Like bees to honey…

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Ooh Beehive in Swindon is going from strength to strength and the people are coming from all around to be involved and share in a great night of entertaining and stimulating spoken word. Last night was no exception and even though I got back in the wee small hours of the morning, it was absolutely worth it…

Ooh Beehive is hosted by Clive Oseman and Nick Lovell and has been going for just under a year in the Beehive pub in Swindon. Clive and Nick will be the first to admit that it has been a roller coaster of a first year in terms of attracting an audience and finding that critical mass of poets and punters, as well as getting the mix of headliners and features spot on. But the formula seems to be working for them now and the fine tuning of an event such as this and it’s establishment on the spoken word scene is starting to really take hold.

On the card last night were headline poet Damian O’Vitch, feature poets Heather Still and Jason N Smith and a raft of regulars and not so regular open mics. When you attract poets from as far a field as Southampton, Stoke on Trent, Birmingham, and Bradford on Avon then you are definitely doing something right and Ooh Beehive has that perfect balance of quality and freshness that all open mic events need. It’s a sweaty rampage through the styles and themes coming up from the grass-roots of spoken word today in the back rooms of pubs all over the country and long may it continue to be there to entertain us and challenge our perceptions.

Heather Still was the first of the featured poets, fresh off her second place in the Swindon Pride Slam. Her set was an almost continuous narrative, linking stories and poems with humour and deft performance. Heather was able to very expertly keep you guessing as to when a poem had started it’s journey out from the story linking the pieces, which meant you were constantly re-adjusting to the set pieces, connecting the dots in your mind as the poems flowed through – this made for a completely engaging performance. Heather will be performing at the next “Uncorked” in Worcester on 7th September and I for one will be there to hear more from this emerging Swindon based poet.

I have seen Jason N Smith on a regular basis over the past few months, our paths crossing at various events throughout the Midlands. Stoke based, yet travelling far and wide to read out, this performance at Ooh Beehive was his first invited feature set and he made the most of his opportunity. He has an electric style of spoken word delivery, talking about his experiences of prison life, mental health and social issues. He delivers his poetry at a fire-brand pace and you have to commit wholeheartedly to follow your way through Jason’s set. But it is worth that commitment, because he is telling the most compelling stories from the heart and that is always worth listening to. He is also starting to refine his style, confident in his material and it’s value to an audience and he is going to develop into a class act over the coming months for sure.

Damian O’Vitch closed out the evening with a tour-de-force of comic poetry, mixing a range of diverse topics with a very special delivery style. He is all about the stand-up performance and has the quality of verse to match it, keeping you second guessing on the direction of his pieces while at the same time slaying you with perfect comic timing and linguistic gymnastics. There is no subject matter too safe from Damian’s forensic examination under the poetry microscope and once he gets his claws into a piece, there is definitely no escape. Damian has that rare ability to mix contemporary political viewpoints with sometimes very subtle humour as well as delivering the full-frontal comic assault. He reminded me a lot of Steve Pottinger in his approach to using humour to question the current state of the nation and that puts his performance in very strong company indeed. I would watch Damian again at the drop of a hat and I am sure he will feature in an upcoming Willis the Poet Comedy Extravaganza in the future.

Great night Ooh Beehive. Put the date in your diary for next month as they will be celebrating their 1st Birthday with some fantastic poets – it is going to be a very special night…

 

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Cheltenham Music Festival…

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So it’s a music festival, with poetry! Love this collaboration between Cheltenham based festivals as last night I got on the open mic at Chapel Arts to experience the festival vibe…

It was a lovely evening’s entertainment too in the gallery space of Chapel Arts, with woodcut seascapes surrounding the performance space and some high quality poetry and wordsmithing thrown into the mix. Anna Saunders, who heads up the Cheltenham Poetry Festival, was on hand to compere the evening and introduce a long list of open mic performers, nestled in between the two headline acts.

Opening the night was Tyler Keevil. Tyler is a novelist, screenwriter, and short story writer from Vancouver, Canada.  He is the author of three award-winning books: FireballThe Drive, and Burrard Inlet and he shared with us a lovely piece of flash fiction, together with an extract from The Drive. Tyler studied English and Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and while there took part in an exchange program that brought him to Lancaster University. After graduating, he lived in Prague for a time, before returning to the UK on a work visa, and eventually settling in Mid Wales. There he got a job with Theatr Powys, a theatre in education company, and at the same time began submitting his stories to various periodicals. Since then, he has received several awards for his short fiction and filmmaking.  He writes both literary and genre fiction, and his work has appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies. Check out more from Tyler on his website:- Tyler Keevil

