these are a few of my favourite things

Happy ‪#‎NationalPoetryDay‬! Poetry happens all year round, to many people’s disgust, but as a courtesy to them we – the poets – have decided to allow ourselves just one day a year when it’s acceptable to plaster poetry all over social media, paint it in vivid green on the ceiling of your mind and watch it run down the walls of your heart. Or something like that. So I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite poems or almost-poems or poetry-like things. This is by no means an exhaustive list of ‘stuff I like’, but it’s a good place to start if you’re poetry-curious. Don’t be shy…

  • If I have a favourite spoken-word poem – if you had a gun to my head – then it’s probably this, by the wonderful Bohdan Piasecki. A beautiful poet and a wonderful man. You don’t have a gun to my head (thank you), so we can all enjoy this poem without the feeling of imminent danger:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuT5EonVa54
  • Another huge favourite is this, by Ken Arkind. Ken is one-half of the reason I was first inspired to pursue poetry professionally (the other half is Jon Sands). This poem is a kind of angry-embittered-but-still-love-letter to Los Angeles, and it’s magical:

    I know I like these poems for the right reasons, too, because the quality of the recordings is fairly average. It’s THE WORDS and THE SPEAKING OF THE WORDS that does it.

  • National Poetry Day is all about me tenuously claiming that EVERYTHING is poetry, but 1) Dizraeli is a spoken-word artist as well as a rapper, 2) He’s a genre-fucking wizard who deserves your ears and your love (and actually a bit of your money too), and 3) It’s amazing, so who cares what shelf it’s on in the WH Smiths of your soul:

    And this, selected almost at random because everything he produces is fantastic, is called ‘Rise’. It’s more conventionally hip-hop, which is definitely still sort of poetry:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lsw6Z948F0

  • My favourite collection so far this year is Andrew McMillan‘s stunning, stark, beautiful, curious and investigative debut ‘Physical’. Also well worth your time are 2015 Forward Prize winners Claudia Rankine and Mona Arshi, with ‘Citizen’ and ‘Small Hands’ respectively. I haven’t read either of them in their entirety yet, but the extracts I have heard are stunning and humble and I fully intend to buy the books as soon as my bank balance feels the same burning passion for new poetry as I do.
  • I didn’t write on NPD 2014, so I want to also mention two of my favourite collections from the last few years (and, indeed, ever): ‘Division Street’ by Helen Mort and ‘Black Country’ by Liz Berry. They are wonderful books, and not just because I feel a deep geographical and cultural affinity with both of them, but because they have so much to say about language and community and literal/figurative landscapes in a global way, not just a local one.
  • Finally, if you’ll indulge me on this day of celebration, a couple of my own. ‘Gravity’, live from the Roundhouse Poetry Slam in 2013. It very nearly has 100,000 views on YouTube, which is pretty ridiculous. It’d be fitting if today was the day it crossed that almost totally meaningless digital threshold:

    ‘Funeral Arrangements for Uncle John’ was written for my uncle after he passed away in January and, of the poems of mine that appear online, is probably the one of which I’m most proud:

    I have gigs coming up in Bristol – where I’m sharing a bill with the fabulous Vanessa Kisuule, from whose work alone I could have compiled another NPD recommendation list – and Birmingham, if anyone wants poetry to happen to them LIVE!

So, explore! Go out and find poetry and wade around in it and smother your arms and face and belly in it. Then tomorrow you can shower, safe in the knowledge that probably no one will bother you with it again for another 365-ish days. But you might find that you want to be smothered in it over and over, much more often than once annually. In which case you know where to find us. In a cupboard, hiding, apologising. Whispering human truths (and things like ‘help me, I can’t really breathe’). Holding hands. Holding yours, if you want.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family – full show

In November I developed and twice performed the first twenty minutes of what I hoped would become a full hour-long one-man show. I even wrote about it, and how I hoped it would grow. Well, since then, I’ve found a producer (the apparently super-human Oscar French), found some support and expertise (the apparently omniscient Louisa Davies), found a filmmaker (the apparently nocturnal Paul McHale), found an artistic mentor (the boundlessly talented Inua Ellams), found a rehearsal and performance venue (the definitely real mac birmingham), retained a director (the apparently eternally energetic Polly Tisdall), and – crucially – found some money (from performance poetry overlords Apples & Snakes, and overlord of all overlords Arts Council England). So it’s happening!

