Archive for the ‘Guest Bloggers’ Category:

The Quiet Compere

Written on November 14th, 2015 by adminone shout

I am Sarah L Dixon, also known as The Quiet Compere.

Why did I make Cheltenham the Finale of the tour?

Four years ago I knew very little about Cheltenham and had never been. Now, even though I have mainly visited in November (for reasons made clear below) I have an image of very white-washed walls and Greek blue sky. It feels like being near the sea to me, even though I am assured, with my sketchy geography, it is about as far away as you can be from the sea when in the UK!

Ok. So four years ago I was coming to Cheltenham for a conference about how Art and Medicine interact (more about that below). I decided I would run a poetry event there, despite knowing no-one in the area and started making friends there through social media. I booked a venue and ten poets and this was the first event I ran outside Manchester (I had no idea this event would be the beginning of a path that led me to 2 12 date tours in 2014 and 2015).

This first event away from home did not come without its challenges. The venue I had booked closed down about three weeks before the date. Determined that this would only be a hurdle and not flatten it I asked around and Adam Horowitz (one of the performers) suggested a space called Meantime Art Space and I contacted Sarah and she was a superstar, spoke with the person whose art was displayed, sorted out some beers for the night and even took me for noodles when I arrived making my first impression on both Cheltenham and my first impression of a noodle bar positive.

I had a buzz that lasted days when the night went well, poets turned up, I met poets I had only seen online and all stuck to time limits and were friendly. Each year I have run an event the night before Medicine Unboxed. I am still searching for the perfect venue. The second year it was in the Frog and Fiddle’s Barn, which I am sure is delightful in summer months. It was a bare brick wall space with high ceilings, a stage and PA system. On a cold November night it felt like being in a barn. Last year I ran a medical-themed poetry night at The Strand. We had a downstairs room and thankfully a mic (as the party in the bar was particularly rowdy and we were divided only by a curtain). This year we have booked the upstairs space at The Strand as I tread my Cheltenham venues learning curve.

Cheltenham was just the beginning

After the Cheltenham gig I decided to takeover Poetry by Heart in Leeds for a month with six poets I knew from workshops, Arvon courses, events and Facebook. The gig was cracking. When my job in the NHS was disappeared and I started doing spreadsheets for my neighbour’s company from home between school runs I saw an opportunity. I was fuelled by an Apples an Snakes masterclass presented by Tony Walsh about “How to promote yourself, your poetry, your events” that I has attended two weeks before the job went awry.

I had disregarded the section about applying for funding at the time. I am not funny. I am not perfomancey. Why would anyone fund my tour? But then, the tour didn’t have to be about me. What did I do at every event I ran. I quietly planned, promoted and hosted these events with attention to detail that was noted and appreciated by performers and venues. Could I take the ten poets x ten minutes format on tour?

I was aware this format had been employed in the North East at Take Ten, but only after it had evolved at my nights as a format that filled a gap in the circuit. Many established nights had 2-4 minute open mic and 15-30 minute guest spots, but not many gave poets the opportunity for something in between. I know I was terrified the first time I had to fill a guest spot with poems (when before all I had 2-3 minutes).

So the format was born and funding application bids submitted

The Quiet Compere Tour has been Arts Council funded and has so far been to 23 cities, putting on shows with 10 local poets reading for 10 minutes each. I like to introduce poets only by name rather than huge bibliography. Let the poems do the talking. We have a mix of established and less well known performers, and it’s the latter that often steal the show!

The Finale of 2015 tour – Friday 20th November 2015 7pm doors. 7:30pm start

Quiet Compere 2015 Cheltenham

Finale Thoughts

Events in Birmingham, Worcester and Oxford have all been hugely successful and I would be delighted to see some of the performers and friends from those areas in the audience.

Look out for Kickstarter to part fund 2016 tour very soon

Quiet Compere Advice:

Play. Enjoy. Try different styles. Find other poets you trust. Get feedback. Be honest. Pursue butterflies. Stretch yourself. Try not to over-edit.

How I fell in love with Cheltenham

I worked in NHS admin for 17 years and when I returned from Maternity Leave received a link to a conference called Medicine Unboxed. This is a conference master-minded (he is director and curator) by Samir Guglani, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Gloucester Hospital. The first year I attended Sam engaged in every debate on the same level as the expert panels, or even more strikingly in one-to-ones. I have now attended the past three years (themes Belief, Voice and Frontiers) This year’s theme is Mortality (and as spent over half of NHS life as a Histopathology and/or Post Mortem secretary) this is of particular interest to me. Samir Guglani was a performer at the Oxford event in May and I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who is in the Cheltenham line-up through Medicine Unboxed and Cheltenham Poetry Festival.

Medicine Unboxed ticket link here

On Writing – Guest Blogger

Written on February 10th, 2015 by adminno shouts

Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope

On Writing


Every writer that I have ever spoken to has had either a bad or an isolated childhood. Some have had childhoods that were both at once. Some self-isolated, withdrawing into worlds of their own creation where exciting things happened that they could understand, unlike the dull-seeming emotional complexity of the adult world. In any case, a writer must always be a reader first and nothing in the world gets children to read like removing all other entertainment options.

