Monday, 29 April 2019

Manchester Punk (Poetry) Festival

I discovered punk and poetry around the same time.  John Cooper Clarke’s scattergun verse is where the Venn diagram intersects. But I soon discovered a scene of performance poetry beyond the Bard of Salford, and punk music beyond the 1970s.

Mid-2000s I went to local gigs to see local bands.  And touring bands like Random Hand and Sonic Boom Six became my favourite bands.  And the more I wrote poems, the more the poetry scene became a poetry community with nights, hubs and friendly pals in cities across the UK.  In 2015 me and Bridget Hart toured the UK to poetry and punk venues, in 2018 my theatre company toured our show about punk to theatre venues and DIY spaces.  Seems JCC isn’t the only place where the Venn diagram intersects.

I’ve done a few gigs with punk bands, and when I used to put on music gigs I’d always get a poet to do a set.  Punk’s not always been about just guitars.  80s gigs used to feature cabaret acts, comedians, story-tellers and all kinds of spoken word artists such as Joolz Deby, Attila The Stockbroker, Porky The Poet (aka Phil Jupitus) and Craig Charles.

Manchester Punk Festival are doing some really exciting and diverse work.  Their festival is a passion project from a consortium of gig promoters who showcase not just shouty punk, but international bands, folk-punk, ska, indie-punk and queer and female representation, and spaces for films, podcasts and ethical food.  I like how they re-think how you manage a large-scale festival, how you approach that structure in a DIY, non-profit driven pro-inclusive model.  They have defined a brand which feels professional, but also DIY and inclusive.  Last year they started a Comedy Stage, so I approached them to see whether they would be interested in running a Poetry Stage.

So after what seemed an eternity of plotting and planning and play-list-making, my line-up for the three days was born.  Something I really noticed at MPF over the weekend were bands really appreciating people coming to support them.  I guess normally punk bands play in the small venues, so pooling everyone together can feel an epic gig.  Kermes played a gloriously sweaty fun set, Whoanows were charmingly fresh, Nervus celebratory, Cherym a fistful of fury, Martha stormed through banger-after-banger-after-banger Perkie was intimate and soulful to name but a few.

And it got me thinking about punk and punk poetry.  Poets often play to smaller crowds, and often present more personal and individual work.  Bridget Hart’s Saturday set was a loveletter to the people in her life.  Martin Appleby told little stories and insights of the scene.  Suky Goodfellow directly interacted with her audience in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style poetry set.  Cynthia Rodriguez took the mic out into the space for her anti-borders banter.  Kit Rayne showed a slice of her tattooed nerdy queer heart.  Simon Widdop juggled stories of home.  Genevieve Walsh was in her natural environment of back-room pub pal-packed poetry.  People hopped up for the open mic.

And I?  I was the first person to perform at Manchester Punk Festival in slippers.  Because if I can’t have comfy feet, it’s not my revolution.

Punk tried to tear down that barrier between audience and performer.  No rock star pomp, we are you, you are us, get a guitar, make a zine, write a poem and join in.

We want that connection with the performer and audience.

The last act I saw at the festival was Perkie.  She played a song called Werewolves which I’d never heard before.  She said it was about this punk community.  I had a little cry.

Punk should be more than just music; it’s a culture, which includes Comedy and Poetry (and film too!).  I’m glad that poetry could be part of the DNA of the Festival.  Up The Poetry Punks!

Monday, 8 April 2019

Three NaPoWriMo poems

NaPoWriMo is the national poetry-writing month.
Participants try and write a poem-a-day.
I had some busy days (and some naff days) so have managed three new poems so far.
All untitled, all fresh, all need work, all here in this blog

Motorway stretches thinly onwards into darkness
Repetition like black and white cartoon loop.
Just point the wheels in the right direction
Keep my foot where it belongs
And count down the seconds.
Across the country
Packages and parcels and produce
Totalled and transported.
Ambulances ignite and illuminate streets
A bleak blue.
Late-working lovers return, party-goers get going
Sleepy key-fumbling.
I trust in the deep red speakers on the passenger seat
Dispatch carefully curated podcasts and playlists.
The world breathes past at 70 miles per hour.
The Google Maps app ticks.
How did it get so late,
And who is over-taking me?

To get to either of my jobs
Or the centre of town in general
I walk past a Model Shop.
I’ve been in this shop
Plenty of times for brushes
And paints and flocks.
But I’ll admit, these many times
Were many years ago.
It’s unchanged in stock
Presenting twee railway
In 1.76 gauge.
Window-rammed with
Cars and toy soldiers
Measured in millimeters.
Glued-up Spitfires and Bombers
Drone above plastic fields of
railways and trains.
Scenes affixed from
Memories of Britain
In Penguin books.
A reminder of consistency
In hobbycraft and
Nostalgic pursuits.
Seems so English
(or British)
Like bowlers and suits.
As I often dash
Late for a shift
Or stride home
I try and snatch
A new fact from the window.
A new name or detail
Colour or brand
As an excuse to keep my
Phone in my pocket.

