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.
This week’s PAW is all about trying not to completely lose yourself when moving to London, and comes complete with all the identity crises you’d expect
Warning: contains mild romance
PAW #6 is a slightly surreal look at how bizarre even very recent past can seem. It’s about Ant, and Dec, and table tennis, and the fact that we never, ever, learn.
Poem A Week #5 is about the dislocation I felt when moving house from Birmingham to Cardiff, and what I did to remedy that. It’s about ancestral memory, and the sea’s power to make a new place feel old.
‘Nightswimming’ was shortlisted for the Bare Fiction Poetry Prize.
I don’t often write “motivational” poems. Poem A Week #4 is a motivational poem. It’s about feeling not good enough but then (SPOILERS AHEAD) actually being good enough.
The 3rd Poem A Week is about the Midlands: my birthplace, one-time sexual hunting ground of Lord Byron, and perennially ignored b-road between the affluent south and the quaint, charming north. It inspired much of Tolkien’s Mordor, but it’s home.
Poem A Week #2 is here. This one’s about generational bigotry, formatting errors, and amateur musical theatre. Yay! And it’s sort of set in THE FUTURE. Can we teach old dogs new tricks? Or encourage old dogs to be nicer to other, different, dogs? I like to think so.
Today sees me launch Poem A Week, which is my does-what-it-says-on-the-tin attempt to upload to YouTube a poem a week for a year. The first poem is called ‘Punchline’ and explores masculinity and mental health, lad culture, bad jokes, and escalators.
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:
- 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:
- 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.
I’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the rest of the funds we need to finish The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family and get it to the Edinburgh Fringe, and beyond, this year. We have the support of IdeasTap, Underbelly, Apples & Snakes and mac birmingham, which is fantastic, but sadly not enough to cover everything. On top of this, we recently had some bad news from the Arts Council regarding a funding application we made to them, so we really are in need of a saviour or two (or a hundred)!
There’s a whole heap of rewards for people who pledge to help the project (anything from a fiver upwards gets you something in return), at the top of which is a personalised commissioned poem PLUS an hour-long intimate spoken-word set performed by me AT YOUR HOUSE! And lots of things in between, like signed copies of my now-sold-out Nasty Little Press pamphlet and signed posters, meet-and-greets, free tickets to the show, all sorts. This is of course alongside the cultural return you get for your investment, which is a show that will hopefully play to thousands of people this summer and to thousands more across the UK on tour next year.
So please help us in any way you can. And if you can’t afford to help us financially, please pester anyone you know who’s rich enough to do so! Spreading the word on your own social media is a really really useful thing, and something for which I’d be enormously grateful.
Thanks in advance for any help you can offer. I’m so passionate about this project. I hope others believe in it too.
WATCH THE VIDEO AND MAKE A DONATION HERE
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