My family was always on the move. I left the town of my birth (Waynesville, North Carolina) a few weeks after a surgeon carved me from my mother’s womb. I was taken to Edinburgh where I lived in an underground flat (beside St Giles Church) and lingered there long enough to learn to speak and pick up a warped version of the local accent. When I was two, my father joined the navy as a chaplain and we moved to Subic Bay in the Philippines. While we were there, my parents met the lady who would become my foster-mother, my sister was adopted, and my brother was born. At seven (nearly eight) I returned to the states and spent the next five years sloshing about in swamps and switching schools (from the semi-posh private that expelled me for re-animating a cow’s heart with a car battery, to the insane Seventh Day Adventist venture whose principal prayed over me in existential despair because I ate a ham sandwich) before my mother’s health and my father’s finances collapsed to the point where I had to be placed in a South Carolina orphanage. When I emerged, I was fifteen, silent, and emotionally scarred. But I had grown into a poet.

I left school, worked for a veterinarian (performing more than a few illicit surgeries) and wrote poems, in secret, which I buried in the yard.

I ran away from home as a young teenager and went off to university. While I never graduated from high school, my test scores were high enough to earn a full scholarship. While I was there, I made the kind of friends who noticed when the irritable urge to write was on me and who said things like, ‘You’re being a bitch, Bethany. Go write and don’t come back until you’ve finished something you’re willing to show us.’ When I finished, they read it, and offered helpful, loving criticism. I started studying my art openly, and seriously. I had very good teachers. I went on to get my masters at Trinity, Carmarthen and my PhD at Aberystwyth University where I met my husband, and greatest supporter, Matthew David Clarke.

Writing makes me feel like a real person, for as long as I am doing it, and not like something somebody made up. Writing is fun, but it is not something that I do primarily for enjoyment. You know you are a writer if it is what you have to do in order to live. You know that you are a writer if you will forgo sleep, food, or career advancement in order to get it done. You write in order to please God, please yourself, or advance the horizon of human knowledge one small fraction of a centimetre. You write because to do otherwise is a kind of spiritual suicide.

If you want to write well, you must read everything. Read fifty pages of prose for every one that you write. Read fifty poems for every line of yours. Read old things. Read new things. Read for, at least, five hours a day. It’s not impossible. Sleep less. Stop watching television. I work on my writing for a total of eight to twelve hours a day. I read (and write) at the gym. My favourite writing place is on the stepper. I set that machine to high and then let her rip. This enables me to sink into my work, to lose myself totally. Sometimes, I forget where I am and look up, inky and confused; wondering where all that time went. Then I go home and get to work editing. I’ve drafted all of my books at my local gym. It takes me less time to draft than it does to edit. I read one novel and one collection a day. Text books take me a little bit longer, but I read them too. I favour psychology, art history, and biology.

Lately, I’ve become very interested in forms. My last two books (Crown of Thorns, Oneiros Books 2013, and Undisturbed Circles, Lapwing 2014) are composed of sonnet crowns with acrostics. The sonnets in Crown of Thorns are very loose in terms of structure. They vary from eleven to fourteen syllables per line and are augmented by an acrostic that runs the length of the left margin. They are autobiographical and deal with my family life and my time in the orphanage. The crowns in Undisturbed circles are much more structurally complex. Here is an example, taken from the form key at the beginning of the book:

The Labyrinth is a heroic sonnet crown. This piece is technically intricate. Each sonnet is prefaced by a brief narrative prose-poem that I used to set the tone for the grouping. The sonnets themselves are enhanced by 28-character double-acrostics that runs down the left hand margin and continues down the right hand side of the lines. There are fifteen acrostics for fifteen sections and, taken together, they form a poem that contributes to the narrative. The first fourteen poems end with the same line, drawing the reader further into the story. Since this is a heroic crown of sonnets, the final sonnet is constructed of the first lines of the previous sonnets, laid out in order. Each sonnet is followed by a 5×5 (five lines of five syllables) that tells a dreamlike parallel narrative. ‘The Labyrinth’ is a map of my mind; not all of it, of course, but it hits a few of the highlights. A poem from Undisturbed Circles can be found here.

I am interested in form because I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a pretty bad case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Both conditions are very ritualistic, in terms of symptoms, very structured and limiting, but they shape my thoughts in such a way that I can see things about the world that other people seem to miss. I am interested in the odd freedom that can be found inside of a prison. We are limited by our brains, our histories, and our cultures, but somehow, as a species, we manage to bring beauty out of those rusty old traps. Strict adherence to form allows me to generate a sense of myth, and an intensity that my free-verse poems never allowed. I do not think that poetry can ever be ‘safe’ or conventionally acceptable and still remain true. Truth is dangerous. Form is dangerous; the temptation is to allow the form to overwhelm the narrative. The goal is to create a narrative that disguises the form, so that deeper levels of meaning are present for those who want to dig them out, but are not necessary in order to read or enjoy the text. Challenge is a thrill for some people – myself included.

Lately, I have been working on a series of acrostic sestinas and acrostic sestina crowns. The acrostics run down the left hand margin. I am interested in the obsessive tone that the sestina demands, and I would very much like to use one to create a working, fluid narrative. Currently, my pet project is an acrostic sestina cycle that re-tells the story of Job. You can see an example of one of my acrostic sestinas on Ink, Sweat, and Tears. 

More examples of my work are available, should you be interested, on my website: BethanyWPope.com.