I have faith.
I have faith that when I press the traffic light button, it will work.
The red ring will illuminate, or the WAIT decree will shine.
The municipal system will be enacted, Green becomes Yellow
And when the Red light halts wheels, Green Men invite
And we will cross the road safely, you and I.
Trust me.
Have you no faith
That I pressed the button?
Have you no faith
That the uppercase WAIT assurance shows
That the request works?
Have you no faith
So you must press the button as well, add nothing
Waste your finger?
Have faith.
I pressed the button.

The traffic crossing is working.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Angels, the Vandals and the Greysteels

Last week myself and Natalie Quatermass were in Sheffield all week being mentored by Third Angel.  Me and Nat are Vandal Factory Theatre Company and, after our first show last year, are developing a new play called English Dirt

A line from our last show kept buzzing around our brains.

Who owns the roof that you live and eat and work beneath
Is it fear of starvation that makes you believe what you believe?

This has led us down an English country road of land-ownership, which naturally leads us to question the enclosure laws, power dynamics, nationhood, borders, the State and identity.  With the constant question of sovereignty and Britishness being dragged into discussions across Parliament, the media and pubs our show, English Dirt, set about exploring this theme.

The last year has seen us cover floors with Big Sheets Of Paper and read articles, books and zines around our topics.  It feels like we started this conversation back in 1066, but we’re finally making progress.

I’ve interacted with Third Angel a few times over the years, once at a workshop at York Theatre Royal, speaking at their conference a few years back and generally seeing their productions.  Their co-Artistic Director Alex is a superb mentor who helped us whittle away at some ideas, find connecting themes and narratives and gave us support to find the next stages of our route.

We also worked with band Flora Greysteel, a joyous duo.  We felt our history of land laws should relate to the history of British protest, and Simon and Emily are dazzling in their ability to take the slither of a song or attitude and transform it into spectacular music seemingly in seconds.

I think this last week has taught me a lot about shifting through ideas.  We kept referring to the idea the statue is inside the block of clay already, the sculptor’s job is to excavate it.  We are finding out show, piece by piece, among this vast and important history and story.  If we are wandering down a road, we have thrown away some of the baggage, but also seen new sights along the way.
We also managed to see Standing At The Sky’s Edge at Sheffield Theatre, a show with similar themes about ownership, class and identity in modern Britain.

I wanted to document this week and say thanks to Third Angel and Sheffield Theatres, a big warm hug-filled thanks to Flora Greysteel and my collaborator Natalie Quatermass.  I am excited for the next stage of English Dirt’s muddy road!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Poetry sales soar = Poetry gigs soar

Last night I attended one of the best poetry gigs I’ve ever been to.  And I get the impression not a single poetry book was sold.

At Salford’s The Eagle Inn, whilst BBC Radio 6 celebs supped in the front, the back room played host to Word War’s Champions of Champions Slam where 10 of their previous winners and runners-up each shared two poems (3 mins max).

Hosted and organised by super team Kieren King and Ella Gainsborough, the night was a diverse and raucous affair, with a mixture of warm story-telling, intense politics, surreal stand-up poetry and personal truths.  There were tears.  Though, as far as I could tell, the only slammer with a book to plug was the heartfelt writer Ciaran Hodgers (guest at the next Say Owt Slam).

The Guardian recently ran an article declaring POETRY SALES SOAR.  Pretty good news after their 2013 article POETRY SALES PLUMMET.  Their 2019 article says this is down to 1.  Millennials and 2. the need for collective understanding after critical events such as the Manchester bombing and Grenfell.

Certainly it’s true Millennials are drawn to the spoken word mantle after growing up on a diet of mainstream hip-hop and New Labour education systems that featured Benjamin Zephaniah and John Agard.  Of course our click/share biteszie culture doesn’t hurt.  Spoken word (especially the 3 min slam format) appeals to our Millennial need for an immediate, digetable experience.  But that’s not to say members of Gen X and BabyBoomers are making exciting and relevant poetry, a testament to the scene’s reach.

In terms of a collective sharing, at Word War’s CoC, Kieran King shared his poem Salford Is A Broadway Musical, a beautiful lovesong to his hometown.  The audience joined in with thick gusto, making this no longer a simple poem but a electric sharing, an outpouring of communal love and a bloody good laugh celebrating home and the scene.

I recently toured the UK with my book, Nerd Punk, published by Burning Eye.  I work with Say Owt and we focus on the performance of poetry and the liveness, but nevertheless Inua Ellams, Hollie NcNish, Rob Auton, Jemima Foxtrot, Jess Green and the aforementioned Ciaran Hodgers all part of Say Owt’s programming have books for sale.  These poets (well, maybe expect Hollie), don’t tend to sell books by the bucketload.but more as mementos to remember the live event, to revisit the words presented by the poet.

Yes, poetry sales might be up but that’s because audiences (and especially millennials) spend time and energy and money on experiences.  The books bought are a way to help capture when you cheered, laughed, cried and shared.