Sunday, October 23, 2011

On not being ignored

So performing Amuse Bouche at the Durham Book Festival was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Yes, it was busy and yes not everyone there was dedicated follower of spoken word but that's kind of the point. It's a challenge. And although it was hard to know if people were really interested or if they were just listening out of politeness it was still good fun. And between AJ, Sky and me we managed to attract the attention of passers by and the folks already sitting down to eat didn't harrumph off in a strop. So not as nerve-wracking or as confidence-denting as I was anticipating. Looking forward to the show at Live Theatre on 16 November now.

The very lovely and ever so busy Sheila Wakefield was at the Durham Book Festival too and stopped by to watch a bit of Amuse Bouche. Not only was it fantastic to have a friendly-poetry-loving face in the audience but she also gave me a date for my Red Squirrel Press pamphlet publication - Yay! It's going to be May 2012, which seems as good a time as any. Now I just need to pull the rest of the pamphlet together in time for the mid-December deadline.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I haven't been on for a while but I'm mad busy at the minute (what with Amuse Bouche, Verb New Voices, the girls starting back at school, uni starting up again, working at Live.... the list could go on). This is going to be brief. If you're wanting to hear what I've been up to so far then listen in to the next couple of links.

BBC Radio 3 - The Verb - this is only available for a week so be bloody quick.

SPL Podcast - A fabulous chat with the delightful Ryan Van Winkle.

I don't sound like a complete tit on either of these recordings, so that's a bonus. Hope you enjoy them and if you do please feel free to share the link.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Verb New Voices - catching up at mac, Birmingham

Sometimes blogging feels like bragging. I don’t want to blog about random or mundane things  (I don’t have the energy for it) and I don’t have the desire to lay my private life out for all to see if it doesn’t have anything to do with anything I’m working on.  So that just leaves the stuff that’s happening in my poeting life, which feels like bragging. Maybe it’s because I always feel a pang of poet-envy when Poet X blogs about making the My Poetry is Amazing shortlist or Poet B blogs about winning the Bloody Great Big Poetry Prize. Or even when I just pick up a collection of poetry that has such a visceral effect on me that I’m left wondering if I can ever hope to achieve the same effect in someone reading my work.

But anyway, back to the point of this post. Today we met up with all the other Verb New Voices poets and the wonderful Erin Riley and Ian McMillan for a second time. To be honest the project is pretty nerve wracking, despite the fact that everyone involved is really supportive and approachable it is such a big deal for me (and I imagine all the other artists). Working on your own project, with an amazing mentor, the support of the Arts Council, the BBC, ARC etc and having the chance to perform on The Verb… THE VERB… well, it’s a bit overwhelming. And exciting.

The last time we met up was back in May and today felt like another real step along the way to creating a spoken word piece, although it’s going to be a much shorter piece than I’d first thought because the Verb only requires about 7 or 8 minutes… which is still quite a lot of air time to fill. I’m glad I found that out before I start work with my mentor Zena Edwards on Thursday though. (Which is another thing I’m trying not to get too nervous about. I’m failing. But at least I’m trying. I’ll let you know how I get on at the end of the week.)
Last time each poet performed an existing piece. This time we were reading from our works-in-progress so it was interesting to see what stage everyone was at.  

First up was Fatima Al Matar who is creating a dark tale of child abuse that gives voice to the survivor at different stages of her life; then Mike Edwards with his fictional spoken word supergroup The Poetry Bandits (he gives voice to all three members and the man filming a documentary of their rise and fall); John Osborne is working on a piece that travels the scenic train journey from Norwich to Sheringham; Bohdan Piasecki explores the dark world surrounding the death of his uncle (and namesake) in 1957 and Deborah Stevenson’s piece brings an insight into the characters of IG1. And my piece which is kind of about me, but also incorporates shit I’ve made up because that’s what the poems wanted to do.

