Monday, 30 April 2012

We're All Mad Here

Drafted in at the last minute due to Claire Askew having to pull out because of food poisoning, John and Melanie kindly offered me a slot at ‘We’re All Mad Here’ – Trashed Organ’s Festival of Belonging Fringe inauguration at The Central in Gateshead. Here are my thoughts.

The venue, while in many ways similar to Trashed Organ’s usual haunt, The Bridge Hotel, is altogether refreshing: contemporary blends well with old, assisted by the strategic placing of bubble blowers and miniature lamps. There was a typist – yes, an old-fashioned-doing-it-straight-onto-the-page-style one on hand, documenting guests’ most profound thoughts on the Organ Grinders and their sleek Trashing machine. A temporary post office, in which guests left their contact details in exchange for their own messages, later to be sent on to other participants at random, was an intriguing affair and brought to mind what The Guardian might do with their Soulmates section should their editors ever drink too much port. Ah, the port: the Trashed Laureate is a hallmark of any of these events now, and Amina Marix Evans won it, graciously donating the wares to Fiona and her Jazz Express, the house band and primary (trashed?) organ amidst the whole ensemble.

Poetry wise, this was very much a Red Squirrel dominated affair. I am, of course, biased, but I think the three writers from RS did the press and the start of this festival a good service. The fourth poet, Lizzie Whyman, was a delightful surprise, mixing call-centre humour, playground brutality and reworkings of myths and legends. Andrew McMillan was brilliant: a consummate performer, his blend of Yorkshire wit and sharp lyricism is all held together by subtle, well-honed, humour. Firas Kirala lent an altogether different tone to the evening with a kind of Arabic folk music. I don’t wish to say too much about it for fear of sounding ignorant (I have no idea what that musical instrument was, but it captivated my ears!), but I will say that he is obviously a very skilled performer and the soothing, reflective nature of his musicianship worked perfectly as a calm interlude to the whole affair.

Ultimately, there had to be a headliner and I personally thought Stevie Ronnie stole the show. Reciting his poems without prompt or introduction, I was absolutely in his world. While the delivery was spare, even oblique, Ronnie’s poems are utterly convincing and rooted in love and a zest for language: whether it’s the burns and fields of his North East, or the passion for his family and what that means, I believed every word and can’t wait to read with him in Newcastle next month.

Tomorrow: Castles, Collieries and Coastlines

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Trashed Organ - The Festival of Belonging Fringe

Besides the fact that I'm involved in this, you really must get along to as many of the events at Trashed Organ's Festival of Belonging Fringe next week. It's part of Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts's Festival of Belonging, and features loads of great writers, musicians and artists from across the region and beyond. My performance is part of the last night, 'I Don't Think We've Met?' Collaborating with artist Helena Venaki, we're putting the finishing touches to our multidisciplinary performance piece, One Day All of This Will be Fields. I'll be blogging throughout the festival on that and everything else. Keep your eyes peeled and get along to the events at The Bridge Hotel and The Central!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


First, some matter-of-fact good news: my poem 'My Granddad Buries King at Souter Lighthouse' is the featured poem this week on Claire Askew's wonderful blog, One Night Stanzas. This will shortly be followed by several other online poems and then, eventually, the (ever so nearly) finished product: the pamphlet. I've had to think a lot about what to cull from the manuscript, both for reasons of space and tone. A big sticking point in deciding what to chop was getting over my sentimental attachment to two of the oldest poems. As writers, we are constantly warned against this kind of practice; of investing unwarranted emotion in something, but when it comes to poems that are really quite personal, and have been knocking about for nearly 5 years, it becomes more tough to shoe them out. Anyway, shoed they have been and I'm sure the now slightly more compact pamphlet will read better for it. I hope. My next post will contain proper, concrete information about the pamphlet, by the way. You know, the type I've been hinting at for ages: where, when, how (much), why (not) etc...