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.
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.
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
TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family at this summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as well as for London previews in July and post-Edinburgh dates in September! All the dates and booking info are on the show’s website.
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
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 Latitude, Shambala, 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.
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.