What kind of poet am I?

For a quite while I have been struggling with how to describe myself as a poet.

People are perhaps familiar with the terms “performance poet” or “page poet” and then there are   the “slam poets” and those with specific styles like “punk poets” or “beat poets”.

When I refer to myself as a “poet” people invariably ask me what I do. Well of course I can say that I write poetry but of course I do more; but do I perform?

Picture of Seamus reading with a large Union Jack projected in the background

Reading at Eroica 2016

In essence I feel that performance has an element of putting on a persona, or being something different from what you are when you are away from the stage or microphone – it conveys an element of acting. I realised that when I’m in front of an audience or a microphone I’m not acting. What the audience gets is me, Seamus Kelly the poet, telling you things in my own words, with my own emotions and with my own character; the same one you’d find if you talk to me about art, politics or bike racing. It isn’t a performance and I’m fairly clear that I’m not a performance poet.

As for being a “slam poet” I’d not count myself in that group, I’ve done a couple; but over a period of over 10 years I don’t think that qualifies me as a slam poet.

I do write poetry on some sort of page, in a notebook, on a computer, on a tablet and a couple of times on a phone and I’ve turned some of them into a collection in the form of a book for people to read. So all my poetry exists on the page but far more people have heard my poems from my lips than have read them on a page so I’m pretty sure I can’t really be a page poet.

Picture of Seamus with presenter Nicky

Pictured after the show at Roche Valley Radio

I’m certainly neither a punk poet or a beat poet.

So what kind of poet am I?

It might seem strange to be vexed by such a question but I know that others have the same dilemma and some very well known poets have had issues around being categorised as performance poets when they are just being themselves and not putting on an act. This has actually exercised my mind on and off for some considerable time but today I think I’ve come up with the answer.

Eroica set 2016 A

Set list for Eroica 2016

What kind of poet am I?
I am happy to define myself as a “live poet” – that means you can see or hear me read, recite, whisper, shout or otherwise vocalise my poems in my own voice, with my own personality, my own character and no acting. What you see and hear is “live poetry”

Next time I’m asked I know what to say:

 

 

“Seamus Kelly, Live Poet!”

 

Comments and questions very welcome….

Hannah’s Bookshelf – Guest poet on North Manchester FM – 3 Sept 2016

What a great time I had on the radio yesterday afternoon. Having appeared in a brief slot to read some poetry on North Manchester Radio back in July I was delighted to be invited back as the guest on Hannah’s Bookshelf yesterday.

You can find the program on North Manchester Radio HERE.

For a reading, performance or a workshop we (writers and poets) can always prepare fairly comprehensively; usually having a plan with a few extra options so that it can be varied to fit the mood and needs of the audience.

Photo of Seamus reading on the radio

Reading on the radio – photo courtesy of Hannah

As a guest on the radio that preparation is a little different. In this case I knew the show consisted of two sections. In the first I’d be chatting about writing and poetry so it was just a case of having poems, being myself and being prepared to discuss whatever came up. In the second I would talk about three books I’d choose to save in the event of an apocalypse; for this section I could have a good think in advance, select my books, find something to say about why I’d chosen them and make sure they were not already saved by previous guests.

Each guest on Hannah’s Bookshelf selects three books and the choices are added to Hannah’s The Library at the End of Days  which is well worth a look and gives an insight into the range of guests on the show. My choices will be added to the site shortly and are titles by Gerald Durrell, Pablo Neruda and Seamus Heaney.

The whole show will be available online in a couple of days and I’ll post a link HERE.

Hannah has a great, relaxed and supportive style and the discussion flowed naturally including how I first got into poetry, when we reach the point of calling ourselves “poets” and a discussion about some of the things poets do as well as writing poems (e.g. workshops, events, readings, listening to and reading other poets etc.). A handful of poems were added into the mix and two hours simply flew by.

Great fun this radio stuff and it certainly gets easier with practice.

Feedback from Weaving Words – 22nd August 2016

Wow! What a great night over at Heywood Library on Monday.