It’s not really fair to single out a poet’s work but there is something about the way Bohdan uses language that makes me want to read more, to listen more closely, to become a part of the world that is being created – even though the subject is so dark.  I can’t wait to see where his piece for The Verb leads us.

After hearing everyone’s work we got into groups to give feedback, which is sort of useful to an extent. The questions we were responding to were open enough but it’s hard to comment on something you’ve just seen even when it’s finished, let alone when it’s a work-in-progress that you’ve only heard once and don’t have in front of you to look over and consider and re-read.  We offered feedback in groups so it wasn’t possible to incorporate input from the writers at the end of the discussion on each piece.

I’m writing this post on the long journey back to Newcastle so I’ve had a quick read of the feedback for my work. Three sheets of flip chart paper look more daunting than they actually are. But even so, it’ll take me a while to digest and process the comments. Mostly positive with some food for thought.  

The only feedback I wasn’t sure about related to a glosa that I’m working on, the form uses four lines from an existing work as the basis for a new poem. Each line of a quatrain creates the last line of each stanza in the new piece.  The four lines I’ve used come from Epilogue by Grace Nichols - read it here, go on, read it. The trick is to incorporate those lines without them seeming alien to the poem and without the poem being overwhelmed by them. One point of feedback asked why I had used the “clichés” ‘crossed an ocean’ and ‘I have lost my tongue’ and what alternatives could I use. 

Once I got over the shock of hearing the word cliché in association with one of my favourite poets I realised that I’d assumed everyone was familiar with Epilogue and I hadn’t read it out before going on to the main body of the poem. Tsk, tsk. Anyway the answer is there are no alternatives because it wouldn’t be a glosa without those lines – I can’t change them. But maybe the lines that precede them (in the first stanza in particular) still need some thought… we’ll see.  All in all though, I’ve got some good questions to ask myself and it’s all prep for the scrutiny that the work will come under during the mentoring process.

We’ll see what Thursday brings.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Too busy for Father's Day

I'm feeling very guilty about that so we'll be having Father's Day MK II next Sunday so that Daniel can be spoilt in the manner he deserves. This weekend I'll be down at Live Theatre spending my time in the company of some rather fine dramaturgs and a group of six primary school pupils for the First Draft residency weekend.

This is my third stint as a dramaturg on First Draft, a project that involves helping a young writer to craft a short play that will receive a full on production in the main house... I know there are loads of writers three times their age (or more) who'd kill for the opportunity to have a play performed at Live. Every single word on the page and every word uttered by the actors will be the work of the young playwrights. We're not allowed to change a thing, we just have to help them to type up their plays and make sure we ask the right questions so that they can get from the 'fifth word' right to 'The End' . Because of this First Draft genuinely has the potential to be life changing for the writers involved and I'm thrilled to be part of it it again. It's going to be fun but really hard work but this time on Sunday night it will be complete and I can't wait to hear the read-through of all the plays. The productions will be part of the autumn season so there's a while to wait till I get to see the finished product but I can be patient...

You can watch excerpts from previous First Drafts here and read a review of last year's productions here.

Once I've finished at Live I shall be hightailing it up from the Quayside to meet up with a cellist to talk about collaborating on Songs from Whenever...I'm very excited/nervous about not wittering on too much. More details on that later though... my netbook is about to peg out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Songs from Whenever...

and being on The Verb. That's right, I've just been on The Verb actually speaking to Ian McMillan. OK so I guess I should have mentioned before now that I'm one of the Verb New Voices spoken word artists. It's a spoken word development programme run by the BBC and ACE. Me and Michael Edwards are the poets working with Annabel Turpin at ARC, Stockton. It was great to hear Mike talking about the multi-voice piece he's working on - it sounds brilliant... Now I just have to remember that letting doubt creep in about my own project is counter productive... besides the very amazing Zena Edwards is going to be my mentor so it's gonna be belters! 

I should really find a succinct way of summing up what my show is about but my brain's not quite functioning at the moment so it'll have to wait. In the meantime, this is what I said on my application (so it must be true)...