Bohdan Piasecki was the poet headliner who served up a lovely set of poetry in the second half. I have seen Bohdan perform a full set just once before, but I had forgotten how funny he is when setting context for his poems and then how moving and emotional his poetry is as a counter to the humour. He talks about family history, the meaning of home and place and delivers it with an engaging and original style. When he breaks into Polish halfway through a poem, it loses nothing of it’s meaning or imagery, but instead reminds us of upbringing and diversity, themes which underpin Bohdan’s work. Bohdan formed the first poetry slam in Poland in 2003 and since then has been touring and performing poetry all over the world. If there’s a festival, the chances are you will find him in it and when he’s not there, he’s being featured on The Verb (Radio 3) or Poetry Please (Radio 4). A brilliant performer and always worth seeing again and again.

 

Poetry and Art – what’s the difference?…

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The question of whether poetry is art or art is poetry started me on a quest to find out the answers. Last night that manifested itself in physical form at a small contemporary art gallery in the Black Country and it was so much more than I had expected…

PoArtry started as a simple concept. Take a poet, take an artist and ask them to react to each other’s work and see what happens. These creative animals quite often work in isolation, taking inspiration from the world around them and merging it with the internal workings of their imagination. I wondered what it would be like to force a reaction across the two art forms, to break away from the more traditional commission aspect that is found in both art and poetry and to experience that collaboration first hand.

So in early April I set the ball rolling, inviting poets and artists to attend an initial session to talk about a collaborative exhibition of work inspired across the art forms. I wanted to explore the process of collaboration, to challenge like-minded individuals to react to set criteria and to enjoy the ride. Right from the start, it was clear that opening Pandora’s box was going to be interesting!

From my own perspective it was an uplifting experience. Working with an artist who specialises in traditional landscape and portraiture seemed like it was going to be a steep learning curve for someone whose poetry is all about the throw-away comic interpretation of life; the two appeared entirely at odds with each other, which turned out to be exactly the sort of barrier that forced a creative solution. We found common ground in a love of comedy, choosing Spike Milligan as a topic to work on from both sides of the artistic fence. Once we started down that route, we were able to then interpret different elements of each others work in the styles we both felt more comfortable with. We adapted and created from the inspiration of each other as artists and as people, from our personalities as much as our work. In the end it was as much about the connection with the person as it was about the connection with the art work.

Talking to the other artists and poets last night at the launch event showed similar patterns of engagement on a personal level, as well as almost the complete opposite, where pairings had produced purely from the work rather than the interaction as individuals. That demonstrated the true nature of collaboration in some ways to me. What works for some does not work for others, but in forcing the coming together there is a mutually agreeable output.

For others the process proved a wholly cathartic experience, unearthing emotions and feelings buried in their past. This might sound a tad trite and a bit “arty bollocks” as my daughter would say, but there was genuine emotional reaction to visual references and even physical work spaces for some of the poets and artists that took place. Memories are stored through visual and aural touch-points and when these are triggered through engagement, conversation and interaction, then this can lead to genuinely moving experiences.

Standing in the gallery last night, listening to the conversations, looking at the poems and the artwork displayed, soaking up the atmosphere, the laughter, the vibrancy of shared experience, the stories being re-told, the difficulties having been worked through, the answer was an obvious one. Everything is art and everything is poetry, because everything inspires both. Three months ago for this group of people, there was nothing; no artwork, no poems, no friendships, no memories, no shared experience. From the simple planting of a creative seed and a collective willingness to nurture, feed and tend to it’s growth, there is now art, poetry, friendship, memories and a shared experience. It cost us next to nothing to do, but through the collective will to make it happen, we created something from nothing.

 

Brum Radio Poets

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Well yesterday I recorded my first show in the host’s chair of Brum Radio Poets with the 3 lovely poets that are Holly Daffurn, Bethany Slinn and Tom McCann…

The format of the show is pretty straightforward. I find 3 amazing poets, we get in the studio, we talk poetry and all things related and then we do readings – simples! But what fun we had too. The different styles, opinions and observations of the poets makes for a fascinating hour of conversation and I really enjoyed getting some insight in to the work of all 3 poets as well.

The show is broadcast on Brum Radio at 11:00am on the last Sunday of each month, so you can catch Holly, Bethany and Tom on Sunday 30th July. There is also a Mixcloud recording of the show available if you miss it on 30th – just go to the Brum Radio website and follow the links.

Happy listening everyone….

 

First Acts – Spoken Word on Film

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Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon and evening with some brilliant young poets and film makers at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, as part of the First Acts spoken word on film event.

