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.

Rochdale Fringe Festival gathering pace – Norman Warwick at The Baum 8th October 2015

Thursday 8th July saw second of the Rochdale Fringe Festival events, in the lead up to the Rochdale Literature and ideas Festival, and the final Baum showcase performance from Norman Warwick.

Norm pensive
Norman Warwick in his farewell performance

As I said in my introduction this was a man who needed no introduction; Norm has been a mainstay of the Rochdale arts scene especially through All Across The Arts, Just Poets and the Touchstones Creative Writing Group. There are many writers and artists who have gained so much from working with, being encouraged by and promoted by Norm through the wide range of events, workshops, newspaper column, radio show and his enthusiasm to offer advice, critique and do whatever he can to contribute.

Many of us turned out at the Baum to listen to Norm who was welcomed with a proper Rochdale Rapturous Round of applause and he certainly didn’t disappoint as the whole room laughed along as he told us of a first trip to the barbers, felt the love and hope as his miner dances with the goddess from ‘off the silver screen’ and were moved by his performance of “Lost in the fadeaway diamond time” telling us of the lost of his dear friend and songwriting superstar Townes Van Zandt.

With an open-mic style read around (see pics below) Norm and the audience were regaled poetry and prose from young and old with tales of life from the mundane to the fantastic (or perhaps ridiculous) with a range as varied, entertaining and powerful as we’ve come to expect at this venue. Great stuff!

As Norm heads off to a sunnier retirement he is not likely to stop inspiring, entertaining and supporting artists and Rochdale’s loss will be Lanzarote’s gain.

Meanwhile it falls to those of us remaining to ensure that we continue to have a thriving, developing and welcoming arts scene in Rochdale into the future building on foundations to which Norm has contributes so much over the years.

Superheroes of Slam – Huddersfield 7th October 2015

After an introduction by Julian Jordan who reminded us that slams are the blood sport of poetry and explained the rules and scoring the slam got underway:

IMG_1759
Dave Morgan opens the slam performances

Dave Morgan (above) was up first, the most difficult slot in a slam and a chance for the judges to settle. I was fourth or fifth and unlike my previous go at a slam I didn’t feel too nervous.

After an interesting first half with really diverse poems 5 poets with the highest scores had qualified for the final. I wasn’t either too surprised or too disappointed to find myself in the other half; realising that my style lends itself more to a different and less competitive style and learning more about what it takes to deliver a potential winning poem.

The final saw many high scores but at the end the highest scores were awarded to Rose Condo who, in agreement with the judges, I felt was the strongest performer of the night. Rose will now have a place in the Manchester based final of the Commonword Super Heroes of Slam.

IMG_1767
Slam winner Rose Condo

Julian was right; this is the blood sport of poetry but it was also a great night out and credit to the newish venue Bar 1:22 in Huddersfield which is likely to find itself hosting spoken word more frequently in the future.

I said in a previous post (3rd August) that entering the slam would be stepping outside my comfort zone  trigger some creativity and give myself a deadline.

All of that turned out to be true but as the day of the slam approached I stepped much further outside my comfort zone, gave up that day job, started establishing my own creative business and re-registered with agencies do some part time teaching.

I’m writing as much as I can, creating some new workshops, developing new images for sale, making and remaking contacts and getting out on the poetry scene as much as I can.

It is a bit scary, it is exciting and although outside of the norm, out of my comfort zone and a bit precarious it has made me feel rejuvenated, more comfortable and sane than I’ve felt for ages and I find myself looking forwards – wondering just how far I can go rather than whether to go at all.

So if anyone needs a facilitator, a compere, a poet, needs some workshops, needs some commissioned writing, wants some new images or just some inspirational words just give me a shout….

info@seamuskellypoetry.co.uk
www.imagesbyseamuskelly.co.uk

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

Coffee House Night – 28th September 2015

Coffee House Night, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, Monday 28 September 2015
Looking for something new, a chance to hear new voices and enjoy new venues we headed over to Huddersfield for the Coffee House Night;

Queen’s Coffee Shop at the Lawrence Batley Theatre
FullSizeRender

Coffee House Night opened a new season on Monday 28th September in Queenie’s Coffee Shop at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield. We were welcomed on arrival by organiser, compere and performance poet Rose Condo.

