Rochdale Literature Festival Fringe – Vibe – 23rd October 2016

The Fringe event at Vibe on Drake Street in Rochdale had grown this year. Over 70 people crammed in this morning to see and hear a range of acts and they were certainly not disappointed.

Organiser Steve Cooke and compere Norman Warwick professionally introduced the acts, smoothed the technical issues and put everyone at their ease.

After some last minute alterations to the programme I was to follow a performance by Touchstones Creative Writing Groups (Pulling Threads their performance arm) who gave a very powerful and moving performance of their 1st World War commemorative piece. A quick change to my set saw my short poem about our government’s decision to bomb Syria prefaced by an appropriate verse from “Where have all the flowers gone” by Pete Seeger.

My set then included “A platform I don’t know”, “Infinity”, “Mental stuttering”, “Funeral poems”, “Come on Hat” and ended with a poem about my uncle Pat called “Come on hat”.

You can find a recording of A platform I don’t know by CLICKING HERE

I’ll add or link to a review of the event in the next few days.

A week is a long time in poetry (or is it?)

jam-seamusOr of course it is, and of course it isn’t!

Thats the beauty of poetry, you can make of it what you will.

This stuff is all about words, meanings and how we put things together; for example in the line above “make of it what you will” means to you can interpret something as you desire (“will” understood as the expression of the future tense) but can equally be read as you can make of it the thing you are going to make (“will” this time understood as the expression of an inevitable event).

That’s the thing with poetry, it can be taken in different ways, the writer can decide whether to determine what the reader or listener is likely to hear or the poet can leave the reader to create their own interpretations. Anyway enough of this grammatical chicanery; a week is a long time in poetry.

So is a week a long time in poetry?

Sometimes it can feel that way as an anticipated event draws near and preparation is done at a nice leisurely pace, other times when there is to be too little time to prepare that week can fly by in what seems like an instant.

This week for me involves lots of work on our upgraded kitchen (tiling, electrical sockets and a bit of decorating so far) as well as  3 poetry events and hopefully a bit of time to think and to write something new. The literary content of the week looks a bit like this:

  • This evening we’ll be relaxing in Littleborough at Robin Parker’s open mic event (at the Red Lion from 7.30pm). Last year this was a really pleasant evening with the chance to see and hear some brand new poets and to catch up with a couple I’d not seen for quite a while. This event has the added bonus of being within walking distance from home.
  • Tomorrow I may be delivering a workshop although even at this stage the exact details are still to be confirmed because I’ve been asked to step in as a last minute replacement for the facilitator who has been unable to take part.
  • On Friday I’ll be heading off with my wife to see author Joanne Harris (writer of novels including “Chocolat” with her new book “Different Class”) as part of Rochdale’s Literary and Ideas Festival.
  • Finally on Sunday as part of theFringe events for the 2016 Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival I will be delivering a 20 minute set at Bar Vibe on Drake Street. The event will kick off at 11.00am with Steve Cooke opening and introducing Norman Warwick, back briefly from his retirement in Lanzarote, and a string of local talent in writing and music. I’ll be taking the stage at 13.10 and expect to bring some new and some old, some happy and some sad and of course I’ll probably change my mind depending on the prevailing mood of the event.

So this week is a busy one poetically and that makes it feel like a relatively short week in poetry after all.


Oldham Library on National Poetry Day

Now as the metaphorical poetic dust settles on National Poetry Day 2016 it is time to look back and reflect on a busy and rewarding day. My day started with an early trip to Pleckgate High School in Blackburn and my morning there is the subject of its own blog post HERE. In the evening after a quick change and a bite to eat I was off to run a session for Oldham Libraries.

Way back in May I had a message from Oldham Library asking if I was available to run an evening poetry session for National Poetry Day in October. A little discussion followed around the nature of the session required, times and fees and the session was duly booked. Some basic biographical information, detail of the workshop and a photo were provided for publicity purposes and all was set with 5 months still to go.

A few days before the event I was contacted by the super-helpful Sam Thornley from the Library to enquire if there was anything I would need for the session and make sure all was in hand. On the day it was Sam who met me as I arrived at the Library, showed me to the performance are and to the dressing room complete with tea and coffee and a key so that I could leave things securely. This this was the first time I’ve been offered a dressing room; I found myself wishing that I’d not get ready before leaving the house.

