Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Top tips for Open Mic Virgins

Yes, this image is indeed relevant.
I don’t normally like to write ‘instructive’ blog posts, but I was having a chat about the subject of Open Mic with a friend the other day. It got me thinking about the value of participating on the Open Mic and the various pleasures and pains that accompany this type of performance. The first one I ever did was at the tender age of nineteen, I’m not purporting to be an expert here by no means, but I’d like to share what I think works.
I’ve seen some rather cruel things written about Open Mic. Yes, we know that sometimes the standard is mixed; not everyone who gets on stage is either going to be an extraordinary slam poet or a serious candidate for the T.S. Eliot prize, but I don’t think that’s the point. It's a democratic experience; it gives people a chance to share their work, but it also gets people in through the door to events as well. It can also be rather educational. You might just surprise yourself when you perform to an audience and learn things about your own work that you never realized before as well as escaping your ‘comfort zone.’ Similarly, you can also learn from other people’s performances.

Ok, La List:

1. When an organiser says a reader has 3 minutes and isn’t allowed to go over and read more than 2 poems then you must absolutely stick to this, no ifs and buts. This is not the time for your 2,000 line epic on the reformation of the Church of England, written in iambic heptameter. " It'll only take 20 minutes, okay 30, no one will mind," you say. Er, no. You want a few friends in the audience, don’t you?

2. Have you actually read your work before the event? I mean out loud, even if it’s to a row of teddy bears in your bedroom? Have you figured out where the stresses should be and how your voice could be used effectively?

2 a) just because something is a ‘page poem’ doesn’t mean you can’t do a lively and stimulating reading, in fact it may work in a much more subtle and effective way. This is better than doing a foghorn impression of what you think is a ‘performance poem.’

3. Look up now and again at people, don’t just clutch a sheet of paper in front of your face, this works better if you have followed no.2 in this list.

4. Punctuation – use it! Respect your full stops, pause when necessary, don’t pause when it isn’t required. I recall once losing the thread and staring into space for a second, that killed my ‘flow.’ Dingbat. You live and learn. (4a - you're only human.)

5. Can you read your own handwriting?

6. Don’t overdo the intro, if it takes you 5 minutes to introduce a six line poem then you have to wonder if the poem actually works by itself. Don’t tell the story first, have a bit of mystery, but by all means mention – briefly – what your audience may be interested to hear.

7. Out of courtesy, if you are going to mention ‘other stuff’ i.e. a fab new comp you’re running, tell the organiser first.

8. What’s the event? Poetry? Oh so, you’re going to read an extract from your novel instead? Our survey said, ‘I don’t think so.’ At least ask the organiser, some places are more flexible than others.

9. Don’t offend people please… they don’t like it. I once had to endure something bordering on misogynistic, it was awful. I didn’t clap, not many people did. Avoid arrogance, people don’t like it either. They like confidence though and clear delivery.
9a. As much as arrogance is a pain, don't be all coy and apologetic. Avoid saying things like 'this is a crap poem,' just read the darn thing.

10. Enjoy! It’s your space. You can make friends and be part of a supportive crowd. Also, you never know who’s listening…

Please comment if you have any thoughts on this.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Tears in the Fence

The new issue of Tears in the Fence arrived through the letterbox, featuring Alan Baker, Janet Sutherland, David Caddy and lots of others including a very quirky and interesting review article on John Ashberry by Jeremy Reed. It's a beautiful edition, white with a monochrome image of a swan on the front. I also have a poem in this issue, 'A Little Night Music,' which started off as experiment in a Pascal Petit workshop early last year. It was based on an ekphrastic exercise where I was given a copy of painting by Dorothea Tanning, titled 'A Little Night Music' (can't seem to upload it, probably under copyright!) and quite simply wrote about the image, it seemed to get me writing differently, I'm normally a little more, what the word - mainstream? Anyhow, I enjoyed writing the poem and would like to use that side of my head more if possible.
Go, seek out, buy Tears in the Fence!

