Saturday, December 28, 2013

Getting Nearer

Here are a few more contenders for my Nearing Forty challenge. A fair few short poems amongst them as I'm trying to be kind to myself. I did think about adding 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song' but I figured that might be a bit too tricky so I've gone for Edwin Morgan's beautiful 'Strawberries' instead. 

There are some poems that haven't made it on to the list as I can't find copies online (Jacob Polley 'The Tree' and Andrew Waterhouse 'Not an Ending'). I'm going to try and find a few more before my birthday and then begin the task of selecting the final forty.  

I should probably add a couple of out and out performance pieces too... a quick trawl through the Apples and Snakes list of poets might be good place to start.

How to Cut a Pomegranate by Imtiaz Dharkar
For a Five-Year-Old by Fleur Adcock
Jarrow by Carol Rumens
Judith by Vicki Feaver
In My Country by Jackie Kay
You’re by Sylvia Plath
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by WB Yeats
Fear by Charles Simic
Darling by Jackie Kay
Strawberries by Edwin Morgan
A Note by Wislawa Symborska
Harlem by Langston Hughes
Memory by Ruth Stone
Although the Wind by Izumi Shikibu
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Poem by Simon Armitage
Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen
The Dug-out by Siegfried Sassoon

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nearing Forty...*

I turn 40 soon.
I know.
I think I was more fussed by move from my teens into my twenties so I'm not stressing about it. Instead I'm distracting myself by thinking of 40 things I can do when I'm 40.

The first thing I thought of was to learn at least 40 poems by heart - partly inspired by the Poetry By Heart programme in schools and partly by being reminded of Invictus by William Ernest Henley following the death of Nelson Mandela. I reckon it can't be a bad thing to have an arsenal of poems to draw on for any situation life throws at you. The poem I have by heart (and yes, I know it's only four lines long) is Epilogue by Grace Nichols.

Anyway, I asked some of my friends on Facebook to tell me their favourite poems. The ones they've held in their hearts since the moment they heard them and they came up with some crackers. Some poems I already love and will enjoy learning by heart and some I'd not come across before. A couple are probably a bit too long to make it to the shortlist of 40 but it's been great to read. I'll be flicking through my poetry collections and anthologies over the Christmas holidays to add to the list but here are the poems that have been suggested so far...

After Long Busyness by Robert Bly
I Go Back To May 1937 by Sharon Olds
If We Must Die by Claude McKay
Indelible, Miraculous by Julia Darling
Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Late Fragment by Raymond Carver
Machines by Michael Donaghy
Night, Death, Mississippi by Robert Hayden
Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou
Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy
The Identification by Roger McGough
The Moment by Margaret Atwood
The Mower by Philip Larkin
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Sun is Rising by John Donne
This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

I'm probably going to blog about my approach to learning each poem (that will be another thing to try when I'm 40 - keeping a regular blog!). And I'm interested to see if I'll still have all forty poems in my head this time next year. We'll see.

*About six years ago I came across the poem Nearing Forty by Derek Walcott and now here I am...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

River Runs at Live Theatre

I'm super lucky to be performing with a fantastic group of singers and poets this Sunday evening. Not only that but we'll be performing on a gorgeous set designed by none other than Gary McCann (it's not ours, it was designed for Michael Chaplin's play Tyne - we're just borrowing it for the night).

So if you're free it'd be nice to see you down at Live Theatre.

RiverRuns illustration

To coincide with Michael Chaplin's Tyne this spectacular night of words and music celebrates the River Tyne in all its glory, following in the great traditions of local songsmiths and writers. RiverRuns features specially written words and music from Aiden Clarke, Alfie Crow, Kate Fox, Ben Holland, Degna Stone, Jeff Price and Simma, and Bridie Jackson. It will be in turn humorous, occasionally dark, sometimes irreverent and always entertaining.

“It’s hard not to be taken under the spell of the river Tyne. RiverRuns, a celebration of the ‘big river’ in song and spoken word, certainly makes you think so. Personal narratives overlap with common histories; tragedy overlays euphoria. How this translates into a stage show is masterful in its simplicity.”

Review Jake Campbell

General Information

Sunday 7 July

VENUEMain Theatre

DURATION: 1hr 45 minutes


Buy Tickets

£8; £6 concs

Friday, April 12, 2013

Poeting at the Lit and Phil, Newcastle

I have a new pamphlet coming out next week. It's called ˜ and ►, which you might think stands for circle and triangle or you might know stands for record and play. A couple of poems in the collection have those old fashioned tape recorders in em and I just liked it. 

Anyway - I've left Facebook until they get a handle on all those dodgy rape and domestic violence pages so I'm just using this post to let you know about the launch event at the Lit and Phil on Wednesday 17th April at 7pm. (It's free and there will probably be wine, there always is when there's poeting going on). It's a joint launch (a jaunt?) with the poet Ric Hool whose work I'm very excited to hear. Although that does mean that I have the usual doubts about how my work will hold up in comparison... Never mind though, eh? So, there you have it. If you're in the toon next Wednesday and you fancy a spot of poetry please pop along.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Whistle by Martin Figura

Okay so it's like a billion years* since I actually saw this performance and wrote the review (for my MA in creative writing at Newcastle university) but better late than never. You can find out when Whistle is next on by visiting Martin Figura's website.