About the Autor

Bethany W Pope is an LBA winning author, and a finalist for the Faulkner-Wisdom Awards, the Cinnamon Press Novel competition, and the Ink, Sweat and Tears poetry commission, placed third in the Bare Fiction Poetry Competition and she was recently highly commended in this year’s Poetry London Competition. She was recently nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize. She received her PhD from Aberystwyth University’s Creative Writing program, and her MA from the University of Wales Trinity St David. She has published several collections of poetry: A Radiance (Cultured Llama, 2012) Crown of Thorns, (Oneiros Books, 2013), and The Gospel of Flies (Writing Knights Press 2014), and Undisturbed Circles (Lapwing, 2014). Her first novel, Masque, shall be published by Seren in 2016. Her work has appeared in: Anon; Art Times; Ampersand; The Galway Review; The Prague Review; Sentinel Quarterly; The Delinquent; De/Tached; The Writer’s Hub; The Blue Max Review; Envoi; Poetry London; New Welsh Review; Poetry Review Salzburg; Sentinel Literary Quarterly; Every Day Poems; The Brooklyn Voice; And Other Poems; Magma; The Prague Review; Words & Music; Music & Literature; The Coffin Factory; The Quarterly Conversation; Tribe; Turbulence; Tears in the Fence; Ink, Sweat and Tears; Bone Orchard; Acumen, The Antigonish Review, Bare Fiction, The Broadsheet, Ariadne’s Thread, The Black Light Engine Room, The Lampeter Review London Grip and Planet. Her work is due to appear in the following anthologies: The Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear), Gothic Anthology (Parthian Books), and Raving Beauties (Bloodaxe Books).

William Humphreys – Guest Blogger

Written on February 25th, 2014 by adminno shouts

Poet Will Humphreys

Will shares some of his thoughts, on writing his collection, in a fluid lyrical way.

“I can’t tell you what’s in my head. If I did you’d never feel safe sleeping next to me again”, She said…

Relationships, to me, are like trees. You start with a seed and feed it. It grows and puts down roots and pushes branches into the air of life. Some of those branches become the core that holds everything together, they are the fundamental rules, boundaries, and emotions that help you weather the storms.

Some times branches break, because they are moving in the wrong direction and are not feeding the rest of the tree. This is natural attrition and a healthy part of growth. Other branches, the fundamental rules branches are there to help you weather the hardest storms and keep you true, safe and healthy – ready to grow new branches when the sun arrives again.

In my experience relationships can’t always recover from a storm that breaks one of these core branches. Oh, you might fix it back in place, brace it and the bark will heal, but underneath it will never be as strong as it was before. It will always be the first to snap when tension is placed upon it.

I remember with vivid clarity the first time I fell in love. At least what I believed was love, in terms that any normal twelve year old can understand. She was a year older than me, which at that age, is a huge gap; especially as she was a well travelled and highly educated girl who knew exactly what she wanted. Way out of my league!

She was thirteen. Long red hair, pale complexion with the most delicate freckles, strawberry coloured lips, skinny legs that poked out of a mini skirt made out of different coloured suede patches; and one lung.

I never found out the true reason for the missing lung as she like to joke about it, but I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t torn out during a shark attack; which was one of the many stories she told.

For one glorious summer I followed her around like a lost kitten. Eager to hear every word she uttered and to look at her all day long. Having been staying with her pen-friend, who lived in the next road, I was utterly crushed, when summer holidays came to a close and she waved goodbye, as she was driven off to the airport.

For the next three decades I made my way through life and loves. Sometimes stopping for a while and sometimes not. Sometimes knowing I had to move on, and sometimes being moved on, when I desperately needed to stay. There were also times when love was taken from me far too soon, and I never got to find out if there was more. Life is not something you can control. All you can do is learn how to manage yourself, within life.

I learned a lot about what love really is, and what it is not. And I learned most of all that love is something that can only be experienced, never taught and is nothing to do with ‘you’ but everything to do with the person that is the focus of your feelings.

Throughout those years, I wrote about my feelings and experiences. Sometimes using reams of paper through long sleepless weeks of angst. Sometimes it was a brief note on a napkin, while sipping a coffee. It was my expression of feelings, my self-analysis, my efforts to understand and my exorcism, all rolled into one.

I kept my scribbling’s, all of them. I don’t recall making a conscious decision to do so, and it seemed to happen by itself.

“I can’t tell you what’s in my head. If I did you’d never feel safe sleeping next to me again”, She said.….

That was the moment, when in my mid forties, I suddenly realised the relationship I was in, was never going to work. The reality and inevitable outcome had been pasted to walls, doors ceilings and windows all around me, for a year or more. But my heart chose to ignore the signs.

So, as does typically happen in these circumstances, life pops up and gives you a seriously solid lesson to learn. One that you can’t ignore and cant walk away from. One that breaks a branch that you believed in your heart was unbreakable. It does this to bring you to the point of realisation and to urge you into action. Self-preservation, to be precise.

You see, we can want something so bad, that it clouds all evidence telling us this isn’t it. Once this relationship ended and still reeling from the highly emotional and painful way they frequently end, I made a promise to myself. Never again would I get into a long-term relationship, and definitely never again would I marry.

That, was the pain talking.

After a few months, I found by accident in the attic, a large box. Contained within were the scribbling’s. Diaries, notebooks, bits of paper, cards and all manner of items with emotions written all over them.

Several days, and many bottles of wine later I had read through the lot. The memories flooded back. The happy times, the pain, the laughter and tears, were all in there. Also the beauty, the learning’s, those once in a lifetime experiences that my busy mind had placed into the darkest corners. Lost and found.

Something happened to me after reading the words I had written. I reached an understanding about myself. I decide that love was something that had given me so much, both the good and the bad, that I could never exclude it from my world.

SO, I made a pact with my head and heart. We decided together, once we had healed properly from the last eclipse, that we would go forth with an open mind and an open heart – as wide and free as we knew how. We would challenge the world to bring to us the most outstanding love that had ever been and to embrace it and enrobe ourselves with it, because whatever it brought with it, good and bad, it would give us more of life than anything else could.

