grindr; poems describing my relationship to religious belief (I'm hoping it'll be a late addition to my next pamphlet, out in May with Eyewear Publishing, but it's a work in progress, beginning with: 'On one of my agnostic days/ my brother telephones', before describing 'my atheist chorizo slices' and ending with a line from Psalms 27).

Yes, I dread them being (mis)read by certain people but, more than anything, I dread having to go back to writing things that don't resonate on a personal level... I'm never going to write about pretty flowers; it's not me.


Lately, I've been asked to do a couple of 'erotic poetry' gigs. I know, right?! Previously, my stance was that my sexuality is nobody's business and so any attempt at erotica would be a no-no; but, if we follow that thought to a logical conclusion, neither is my mother or my opinions or my (atheist chorizo) shopping habits. In all of these cases, I'm inviting the reader/listener into a story, into a version of my self. And if I need to tell a story, if I feel I can communicate a powerful message, and if that message or that story draws on erotic imagery, how can I continue to justify that 'nobody else's business' stance? The answer is simple: shame.

Growing up, I was jealous of friends who talked sex with their parents. More recently, I've been slightly envious of poets whose relatives turn up at gigs/readings, and seem comfortable with their frank outpourings. I've never shared that ease of intimacy with family - and I probably never will. That dis-ease has played out more generally with how I relate to some friends and audiences. But I don't think that's a good enough excuse for censorship; I need to be able to be a whole person on page and on stage. When I start hiding things away because I might meet disapproval, I'm being a coward. Now, that doesn't mean I should - or will - tell everything to everyone; I will never be a completely open book. But every page I leave unturned or uninterrogated could be an opportunity missed to form a deep and meaningful connection.

I'm still uncomfortable writing erotic poems per se. But I've had a lot of fun subverting passages from 50 Shades of... to make a point about the commercialisation of sex; I've also used the genre to have fun turning sex 'apps' on their heads, looking at sexual racism and internalised homophobia; finally, sex for me is a political act - and using sexual terminology to describe how national/international politics is penetrating the most intimate space of relationships is a pretty hard challenge, but one I've enjoyed rising to. How can I make all of the above sexy? (And funny... but not in a silly, embarrassed teenagery way) How can I stay within the genre of the erotic and yet explore the same themes that I'm usually drawn to? I think that, just by playing around with words, and knowing that I had agreed to perform at these events, helped me write new material I wouldn't have written before.


When we do away with shame, a curious thing happens. Only recently I revisited my 'Identity Mix Up' show at JW3. I had to relearn the poem 'Girls' Socks', which I've only once performed outside of the show; it needs too much of a preamble to really work without its wider context. Rehearsing the poem at home was a strange and wonderful experience; how ludicrous to be going over this poem again and how strange it was re-encountering my 2013 creative interpretation of a childhood event. I had to learn how to reconnect with it, as written then, and inhabit that world for 10 minutes.

The poem is about the time I wet myself at school, aged about 6, and had to wear clothes from the lost property bin for the rest of the day... including a pair of girls' socks. At the time, it was hugely embarrassing parading about the school and having to explain to curious classmates why I was wearing frilly white socks; now, it's something I can laugh about... after all, it was a very long time ago. But the memory has stuck because the shame was so intense. Writing about it brought it back up: the sense of injustice, a tiny amount of anger and, yes, embarrassment from admitting that I wet myself in the school hall, simply because I was too timid to get up in front of everyone in the middle of an assembly and run out to relieve myself.

Why have I mentioned this? Because I believe my reticence at attending and promoting the erotic gigs were fueled by the same shame apparent in that incident, now many, many years ago. I worry about disapproval, or looking bad or stupid, just as I did at the age of six. And I know worrying about looking bad or stupid may be a good short term tactic to avoid confrontation, but it still leaves me sitting in a puddle of my own urine in the long run.When I've performed that poem, the release I've felt (pun intended) - and the subsequent conversations/ odd connections I've had with audience members - has been extremely empowering.


So I'm at erotic poetry event #2 of this year, Velvet Tongue, and I remember I'm wearing my Superman underpants under my boiler suit (I'll explain another time). Last time I was invited onto this stage at a sister event called 'Glam Slam', I wore these same pants and nothing else. That was about 2 or 3 years ago; I marvel at how I've become more reserved over time, not less. That said, even then, I was so paranoid about the people taking pictures, it spoiled some of my enjoyment of the performance. How to explain to anyone who wasn't there and might see me tagged on Facebook, looking too comfortable in my underthings?

Just before getting up on stage - more nervous than I usually am for poetry gigs - I decide I want to do things differently to how I'd planned it. If I feel like standing and doing poetry in my underpants or even nude, great - I need to own it! For an 'erotic' night, this is also one of the least body-conscious and most experimental environments I've been in. (This is the night where at least one audience member is completely naked, as well as the host, for most of the night). Nudity isn't going to be a problem; my fear is mostly due to what people outside might think afterwards.

