Images and video from Recall project at Falinge

After last weeks session At Falinge Park High school I am delighted to see that the school have now added some video and images to their web site.

Click here for more from Falinge website

Click here for the video

Thanks once again to Simon De Courcey for inviting me to be part of this excellent project and to the young people from Rochdale, Bury, Swinton and North Manchester for their
enthusiasm and hard work during a very busy morning – well done to all!

Hopefully I’ll soon have a couple of audio samples of the work produced by some of the young people and they’ll be posted here shortly.

 

 

 

Brilliant morning with young people at Falinge Park High School

I had  the privilege of working with some great young people at Horse Carrs next door to Falinge Park High School. A group of young people from Falling were joined by students, and staff, from three other schools:

St. Ambrose Barlow, Swinton

Abraham Moss, Manchester North

The Derby High School, Bury

The session was part of the joint “Recall Project” funded by the excellent Ideas Foundation. With the aim of helping to develop learner’s understanding of poetry from the GCSE Anthology they took part in a physical/dance session with CantDanceCan and a creative poetry session with myself.
With a surprise burst of snow in the morning there were travel delays from some schools and the first session was shorter than planned. In spite of this a group of around 20 young people listened to a little poetry and advice about writing before getting stuck in to creating some brand new work the their own with topics ranging from sport to family and the challenging topic of bullying. The short time left a number of the students with unfinished poems and little chance to memorise and perform their work but everyone had the basis of some really interesting writing. The degree of enthusiasm and also the willingness of all of these young people to ask for help, discuss options and then act on them really was inspiring.
It was also a lovely surprise to find the when some of our street-wise young people with all the modern language and mannerisms go off to “chill” in Falinge Park with their mates they chat about stuff that matters to them and they still play cops and robbers like so many generations before them.

While I worked with one group of students the other half worked on physical interpretations of the GCSE poems with CantDanceCan. After a brief break the two groups swapped over and the second workshops began.

The young people from all of the schools were superb and in as little as 75 minutes we had poems produced on topics ranging from travel to the importance of family, discrimination and personal stories of overcoming adversity. Some of the young people were even able to perform their new work from memory while the less confident had the chance to have their work read to the group.

As always working with young people, enabling them to express themselves in new ways, building confidence to think and talk about issues, led to a rewarding and inspirational experience.

Enormous thanks to Falinge Park High School, and Simon De Courcey in particular, for inviting me to run the poetry sessions.

I’ll post further links with images and perhaps some samples of the work created once the school has edited video and images from the morning.

Working with high school students in Rochdale

In a couple of days I’ll be working with high school students in Rochdale running a session that will not only help them to create some brand new work of their own but inspire them and help them with memorising and performing their poems.

During the morning they’ll also be working to create physical interpretations of a couple of poems from the GCSE syllabus so of course I’ll be referencing those poems and activities in my session.

 

I’ll post much more in a review, including revealing which school is involved, after the session.

For now I’m full of anticipation looking forward to what should be a really interesting and inspirational day.

 

 

New writing – who, what, where & why?

In my last post I said that I would talk about some of my new writing; so this post, albeit somewhat later than expected, is built around that idea.

I thought it might be interesting to look at who or what I am writing about, where I write and the most important question which is why. So for a number of my more recently completes poems I’ve set out answers to those questions – I think I may learn more from this than my readers do – it would be really interesting to hear back from readers perhaps with their own answers to some of those questions….

So here goes, some poems I’ve completed recently (there are always a few still in development at any time and in some ways my poems are never really finished):

Mental Stuttering

Who? – This is partly about me but also about anyone reading or performing with an audience.

What? – The poem looks at how whilst being calm and professional on the outside we can still be stuttering and stumbling on the inside.

Where? – I started to make notes on this idea straight after a poetry event and then worked on it at home over a period of time.

Why? – This is always likely to be the hardest question and in this instance it came from watching people reading for their first time and remembering how that felt. Perhaps I wrote is as a reminder to myself that the poem always differs a little every time it is read – because of my own internal mental stuttering.