As a mark of my commitment, I decide to write up all my notes, prose and poetry and publish them in a book. For all to see. Not for self vanity, but to share with people the things I had experienced, and to state categorically in its final page, that no matter what, I would keep my heart open to the feelings that had fed my life and the opportunity to love again.

The resulting book was Longing, Love, Loss and Beyond. It contains a reality that I have found resonates with others. People have told me that they have found things in my words that deeply meant something to them. And for this I am most humbled. I keep writing and know I always will. It is part of me and it is a good thing.

Little did I know, that not many years later, I would be guided through seemingly disastrous circumstances, to a love that was like nothing I had ever experienced before. But that, as they say, is another story…….

For those of you in Cheltenham, Waterstones is currently offering this wonderful book.

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Lyrical Challenges – Tips To Write Song Lyrics

Written on February 10th, 2014 by adminno shouts

Mike Dixon

About Mike

The Goal is to Have a Goal

First things first. When setting a lyric challenge having a goal is the key. If you’ve got no reason to write a song you won’t get a word written down. Often the reason is heartbreak or sitting there bored with your guitar in hand and happening upon something to explore. Setting a goal with a song challenge is a more proactive way of writing songs.

Once you have a goal you have something to work towards, whether it’s write one song by the end of the day, or write a song a day.

A Creative Goal

The next thing is to have a goal that inspires some interesting creative angles. It’s very easy to become stale in musical style and lyrical theme, something to put your outside your comfort zone, but also something to make you take different approaches to those you’d would normally take.

For instance, a title for a song normally doesn’t come to mind till you’ve written a song. Start with a handful of titles, pick one and and explore what it could mean. “See you on the other side of goodbye” – Could be about the end of a relationship, or it could be about what happens after a relationship has ended and lovers want to remain friends. Or it could be about someone dying and the morning process.

Your Starter For 10

Ok so there’s a few suggestions for lyrical challenges to get your started

  1. Title Ideas http://www.lyricideas.com/ – Lists 10 potential song titles (and lyrics) per day
  2. Write a Reply – Find a favourite song and write a reply song
  3. A novel idea – Try and capture the main theme of a favourite character in a novel in a song
  4. 5 Minute Rush – A great way to quiet your inner critic set a timer and write as much of a song as you can in 5 minutes.
  5. Change Position – If you’re songs are normally written in the first person, or normally from a narrator’s point of view then switch it up. Force yourself to use another perspective.
  6. One a Day – Similar to some bloggers, taking a 30 day challenge of a song. Write one song a day for 30 days. It doesn’t have to be a good song. But the act of writing every day will encourage your brain to generate more lyrics all the time and doing anything for 30 days in a row is a great way of starting to form a habit.

Take Advantage Of Your Little Thoughts

Whilst this doesn’t quite fit in as a challenge, I implore every lyricist to buy some of these soft pocket notebooks and carrying one of these very pocketable pen and take them absolutely everywhere with you! The times when I’ve written the most lyrics are the times when I’m most idea and my brain has time to wander.

I might have a few minutes on a bus or a tube and my mind idly wanders through one thought or another, maybe driven by what I see in front of me, or maybe I’m lost in my own mind. But then BAM! I’m hit but a beautiful turn of phrase or way of perceiving something that I’d not thought of before. If I can capture that right there and then I have a chance of working it into a song. Otherwise it’s gone forever!

I’ve tried to mimic this spontaneous note taking using my ever-present smart phone instead. However there’s something so unforgiving about typing text into a phone that means I lose the meaning almost as much as if I’d never written it down at all.

Good luck with your lyric writing!

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Poetry and Me – Guest Blogger

Written on February 5th, 2014 by adminno shouts

Mab Jones

Biography

Mab Jones is the first ever Resident Poet in the National Botanic Garden of Wales. She is a comic, social media tartlet, event organiser, and all-round ‘litrepreneur’. Her “delightful comic verse, articulate and imaginative” (Three Weeks) has graced nearly 700 stages all over the UK, as well as in the USA and Japan. Her latest project, Dylan’s Angels, is currently accepting bookings, and her first poetry collection is due out this autumn. Find out more at http://about.me/mabjones.

When I was a child, I wanted to be an artist. I drew pictures all the time, constantly, scribbling in all my exercise books, and asking for ‘drawing stuff’ every birthday and Christmas. However, I was also an avid reader, and fancied myself a writer – age about 10 I asked for a typewriter from Santa, and I got my wish. I never really wrote anything, though. All my energy went into drawing, I rested by reading, and the stories I absorbed seemed to inspire my imagination and make me draw even more… I loved books like ‘Tale of a One-Way Street and other stories‘, with beautiful text (Joan Aiken) and illustrations (Jan Pienkowski). Much later, I wrote my MA dissertation on the relationship between Dickens and his illustrators, in particular George Cruikshank, and my aim one day is to create something that I both write and draw. I’d like to work with an illustrator, of course. But I do greatly admire poets such as John Hegley and Phill Jupitus, who can do both.

In any case, I then won an assisted place to go to what some say is the best school in Wales – Howell’s School in Llandaf. My local school, the one I should have gone to, was widely considered to be the worst (Glan Ely). The contrast between my school life (school song written by Rudyard Kipling, royal visits, lacrosse and tennis, etc.) contrasted greatly with my working class home life. It created a posh/chav dichotomy in my character, which you can see in my poems/performance. Actually, I dislike both of those words, but I enjoy using the fact I can appear both very upper class and as common as muck in what I do. And, I like entertaining people, but I also can’t seem to help addressing serious concerns and trying to make people think.