I started the session by sharing a few of my poems and a couple by Seamus Heaney and Pablo Neruda and followed that up with a brief chat with the participants. It turned out, as it often does, that some people were already fairly accomplished writers with a number coming from various local writing groups, others were keen to refine or develop skills and techniques whilst some others had not yet written any poetry at all.

I based the session on my Power of Poetry workshop (see details of my workshops HERE) and everyone got involved in discussion and creating something brand new. Samples of some lines/thoughts from the participants are shown below:



As we headed home Sam was already collecting the first feedback from participants so that the next morning he could email me with some feedback including:

  • the audience found the session to be fantastic!
  • We have had many rating the workshop as excellent
  • one lady told us it was “life changing”; many have even requested that we host similar events more often in the future.

I am of course delighted with this feedback and look forward to further opportunities to work with Oldham Library.


Pleckgate High School – Blackburn – National Poetry Day

A bright and early start took me over the rather beautiful hills to Blackburn while the sun was coming up and before the roads got too busy. I arrived at school and having signed in I was taken to the library to prepare with coffee and a biscuit kindly provided by librarian Carol Holland.

The programme for the morning was to include two sessions for children from Year 8 and one session for children from Year 7. Then I’d have a little time to relax before lunch and an open floor session for students and teachers. With a bottle of water and flipchart at the ready I was ready to begin.

The first 45 youngsters were ushered in and we were ready to roll. I asked them what they had expected a poet to be like, the answers were great:

  • They have beards
  • They have eyes
  • They can talk
  • They look like anybody
  • They have glasses
  • They are highly educated
  • They have eyes
  • They have a pen
  • They are intelligent

A quick chat about messages (the theme for the day) revealed that text messages and various mobile apps were most popular for this group but they were pretty knowledgable about less mode ways of sending messages too. They knew about carrier pigeons, facial expressions, smoke signals and of course the good old letter sent through the post, one even suggested the letters by types on a typewriter.

Soon we were into the swing with poetry starting with Jabberwocky, followed by one of my own poems and then heading off to create a mini production based around Albert and the Lion.

These young people did themselves, and their school, proud being willing to take part, getting thoroughly involved and having a good time too. There were some very impressive performances from fearsome lions, slightly casual parents and a couple of very evasive zoo managers not to mention a trio of Alberts who managed to be eaten extremely well. They also showed great understanding and a real willingness to discuss issues and give considered responses.

The second and third groups were equally engaged and engaging and the morning was flying by in a blur of poems, discussions and lots of questions.

Thats one of the things about young people aged 11 and 12; they are still comfortable asking questions, they don’t worry too much about what you can and what you cannot ask. During the day I was asked lots of questions and some of the best were:

  • why are you a poet?
  • When did you first start writing poetry?
  • Will you read us your favourite poem?
  • How long does it take to write a poem?
  • How much do poets get paid?

All in all a grand morning sharing my passion for poetry with young people and hopefully igniting a few metaphorical sparks along the way.

Poeting for National Poetry Day 2016

workshop-prep-aug-16smallThis Thursday, 6th October, is National Poetry day here in the United Kingdom and there is no shortage of poetry related activity around the country. If your diary isn’t already full

Tonight I’m looking forward to a busy poetry packed day which will see me working with as many as 200 young people in a Lancashire high school in the morning. We’ll discover more about the messages in poetry, head off on an adventure and of course write and share some brand new poetry; all without leaving the library (or learning resource centre as we call them in schools these days).

If your diary isn’t already full then I’ll be off to Oldham where I’ll be running my “The Power of Poetry” workshop in the evening. There are still places available and the event is provided free of charge by Oldham Library but places should be booked online at

Starting at 6.30pm I’ll be sharing some poems, and showing how poetry can convey our stories, ideas and emotions with great power. I’ll guide and inspire new writers (and those with more experience) with handy techniques to create writing full of power and feeling. Everyone will be able to leave with a brand new work to be taken away, to be polished, nurtured and to be proud of.