Songs from Whenever will draw inspiration from song titles that link in with specific moments in my life. The piece won’t be pure autobiography, more a fabricated account of growing up based on my childhood and early adulthood;  exploring themes of memory, identity, education, disengagement, discovery and escapism.

Built around an event (most probably the point of leaving home or arriving in a new city), a point where the possibilities are still there, the choices are yet to be made… Each poem in the sequence will reveal more and more about the character, their world, the choices they face, the mistakes they’ve made and the things they’ve got right… or might get right, given time. 

Anyway, there you have it. And to give you a flavour here's an extract from my work-in-progress and yeah, I know it looks like a passage of prose but that's because it's a prose poem. (Incidentally, an earlier version of this was published in Sepia Souls anthology by ID on Tyne Press.)

There is something different in this hot school summer. I push the magnetic catch of the glass-fronted cabinet and reach for his records.  Selecting emotions and matching them to my own. I balance an album cover between skinny brown fingers. Against the white background two figures. A man. A woman. Each half naked, his torso/her belly, rump and thighs. The heat and sweat of my body distorts in the intense August light that still fills the living room. I place the record on the player, hold the arm delicately, careful to drop the needle in the groove not slip and skip and scratch. Relax. Outside, friends play in the dust of the estate, their shoulders, legs, arms bare.

thinking about structure
How on earth am I going to make sense of this? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Glass Half Empty

It seems appropriate that the 3-minute self-reflexive documentary film I made for my MA was called Half Empty. I've just got my mark back.

Now this time yesterday I said to Daniel that I'd be happy with anything over 60 (a merit). I went on to say that if it was in the higher end of the 60-70 mark bracket I'd be really happy... But I'm not. I got 66. Which just means that somewhere along the way I've dropped 34 marks. It's put me in a bit of a funk really. I'm drinking beer in an attempt to alleviate the melancholy but I don't know if that's the wisest course of action.

Why am I pissed off? I just don't get it. The comments were good and the 'negative' comments were there to highlight what I needed to do to get a better mark. I've actually had to go back over the feedback with a highlighter pen to pick out the positive comments so that I can focus on what I did right - 'visually rich, textually rich, visual metaphors...Very moving story, very brave + beautiful... Essay has good references + awareness of the form... a solid piece with great potential. Look forward to the next one.' All good stuff, no?

So, what went wrong then? 'Mostly this suffers from too many good things all competing'. The pacing suffered- I just needed to give the viewer more space to absorb things. The brief for the film was to use a poem by Hafiz as a jumping off point... I used a whole poem in voiceover even though I felt that I was struggling to fit it in (the running time of the poem was about a minute...) And that leads to the final thing I got wrong... I forgot to analyse what I thought worked and what I thought didn't work in my commentary. Dickhead. I knew I'd tried to get a lot into the 3 minute film (ONLY THREE MINUTES DEGS!) and had struggled to find the space needed for the film to breathe... why didn't I say that???

I know I'll feel okay about the mark this time tomorrow and at some point over the summer I'll go back to the edit and craft a beautiful and succinct film... it's not so far from that now after all. I just need to get back to seeing things as Half Full in the meantime...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dramatic Monologues

I've just logged on to a new Poetry School online course led by Liane Strauss called 'Christ, it was better than hunting bear'. The title of the course is taken from a poem I hadn't come across before: Night, Death, Mississippi by Robert Hayden - it is such a stark and powerful example of a dramatic monologue. There is no emotive language in this poem, the detail and the facts of the poem do more work than a poet telling us what to feel/think ever could.

On the strength of the inspiration for the course title alone I'm really looking forward to what I'll learn about dramatic monologue over the next ten weeks.  The first assignment is to take a look at Robert Browning's My Last Duchess (no surprises there) and write a dramatic monologue after some close reading and a lot of thinking no doubt...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Deseeded's first online anthology

A couple of years ago I created a Facebook group as a way of staying in touch with the poets I'd met  through Polly Clark's Poetry in Practice course. The group is called Deseeded (if you want to find it) and every now and then I set  challenges...