When I got to high school, I happened to see a display of GCSE level art in my first week, and I suddenly felt like I didn’t want to be an artist any more. I realised in one sinking instant that the level I had been taught at so far meant I wasn’t as good as the girls here, and I would probably never be as good. I think now that this was a silly thing to think, because if I had been determined I could have caught up and made myself improve. But, at the time, I compared myself, with much older girls actually, and gave up on that idea altogether.

After that, I just wanted to be a writer. I still love art, though, and I am okay at drawing. But, I focused on the other thing, especially after the age of 13 when I got 90% in the English exam, coming top in the year, and I realised I had some sort of talent with words. My parents didn’t notice that I had come top. I felt ignored at home, but I was lucky in that I always had one teacher at every school I went to who singled me out and made it their mission to encourage me. These teachers were always female. In Howell’s, it was a woman called Mrs Maylin, who most of the other girls hated, because she was so strict. I liked this, however, because it made me work harder. I found it quite easy to coast along, generally achieving a ‘B’ level in most subjects, without ever doing much work. I never revised for exams, for instance. But, I did revise for English, because I loved it, and because the teacher made me want to do well, and as a result I always did.

However, I only wanted to be a poet very recently. I thought I would end up a novelist, especially because I consumed the things when I was younger. It was only when I was 29, and had received a new writers’ bursary from Literature Wales, giving me time to write, that I started penning little poems, as a bit of light relief from the novel. The novel got to about 80,000 words, but it’s a very turgid thing. I hope it never sees the light of day! The poems were really good fun to write, though, and I somehow ended up doing them at an open mic in Cardiff one night. I remember my hands were shaking horribly. But, I enjoyed the adrenaline rush, and the applause, so I did it again… The third open mic I read at was run by Literature Wales, which is where then-Executive Director, poet Peter Finch, saw me, and used his powers to add me onto the list of contenders at the Welsh heat of the BBC Radio 4 National Poetry Slam. I got through, and my 5th gig, then, was in London, on national radio, and I got paid, and put up in a nice hotel, and realised there was a thing called ‘spoken word’… And so, I thought I’d continue with that!

Since then, I’ve performed nearly 700 times… I supported Porky the Poet (Phill Jupitus) at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, with my friend and comedy partner Clare Ferguson-Walker (who is a poet and an artist, un-coincidentally), I’ve gigged in the US and Japan, I’ve headlined for Apples & Snakes, and performed at Latitude, and am having my first book out with Burning Eye Books in October… I gig, run workshops, write a column on live literature events for Wales’s biggest listings and arts mag, Buzz, do some social media stuff, organise events, and so on. I’ve collaborated with cool people, I travel about a fair bit, I have a lovely writer boyfriend called Johnny Giles, who I think is a true poetic genius. I have a very happy and active poetry life! I feel I am very lucky, because there is no line between what I love doing and what I do for a living… My work is my hobby is my life is my love, really!

However, I often feel like I am ‘two poets’ inside, one a Wendy Cope/Pam Ayres-style comic, the other more a sort of Mary Oliver/Sharon Olds style. I enjoy making people laugh, but then I have this other voice that is, at the risk of sounding terribly pretentious, more mystically-inclined. I keep writing because I love making people laugh, but also because I don’t feel that voice is fully developed. It comes from a different place to the funny one. At one point, a couple of years ago, I felt like I was under a sort of curse, to always be hilarious… Even the serious things I attempted turned out funny. I stopped writing poems for a bit, for a couple of years, actually, though no-one really noticed as I had written so many before… I had some kidney problems for about a year and a half, too, but I went a lot of changes during that period. Now, I’ve started to write more in that other voice/style, which you can see on my blog, and I’ve also accepted my comic self much more, choosing to see the ability to make people laugh as more a blessing than otherwise.



I think I started writing poems as a sort of therapy. I was having therapy at the time…! When I was a child and teenager, I suffered from Selective Mutism, but this was only diagnosed at the age of 30, after I began writing and expressing myself. You can read a bit about that in this Apples and Snakes blog. Most of my early comic poems came from feeling angry… I think there is a link between comedy and rage! It’s a way of dealing with that emotion… I feel much less angry now, and so my ink comes from other emotions. I love the beauty of nature, and I am resident poet in the National Botanic Garden of Wales. That’s one well of ink I’ve been dipping into recently. Another is the fact I am in love… Sometimes I feel bubbles of feeling come up from my heart as if they were physical things, and then they come out of my hand in the form of writing. Recently, I wrote a poem in my sleep! You can read that one here. Anyway, at the moment, I feel like I am changing as a writer, and learning new modes and means of expression.

Poetry for me is a way of life.

I think there are a fair few poets who feel this way, too. I admire Jo Bell, Helen Ivory, and Dominic Berry, people who write and read every single day; who want to spread the joy of this amazing art we could never be without, and who write beautiful blogs, share news of comps and opportunities on their social media profiles, who run events, and who encourage others to write and read and develop as well, by example as well as directly. I aspire towards that type of generosity; I like to encourage others, and enjoy putting on events and things so that others can have space for their own voices to develop. I see poetry as inclusive, rather than exclusive. Poets who think of poetry as some special, refined, highly rarefied art, only for the super-intelligent and Godlike amongst us, are not the poets I particularly like or get on well with.