Manchester pens 1Usually for an event in August we can expect low numbers as people are busy childminding, taking holidays and have lots of things to do other than go out and listen to a poet and take part in a writing workshop. Not this time – the room was full to capacity pushing the Edwardian air conditioning (little windows that opened with a pole) to its limits.

After a lovely (and not yet earned) brew and biscuits and a quick reorganisation of the furniture so everyone had somewhere to sit I was introduced by Eileen Earnshaw for the first “performance” part of the session. As I had planned I used mostly more recent poems supplemented by a few from my book and with excellent responses from the audience we all had a good time talking about bike racing, being an outsider, family, money, politics and modern society.

After the half hour “reading” (performance/reading/telling? – that is a discussion for another post) had flown by it was time for the workshop. We talked about what poetry is and I laid out a few simple rules for the session, gave some examples and offered some advice as I steered the group into creating their own poems of 16 lines. As always in workshop situations I was amazed by the way 20 people can put such different slants on a subject and the stunning and varied ways in which words could be combined to add impact.

New poemWe had poems about people, about places, about words and even about motorbikes and as the session went on I spent time supporting each of the participants whether through ideas, phrasing, choice of words, rhymes etc. Every now and then I’d come across something that really grabbed my attention and that was so clever, unique and powerful that with the permission of the writer would share it with the whole group.

We ended with some of the poets reading their work or having me read to the group on their behalf. Several of the attendees had never written poetry before but you really would know from hearing or seeing their words.

I’m grateful to Weaving Words and Eileen Earnshaw for inviting me to run this session, to Rochdale council and Punam Ramchurn for organising the venue and funding, to Heywood Library for their welcome and facilities and of course to to participants who threw themselves into the session and produced work to be very proud of. Thanks all. Below is some of the feedback received at the event:

Responses:

  • Did you enjoy the session   –  Yes:15     No:0
  • Was the session useful   – Yes:16     No:0
  • Would you attend future sessions   –     Yes:14 No:1
Comments:
  • Excellent, Inspiring
  • Very innovative, learning something new every session
  • Very useful for a technique to write in a more interesting and layered way
  • Really enjoyed the session and I nearly wrote my first poem (to be completed). Thank you very much
  • Great workshop, thought provoking
  • Lovely poetry and great workshop
  • Learnt loads, Seamus was great, loved the poetry and was helpful & encouraging during his workshop

Weaving Words Workshop – ready to roll

With my performance and workshop due tomorrow evening (Monday 22nd August) I had a look over my notes as final preparation – watched over by photos of two very special ladies. The session, organised by Weaving Words and Rochdale Library Service, takes place at Heywood Library and starts at 6.30pm with tea, coffee and biscuits and will run until about 8.30pm.

Picture showing Preparations for Weaving Words August Workshop

Preparations for Weaving Words August Workshop

After a performance of some of my poems including some of my newest ones as well as some from my book Thinking Too Much I’ll be leading a poetry workshop.

The session will be suitable for experienced and aspiring poets as well as those who haven’t tried their hands at poetry. We’ll look at what poetry is all about and then of course, with some support and prompts, everyone will have the chance to produce and perhaps share some brand new poetry. Most of all we should all have fun.

We’ll finish with a chat and for those who’d like to there will be a chance to buy a copy of my book.

It is always a privilege to see and hear brand new work, brand new ideas and to help people discover their own capabilities so I’m really looking forward to the session and it will be nice to catch up with Weaving Words group.

 

Performance and Workshop – Heywood – 22nd August

I’m really looking forward to delivering a special session for the Weaving Words writing group in Heywood. The group normally meet in Rochdale but are not yet able to return to their base at No.1 Riverside due to damage from the floods at the start of the year. In the meantime they have made Heywood Central Library a second home and this event will take place there – you can find the location from this link: Location map – Heywood Central Library

You can keep up to date with Weaving Words session and activities on their Facebook Page by clicking here: Weaving Words on Facebook

Image of the Flyer for Weaving Words workshop

Flyer for Weaving Words workshop

All are welcome and the session will start, as all the best session do, with tea, coffee and biscuits from 6.30pm to 7.00pm. Costs are kindly being covered by Rochdale Library Service and there is no charge for the session.