New Year's Eve 2009  - write a poem a day in January... That was hard, I enjoyed writing every day but didn't like coming up with almost-poems-but-need-some-work poems. So on New Year's Eve 2010 I decided that the challenge would be to write something every day but you only had to write one poem a week.

At the end of the month I asked the group members to send me their favourites and here they are in Deseeded Vol. 1. It's my first attempt at editing and I'm really proud of the results. I'm also really thrilled to include a  poem from one of the original Poetry in Practice poets, Elly Nobbs - a gorgeous cinquain called Woodpecker.

The cover image shows a detail from a painting by my husband Daniel Stone.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

StAnza 2011

I hope to get around to posting something vaguely more detailed about StAnza 2011 on here at some point soon... once the tiredness has worn off, which will probably occur some time around the middle of next week. In the meantime let's just say that I had an amazing, amazing time.

I left Newcastle at 6.25 in the morning on Saturday (so I had to get up at 5.40 (!)) didn't get to sleep till around 2 the following morning and then travelled back down on Sunday afternoon to family life, work and slamming. (Btw I'm very pleased to say I made it to the semi-final of the Lamplight Poetry Slam in Stanley yesterday... hold on... ST ANdrews, STANley...  I wonder where I could go next to complete a STAN-based hat-trick of towns.)

Anyway, back to StAnza - Here's a list of the events I managed to get along to during the 29 hours I was in St Andrews. 

Poetry Cafe for Breakfast: History
In Conversation: James McGonigal
Five O'Clock Verses: Durs Grunbein, Helena Nelson
Poetry Centre Stage: Selima Hill, Philip Gross
StAnza Slam: MC Bob Holman
Poetry Cafe for Breakfast: Translation
Border Crossings: Emily Ballou, Katrina Naomi

What else? Oh yeah. The New Writing North Showcase with Sophie F. Baker, Stevie Ronnie, Anna Woodford and me!

Massive thanks are due to Claire Malcolm at New Writing North for thinking of me as a last minute replacement when one of the original poets had to drop out for the NWN showcase. Nothing like being in the right place at the right time. Also huge thanks and appreciation to everyone at StAnza for making us all feel so welcome and for putting on an amazing show. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Knights encountered today = 1

Saying that I met Andrew Motion tonight might be over egging things a bit. But I did. On account of buying a copy of The Cinder Path and asking him to sign it.

I’ve been quietly excited about this event for a while so when Daniel found out that he had a parent’s evening that wouldn’t be finished until after the reading I prepared myself for the possibility of missing it... luckily Marian came over from Lanchester to look after the girls. (I think secretly she was looking for an excuse to see the hamsters she’d helped the girls to pick out last week. They’ve doubled in size since she saw them which is easy to believe as they are massive – relatively.) Anyway, I’m really pleased that she came to the rescue because it was an interesting event and inspiring too.

At the start of the reading Motion talked about the fact that we forget we’re a country at war but that we shouldn’t. It made me think about the fact that I’d like to write poetry that deals in some way with the world that we’re living in at the moment. And that made me think about the fact that poems written because the poet wants to highlight a cause or reflect an injustice are often shit. If you’re not careful.

There were personal poems as well as those about war – love poems for his wife and elegies for his father and Philip Larkin. All of which showed that in order for us to create poems that have meaning for other people we should take care of the particulars, the specifics. Focus in on the details and avoid generalisations, grand ideas… it’s the small things that will lead us into a poem and make sense of it in relation to ourselves. Of course he put it more eloquently than that.  