Once on stage, I start unzipping the top half of my boiler suit. I'm not revealing much flesh, but I suddenly feel self-conscious in front of the audience (standing behind a mic with one hand on your zip and shouts of "Off! Off!" tend to do that). I think of my mother and how much she might disapprove. I think of the 6 year old Keith in the school hall, not speaking up. I think of my not-yet-memorised poems, which I'm holding in a shaky hand. I think of what drove me to write those poems and whether they'll be received well...

And then I stop thinking, and speak.


Saturday, 14 March 2015

Postcard from Home: I Will Not Keep Calm...

(Camden Challenge: you have five minutes to spot as many different "Keep Calm" t-shirts as possible whilst riding on the 24 bus) 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

NEXT UP: Tongue Fu!!!

This Thursday is gonna be incredible. I'll be reunited with Chris Redmond and Hannah Walker - fellow companions on our trip to FLUPP Festival in Rio de Janeiro - in this most internationally-flavoured Tongue Fu extravaganza. There'll be live, improvised music soundtracking the spoken word performances, and that's about the extent of my explanation of Tongue Fu... You'll have to see it to appreciate it.

I'll be performing some NEW STUFF (yay!!!), some stuff I wrote just before Brazil, some more regular stuff and other bits that don't fit into any of those previous categories. Do come join!


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Upcoming gig: Never Mind the Fullstops (THIS THURSDAY at Dogstar, Brixton)

How to explain this whacky night??

I'll go with the official blurb from the NMTFS Facebook page:
Poetry goes pop in Varjack & Simpson's comedy panel show! Spoken word meets Buzzcocks as two teams compete with couplets and score with sonnets to see who will make victory from their verse. 
Join Team Captains Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson, your host Superbard, and special guests from the spoken word scene as they smash apart new and old poetry in ridiculous and silly games. Playing with words has never been this fun!

So, that about does it... It's basically a fun, ridiculous night of poetry and comedy. And I'll be there on Team Simpson with Hannah Chutzpah, hopefully making an idiot of myself in an entertaining way. If you'd like to root for us - or the other side - then come along!

Monday, 2 March 2015

HAPPY MARCH!! (the Where Have You Been? update)

SPRING is coming! We've survived the winter!

I haven't done a proper post here for ages but I've been pretty busy nonetheless. Here are some of my Jan/Feb highlights:

I've moved home! (It's actually taken 4 months from knowing I had to get out of my last place to actually having somewhere to live… and it's 100 times better) Anyone who knows me well will have been bored silly by now with all my nightmare stories… But I now know how to put down flooring and decipher Ikea instructions… and run a bath!

I've gone to/ been part of some great events… and have more coming up (see Coming Up for more). Among them, in Feb:

- I wheeled out my 'Identity Mix-Up' show for one last time (…or is it?) at JW3.
If case you've not been there, it's a beautifully-streamlined building of handsome proportions… and, once you get through security - and explain to the guys that your toy gun is a prop for the show - you'll find they've got loads going on there.
I'm unlikely to perform the show again in its current form, but will give plenty advance warning if I do. A spin-off project "Resurrected Words" is going to follow as a result.

- I had a Nathalie Bennett moment (I had almost no voice all morning, until minutes before I was interviewed for this Fail Better podcast… and felt particularly slow on air). Luckily, the show was great and I'm not looking for votes:

- I performed at 3 or 4 events coinciding with LGBT History Month… including last week in Manchester which saw the launch of the SPOKE anthology. (SPOKE? you say… What is this? How may I get a hold of a copy…?)

Speaking of launches, my first proper published poetry pamphlet will be coming out in May this year! Barely two months' time! I've been working on the manuscript for my new collection, with an assortment of eclectic titles, including 'Your Sega Mega Drive (has quietly gone to a better place)', 'Ventriloquism' (which might be familiar for those of you who read the first draft on this very blog a year ago, 'Asylum Cocktails' (which was published in this Human Rights anthology in 2013), 'NW1' and 'E17' (yep... obligatory postcode poems are included too).

I've graduated (with a Distinction, yay!!) from Goldsmiths Uni, and the evening ceremony was a pretty special/emotional one for all of the Spoken Word Educators team. We've done it!!

I've applied for  a Phd, starting this Autumn (say WHAT??!!) More information will follow over the coming months…

Oh, and I've applied (and been accepted) for a writer's retreat/bootcamp in L.A. in June! (This one, to be precise) I now need to raise funds to get there. (More info coming in the next week or so).

I've had the flu :(

I've been working on a possible show for fringe season this summer. My alter ego, The ConsciousNess (can I get a Conscious Yes?) is starting to shine through.

I've got involved in a collective, keeping Pages bookshop (in Hackney) open on Mondays, with added events. More info on what we're doing here, including weekly events in the basement, Monday evenings.

I've missed out tons, but there's a taster…

NEXT UP: Tonight, I'll be at Velvet Tongue's special 'Lengua de Terciopelo' edition! Please come along if you can.