Thursday, 16 June 2011


This is a misleading entry. On the surface it may appear informative, but actually it's an attempt by me to keep tracks. So, this month sees the next Leicester Shindig! This will be held on June 27th at The The Western Pub, 70 Western Road. Doors open at 7:30 and if you want to read get there early, you know the drill. Guest readers include: Luke Kennard, Joel Lane, Simon Perrill and Lydia Towsey. Simon's collection Nitrate, published by Salt, is wonderful, I've written a review on it, which should appear in the next issue of Under The Radar.

The event also sees the launch of the third issue of Hearing Voices which is out now and not available in book shops, but can be purchased via Amazon or send me a message. We've come to the end of the funded issues, there was only money for three. However, issue 4 looks like it's going ahead, following the fate of magazines up and down the country and across the world where there are no tramlines, just wings and prayers. So do buy if you like the sound of it. Here's a pic of issue 3, the front cover was designed by Helen Walsh:

Issue 3 has been guest edited by Alex Plasatis and Melissa Flowerdew-Clarke and features work from Kathleen Bell, Georgina Lock, Matt Merritt, James Walker, Geoff Stevens, and many others, including an 'other' called Maria Taylor.
Other things coming up include the Southwell festival, (can't go this year), featuring Simon Armitage and Matthew Welton. I haven't looked at the full schedule, but I'm sure there are some excellent things going on. Yes, and the Lowdham festival, I may be going in the capacity of woman-helping-out-on-stall-for-DMU, but the twins are coming so it may end up closer to origami, then book selling. There's a talk by John Lucas and a reading by Deborah Tyler-Bennett on June 25th at Lowdham too. My dearest, Jonathan Taylor, is also reading at the Swansea festival tonight, which I couldn't get to, on account of motherhood, but he's reading some of my work.

What else, competitions. Right, I have a phobia of competitions. I'm never sure if they're worth the hassle or not. So, why not just see them as a contribution to worthwhile organisations, such as Cheltenham Buzzwords, judged by Alison Brackebury. A worthy one I think. If you're a woman you could try Mslexia, judged by Jo Shapcott. I'm reading Of Mutability and it's excellent. The lucky woman will win herself £2,000, a week at a writing retreat and an afternoon with Fiona Sampson. There's lots of details on The Poetry Kit, about all these comps, many noteworthy ones are coming up such as the Keats-Shelley Prize, Bridport and others. There's one on Eyewear, celebrating six years of the blog. The prize is £6, there's a lot you can do with that amount, you could enter more competitions for one thing. Will I be entering any, I think not, I'll have to really persuade myself. What I would advise is that on the Mslexia and Poetry Society website, you can browse through the winning entries which is always interesting.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

My Sweet Canary - Remembering Roza Eskinazi

Let’s have a break from writing!

This spring sees the release of ‘My Sweet Canary,’ a documentary of the life of the singer Roza Eskinazi. Roza was born Sarah Skinazi to a Sephardic Jewish family around the turn of the twentieth century. In fact, no one seems to know when she was born; like any diva, Roza was notoriously difficult about revealing the year of her birth. It seems that any year between 1890 and 1910 is credible. Sarah’s family moved to Thessaloniki in Northern Greece and it was around this time, working in a neighbouring city, that Sarah developed her love for singing and dancing, much to her mother’s disgruntlement. Sarah would become Roza, move to Athens and over a span of 50 years or so would become one of the most famous singers in Greece whose influence would spread over the Anatolian region, making her popular in Turkey. Roza herself couldn’t speak Greek at all in her early years.

What fascinates me about Roza is that she was independent, earning money and singing Rembetika at a time when it was seen as ‘un-Greek’ to do so. She also defied borders and gained fans all over South Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Remebetika, the genre Roza was most famous for singing, was synonymous with rebellion. In 1937, a ban was imposed on recording music in the style ofAmane; a singing style that we would associate with music of the Middle East. Singers of Amane were monitored closely.

The End of Amane - it would be back...