As for me – I feel I am about one twentieth of the poet I am going to be. T.S. Elliot said it takes twenty years to find your poetic voice. In which case, I am only just over six years old! I am terribly pleased with the poems I’ve been writing recently, both funny and not-funny, and I feel very happy with how my life is as a result of becoming/realising I am a poet. Yay poetry, basically! I don’t know who, where, or how I’d be without it.

Steph Pike – What Poetry Means To Me

Written on April 12th, 2013 by adminone shout

Steph Pike is an activist and performance poet. Her poetry is urgent, topical and eloquent. She has performed extensively across the country and has been published in several anthologies. Her first collection, Full of the Deep Bits was published in 2010. She is passionate about the transformative power of poetry, both personal and political.

Steph Pike Poet

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” – Audre Lorde

Poetry communicates intensely and directly. Every word is carefully chosen; an undiluted, concentrate of words. Every word needs to be there. Poetry engages not just with our rational selves but equally with our emotional and spiritual selves; it’s impact is direct and intense. Poetry is shooting up words rather than smoking them. So when poetry engages us it does so profoundly and intensely, and can alter our perception and understanding irreversibly.

If we read a poem and understand that a stone is not what we thought; if our perceptions of a stone are altered irrevocably, then we come to know that our reality, every aspect of the world we inhabit – known and unknown to us – is a collection of ever changing perceptions, some different, some agreed upon to create a shared reality. Everything is a fiction that we are constantly inventing and reinventing, both individually and collectively. If we come to know this, then we come to understand that nothing is fixed, nothing is permanent. And if we know this then we come to know that anything and everything is possible. And then we can believe that we can dream, and not only dream, but that things can change, that anything is possible. We can believe that a better world is possible, that liberation and justice freedom are not just pipedreams but are attainable. And if our hopes and dreams were unarticulated feelings, and we see those given shape and form and life in a poem, if they are given voice then we can believe in the attainment of those dreams and in moving towards our dreams we turn words into actions. Poetry is a rabble-rouser, a revolutionary, a shamen, an outsider, a visionary. It calls us out of complacency, out of despair and hopelessness and onto the streets to fight for what we believe in.

Poetry does not dictate, it enters into dialogue with us. it encourages us to question not only our own beliefs and perceptions, but the to question those in power. And in questioning to find our own answers, but always to ask questions; to view ourselves and our world with a critical eye.

Poetry is many things to many people, but this is what poetry means to me, and this is the poetry I aspire to write. Poetry is beautiful and weird. And at the heart of all this is love. For revolution without love at its heart becomes tyranny, and words without love become empty.

“make it political as hell, and make it irrevocably beautiful” – Toni Morrison

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What Inpires You – Guest Blog

Written on April 18th, 2011 by adminno shouts

A F Harrold

When Sarah invited me to write something for this blog I asked her what sort of thing she had in mind, and she suggested (as cheesy as it sounds, she added) maybe something about ‘what inspires you’? So here goes on that. The last two years have been taken up, to a greater or lesser extent, with my mother’s illness, her death and then the aftermath (read: paperwork) that follows. I spent a lot of time visiting and staying with her while she was at home, and then living in her cottage when she moved into hospital and then a hospice in order to be able to make daily visits. During her illness, when the story was still an adventure with treatments and tests and possibilities, I recorded incidents and snatches in poems as we all do with interesting moments anyway. Not as catharsis (I had friends to bore with tales of practical and emotional hurdles, and they were very generous), but specifically in a way that I thought might be of interest to a reader. We all know the difference, even if it’s hard to pin down or specify, between keeping a diary and writing for a public, between selfish writing and selfless writing. It’s primarily that the one is deathly dull (like listening to someone else’s dreams), while the other manages to transcend the personal into something at once unique and specific and yet touching on universal matters. Think of a book like Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, for example. So these poems occupied the second half of 2009, almost to the exclusion of other topics, and on the whole they failed in reaching that interest threshold: the point where I think, ‘If someone else had written this would it move me/interest me?’ They are filed away in the bottom drawer either for cannibalisation later on, when they’ve simmered long enough, or for firelighting. Come the beginning of 2010 and the story had entirely lost its adventure and had become a waiting game that dragged on too long, and with that poetry had reduced to a trickle – there was little left to say that I hadn’t already attempted exploring. Nothing new was happening, bar boredom and sick bowls. When she died in May of that year it was a personal weight lifted, obviously, but as far as poetry went (which, to be honest, wasn’t the immediate top of my agenda) nothing shifted, I remained blocked. This wasn’t a problem, per se, wasn’t troubling: I remembered a similar blockage of at least six months or so after my father’s death in 2002 and besides, I was still gigging, still writing comic bits and performance things and occasional verse and theatre reviews, so I kept busy, but poetry was stalled. In August I began an epistolic poem, addressed to my mother, in a rather rebarbative tone. It was not angry as such, but explored the more unpleasant, ungentlemanly, feelings I’d had the previous autumn and winter as I’d (as it seemed) wasted my time visiting her in the hospice. I was having to live away from home and turn down work, in order to be near her because it had been made clear she really didn’t have very long to live at all. I visited every day aware it might be the last, and as each day went by without her dying I felt more bored and more resentful. These are natural responses, but loathsome to contemplate, and I needed to tell her about them, needed to be honest with her, hence beginning this poem. (It’s the line in Auden’s The Cave Of Making, addressed to Louis MacNeice, ‘I wish you hadn’t / caught that cold, but the dead we miss are easier / to talk to […]’ that always rings in my ears.) The poem stalled though, and as much as I battered and bargained with it, whittling and adding a line from time to time, it seemed to be going nowhere. I was writing it in an ornate form of my own invention, because I’m of the general opinion the more dangerous the emotion, the tighter the jacket, in order to keep something in check, and working my way through the scheme required hard work at all dictionaries, unpicking verses and reweaving the rhymes. It was inch by inch work, and the inches weren’t advancing for a long time. I knew, however, that this was the blockage that needed clearing before normal service could be resumed. Though the poem was begun in facing these harsh emotions still fresh and half-unacknowledged, it was finished in the early weeks of this new year in quite another frame of mind. By then the fires had died down, a happiness had arrived, life had settled, but although I no longer felt any of that hate or resentment, only the deep sadness that goes on continually, I could recall them, I knew them, and still felt that recording them (owning up to them) and sending them off and out (pointlessly) into the aether, as it were, was a necessary duty. (Auden again: ‘[…] when playing cards or drinking / or pulling faces are out of the question, what else is there / to do but talk to the voices / of conscience they have become? […]’) With that duty over, and the poem complete to my meagre satisfaction (whether it turns out to be a public poem, I don’t know yet, I’ll leave it a while and sound it out with some professionals before answering that question), other poems have now begun to come, still about her (it is easy to believe sometimes that there is only one woman any Englishman loves truly), but also on unrelated topics too. And writing freely again, having that feeling that it is possible to finish a poem, is both a relief and a sadness – it’s as if that period of my life has had a full stop set down, though that can hardly be true. As to the original question, about inspiration, there are of course two simple answers: firstly, if you ask a question like that, then you don’t understand what inspiration is; and secondly, if I knew where it came from, I’d be there now, instead of here writing this.