Whistle by Martin Figura
NCLA event at The Culture Lab, Newcastle
Thursday 26th April 2012

A picture of a smiling young woman taken at some time in the late 1940s is projected above the stage as the audience take their seats. She has one hand on her hip, the other on her head. The show begins. A prologue, a poem as ritualistic chant, bleeds into the love story of Figura’s mother June and his father Frank. Her letters to her ‘Darling Frank’ are interspersed with poems about their courtship and romance. We get to know her, and like her.  

The style of the show incorporates animation and audio to accompany Figura’s assured performance,which takes us through the stages of his childhood. His birth is depicted using imagery that is at the heart of this piece. The camera and the image. Freezing moments and looking back at them with an eye that knows more than the subjects could see.

I am a boy
slick as celluloid

my first focus
an iris
an aperture dilating
a click

The balance between pathos and humour is established early. The history that Frank tried to conceal (his time with the Hitler Youth and as a soldier in the German army during the Second World War) is revealed in the prose sections that link the poems. The darkness of the piece is never far from the surface and is present in the black and white stills of the young couple in love, the sweetheart letters from June and the idyllic family photographs.
Humour guides the piece away from sentimentality; it frames the structure, softens what is about to come or lightens what has been.  It reminds us that it’s going to be okay to laugh, sometimes. Frank’s desire for Figura to become a doctor is comically shown through the poem Fountain Pen accompanied by a suitably lo-fi animation. It is clear the boy is incapable of looking after it let alone any would be patients. By the time the young Figura  journeys to Poland the momentum taking us to the central event in the show and in Figura’s young life is unstoppable. Frank’s increasing paranoia is powerfully evoked in Litany, with its ritualistic chanting undercut by the sparse use of bells tolling as he repeats:

She is a Protestant
She is faithless
She is poisoning me
Sie ist protestantisch.
Sie ist treulos.
Sie vergiftet mich

There is a brief pause as we see an image of Figura and his mother outside a pretty cottage – the image fades as Figura says:

I could print this photograph
so dark, there would only be
her hand on my shoulder.

The brutality of June’s murder is unstated in the poem In My Parents’ Bedroom, it is implied in beautiful simplicity. The room becomes the only witness to this act “the dressing table’s arms are full/ of fallen objects, its mirror dumb.” The horror is amplified by the sparseness of detail, the seeming quiet that surrounds it.

This poem could form the natural climax for the show and the collection but this is not all Figura wants to say. The story isn't over; the child still has to grow up. In the brief Q&A that followed Figura said that it was like the Second World War had swept through his family twenty years after it ended and the same would be true for many others. Whistle is more than a document of personal family history; alongside dealing with the trauma of his mother’s murder and the subsequent break-up of his family, Figura writes about war, mental illness, society, growing up in 1960s Britain, fitting in, coming to terms, acceptance and love.

Whistle bridges the divide between page and performance poetry. The collection came first but it is clear that the production took as much craft and care as the writing had done. The combination of AV and simple staging produces a show with immediacy. The AV enhances, underlines and sometimes gives you something you weren't expecting. Like the picture of Frank’s sitting room after his release.The accompanying poem Record  is about a Dansette record player. You can see it in the photo. But what you can also see is the picture of June on the wall unit. The formal portrait with her beautiful black hair and the smile that we've come to recognise. The impact of seeing that picture in that sitting room is one of the many remarkable moments when the images work with the poetry in  unexpected ways. Go see it.

*okay so it's only eleven months.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

"I was born on Azar 19th, 1360 in Tehran. That's Tehran, December 10th, 1981 in Christian years..."
Imagine being 29 and unable to leave your country. Nassim Soleimanpour dissects the experience of a whole generation in a wild, utterly original play from Iran. Forbidden to travel, he turns his isolation to his own advantage with a play that requires no director, no set and a different actor for every performance.

What on earth could possess someone who's not an actor to perform a script on stage in front of a paying audience without seeing the script until they actually get on stage? Without even knowing anything about the content of the script? Well not completely nothing - I have heard that there might be an animal impersonation involved at some point.

I'd love to tell you a bit more about White Rabbit, Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour but I can't. The less I know about the project the better as far as performing at Live Theatre on 24th February is concerned. I'm intrigued to know exactly what I've let myself in for. I know that I wouldn't have been asked to do it if it wasn't something that I was more than capable of so... I guess I'll just have to be patient and see what happens on the night.

I have to admit that I am a little nervous but I think it's gonna be a blast. I'll let you know how I get on.

You can find out more by visiting Live's website or the White Rabbit, Red Rabbit blog.