I’ll read a few poems from my book, Thinking Too Much, plus some newer work and then lead a workshop designed to get everyone writing some poetry. Whether they’ve never written poetry or are past-masters at the art I promise that participants will come away with something brand new to be proud of. They’ll probably even want to share their work with their fellow attendees….

After the workshop I’ll be speaking about all things writing with Eileen Earnshaw from Weaving words there will be time for a chat and of course a chance to buy copies of my book.

Eroica Britannia – The Universal Citizen – a little irony!

So the big day arrived and there I was sitting waiting over to one side of the stage and as the announcer stepped up introduce me I waited for the signal to climb the few steps to the stage.

I’d finally settled on the poems to complete the set the previous evening and they were printed and ready in my hand with a copy of my book as back-up should I decide to make any changes to the set as I went along. All pretty normal except that my hand that was shaking less than it usually might and I was feeling quite calm.

The signal came I stepped onto the steps, thanked the compere for her lovely introduction and walked up to the single microphone in the middle of the stage. There had been no soundcheck so I was a little surprised by the strength of the foldback speakers but at least I knew the audience would be able to hear:

“Hello

I’m Seamus

And I’m

I’m a poet….”

With those first few lines of one of my longest lived poems I introduced myself and hopefully set the mood.

As I did so the organisers projected a massive fluttering Union Jack on the large screen behind me. I had absolutely no idea and as I talked to the audience I had no reason to look back.

Picture of Seamus reading with a large Union Jack projected in the background

Reading at Eroica 2016

Photograph courtesy of my friend Howard Broughton.

My poetry doesn’t shy away from issues and it is no secret that my strong beliefs in social justice and fair treatment for ALL human beings are dear to me and feature large in my writing.

So as I stood (unknowing) in front of that massive symbol of national pride I read “Universal Citizen” pointing out that we are all the same regardless of where we happen to be born, I read “Not like the rest” criticising successive governments for failing to treat some people properly and I read poems about my own Irish (immigrant) background.

I now know (because they told me) that some of the audience loved the irony of that juxtaposition of myself and my words against that flag.

To me Nationalism is all about pride based on things other people have done in a place where we happen to be born or originate from. Of course we can be justifiably proud of our backgrounds but the flag, like all national flags, is not just a symbol of pride and of belonging but it can also be an emblem of difference, a symbol of we are better than you and if not used with care it can become divisive.

I love the place I was born, I love the places my parents were born. There are also other places I have come to love.

I don’t wave flags because where I happened to have been born and where my parents happened to have been born makes me no better, no worse, no more entitled or no more deserving than anyone else.

I am the Universal Citizen; whether you wave a flag behind me or not!

 

As for the set itself? Well the audience were great, very responsive and very attentive. People reacted to all of the less obvious references in the poems although very few picked up the references to Pancho and Lefty. The applause was warm and I was particularly pleased when people I’ve never met before came along to buy copies of my book which of course I was very happy to dedicate for them.

Sunshine and Poetry – Best way to work

This morning the sun has been shining, the mercury nudged past 24 degrees and the garden bench beckoned. I’ve dealt with emails, checked the social media and then set to work in this rather warm and temporary office.

My set list for Eroica Britannia (now only 11 days away) needed some more thought and, as I tend to doodle while I think, I have ended up with the illustrated set list as shown below:

Picture of the set list with doodles

Set list for Eroica 2016

I’ve yet to decide the order for the set but I know where it will start and I have a pretty good idea where it will finish too and the middle will always find its own way if necessary.

Perhaps I’ll produce some printed copies for the audience once it is finalised – I’d be interested to know if people think this is a good idea; please comment here or let me know on Facebook at – “shaycycles”

 

Countdown to Eroica Britannia 2016

Last year the organisers of the UK’s greatest festival of all things cycling and vintage gave me a slot to perform my poetry in their Arts tent. The experience was terrific and you can read about it in my posts from last year’s event.

nib with ink 7

Pen nib with red ink

I am really delighted to say that I’ve been invited back for the 2016 Festival and will be performing at noon on Saturday 18th June.