A.F. Harrold, January 20th 2011

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Dan Cooper – Guest Blog

Written on April 11th, 2011 by adminno shouts

Bio: Dan Cooper is a graphic designer, dj, poet and one half of Gloucestershire’s Experimental Electronica and Spoken Word duo Brown Torpedo. He lives in a bungalow in Cheltenham with his dog, a parrot and two rats.

Brown Torpedo

Photo curtesy of Shelby Tree Photography

At around age 14, a couple of friends and I somehow got into ambient dance act The Orb at school, and really threw ourselves into it – listening to cassettes of either ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultra World’ or ‘U.F.Orb’ almost nightly and drawing the band’s logo in the margins of our maths books. I would try and produce my own zoned-out music by pasting sounds on top of one another in the Windows Sound Recorder. I remember a section of ‘Last Human’, a Red Dwarf novel, which I really liked and recorded myself reading it over the top of some of my efforts. I’m glad I’ve lost that tape as it would probably sound terrible… …although probably not a million miles away from what Brown Torpedo sound like today.

I had always liked hip hop. The Ghostbusters 2 rap, ‘T.U.R.T.L.E. Power’. I particularly came to relish the albums I would have to hide from my mum – Cypress Hill’s ‘Black Sunday’ and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle’ (the first two CDs I ever bought). Timbalands work with Missy Elliot came a bit later, but was also something I used to listen to aLOT. Her first two albums are classics. Timbaland’s 1998 ‘Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Bassment’ was also a big influence once I’d got my head around it.

Academic progress at college and university became completely hi-jacked by an obsession with music. In particular Beck, who is still a favourite of mine now. Getting obsessed with Beck was like a gateway drug, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Prince, Aphex Twin, the gates were flung wide open.

My first band ‘proper’, Puppy Bucket & Donny Choonara, definitely drew on the influence of Beck and hip hop, egged on by UK hip hop (particularly from the Bristol area, Aspects, Fleapit, Parlour Talk), the emerging grime scene and the bedroom production ethics of the first album by The Streets – ‘Original Pirate Material’, also the ridiculousness of Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, elements of which we would throw into the mix usually just to amuse each other.

In PBDC, we had always improvised, usually late at night, in varying states of intoxication. My then partner in crime, Andrew (now the bassist in Thrill Collins) would play the guitar and we would both sing or rap, we would then speed up the recording and fall about laughing. After a while we would come together with the rest of our ‘label roster’ and group improvise, playing whatever was at hand – from Didgeridoos to Violins, drunkenly freestyling, beat boxing and yodelling.

In the band Ion Whistle with my friend Mark a couple of years ago, he got me more into liking black metal, doom metal and noise. Noise-wise, I’d always been kind of into Einsturzende Neubauten and bits of Whitehouse, I’d dipped my toe in Merzbow but didn’t realise how huge or prolific he was and hadn’t come across great acts like Wolf Eyes, Prurient or Black Dice yet, which I now really, really dig. Black Dice can take me back to the days of listening to The Orb on my walkman. I have since got into a lot more free improvisation stuff, whereas ten years ago I would just laugh at it because I didn’t understand it. I now think that sometimes you’re not supposed to understand it; it can be more primal or expressional. It’s the same with Noise music.

Now it’s the internet which has pulled my mind’s thumb out of the hole in the dam. Websites like www.Ubu.com and the Free Music Archive, as well as bands like Radioactive Sparrow (who have been throwing themselves into freeform mind-spasms for over 30 years now) are absolute treasure and I owe a debt to the net for these revelations.

On the more poetry side of things, Ginsberg and the beat poets have been of great inspiration to Brown Torpedo. At the start, fearing that we were somehow ‘doing poetry wrong’ we were reassured once we heard Ginsberg’s hardcore ‘Please Master’ or even read through the famous ‘Howl’ properly. Before then we would just sit in the pub with a notebook not really knowing what these things were that we were writing. We were scared to call it poetry, but they weren’t song lyrics and they weren’t rap lyrics. So now we’ve decided it is ‘poetry’, as much as anything can really be called poetry.

