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:

img_2585

 

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.

 

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….

Kultura – August 2016 with James Nash

A short trip up the road to Todmorden for Kultura at Kava is always rewarded with a mixture of quality poetry, unexpected insights from the guest lecturer and of course and excellent cup of coffee.

kultura james nash

The guest lecturer last week was James Nash, top Yorkshire poet, who gave an interesting talk about how growing up in urban environments and now spending a significant proportion of his time in the country has influenced his writing, reading and life. He referenced influential writers, poets and songwriters  and I particularly enjoyed the section about walking along a dark country lane in Wales with references to both Wordsworth and Henry Vaughan. Having spent much of my time in the country James’ experiences often contrasted with my own and I was inspired to draft a little piece after the lecture reflecting my own experience of the total darkness in the countryside as a teenager.

Picture of James Nash lecture and my notes

James Nash’s lecture and my notes from the evening

Feature poet for the night was Atar Hadari, Israeli born poet, writer, playwright actor and mentor with a mix of poems giving new ways of looking at familiar stories from the Old Testament in his own words and translations of works from other writers. He read from his translation of Bialik, from his own book, Rebrandt’s Bible and spoke fondly of his mum rescuing the lamps of deceased Jews. Entertaining, thought provoking and (for some perhaps) a little controversial – great stuff.

John Foggin then read and led the discussion of his favourite poem (at least for the moment) and the evening ended with the open mic session featuring:

Anthony Costelloe, Shirley-Anne Kennedy, Jessica, Jonathan, Simon, Annie, Robert, John and myself.

There are only a few more of these monthly sessions left, as after three busy and successful years, Anthony will be folding up his compere’s music stand with a final flourish at the end of this year.

Remaining dates are – 29 September, 27 October, 24 November and 15 December 2016

And did I mention the coffee – it will still be served at Kava after Kultura has gone….

 

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.

 

Kultura – Kava Cafe, Todmorden, June 2016

If you are looking for something a little different, something a little more intellectual, something more sophisticated or just a poetry evening with really good coffee then Kava Cafe in Todmorden is the place to go.

A monthly session, run by Anthony Costello and Shirley-Anne Kennedy, Kultura takes a different format from most open mic poetry events with a guest lecturer, a feature poet and a reading and discussion of a favourite poem all of which is followed by an open mic session generally with around 8 slots available. It is also unusual in that the majority of the audience does not consist of those aiming to read in the open mic. All of this leads to an informative, thought-provoking evening with plenty of entertainment.

The next Kultura will take place on 25th August 2016 and the poetry lecture will be by James Morgan Nash and the feature poet is Atar Hadari.

You can find more about Kultura from their own blog at: Kultura Blog

Below you can see my notes, in original scribbled form and the edited version from the Kultura session in June 2016 with the topic of the lecture reflected in my doodled sketches relating to vision and eyes:

Image of: My notes from Culture ready to be typed up

My notes from Kultura ready to be typed up

For this session the guest lecturer was unable to attend and that slot was filled at short notice by Anthony Costello himself and his chosen subject was “The Eye of Coleridge”. As is often the case I was unsure whether the subject would prove interesting and as is also usually the case I found it interesting, informative and entertaining – a particularly good job by Anthony considering the short notice he had for preparation. There were elements of Coleridge’s personal life and health that were knew to me and with examples of references to eyes in his work and his view s a seer or magician there was plenty to learn. The lectures are available in printed form at Kultura including copies for previous lectures.

The feature poet for the night was Peter Riley, award winning author of 10 books of poetry as well as being a well respected editor and essayist. Peter read his “earliest readable poem” and also from a sequence of verse written in his time in a traditional village in Transylvania which was under threat from modern life. Perter followed these with a few poems from north Derbyshire and the edge of the Peak District. Peter’s poems, which are full of atmosphere and create great little sketches of the places and people, were very well received by the audience.

Gaia Holmes shared and led the discussion of “Homing” by Liz Berry before an open mic session with 8 readers closed the session.

 

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.

Eroica Set List grows

With just 2 weeks today until Britain’s most handsome festival of all things cycling and vintage my set list is taking shape. Like myself it has become a bit larger than it ought to be and over the next couple of weeks it needs to trim down a little.

Picture of my developing set list for Eroica 2016 in notebook

My developing set list for Eroica 2016

There are a poems that have been heard around the country, poems that have only been heard close to home and a few that have never yet been heard in public. The task challenge in finalising a set list is to appeal to the audience, to get over whatever messages are intended, to give the audience a range of emotional experiences and of course to do the things we love to do. For my Eroica set the questions include:

How many poems about cycling? (currently 5 or 6 on the long-list)

How many political poems? (tricky just days before the referendum, 1 or 2 on the shortlist)

How many personal and family poems? (a few that have wide enough appeal)

Can I risk the really serious subjects? (can I avoid them – no – so yes there’s a few in the long list)

Can I risk making the audience cry? (can I even stop them crying)

Should I give them something to laugh or smile about? (of course – even if just to stop them crying)

How many old ones?

How many new ones?

How many can I fit into a half hour set with room to breathe, to listen, to digest, to laugh or cry and to chat with the audience?

So here I am in the middle of the night adding and subtracting from the list, a mini-referendum for each poem; in or out?

And as I think I’m nearly there I wonder about finishing one or two of the bunch of poems still under construction, but it gets late and “what if they aren’t ready, what if they won’t be good enough?” and the poet tries to get some sleep.

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).

An Evening with Lemn Sissay at Hopwood Hall College

Sometimes when we see a poet perform we might see some new views, gain some insights, find some inspiration or even to learn something about ourselves.

Last night in Middleton it would be fair to say that watching and listening to Lemn Sissay we were privileged to find all of the above in abundance along with real depth of emotion and not a few laughs. The newly appointed Chancellor of the University of Manchester was on brilliant form and shared much of his own story and experience along with a great selection of his poems.

Lemn Sissay Books b
No cameras allowed in the auditorium so here’s a picture of two of Lemn’s books – purchased and signed on the night

In his own words he tends to be “non-linear” and in what appeared to be unrehearsed asides he would drift from the introduction to one of his poems into a chat about something from his life and then back again to eventually read the poem. Both his poetry and his comments were absolutely crammed with terrific insight and a great understanding of life.

Having been brought up in care he has a great understanding of the effects that the care system can have on young people and his thoughts on the Red Box (the “Break Glass in case of Fire” boxes) ought to be compulsory reading for all working on the care system as well as anyone involved in teaching young people. He spoke a great deal about the need for affirmation which we all share and the validation that family, and the search for family, can sometimes offer.

Alongside stories about his ethnic origin, the meaning of his name and some of the many places where he has performed he did of course read plenty of his poems. There were poems about inequality, sad poems, happy poems, a short poem “My dad is a pilot” about his Nigerian father, a single love poem “Invisible kisses” and even a children’s poem.

Lemn Sissay’s face is elastic, his voice madly flexible and his hands expressive. This was truly inspiring performance from a man who seems to thoroughly enjoy sharing, who has a quick incisive mind and wit and delivers it all in such a natural manner with little sign of an ego.

If a poet, a child grown up in care, a man with a social conscience and a man who exudes belief and equality; if such a man can be a university chancellor then maybe we really can make the world a better place.

I’m seriously enjoying dipping into the books I just had to bring home with me.

The event was part of Rochdale’s Literature and Ideas Festival 2015.