This was definitely a reading. Not a performance. At the end Motion thanked us for ‘listening’ to him. And that was it; we’d gone to listen not to watch. So that left me wondering about my own approach to readings/performances. Can I split myself and my poems in two so that for readings my body language is understated (with less gesticulation) and for performances it becomes more about how I use physicality to emphasise the imagery and how I embody my poems? I don’t know. I’ll just have to suck it and see. I have a few readings coming up during March – all in very different settings so by the end of the month I should have an idea about what I want from myself… maybe.

One more thing. Michael Chaplin asked a question about process that led Motion to describe part of his routine of writing. Getting up early, really early and beginning to write in that space between being asleep and being fully awake. Being a ‘bastard’ about protecting that time and refusing to allow anyone or anything to eat into or take over. Now I know I’m never going to get up early to find that time – I live in a very small cottage and if I get up at 5.30am, the girls are probably going to hear me pottering about and at 7 and 4 years of age I don’t think they’ll quite buy into the idea of mummy being a ‘bastard’ to protect her writing time. No. I’m going to have to programme myself to switch off all electronic gubbins, forget the guff on TV and the latest newsfeed on Facebook (which I’m giving up for Lent btw) and head to my room at 9pm and write for an hour or two… or even just read… a writer is a reader too, yeah?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Driving + Poeting = ?

I don’t know why I decided to write a blog post directly into the blog when I have the world’s sickest laptop that somehow manages to hiccup and delete passages at random. Then blogger conspires with the laptop to compound the situation by auto-saving before I could hit the undo button. Lesson learned - this post has been cut and pasted from Word without the perils of auto-save.

So, January saw a resumption of normal services when Dan went back to work full-time and I reverted to being a cliche - juggling work, kids, uni and poetry... okay so maybe the poetry bit isn’t a cliche. The reality of waking up at 7.15am, getting the kids (and myself) ready and out of the house, driving Maya to school, Ruby to nursery, driving back to the house to drop the car off before walking down to the Quayside to start work, only to reverse the whole process at 2.30 revealed a new strand to my parenting style... ‘shouty mum’.

I put it down to the fact that I now have to drive every weekday. I hate driving. Largely because I like to believe the folklore that poets can’t drive. Having said that I can already feel that the anxiety that usually joins me in the car is becoming less noticeable. Maybe by the end of the term it’ll be gone completely. I wonder if my poeting skills will decrease the more comfortable I get behind the wheel...

Anyway, writing & performance highlights so far... getting my first MA submission of 12 poems in, performing at the Tyneside Cinema for Radikal Words Night, Newcastle City Library with ID on Tyne and the very, very fabulous Trashed Organ fundraiser for Shelter (it was like being out in that London... or at least how I imagine a poeting night in London would be).

The lows? Waiting for my MA submission of 12 poems to be marked. And starting the year off with four rejections is a bit off-putting, particularly when combined with the comedowns I seem to experience after performing... onwards and upwards though, eh? I have a couple of readings coming up in March that’ll take me out of the North East (even as far as St Andrews!). Not to mention the fact that I’ve just got confirmation of my place on an Arvon course at The Hurst courtesy of an Arvon 42 grant, so it can’t all be bad.

Oh and the Rascally Scoundrels are in the early stages of developing a new piece of theatre, which I’m rather excited about - we have a meeting with Annabel Turpin in a couple of weeks to discuss a possible development week at ARC, Stockton to get the project off to a fantastic start.

And as February progresses ‘shouty mum’ seems to be mellowing as the weather gets warmer and the school run becomes more familiar.

Degna Stone at Ten by Ten

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Black Books and getting things done

I have to say that watching Black Books on Dave and listening to the wind roaring around my house have provided a fitting backdrop to trying to get to grips with this blog.

You can read some of my poems on here now and find out a (tiny) bit about me, including a list of the readings I have coming up. All of which sort of means that despite my erratic blogging there is at least some point to allocating a small corner of the internet to my 'online presence'.

It has also been a bloody great way of procrastinating... although of course now it's done, it means that I have one less thing to distract me from getting on with the business of writing.