Discovery of Bob Cobbings sound poetry and things like the Burroughs and Gysin cutups have also seasoned our veg. Seeing videos of Marcel Duchamp or Hans Bennink on the internet, the rabbit hole gets deeper the more you poke around. I feel constantly rewarded. If I’d have felt this way about my subjects at uni, the grades would have been very different. My iTunes is now a sprawling mass of Dial-A-Poets, Lydia Lunch, Klaus Nomi, Xenakis… I wish I had bothered exploring more when I was younger… although I should have been studying anyway…

To find out more about Dan and his artistic endeavours go to:

http://www.facebook.com/browntorpedo http://browntorpedo.bandcamp.com/

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Let It All Out

Written on April 4th, 2011 by adminno shouts

Dan Holloway

On January 20th, I was lucky enough to do a reading of some of my work at the Literature Lounge, which meets every third Thursday of the month at the Poetry café in Covent Garden. It’s a wonderfully eclectic mix of poetry, humour, and ambience, and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who can make it (plus, from what I saw over the table on one of my friend’s dinner plates, it does a storming veggie quiche).

I was particularly struck by a series of poems read by Clare Waters. She read a haunting suite of four poems marking her twenty-five year relationship with her husband, who was in the audience. She gave a very moving introduction, about the need to talk about the lows as well as the highs, to do justice to the fullness of their relationship. The poems themselves were beautiful – sometimes raw, often moving, always honest.

For me, the best writing, be it fiction or poetry, always has this kind of honesty. Whatever the clothes we wrap it up in, which can be fantastical, historical, or set on the other side of the world, the most effective writing starts with some seed of truth. We hear a lot about the power of poetry to distill universal truths, the truths of love, beauty, history, aspiration and despair. The things, in short, that we all share but so rarely manage to articulate, it is the job of the poet to communicate.

Communication, building bridges where there are chasms, all kind of other things that sound frighteningly like that morning after the election speech of Mrs Thatcher’s in 1979, this is a wonderful aspiration. Yet, for me anyway, it is one that lies beyond our grasp. And I don’t think I really go along with that reaching for the starts and getting the moon thing.

It comes down to this. All those so-called universals, beauty, love, and the like; they are all so personal I find it impossible to find any common ground between us all. And if that’s the case, then all attempts to portray these truths will end up simply as our own gloss on the world – but dressed up as something universal.

I think there are two reasons why we continue to strive to capture things that are eternally true. The first is that there is something about art that’s spiritual, transcendent, something that lifts us out of the everyday. And the second, and I think this is something we seldom admit to ourselves, is that it is so much easier to speak about eternal, universal truths, than about specifics. It is so much easier to look “out there” than “in here”.

That’s what Clare did so well. She turned her artistic gaze inwards, and found something that really was true, and not pretending to be something else. And that’s the paradoxical thing about poetry. The one thing every human has in common is that we are all different, all gloriously individual. By focusing without compromise on our particular, individual truth, we are doing the one thing that really does connect us to everyone else. We are reaching out in our aloneness to every other solitary soul. Our aloneness is the one thing in which we are, truly, not alone.

Dress it up however you want, in strange wonderful worlds, in lands far away and times of old or yet to come, but try writing something that doesn’t look out – but in.

Dan Holloway runs eight cuts gallery and holds a monthly night of words and music at the O3 Gallery in Oxford Castle. He is the author of Songs from The Other Side of the Wall and life razorblades included

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Cheltenham Poetry Festival – Tickets

Written on January 10th, 2011 by admin2 shouts

Whether your taste is for punk poetry, page poetry or performance poetry – you will find plenty to feast on at Cheltenham Poetry Festival this March.

You can see the provisional programme (there will be some new events added over the next few weeks) at www.cheltenhampoetryfest.co.uk and tickets will be on sale at Cheltenham Town Hall on February 1st.

Our line up includes John Hegley, John Cooper Clarke, Rachel Pantechnicon, Michael Wilson, Alison Brackenbury, Angela France, NEW FABER poet Sam Riviere, plus a POLISH POETS showcase featuring Bohdan Piaskecki.

We also have TS ELIOT PRIZE WINNERS Philip Gross and George Szirtes, and some richly illustrated talks exploring the cross over between visual art and poetry which include Pascal Petite and The Gloucestershire Network of Writers.

If that’s not enough to inspire you we have MASTERCLASSES and workshops for the budding (and experienced) poets among you, a poetry themed MURDER MYSTERY event in the atmospheric chapel of Francis Close Hall for those of you who fancy a little sleuthing and the electrifying live literature show FLASH staring Sara-Jane Arbury and Lucy English,

The Fragmented Beefheart licks, Fall-inspired lyrical splurge, psychedelic drizzle, of punk poets THE COURTESY GROUP kick off our music programme which also includes a poetry inspired performance by Cheltenham Improvisers Orchestra and an event dedicated to THE MUSIC OF JOHN CLARE featuring Composer and musician Gordon Tyrrall’s beautiful settings of John Clare poems as well as a few of the rare tunes collected by John Clare.

If that’s not enough we also have A Tribute to Poet Valerie Clarke with a guest slot from MIMI KHALVATI plus a reading from the highly acclaimed poet Cliff Yates with music support from local legend Men Diamler.

On the last night you can help us put the party around the arts at our final night knees which features the hilarious Crispin Thomas’s Out To Lunch and The Side Dishes and BROWN TORPEDO as well as a host of guest poets!

Tickets will be available from The Box Office at Cheltenham Town Hall on February 1 – please join us in our first year!

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