Rose opened the night with a poem and introduced the first open-mic poets including a stand-out, 5 minute set from the youngest poet in the room, Theo Ayres, with his unique, imaginative and creative style.

The Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield
IMG_1752
The first special guest Wigan’s Louise Fazackerley wound up the first half of the night in terrific style with her powerful tales of everyday life in the North. After a brief break to refresh drinks Rose introduced the next of open-mic poets. I read two of my own poems and then the second special guest David Jarman, poet and songwriter from York, entertained with his brand of rapid fire rhythm and rhyme to finish the session.

This was an entertaining night with an appreciative audience in a café with excellent drinks and cakes – what more could a poet want; except another Coffee House Night on 26 October?

The Business of Writing

Funny thing about all this poetry; the more you get involved, the more you perform, the more you hear and the more you read the more you tend to write.

Nothing prompts a flurry of creative activity like having a looming deadline, a performance or a workshop to deliver.

I’ve usually got a few things on the go, anything from three to half a dozen; when a deadline looms at least a couple of those will get finished.

Once the writing starts then it multiplies, even when you’ve not got a pen, dictaphone or a computer to hand stuff is still happening in your mind – if I seem a bit distant sometimes that might be why. Finishing one or two of those “on-the-go” poems inevitably leads to more than that number of new ideas filling pages of the notebook – and it is almost always a notebook.

Some of the time I’ve also got other, non-poetic, writing on the go as well, at the moment and for the last year or so that means a couple of rather large stories that somehow keep rolling around in my mind and bit by bit start appearing on paper or on a memory chip. The current ones involve; bikes, a revolutionary tale, some elements of steampunk, some dark stuff, a fair few struggles and a bit of hope; all the things you tend to find in fairly lengthy stories.

One has the working title of “Circling the Darkness” which I liked so much I almost nicked it for a poem but it has far too much material in there to fit into a poem (unless it were one of those single-poem books). There’s a picture of the notebook where it started here:

They don’t have verses or stanzas but tend instead to have chapters and they don’t necessarily come in the right order. And they have characters who don’t necessarily end up the way they were first envisaged. they have plots which can go off unexpectedly to new area and they may at some time in the future have endings, just maybe. A bit like poems they might start off with a title but I expect that like poems the title, the one they end up with, will come along at the end of the process which in these cases might be a very long time away.

The business of writing would take much more time than there is available, even if you stopped doing everything else so I’ve come to the realisation that in the end it really does need to be treated as a business or a project. It needs to be allocated to certain times, it needs to have some kind of targets (for motivation – you might even call them deadlines – although that might be a title for a collection of poems….), it needs to be organised and to be considered successful it needs to have some kind of an end result.

So I’m looking at a project management approach to some of my writing. The project won’t always be something like “To produce a poem about xxxx”; it is often likely to be to work with the idea of xxxx and if there is a poem or a story in there then write it.

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!

Café Frug – Open mic – St. Ives Arts Club

A regular Thursday night event, Café Frug, at St Ives Art Club features local poets, writers, musicians  and slots for people like myself visiting or on their holidays. The Arts Club has been running since 1890 and provides a wide range of artistic opportunities within the historical seafront building on the harbour including a gallery downstairs and a theatre complete with stage, lights etc. upstairs.

Find out more about the club and its activities at: http://www.stivesartsclub.org/index.html

The evening is run by Bob Devereux, something of a local legend and a talented poet with a unique style. Bob has been writing and performing poetry since touring with bands in the early 1970s and is still going strong in 2015 at the age of 75. As well as his poetry Bob is an abstract expressionist artist, a librettist and teacher. You can read more about Bob online or catch some of his performances on YouTube.

When we arrived around 7.30pm we met Bob who introduced himself, I told him that I’d been at The Union on Monday evening and after hearing me read one of the musicians, Pete Low, suggested I come along to the Frug. Bob said they’d love to hear some poems and told us that things would kick off around 8.15pm giving us plenty of time to go and grab some chips on the seafront.