I’m busy planning my set for the event and I’ll be sure to include some of my poems about cycling and of course some of my newest poetry. It would be safe to assume that the set
will be designed to entertain, to inform and most of all to give pause for thought.

I’ll be reading work from my book “Thinking Too Much” and a range of my more recent work including some about my own family which, although very personal to me, are likely to resonate with any listener. There will be copies of my book available for sale and I’ll be very happy to sign copies after the performance, I may also have a selection of my vintage cycling images for sale and will be happy to take orders on the day.

Come on Hat poem

Here’s one of my recent poems under development- Come on Hat – it may well feature at Eroica Britannia 2016

The full set-list will evolve over the next couple of weeks but it is sure to include:

Too Soon – a poem that looks back to my 3 year old memory of my Grandad and the photo, still displayed in his house, that takes me back 52 years before he was taken too soon.

A minute and a half – one and a half minutes of words that hurt less but evoke the memory and feelings of racing up Monsall Head – a hill that some thousands of riders will tackle the day after my performance; in my case at a much more sedate pace than in the 1980s!

Entitlement – A brief look at the Lance Armstrong story and the American Dream (with a line nicked from John Mellencamp).

A poem about difference

Last week I did something very unusual for me; I wrote a poem directly onto my computer, no rough ideas in my notebook, no scribbled alterations, just straight onto the computer and then edited a few times. There will be a few more edits for certain.

I don’t think this will be a regular thing as the process felt less comfortable than the one I usually use. On the other hand once I had the idea I decided I wanted this poem quickly to be able to share at a particular event and I must admit the computer only process took less time overall.
The result?

Well the audiences at 2 events gave it a pretty big thumbs up.

What does all of this mean? To me it serves as a reminder that there are very many different ways to turn thoughts and ideas into finished writing and poems and that even for the same writer different methods are appropriate and helpful at different times.

The poem itself talks about being an outsider through differences over the years, in this case using the difference from those following and perhaps idolising the more prevalent and popular music of the time.

I’m not going to post the full poem here but a small section of it goes like this:

“In seventy-two

They were all crazy now

Slain by Slade

And I listened to five year old bookends

Still hearing Old Friends

Sat on their park bench”

Thinking Too Much at Bar Vibe – 1st October 2015

A new Rochdale venue, Bar Vibe on Drake Street, and the first of the Fringe events for the Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival.
Bar Vibe, set up by a local charitable organisation, offers a place for people (mainly young people) to perform and create music with a nice stage, an alcohol-free bar, large lounge/study area and a recording studio. Add in the opportunities for music tuition and editing and this looks like a great new facility; they’ve even got a collection of house instruments for those who don’t have access to one of their own.
But for one night this was the home of poetry.
Reading from my new book at Bar Vibe
Introduced by Norman Warwick I read some poems from my book and some newer poems which along with an interview and discussion session hosted by Norm were recorded for All Across The Arts and Crescent Radio.

A great audience joined in the conversation as we talked about outsiders, the creative life, motivation and how (and maybe why) we write.

Norman Warwick asks the questions at Bar Vibe

Audience members then had a chance to share one of their own poems, or a favourite from someone else with the chance for some instant feedback or critique.

Eileen Earnshaw read from Tony Walsh’s excellent “Sex & Love & Rock and Roll” with a rendition of “A Girl, Like, Y’know” that was full of power, belief and passion – I’m sure Tony would have been proud that his poem in the voice of a teenage girl could be given such life by a lady who won’t mind me mentioning that she’s past 70. The audience loved it and demanded another and were treated to “She Never” also from Tony’s book – we could have just let her carry on, this was so good, but others were still to follow.

Marian Tonge gave us “The Enemy” one of her own poems reflecting on war with two soldiers from different sides and the powerful vision of ‘A man, the same as me’ and the local reference in the term ‘dying pals’. Marian then treated us to “Gorilla” a great fun look through the eyes of a nicotine addicted ape – super stuff indeed.

