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.

VoiceBox Radio & Grizzly Pear

Two very exciting events happened over two very exciting consecutive days:

Last Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited on to VoiceBox, a spoken-word radio show on Burn FM, hosted by Elisha Owen and James Dolton, who, unlike Troy McClure, you may actually recognise from previous poetry posts. I was one of two guests alongside James Grady, a fantastic musician and comic performance poet. VoiceBox has hit upon a great structure, and Tuesday’s edition took in live and studio-recorded spoken-word tracks, live performances from Mr. Grady and I, some on-the-spot writing, and a fantastic debate spawned by their ‘contentious question’ of the week, which this time concerned the benefit(s) of slam poetry to the wider scene: a particularly relevant one considering my last post!

You can listen to both last week’s show, and the first edition which featured Jenna Clake and Mark Watson, on the VoiceBox SoundCloud page.

The following day saw the first 2012-13 instalment of the formerly low-key Writers’ Bloc open-mic night, now re-branded, re-booted and re-kicked up the proverbial arse as Grizzly Pear, with a swanky logo (well, a logo), and a pro head-liner for each event. I’ve been thinking up and organising this night for quite some time, so I was a little nervous and frantic as kick-off approached. But cometh the hour, cometh the silly fluorescent braces, and everything went swimmingly. On the night, I likened the experience to watching a child who you’ve raised and trained compete at sports day, the result of which is totally beyond your control. But in truth I was very much in a position to mess things up, as compere/host! I could’ve inadvertently poisoned Clayton Blizzard with an underdone Mexican Burger (before the Bristol Pear mobilises its lawyers, I’d like to say that the burger was fine), I could’ve killed someone with a loose electrical cable, I could’ve mispronounced a poet’s name, or done a (further) disservice to the Eminem song I was already bastardising! But, alas, the evening was a roaring success – described by one review as “dynamic, varied and thoroughly entertaining” – and I was genuinely overwhelmed by the positive responses from the audience during and after the event. Bristol-based folk-rapper Clayton Blizzard rounded off one of the most consistently high standard open-mics I’ve ever seen with a brilliant, humorous and profound set.

I’d like to extend my thanks to everyone that came and supported the event, from legends of Writers’ Bloc’s recent history (Sean Colletti) to legends of the academic Creative Writing circuit (Luke Kennard); from legends of the Birmingham spoken-word scene (Lorna Meehan) to legends of the current Writers’ Bloc cohort (too many to name). You know who you are, and so do I, plus where you live, more to the point. Joking aside, it was enthusing to see so many more unfamiliar faces than familiar ones at Wednesday’s event, which suggests that the poetry and spoken-word community might actually be expanding as quickly as I hope it is, to include people other than my immediate friends and course tutors!

I’ll see you at the next one, won’t I? Good. It features the apparently-unbeatable UK-wide Slam Champion Vanessa Kisuule, and it’s happening on Thursday 25th January. Whack it in your diary. Not write. I said whack.

Word-Up and Bristol Poetry Festival

This is just a quick note about 2 very exciting, and very different, gigs I did recently.

The first was Word-Up, a relatively new night at the charming 6/8 Kafe in the centre of Birmingham (incidentally, the home of the best hot chocolate in the West Midlands, no lie). This was the fourth edition of the monthly open-mic evening run by Mark Watson and Ro Caldwell, who have been kind enough to continually invite me to read there throughout the summer. Festival after festival after festival after insert-other-commitment-here always seemed to get in the way, but on Friday 21st Sept. I was finally free. The downstairs basement space they use is somehow simultaneously both barren and industrial, and homely, and rather suited the eclectic mix of performers on show. Personal favourites were James Dolton, Jenna Clake (whose spoken-word debut was bewitching and marks her out as one to watch) and Elisha Owen, plus some hilarious guitar-accompanied satire from Joe Sale. All of these guys are on Twitter and elsewhere online, and are well worth your time. Unbeknownst to me, I’d been given the final slot of the night so ended up serving as a kind of accidental head-liner  This was a fantastic experience, and I really felt at home with my own poems (including the awkward bits in between), in front of a very generous audience.

Sunday 30th Sept. saw me make my Apples & Snakes debut proper (discounting the innumerable times I’ve annoyed the Hit The Ode audience on the open-mic!). I was the West Midlands contingent in the Next Generation Slam at the Arnolfini in Bristol. I was delighted when I found out about this gig, and wasn’t disappointed when it came round, as it was without doubt the highest quality poetry slam I’ve ever been in (in terms of the poetry at least, and not necessarily the seamlessness of the score-keeping! Thankfully the poetry is what matters).

Although I’ve seen them read before, it was the first time I’ve seen Vanessa KisuuleHarry Baker and Jack Dean in a slam. Sunday was a great day generally, as (alongside finishing 19th and 1st U23 in Bristol Half Marathon that morning) I, and the rest of the A&S team, had a performance workshop prior to the gig with Anna Freeman, whose set at Shambala was a festival highlight. Meeting the other A&S poets, only one of which I’d previously heard of (I’m ashamed to say) was also fantastic, and although we’d workshopped earlier in the day, hearing the work a second time with the brakes off was bloody brilliant. Hats off to Indigo WilliamsRowan McCabeBen Lawrence, and Carrie Wilde. In all honesty I did not expect to beat an all-star Bristol team containing the respective World, European and UK festival-wide slam champions mentioned above, as well as the talents of Lydia Beardmore and Emma Ward, both of whom featured in the 3-strong Brizzle team who won silver at Jack’s UK Slam Champs in June. But beat them we did! And after several slightly shambolic recounts, I was also awarded joint bronze with Lydia! Indigo duly took the individual win (she was great) but I’d also like to show my particular appreciation for Vanessa (whose opening 4-minute-long poem served as something of a fuck-you to the whole slam conceit anyway!), Rowan (whose dulcet Geordie accent did nothing but make beautiful words beautiful-er) and Jack.

Mr. Dean’s second offering was definitely my poem of the night. I’m told that there’s a recording of Sunday’s slam, but since I don’t have it yet, you’ll have to make do with this video of him @ Farrago:

Indigo Williams