After an opening short set by Bob accompanied by talented guitarist Adrian O’Reilly the open mic session opened and I was invited on stage to read a few poems.

The theatre is an intimate setting and the acoustics were great and it was really nice to be able to speak and be heard clearly throughout the room without needing a microphone.

Sitting on the well lit stage with the audience almost in darkness was very new to me but after a few moments I could see the audience well enough to be able to communicate with them and having briefly introduced myself I read three poems:

  • Seahorses – A story about my teacher in the last years of primary school, Mr. O’Connell, who really did keep seahorses outside the classroom (you can read “Seahorses” here)
  • Standby – quickly got the audience on side with its take on modern life and how things have changed changed (you can read “Standby” here)
  • Dead Eyes – a painfully sad poem about child soldiers which had the audience listening in total silence before applause and several expressions of “Wow!” after it finished (you can read “Dead Eyes” here)

That was a good amount to perform at most open mic nights but this had been part 1 and after a short break and a couple of tunes from Adrian we had a second round of performances and I was asked for another three poems. This time I read the following:

  • Blank – a poem about trying to write when under time pressure. The audience, many of whom were writers, clearly understood and recognised the issues and it was very warmly received (you can read “Blank” here)
  • The Curse- another short and sad poem this time about dementia (you can read “The Curse” here)
  • Different Dad – a slightly silly poem to lift the mood and entertain and which left the audience laughing and smiling (you can read “Different Dad” here)
The night was wound up in style by Bob and Adrian and we headed off into the fresh sea air at around 11.00pm.
Another excellent session and well worth going, either to listen or to perform, if you are ever in St Ives on a Thursday night, check the website (above) to make sure Café Frug is happening that week and bring your own drink – glasses are provided.
Admission is £4.00 each but performers get free admission.

Open Mic – The Union, St. Ives

Sometimes stepping outside your comfort zone is a good way to develop confidence and skills. Whilst on holiday I read that there was an open mic night at The Union Inn in St Ives. Having walked past the pub the previous night, with my wife Maggie, it was clear that this is not a quiet venue but one filled with atmosphere and noise – great for the musicians who would perform but challenging for a poet – and I was the only poet!

There was plenty of music from wannabes to experienced musicians and the mood was loud and lively. Maggie and I watched, and listened to, a wide variety of performances from folk to rock and the crowd were tapping feet and singing along almost as soon as things got going a little after 9.00pm.

At around 11.00pm, after plenty of music filling the crowded bar, Mickey, the host and lead performer for the night, told me I’d be up next.

Facing a very crowded pub with a busy bar full of punters I was unsure of how they’d react, they’d come for a drink and to enjoy the music so having been introduced I led off with Standby – good for my confidence as most people tend to understand the theme and quickly get engaged. Sure enough almost as soon as I had introduced myself and started my first poem, Standby, with the words; “My old television had a big old switch, on and off, with a clunk” the whole crowd, at least 60 or 70 people crammed in, stopped chattering and I had a really appreciative and attentive audience. (You can read Standby here: here)

I followed with my anti-war poem Dead Eyes about child soldiers and you could hear a pin drop and there were tears in a few eyes. A brief pause to let the poem sink in, or just caused by the impact of the poem and then they applauded, a kind of polite applause at first then building up as the audience appreciate the feelings they’ve just experienced. (You can read Dead Eyes here: here)

Mickey asked me for one more poem so I went with Different Dad which can always pick the audience back up and they were happy, smiling and cheering with their applause as I finished and said my thank-you’s. (You can read Different Dad here)

We stayed until midnight listening to more music, tapping feet and singing along. I declined Mickey’s offer to join himself and fellow musicians at the microphone, this time to sing along, he may have been impressed by my poetry but I’m not so sure about my singing voice!

We would certainly recommend this night for anyone visiting St. Ives and if you are a poet then why not step outside that comfort zone, take that risk – I did and it paid dividends giving a massive buzz, building confidence and reminding me that my poetry doesn’t have to be delivered in the traditional “friendly, supportive” setting.

What a night, what a buzz!