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.

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