This is a poem about telling someone you love them for the first time. Or, rather, about the build up to telling someone you love them for the first time. Inspired by a brilliant workshop from Andrew McMillan, and by the wonderful poem ‘Hyphen’ by Geoff Hattersley, I wanted to write something that throws itself off the edge of a narrative cliff, lemming-like, ending where another poem might begin.
PAW #10 is about the hairdresser at the University of Birmingham students’ union (she’s astonishingly nice), and about how shocking and beautiful it can be when real talk emerges from small talk.
This one’s about memory, particularly those early childhood “memories” that are actually just stories you’ve been told over and over, until they solidify into memory. It’s about a really specific bit of Pembrokeshire, and it goes some way to explain why I’m such a touchy-feely weirdo. Lovely jubbly.
In March I performed a poem commissioned by the Southbank Centre as part of Pipes v Mics night, to celebrate the renovation of their awe-inspiring 8000+ pipe organ. I blogged about the whole experience here, but hadn’t been able to publish a recording of the performance…UNTIL NOW! (flacid and anti-climactic drum roll)
So here, for your listening pleasure, is a recording of my poem, ‘Tour de Force’, performed at the Royal Festival Hall on 30th March 2014 and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 two days later:
Words: Ben Norris
Organ: Tom Bell
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…
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
I met some great people on Monday night at the Birmingham auditions for the National Team Poetry Slam, to be held in Bristol on June 28th. Among them was Giovanni ‘SPOZ’ Esposito, former Brum Poet Laureate and still-reigning all-round nice guy, who invited me to take part in the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival Slam on Friday April 13th. Yes, it may be the town after which those unfortunate Olympic mascots are named, but that doesn’t stop it hosting one the country’s coolest poetry fests. So if you’re going, I’ll see you on Friday night!
The day after the auditions I got ‘the call’ from Bham Team Manager/Coach/Chief Executive Lorna Meehan (I’m unsure of her official title) saying that I’m on the team! I’m incredibly excited to be competing in Bristol, particularly as I’ve never performed any ‘polyphonic poetry’ before (even writing that term makes me feel arty and sophisticated). So, if you’re going, I’ll see you on June 28th!
Last Thursday saw the March-edition of ‘Hit The Ode’, the last of this triptych (don’t worry, though, they’ll be back later this month, and the publicity bandwagon will be rolled when all the acts have been finalised).
Although only my third ‘Hit The Ode’, the night has immediately rocketed up to among my favourite regular events. In fact, it was February’s ‘…Ode’ that inspired me to create this site, such was the rare, finite and e(c)lect(r)ic chemistry of that evening. Jon Sands and Ken Arkind were utterly breathtaking as the final headlining pair, following very contrasting but no less enjoyable sets from travelling singer-songwriter Paul Murphy and Bristol-based slam champion Vanessa Kisuule.
We got 4 headliners for the price of 3 that night, which went only some of the way to make-up for the notable absence, this time around, of Luanda Casella, the international act on the bill. The Brazilian spoken-word artist had apparently been prevented from entering the country, which says a lot about the power of her poetry, but unfortunately said nothing to us!
That logistical and ethical nightmare aside, the evening was still full of great spoken-word, with sets from Leicester b-boy John Berkavitch and Norwich’s Molly Naylor.
But first, some highlights from the open-mic:
> Jack Blume performed his piece ‘Small Birds’ (heard at the Slam vs. Edinburgh) with similarly disconcerting aplomb (video available in previous post).
> I did a little set (I’m not reviewing myself, so that’s that I’m afraid! (The videos of the evening are not playing ball, hence the delay, so I’ve decided to do a ‘read-only’ review of last Thursday!)).
> Hannah-Rose Owen-Wright, another fellow UoB Writers’ Bloc stalwart, performed a short but energetic set which whizzed ‘like a fucking pinball’ (that’s from her first piece, about buses; I’m not just swearing gratuitously!) between public transport, claustrophobia, exhaustion (‘my legs are full of twitches that don’t quite happen’ – what an exquisite line), travelling, jazz vocals and sex. She was engaging and appreciably aware of the performance-aspect of her poetry. At times a little vague and conceptual, and consequently difficult to instantly engage with, this was nonetheless a very enjoyable and coherent 5 minutes from the New Zealand open-mic-er.
> Once she was flowing, Lorna Meehan had me absolutely captivated. A slightly shaky start and a few forgotten lines didn’t throw her off a rhythm that was ultimately lucid and dexterous. It’s very rare that I remember in-tact lines a week on from a reading, but her description of a shy teenage girl shuffling her feet at some boy’s ‘subtle abundance of eyelashes’ has been branded on my mind ever since.
> A woman whose name escapes me (utterly unprofessional, I know, but until you pay me to do this, I’m allowed to be!) performed, and she was either a Divorce Lawyer, or pretending to be a Divorce Lawyer. All her poems were about divorce. At different points in its long and gruelling process. It was black comedy gold, if that’s not too weird an image to digest. So cold and calculated, and therefore so funny. So utterly, cynically, disconcertingly hilarious. The absolute emotional removal with which she delivered her poems – all titled with generic legal objectivity – made for a markedly different atmosphere, at once unnerving and very refreshing.
> Jess Green has performed at 2 of the three ‘Hit The Ode’s I’ve been to, and both times she has been a force to be reckoned with. Humble and honest she may be, but her poems don’t lack punch; each a genuine, heart-felt roller-coaster; tumultuous, but in the best possible sense. When she finished performing, having heroically abandoned a failing microphone, I wanted to stand-up and cheer. You can check out her stuff at http://www.jessgreen.org/p/audio.html
So, to the headliners:
> John Berkavitch was the epitome of friendliness, in a baggy plain T-shirt and dungarees, sporting a massive endearing grin. He took his bag on stage with him (because ‘I’m from Leicester and that means I take my shit with me’) and performed one piece; a kind of narrative poem about his family life in childhood that managed to effortlessly encounter all sorts of other issues along the way. The lack of artistic pretence was such that it felt like I was sitting in a chippy listening to him tell a story, which happened to occasionally rhyme; a wonderfully intimate thing. This meant that sometimes he stumbled or had to go back on himself, but this wasn’t an issue; in fact it was barely noticeable – the goal wasn’t some slick and infallible masterpiece but a touching portrait of his quite unique experiences of growing up. It was a pleasure to listen.
> Molly Naylor is a rising star on the performance scene (you could say risen, but her already-impressive CV is rapidly inflating, so only expect more): Ross Sutherland is directing her play – ‘My Robot Heart’ – at the Eddie Fringe this August, and she’s working on several other big projects, including a sitcom pilot, and other work for the stage. Her set at The Victoria showed off her tremendous versatility; Like Vanessa Kisuule at the last ‘…Ode’, she can make an audience laugh with consummate ease, then, a metaphorical flick of the wrist later, she’ll have you empathising and emoting like your life depends on it. When you saturate yourself with anything, it becomes a little difficult to distinguish the good from the bad, or at least the mediocre, even in your own life (as I’ve found recently with poetry and my writing in particular), but Naylor cast some much needed light on this for me. Her poems are both instantly satisfying and also offer a great return if you invest some more thought. I left the pub walking, if not ‘like the nineties’, as she described the gait of an old school acquaintance, then at least with a revitalised spring in my step.