 

An understanding of cattle

Who? – This is a poem about my Dad and there’s a fair bit of my uncle Dan, one of his brothers, in there too.

What? – The poem talks about the nature of people through the way they can develop an understanding of other animals. The understanding of cattle becomes a metaphor for a much wider understanding of life and the attributes that make that possible.

Where? – I can’t remember when I first started on this poem but it has developed in my notebook for a good few months before becoming a single piece to be edited and formed into a “completed” poem. The work has often been done in quiet moments wherever I happen to be and strangely that matched the theme quite well.

Why? – Something reminded me that most people don’t seem to understand most animals very well and the concept of the poem was there straight away. It quickly became a poem about my Dad and memories of my Uncle Dan also fitted in so it becomes part of a growing collection of writing about family.

 

Swabbed for MRSA

Who? – This one is about my own personal experience.

What? – I wrote this about being in hospital overnight to be checked over for some sort of heart irregularity. It turned out to be a fairly fruitless visit because my heart refused to misbehave while I was there but I wrote about some of the things going on overnight.

Where? – I actually started making notes and putting together a few lines on my mobile phone while I was in the hospital. The development then took place over a year later whilst pausing for a brew or whilst working in my office.

Why? – It started as a record of what it was like to be admitted with an erratic heart beat and it felt significant and topically current that the first thing they did was swab me for MRSA.

 

Writing as a career – a review

new-poem-200715Strange business this writing stuff; we get so involved in the creative process that the other jobs, seemingly more mundane or prosaic get pushed back.

To be a writer one simply needs to write. To be a prolific writer one needs to write a great deal. We can dedicate our whole lives to writing and ignore the mundane; forget washing, cleaning and even to a large extent eating.

We can become writing machines putting all of our thoughts on paper, tablets, computers or dictaphones.

So it really is true that anyone can be a writer.

There are of course some really big “buts” coming:

  1. You can spend your whole life writing to the exclusion of all else BUT it doesn’t make your writing good.
  2. You can spend your whole life writing to the exclusion of all else BUT it doesn’t pay the bills.
  3. You can spend your whole life writing to the exclusion of all else BUT it doesn’t feed the family.
  4. You can spend your whole life writing to the exclusion of all else BUT that isn’t very professional.

So if you are no longer satisfied with your status as a happy amateur, if you want to find a wider audience or swim in a bigger pond then you’ll need to become proactive, make some changes and embrace some of the things you haven’t done yet.

In my case I began the process by looking at what I could do along with my writing to start to develop a career doing this thing that I love. I’ve always been something of a teacher, I love the feeling I get when I’ve helped someone learn something new, gain confidence or learn new skills so passing on my love of writing to others was an obvious choice.

Over the last 12 years or so (from long before I considered writing as a career option) I’ve produced and delivered a good number of workshops for writers. More recently, as a serious career step, I created several new workshops ready to deliver to anyone from the age of about 8. I got myself bookings and ran workshops and readings with consistently good feedback and towards the end of the year it was time to stretch myself again. I’ve still some areas to push a bit more to consider myself more professional and these include:

  • Producing some proper publicity materials
  • Actively promoting my workshops to new organisations and schools
  • Developing communications through a mailing list
  • Developing some new workshops and materials for 2017
  • Developing a new market in staff development and inspirational talks
  • Developing a longer term plan – something to carry me through the next few years

So what else?

  • I’ve started submitting some work to publishers
  • I’ve started entering some work into competitions
  • I’ve taken my work to new audiences
  • I’ve learnt to make audio recordings of my work and use those recordings for publicity etc.

These might seem like simple everyday tasks, and in reality they are, but in the development of a writer they are either milestones or hurdles to be passed before moving on to the next level. Perhaps some of these are made more difficult by the writers’ biggest hurdle “the fear of rejection” even though rejection is common for even the most successful writers. It is important to see each rejection as what it is, i.e. that the particular piece of writing in that particular form didn’t meet the needs of the person rejecting it. It might be that the writing was not good enough but assuming that you are serious about developing as a writer then you’ll want to improve the writing and make it better.