The concept behind the piece was to produce a series of short films inspired by poetry and spoken word. The topics were varied and thought provoking, as is generally the case when young people get a platform to showcase their work.

The event was hosted by the writer and actor, Ben Norris and featured the works of Chris Hyde, Tom Chimiak, Aliyah Hasinah, Paul Stringer, Dion Kitson and Sipho Dube. Each film was 3 mins in length and explored the very personal stories of each artist. There was a strong sense of identity to each piece, a clear message to be found in the narrative and the cinematic qualities really enhanced the message and story behind the words. This was explored further in a very informative and interesting Q&A session with the artists after the film showing.

Random Acts provides a platform for young people to explore their creativity through film and if you get a chance, click on the attached link to find some very interesting work on display on their website.

I really enjoyed helping the team bring this show to life at Ledbury. It was great to see so much young talent all in the one venue…

 

 

30 – 40 – 60…

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I have no idea what the title of this piece represents, but I do know that when you get 3 of Worcestershire’s most talented poets in a room together, then the title doesn’t matter one bit…

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing 30 – 40 – 60 at the Hive in Worcester, one of a myriad of events taking place as part of the Worcestershire Litfest. The show is the brainchild of poets Claire Walker, Nina Lewis and Kathy Gee and it explores the works of all three poets through a connected narrative and visual accompaniment.

The performance interlaced works from the 3 poet’s V Press published works: The Girl Who Grew Into A Crocodile (Claire Walker), Fragile Houses (Nina Lewis) and Book of Bones (Kathy Gee). Each work is a unique collection of poems personal to the author, but what they found when putting this show together is that there are subtle linkages between their work, which ultimately lead to the development of 30 – 40 – 60.

The piece falls into 4 distinct narratives spread over two halves of performance. Focusing on the different stages of life, we travel with the poets through time, exploring what it is to be human and alive. Some pieces are solo readings, while others combine the voices of all three poets in acoustic harmony, which is different and rarely seen in poetry performance. This provides distinctive voicing to a beautiful narrative, which is complimented in turn by the visuals being displayed behind the readers. As an audience you get to see and hear two things at once, adding to the imagery of the spoken word and layering another context to the poems. It’s a clever use of multimedia and works well in the overall effect.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show. I love the idea of collaboration between poets, where you get to see 3 artists at work together, sharing different perspectives to each other’s work. Combine that vision of perspective with the beauty of the spoken words and you get an engaging and highly entertaining piece of performance art.

A must see if 30 – 40 – 60 pops up again in a town near you…

 

 

The Midlands Rocks!…

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I have been to a couple of events this week, which highlight the diversity of the world of literature and spoken word in the Midlands…

Last Thursday I got across to an event, which has alluded me for months due to diary clashes and car problems, but I am so glad that I got there in the end as it was a lot of fun in a small space. Speaking Out Midlands takes place at Cafe Del Nino in Cannock, tucked away down the back alleys of High Green Court. It’s pure open mic, no headliner or support, so the evening runs to time according to the number of people that want to perform. Thursday saw a dozen or more poets and storytellers take to the mic, which was recorded on video too – not for the faint-hearted to see one’s ugly mug on screen! I have just received my 3 mins of fame from the team at Speaking Out and have attached it for anyone wanting to scare off the birds in the garden or use as some sort of comic therapy for the onset of middle-age denial…. Willis the Poet at live at Cannock….

Thanks to everyone involved for making it a welcoming space to read out. There were a lot of younger faces trying out their work for the first time and this was really refreshing to see.

As a complete opposite experience, I attended the National Writers Conference 2017 at the University of Birmingham and as Andrew McMillan pointed out in his opening key note speech, it was nice to see a national conference outside of London for a change! The conference was hosted by Writing West Midlands and sponsored by a raft of organisations interested in the development and support of writers and writing across the UK. The event consisted of a series of key note speeches and break out interactive lectures surrounding the world of writing. As well as a diverse range of topics and the chance to hear from those writers who are out there making a living from writing, it was also the perfect opportunity to build one’s network of contacts and friends in the writing world.

As a first time conference virgin, I found it both informative and entertaining and met some interesting and inspiring people throughout the day. My hand ached from writing so many notes and I came away buzzing with ideas from meeting other creative people. I would really recommend the personal development that comes from attending such events – a real investment in yourself.

And as a poet, I was thrilled to hear readings from Nyanda Foday and Matt Windle during the lunch break. Nyanda’s poem about life after Manchester was a brilliant example of the power of poetry to deal with contemporary issues through articulate and powerful expression. As the Young Poet Laureate for Birmingham for 2016/18 , Nyanda is going to represent the voice of youth very nicely indeed…