It seems strange that anyone would ban singing in a particular way, but the Rembetes seemed to pose a threat to conservative Greece. Many of them had escaped Smyrna in the ‘20s and come to the mainland as unwanted exiles, living underground, inevitably sliding into crime as they couldn’t find work. Roza’s songs often deal with drug addiction, in particular cocaine use, which was a particularly popular drug. Of course this is the 1920s/30s here, not San Fran ’67. Roza persisted and in the 1970s, (at this point in her sixties, maybe seventies, perhaps even eighties, no one knows of course) would enjoy a massive revival in her career and fortunes, appearing in mainstream press and TV as something of an icon. Roza died in 1980.

Her story is a fascinating one, and I’m merely sharing it as a gentle tribute - an acknowledgement if you like – of someone who I think was an intriguing personality and talent.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Age before Ink?

Fig 1. Silly boy...

In  the last few issues of The Rialto, there has been a great deal of discussion about poetry written by the young. In this case under 35, well you can imagine my relief being 32 at time of printing. Now I'm 33, with not so long to go before my 36th birthday grabs me by the ankles and pulls me into a pit of decrepitude. According to Nathan Hamilton, lovely man, us 30-35s are still young because our 'frontal cortex' has 'not finished developing.' Therefore, 'good news: at 35, you are still a young poet.' Well that made me feel like cracking open a bottle of cider and hanging out at the shopping precinct in a Nirvana T-Shirt. But then, oh misery, someone wrote a letter saying that 30-35 was 'too old,' apparently many of us have a 'des res, double garage and two children by then.' Well I have twins and I'm fond of where I live so that's more sand grains through the hourglass then. Blimey. Then I read a letter by D.A. Prince, a local poet, a very gifted local poet who I've read and have listened to at various readings, saying the debate is 'irrelevant.' You know I think it's partly Chatterton's fault. There's this obsession with youth and writing, when perhaps there needn't be. I suppose it's all those smouldering portraits of young romantics that support this myth. But if Nathan Hamilton still thinks I'm young, then great. I'm off for a joy ride in my hoody, thanks Nathan, on behalf of many confused early 30 somethings.
                 Perhaps the most positive reason for getting excited about young writers is one of promise. Obviously if someone is a gifted young writer, than surely it means that they can only continue to progress and write wonderfully as they age, (you know, even at 38, 39 for instance*). At worst, I hate it when publishers think they can capitalise on a sexy photo of some young thing. Perhaps this happens a little more in prose? I'd like to think writing is writing and not the X factor. There are many gifted older writers about who are in their 70s, 80s and beyond. Les Murray, Roy Fisher, Ruth Stone, Gerard Benson, Diana Athill and others I could mention. Thomas Chatterton was a silly boy.

(* this is called IRONY.)

Kaleidoscopes and Pingggk!

On Sunday I gave a reading at Warwick Uni as part of Kaleidoscope, a conference on the use of colour in the arts. I had to think about how I use colour in my writing, which was unusual because I wasn't sure how conscious I was of doing this in my own writing. Having to plan got me thinking quite hard about the subject. Some patterns began to crop up, such as the using colour to write about memory; writing about light rather than individual colours and how colour is a suggestive rather than simply a descriptive tool in writing. I read with Roz Goddard, Matt Nunn and Matt Merritt. Everyone had their own unique approach to the subject of colour: urban decay, football, nature, memory. Roz, Matt and Matt read work which was very striking, it was quite simply a very high standard of poetry.
             After the reading my twins crept in and entertained the audience with their toddler antics; running and jumping over the sofas in the Writers' room at Milburn House. They were over the moon when they discovered a box of toys no doubt used by David Morley's children when they're around. Very different ambience at that point. Returning to the reading, there were some interesting questions at the end too and prompted some lively debate veering off the main topic of colour and thinking more specifically about how we write about 'home' where ever that may or may have been.
         Last night went over to Pingggk in Leicester and heard my mate Roy Marshall read. He even played the guitar. It was rather a relaxed evening with lots of homely ginger biscuits - baked by the fair hands of Bobba Cass - being handed around. Roy was a great reader and entertainer, but I knew he would be. He certainly has a way with words, many editors have concured with this.