Occasionally a plan doesn’t quite work as anticipated, for example when the “sound guy” at your biggest gig of the year forgets to press the record button. The most important thing in those situations is to keep on moving forwards and not to be held back by worries about what might have been.

So as we head into a new year I’ll be concentrating on these areas but of course none of that is worth a minute of your time unless you continue to create new writing – there’ll be more about new writing in my next post.

 

Write Out Loud – Sale – 15th Nov 2016

After driving around a little while my satnav tried to work out where I was I took a short walk to the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale (SEE HERE FOR MORE INFO)waterside-arts-centre

First impressions: I was met at the door by a very helpful staff member who asked me whether I was a guest or audience member, checked my name and politely directed me to the bar where the event organiser would be. A good start and credit to the venue.

As I walked into the bar Sarah Pritchard the organiser introduced herself and introduced those who were already present including her co-host Mo and my fellow guest Laura Taylor. I’ve seen Laura perform some time ago but not met her for a while. Although I arrived on my own in a location where I knew nobody I never felt alone – this was certainly one of the most welcoming events I’ve attended.

Once the poetry started the two co-hosts each read a couple of pieces before Laura delivered her set including comments about how her poetic journey had developed and some truly excellent poems – body could fail to be moved by her first poem about a difficult childhood which is very cleverly written and very powerful. Laura has sometimes been seen as a punk poet, a protest poet or a political poet but tonight she showed real range and versatility as a poet.

A number of open mic slots followed and although I din’t know most of the names other than Cynthia Buell Thomas and Joy France I was impressed by the work presented and thoroughly enjoyed listening.

It was then time for my own guest slot and as I chatted about my own journey in poetry I read poems that seemed to fit including On the Edge, Seahorses and the short anti-war Truncated.

After my set it was time for a break after which everyone, including the guests, was invited to read another poem before the evening ended with warm and sincerely meant applause and lots of chat between all of those present. It was also nice to meet and chat to Paul Neads of Flapjack Press.

Nobody rushed off early which is a sign of a good night – thanks for having me as a guest poet and well done to the team!

Guesting at Write Out Loud – Sale – Tues 15th November

I started writing poetry as a result of working with college tutor, and now friend, Eileen Lee a good number of years ago. A year or two later through Rochdale library service and in particular Janice Brown, who helped us to set up a writing group based in the library, I found myself on stage for the first time for a National Poetry Day event.

Picture of myself performing at the Marden Poetry Jam - hosted by Julain Jordan

Reading at Marden Poetry Jam – hosted by Julain Jordan

Developing as a poet involves reading and listening to other poets and in that regard Write Out Loud was the organisation that really got me up and running (CLICK HERE for website) and gave me the confidence to take my work to new platforms. I have attended their events in Middleton, Bolton, Wigan and Marsden both reading my own work and listening to others. Founder Julian Jordan was always, and remains, very supportive and in the early days I was massively impressed by poets like Pete Crompton, Tony Walsh, Gemma Lees and Scott Devon. Seeing and hearing these poets made me want to take my own work further, to develop my own style as they had and to get out there and share the stuff that burns inside of me and has to be written.

I am therefore really delighted to be a guest at Write Out Loud’s session in Sale on Tuesday 15th November. The recently relaunched event takes place at the Sale Waterside Arts Centre at 7.30pm and I’m looking forward to renewing old acquaintances and making new ones….

New page for “Examples, samples etc.”

A photo of some old and new dip-pens

A bunch of pens

Over the last week or so I’ve been busily updating parts of my website to make it easier to find things quickly. One of main changes is this new “Examples, samples etc.” page where you can quickly access some of my work.

I’ve also been adding a few audio recordings of some of my poems taken from recent performances in Rochdale and Oldham and these have been included this new page along with written versions.

Photo of Seamus reading on the radio

Reading on the radio – photo courtesy of Hannah

Other changes to the site include another new page “Events & appearances” where you can easily find out about where I am reading my poetry and running workshops, complete with links to recordings, reports and reviews from the events where available.

 

 

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

Reading at Eroica 2016

 

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:

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.

 

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.