Jackie Philips next up with her poem “What makes a woman” with the balance between ‘strength and champagne’, ‘stubborn, bold’, fury gently controlled and the ‘occasional stinky fart’. She followed this with “And then came man” a tale of man’s lack of care for our planet with the quiet yet powerful phrase ‘polar ice warmed for him’. The audience and I loved it and next on stage was Paul Jelen.

Paul’s quietly spoken poetry isn’t loud and it never needs to be, he says all that he needs to say in calm and measured tone and with deep thought. Paul read two poems “Room” and his second poem “Heaven” with the wonderful line ‘became the loudness of clocks’.

A brief pause to let Paul’s words seep in and Norm was back on stage for a quick poem and to ask for another couple from me to finish the evening.

My enormous gratitude goes to those who came and shared the evening with me and especially to Norm for his usual excellent compering and interviewing skills, to the venue, to Maggie for soothing my brow and keeping me going, to Steve Cooke and Eileen Earnshaw for helping to arrange the event and to those people who bought copies of “Thinking Too Much”, my collection of poems, available fro £7 per copy.

My full set list was:

The churn
Seahorses
Standby
People riding bikes
The Hood
Stranger conversations
A platform I don’t know
The curse
Canakkale
Badger Brushes and Brass
A minute and a half
Honed

Thinking Too Much – The book

Thinking Too Much
a collection of poems by Seamus Kelly

After many hours of toil, editing poems, editing them again, writing an introduction, managing contents, layout, cover and back cover design and liaising with the printers; I finally have my book.

In fact I have a box of books:

booksThinking Too Much – They’re here!
“Quien descubre el quien soy descubrira el quien eres”

The quote above from Pablo Neruda’s La Injustica seemed appropriate for inclusion after the introduction; speaking as it does about discovering others through discovering oneself.

Thinking too much contents page  Contents page – Thinking Too Muc

There are 34 poems in the book covering a wide range of issues from family, love, death and illness, to my own views on society and some of the things that are wrong with it. It isn’t all doom and gloom of course and there are amusing and hopefully inspiring tales in this short collection and I hope readers might make a few discoveries of their own.

So “Thinking Too Much” is here now.

I’ll be finalising a launch event shortly and you’ll be able to read the announcement here, but for those who just can’t wait….

You can catch me and buy a copy at a poetry or writing event for £7 per copy – I’ll be happy to sign it for you.

If you would prefer to have a copy delivered to your door then that can be arranged by emailing me at info@seamuskellypoetry and I can arrange payment through PayPal

The Spoken Word Shindig #23, Hebden Bridge

Last night I headed over to Hebden Bridge for edition number 23 of the Spoken Word Shindig organised by the inimitable Winston Plowes. Nelson’s Wine Bar was crowded from the start and provided a terrific audience who thanks to Winston’s expertly set up PA could hear every word and every pause.

Winston opened the night with an announcement about a future evening in September which will aim to be inclusive for people with hearing impairments and his announcement was given simultaneously in British Sign Language (BSL) by his daughter Maisie. On the night Michael Wilson will be performing and he is renowned not only for his excellent poetry but also for performing his work verbally and using BSL.

Great performances followed from Victoria Gatehouse supporting main guest Noel Whittall before the open mic with a full complement of 14 poets with some really outstanding work not least two really serious and thought provoking sets from Steven Anderson (now known to Winston as “Mr Shindig) and “H”. We were entertained, provoked and perhaps occasionally bewildered and even had guitar accompaniment from one performer; the applause and cheers told the story of a great night.

When I came up to perform at number 13 I had intended to do my anti fox hunting poem, but moved by others poems I chose to do “Not like the rest” a true and sad tale about mental illness, inadequate services and suicide – you can read it here.

First though I decided to read a brand new poem “Strictured Structures” which had started the evening as some ideas and notes in my notebook shown above complete with smudging from condensation dripping from my glass as I wrote. Its about the essence of poetry, mine in particular, and apart from the opening line “I’m an acrostic agnostic” it isn’t available on-line.

Overall another great Shindig night in Hebden that proves that Winston and Nelson’s are doing something right!