Tomorrow morning, Oscar and I, armed with hired film equipment and a plan more flexible than tabloid morals, will embark on a journey from Nottingham to Wembley, hitchhiking whenever we can. We’ll be blogging as we go, on the show’s brand spanking new website. It’s sure to be a genuinely fascinating ride, and hopefully also a genuinely fascinating read! The hitchhike will inspire the show, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family, and the footage we get over the next few days will not only be used as a record of the trip for me to look back on, but will be incorporated into the show too. Details of the performance, how to buy tickets, and everything else you need to know (which is pretty much limited to the details of the performance and how to buy tickets!) is all on the show’s website, but for the sake of ease, and insatiable self-promotion, here are the details in the digi-flesh:

19:30, Saturday 6th September 2014
Hexagon Theatre, mac birmingham
Tickets £5, available here

I really hope to see some of you there. The show will be followed by a brief open-floor discussion in which the audience will be invited to offer feedback, in order to shape the development of the show before (fingers crossed) a UK tour and Edinburgh Fringe run in 2015! So I really hope to see some of you there! I’ll be the tired, dirty, happy traveller, thumbing a ride to the venue…

Hitchhikers promo

New Videos

At the back end of last month, I struck out into a beautiful, icy Digbeth – Birmingham’s artiest derelict suburb – and filmed some new performance poetry videos. Here is the result. If you like them, please show your support by spreading them as far and as wide as your kind fingers and mouths feel inclined to. The fact you’re even reading this is much appreciated! Enjoy:

THE ONLY WAY

 

DISMEMBERED VOICES

 

DISASTER SEX

Hiatus Haiku

I have been away

with the fairies. “The fairies”

means “sh*t-loads to do.”

 

But now I’m back, blogging. Not incessantly (I don’t want to start with empty promises), but intermittently, with choice morsels from my poetry life. A lot’s happened since my last post, in June (shh, tell no one!), but thankfully not all of it poetry-related, so I’ll try and catch you up as briefly as possible.

I went to Amsterdam (not much poetry, admittedly, but much more culture than you, you cynical reader, immediately assumed, given my age and gender! I only have one bar crawl t-shirt and novelty Dutch football jersey from that adventure, I’ll have you know.)

I competed in the inaugural UK Team Poetry Slam (almost exclusively poetry), held in Bristol and hosted by MC and poet Jack Dean. Brum came 3rd overall, and I  saw some of the country’s leading performance poets do their thing for their respective cities. My poem of the night was by Keith Jarrett, whose words doubtless helped London take the win. Check it out:

I also met a woman who (quite deservingly) appears to be the most popular person in the poetry world, Jo Bell, whose collection, Navigation, is beautiful, and who gave me a lift from Bristol to…

Ledbury Poetry Festival (there was poetry there, in abundance). I competed in the Slam and came second in a nail-biting and exciting final (congratulations to James Dolton on the win). I went to see Bang Said The Gun and came home with their coveted Golden Gun trophy, as well as slight tinnitus and bare enthusiasm. Top marks to anyone that can cause tinnitus during a poetry night. If you’re ever in London, it is a must-see gig.

I went to LatitudeShambala, and Bestival (varying quantities of poetry). I was volunteering as a festival steward (putting YOU, you drunk fool, to bed!) with fellow poet Elisha Owen, so we didn’t have as much time as we would’ve liked to spend in the Poetry Tent/Wandering Word/Amphitheatre (the spoken-word stadia at each of the three fests). But pushing through the night-shift exhaustion, we managed to catch a fair few great poets, a number which increased festival by festival as we got better at not falling asleep! My personal highlights were, in no particular order; Josh Idehen, Bohdan Piasecki, Anna Freeman, Luke Wright, John Cooper-Clarke, Chris Redmond, Harry Baker, Jeremy Toombs, John Hegley. Another major discovery (or re-discovery, more accurately) is spoken-word and music. Having grown up listening to (and trying to be) Eminem, it is so refreshing to come back to hip-hop with no pretence or social obligation, but out of a sheer love for it. Dizraeli and The Small Gods were incredible at Shamabla. Their blend of Folk and Rap is so seamless and natural that when listening to it you wonder why anyone tries to do anything else. Scroobius Pip headlined the Saturday night in Latitude’s poetry tent, but I was too tired to take any of it in properly. Although he attracted massive crowds, what I did catch seemed little more than a cappella lyrics rather than poetry. Then I saw him at Bestival, with his band, and he showed me exactly why so many people had turned out to hear him speak at Latitude. His is a very different brand of rap music to Dizraeli’s but is equally electric, laying his raw and emotive bars over aggressive punk or heavy metal accompaniments. I instantly bought “Engurland (City Shanties)” by Diz, and Pip’s “Distraction Pieces” upon getting home – and I rarely buy physical music these days. They are both well worth a listen. Pip also programmed a small section of poetry each day at Bestival (his Satin Lizard Lounge), and this was a guaranteed win every time. Nice one.

Poem of the summer? Bloody hell. Why would you put me on the spot like that? I’m always so abrupt when I interview myself.

This: