Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Last chance this Wednesday for Midlands Performers

This Wednesday February 1st at the Library Theatre, Birmingham sees the last open mic opportunity for West Midlands poetry and spoken word performers to make an impression if they want to be put through to an invited audition for the Six of the Best series - organised by current Birmingham Poet Laureate Dreadlockalien, aka Richard Grant - which starts in April 2006.

Poets and performers wishing to display their wares must sign up at 6.30pm and seat themselves in the first two rows of the theatre. There were 51 poets in total from the last two open mics, and Richard Grant tells me that many of the best performers in the area have now realised this is their last chance to get on the programme. So it looks like being a packed house and a kicking night. Free entry. It's only been advertised as word of mouth at this stage, though, so if you're wanting to read your poetry, bring friends and family as supporters. If you get through to the final stages, later this spring, you'll be performing your work to a packed theatre as one of the best literature performers in the West Midlands.

The entrance to Birmingham Library Theatre is situated opposite the Central Library in Paradise Place, between Birmingham Conservatoire and Paradise Forum, which has a range of lively bars and cafes, serving food and drink throughout the day and evening.

Hammer & Tongue - Brighton v. Oxford Slam

If you happen to be in Brighton tomorrow night - that's Tuesday January 31st - then get yourself over to the Polar Central for an evening of performance poetry in the massive Hammer & Tongue Brighton versus Oxford Slam. This awesome entertainment is due to kick off at 8pm and last through until 11pm. You'll find the Polar Central on Queen's Road, Brighton, and the entrance price is £5 or £3 for concessions.

For more details of this and other Hammer & Tongue events, check out their website here and this is their slogan:

The first rule of Hammer And Tongue is: “You talk about Hammer And Tongue”
The second rule of Hammer And Tongue is: “You talk about Hammer And Tongue”
because spoken word culture spreads through spoken word.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Poetry & Potatoes: Open Mic event in Digbeth

This Sunday 29th January, from noon till 6pm at the Market Tavern in Digbeth, there will be a gathering of the finest performance poets in the West Midlands for poetry and roast potatoes.

The event is organised by a new collective called Four Canals: Paul Rafferty, Louis Campbell, Spoz, Big Bren, Jimmy Fantastic, Emma Bryson, Lizzie Smith and more. It will be the first regular Open Mic event in a long time that is supported by Four Canals, the old Rainbow crew, New October Poets, C.D.G., Colourfree visions theatre and other organisations involved in live literature.

This report came from Dreadlockalien, current Poet Laureate for Birmingham. He tells me more dates and information will follow, so keep checking back if it sounds like your sort of thing.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hot Spots in the Cellar this Saturday

This Saturday 28th January sees 3 more guest poets performing at THE CELLAR down in the sonorous basement at the Poetry Cafe in London. Here is this weekend's star line-up, with comments by Niall O'Sullivan, the man in charge:

Lucy English- Ruling poetic queen of the Bristol scene, a true performance poetry pioneer. Expect touching monologues about family and rural life, and surreal meditations on life as a porn movie…

Dean Wilson- Very funny rhymes with a Northern twist, yearning meditations on love, sex and the beauty of Patsy Cline blasting form the jukebox of a smoky bar.

Jay Bernard - Previous Respect Slam winner and a hot tip for future greatness, captivating , detailed poetry that softly snags and captivates the listener.

7:15pm start, running until about 10:00pm, with a fully licensed bar and food available during the early part of the evening. There have been floor spots available on the night in the past; this Saturday should be no different, but it wouldn't hurt to try and check first. For details of forthcoming CELLAR artists, try their website, which is updated most months.

The Poetry Cafe
22 Betterton St.
WC2H 9BX (near Covent Garden Tube)
Tel:020 7420 9888

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Worcester Speakeasy this Monday

A new spoken word event is to be launched at 'The Firefly' in Worcester (Lowesmoor) next week - a Speakeasy! So if you're in the Midlands and can make it along there on Monday, January 30th, the evening will kick off at 8pm with a performance by nationally renowned singer/songwriter Jake Flowers, followed by Open Mic floor spots.

To perform, you can sign up on the night, or email the Worcester Speakeasy organisers with a sample of poetry, prose or anything word-based at worcesterspeakeasy@yahoo.co.uk. All are welcome!

Admission is free, though I suspect that, as usual at such events, the drinks won't be. I'm sort of hoping there may be home-made gin lurking in a bathtub somewhere or cups of whisky instead of tea, in keeping with the spirit of the Speakeasy. But I doubt it. Nevertheless, it sounds like it could be an innovative evening - not just your average Open Mic - and I hope it will become a regular event in Worcester.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

'New Look' Ambit Launch

On January 26th, this Thursday - sadly clashing with the events below in Cambridge and Leicester respectively - is the launch reading for AMBIT 183 in London.

This will be held at the London Review Bookshop on Thursday evening from 7 until 9pm, with wine being served - these canny organisers certainly know how to entice people to listen to poetry! - and there will be readings from Tony Lucas, Valeria Melchioretto and Tamar Yoseloff. For those who don't know AMBIT, it's 'the magazine that thinks it's a book' and is a tough veteran in the literary magazine world, having been publishing poetry, fiction, art and reviews quarterly since 1959.

So if you're not in Leicester on Thursday night, nor in Cambridge, but possibly happen to be in London or its environs, you could do worse than drop in and admire the 'new look' Ambit at the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London WC1 2JL, from 7pm.

Cambridge Series Poetry Readings Jan 26th

The next in the Cambridge Series Poetry Readings takes place this Thursday January 26th at St John's College (New Music Room, First Court) at 8pm.

Linh Dinh, Randolph Healy and Fiona Sampson will be reading, tickets are £3/£2 concessions, and wine will be served. At that price, it sounds too good to pass up if you're in that part of the world, especially if there's going to be wine!

The New Music Room is in First Court, St John's College. Entrance to the college will be through the forecourt entrance, past the porters lodge, turn left and move into Second court, turn left and move into First court.
Here is a map of the location of the college, and here is a map of the college itself.

Randolph Healy was born in 1956. He lives on the Dublin Wicklow Border with his wife Louise and their five children. In 1997 he started Wild Honey Press which has published 49 chapbooks so far including work by Pam Brown, Mairead Byrne, Ric Caddel, Alison Croggon, Allen Fisher, Jill Jones, Trevor Joyce, John Kinsella, Rachel Loden, Karen MacCormack, David Miller, Billy Mills, Joan Retallack, Peter Riley, Ron Silliman,  Geoffrey Squires, Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop and Susan Wheeler among others. His selected poems _Green 532_ is available from Salt.

Fiona Sampson has published twelve books: four poetry collections, philosophy of language and books on writing process.  She has won many awards, including the international Zlaten Prsten (Macedonia, 2003); and been published in fifteen languages.  Her books in translation include The Self on the Page (Hebrew, 2002), Travel Diary (Macedonian, 2003), Folding the Real (Romanian, 2004) and The Distance Between Us (Romanian, Macedonian, 2005).  She is the Editor of Poetry Review.

Linh Dinh is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and three books of poems, All Around What Empties Out (Tinfish 2003), American Tatts (Chax 2005) and Borderless Bodies (Factory School 2005). His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, Best American Poetry 2004 and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, among other places. He is also the editor of the anthologies Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (Seven Stories Press 1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (Tinfish 2001), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (Tupelo 2006). Linh Dinh is living in Norwich, England, as a David T.K. Wong fellow at the University of East Anglia.

Presented with the generous support of the Judith E Wilson Fund (Faculty of English), St John's College, and Barque Press.

See Cambridge Poetry for further details
or email contact @ cambridgepoetry.org 

The Brighter Side of Leicester

Phoenix Arts in Leicester will be presenting The Brighter Side with compere Rob Gee this Thursday, January 26th at 8pm. This is an evening of 'upbeat performance poetry reflecting the wealth of talent which exists within users and survivors of Leicester's mental health system'.

For The Brighter Side Leicester-based performance poets, all of whom have experienced some kind of mental health problem in their lives, will offer different perspectives on their experiences with a heady combination of wit and verbal dexterity. Comic, poet and reformed psychiatric nurse Rob Gee will compere the evening, and the performances promise to provide a 'much needed antidote to the social exclusion, stereotyping and stigmatisation that comes with a diagnosis of mental ill health'.

£4 / 2 conc.

Ticket price includes a free special edition of 'Bubble' psychological arts magazine.

For more information or ticket bookings please phone: 0116 2554854 or click here to visit the Phoenix website.

Monday, January 23, 2006

An Interview with Poet & Playwright Sibyl Ruth

SIBYL RUTH talks to JANE HOLLAND about her writing, Poetry Bites at the mac in Birmingham, and her plans for the future.

Sibyl Ruth is right at the heart of poetry in performance in the West Midlands; for the past five years, she’s been running the popular Poetry Bites open mic night at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham (affectionately known as the 'mac'). She is also a poet and playwright in her own right. Her poetry collections to date are 'Nothing Personal' (Iron Press 1995) and the chapbook 'I Could Become that Woman' (Five Leaves, 2003). She also contributed to the radio play by Tim Wright 'In Search of Oldton' which was broadcast on Radio 4 on February 13th this year. A poem of hers is due to appear in the magazine 'Obsessed with Pipework' and she’s currently reviewing poetry by Sharon Olds and Gwyneth Lewis for 'The North' magazine.

JANE: Firstly, Sibyl, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Poets On Fire. It’s a real pleasure to have you as our first featured artist. How did you get into poetry and what sort of work are you involved in at the moment?

SIBYL: I went to creative writing classes at the City Lit in London in the early 1980’s. I wanted to write a novel, only I got bad post viral fatigue syndrome (M.E.), which made it hard for me to concentrate on long projects, for several years. But I needed to read and write to keep my brain alive, so I began focusing on poetry.

I thought I was mainly going to do freelance work this year. While this started building up, it seemed likely I'd have some big chunks of spare time, so I had planned to have another go at novel writing. However I'm now starting a job which is funded for at least till 2008, so I think in terms of my own output, smaller - more manageable - writing projects will come first. I'm attempting some short stories.

And I'm revising a radio drama. I'm being encouraged to work on the playscript by a producer at BBC Birmingham - but as decisions about what gets broadcast are made in London, it's anybody's guess what will (or won't) happen. I'm doing a reading at the Poetry Cafe at the Gateway in Shrewsbury on 9 February - along with Roger Elkin and Chris Kinsey.

A lot of my employment is about promoting other people's writing and helping them to develop as artists. I enjoy this, but it can be a juggling act to make time for my own projects out of the workplace.

JANE: I believe congratulations are in order for your new job at Script in Digbeth. Can you tell me more about that?

SIBYL: Script is an agency for dramatic writing across the whole of the West Midlands. It doesn't just deal in writing for the theatre but for radio, TV and film as well. Script is for writers who may just be starting out, as well as for those who are becoming more established. Generally I'm going to be organising courses, conferences, events that will help playwrights and screenwriters in the region to develop their work. There are quite a few specific projects which I'll be working on; I'll be clearer on the detail once I've actually started! In the meantime anyone who wants to know more should check out the Script website.

JANE: Can you tell me about Poetry Bites at the Mac in Birmingham? How long have you been running that, how has it progressed as an event, and what does the future hold for its devotees now that you're moving on?

SIBYL: Yes, I've been organising Poetry Bites for just over 5 years - they happen every two months, so there have been 30 of them. The basic idea was to combine readings from a guest poet with open mic sessions. I was also keen to feature a real cross-section of guest poets. That way emerging writers in the West Midlands could not only try out their own work in front of an appreciative audience, but also hear a range of high quality poetry without having to go to London or travel to literary festivals.

Audiences have fluctuated. For the first couple of years numbers grew - then there was a patch when they dropped. I wondered if I should carry on doing the event, but there were always new attenders who'd tell me that they'd enjoyed the evening. So I felt I should stick with it and for the last year, more people than ever have been turning up.

mac is going to carry on featuring a variety of literature events. The future programme will be influenced by the interests and enthusiasm of whoever takes on responsibility for the literature/spoken word role, as well as by what old and new mac audiences want. So anyone who has got feedback and comments is welcome to contact Harpreet Jutlla - mac's Press Officer - and make their views known.

Of course, there's always the opportunity for people who are interested in organising Open Mic nights anywhere in the region to apply for a Grant for the Arts. I'm sure Adrian Johnson, who's the Literature Officer at Arts Council England (West Midlands) would be happy to advise anyone who wants to pursue this, about how to proceed.

JANE: So how important do you think these Open Mics events are for encouraging new talent at a grass-roots level, and do you have any ideas about how the Open Mic format could progress now that it’s becoming so popular?

SIBYL: I think they are an essential part of the poetry scene. They are places where new writers can test poems out, see how the rhythm works, whether the piece hangs together, get some audience reaction. Sometimes the reaction is an unspoken one - at other times people will come up to the writer and offer their comments. There's something wonderfully immediate about this. Of course if you're an emerging poet and you have a piece accepted by a magazine that's great - but you may have to wait for a long time - perhaps forever! - to get any feedback from readers.

I'd be interested in seeing 'Scratch Nights' for poetry in the West Midlands. At Battersea Arts Centre the cafe has a stage area, and they have evenings where people can have a drink while seeing performances of work in an early stage of development. I think it could be brilliant for poets to be able to perform in that kind of setting, and for the audience to be able to offer their own thoughts and responses.

JANE: Yes, it would be great if all poetry readings could electrify the audience (well, not literally!) but it has to be admitted that while all performers are equal, some are more equal than others. In your experience as a poetry facilitator, are there any common mistakes poets make when reading their work to an audience, and do you have any tips on improving performance skills?

SIBYL: I think it helps to go along to lots of readings, and work out which poets succeed in getting their work across and why. So being a good performer is linked with being a good listener and watcher. I think it's also important to be sensitive to the mood and general mix of people in the audience, and to be prepared to vary your selection of poems accordingly. That way performing becomes a genuinely communicative act.

JANE: I’d certainly agree with that, being sensitive to the audience is not always the first thing on a poet’s mind at a reading! But their needs should be considered before a poet gets up to the mic, with maybe a few minor adjustments to what they were planning to read or to what sort of introductions their poems might need for a particular audience. Finally, Sibyl, can you talk a little bit about the live poetry scene in the West Midlands? What’s going on in terms of performance opportunities?

SIBYL: The region covered by Arts Council England, West Midlands is huge! And there are massive differences between what is (and isn't) going on in Stoke-on-Trent, in Birmingham, and in mainly rural counties such as Shropshire and Herefordshire. Most poetry cafes, open mic nights etc have a limited life span so trying to map it all, is next to impossible. (However the Poetry Society, with the help of its members, does try - see their Landmark page. Some local libraries are Poetry Places, which means they should not only stock a good range of collections but have a range of information about poetry activity in the area.

Many parts of the region will also have literature development workers who can be useful points of contact. Members will be listed on NALD [National Association for Literature Development]. Apple & Snakes, the London based performance poetry organisation, has already appointed regional workers in the North West, South West and East Midlands. They are planning to appoint a West Midlands worker soon.

JANE: And are there any poets in particular we should be looking out for?

SIBYL: I'm interested by the work of poets who are influenced by more than one language or culture. So I admire the work of two young poets, Zoë Brigley (who is from a Welsh background, and Daljit Nagra (who has Punjabi Sikh roots.) Generally I'm drawn to writing on the margins, where there's a tension at work between outside and inside society.

There are two Birmingham writers who are, in different ways, good examples. Joel Lane's politics give his work a disturbing edge, while David Hart's poetry can resemble Old Testament prophecy - if you could imagine a prophet who is rooted in the reality of the UK in the 21st century!

JANE: Well, thanks for taking time to talk to me, Sibyl, and good luck with the new job! I’m sure everyone’s going to miss you at the mac.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Shearsman Launch Reading tomorrow

Shearsman Books will be holding a Launch Reading on Monday 23 January 2005 at

St Giles-in-the-Fields
60 St Giles High Street
Covent Garden
London WC2H 8LG

at 7:30 pm to launch the following titles:

Elaine Randell: Selected Poems 1970-2005

Martin Anderson: The Hoplite Journals

Christopher Gutkind: Inside to Outside

Entrance is free. The reading itself should last about 45 minutes and books will be on sale, so remember to take cash or your chequebooks. Click on any of the titles above to visit Shearsman Books 'for the best in contemporary poetry'.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Hammer & Tongue - Mark Gwynne Jones & Open Mic in Oxford

Quiet: It's ... Hammer and Tongue!

Yes, the celebrated Hammer & Tongue is back on in Oxford after the seasonal break, with a special first event of the new year to be held this Tuesday evening at the QI club in Turl Street, involving an Open Mic and an extended feature slot, with a workshop earlier in the evening (a fantastic chance for participants to get feedback on poems and tips on performance). The special guest for this first 'Quiet: It's ... Hammer & Tongue' will be the incomparable Mark Gwynne Jones, who last performed in Oxford at the Brickworks in March 2004.

"Mark Gwynne Jones is to poetry what The League of Gentleman is to TV scheduling" - Martin Newell in The Independent

"A charming performer. See him live." – John Hegley

Examples of Mark Gwynne Jones’ work (including film poems, music and audio poems) can be found at his website for those who wish to sample before buying. Mark will be performing throughout the event, in between the participative Open Mic performance sections.

If you'd like to take part, you can sign up for an Open Mic slot by arriving between 7.30 and 8pm and getting your name on the list.

Tuesday 24th January at The QI Club, Turl Street, Oxford (between High St and Broad St), 8pm onwards. Tickets are £5 or free to QI members. Feature performer Mark Gwynne Jones. Open Mic slot 8pm to 10:15pm. Workshop 5:30pm - 7pm.

Please note that subsequent Quiet: It's Hammer & Tongues will take place on the third Tuesday of the month. For more information, you can try visiting the Hammer & Tongue website, though it's awaiting updates at the moment, or email any queries to poetry@hammerandtongue.org

Thursday, January 19, 2006

John Stammers down in The Cellar

One of the poets on the recent T.S. Eliot prize shortlist (the winner was Carol Ann Duffy with her collection Rapture) was John Stammers. If you haven’t heard him read yet, now’s your chance. He’ll be appearing down in The Cellar at the Poetry Society Cafe this Saturday - 21st January - at 8pm, alongside Kat Francois and Julian Fox.

For those wondering what The Cellar is all about, this Saturday night event is hosted by Niall O'Sullivan and apparently ‘celebrates what is currently brilliant about the poetry scene - bringing together written & performance poetry and nurturing new talent’. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

If you have yet to sample the exotic delights of the Poetry Society headquarters, you’ll find the Poetry Cafe at 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX (Covent Garden tube). For more details and to confirm times et cetera, you can email them at poetrycafe@poetrysociety.org.uk

Monday, January 16, 2006

OFF BY HEART - Does it make a difference if we perform from memory?

I still remember the sense of awe and stunned admiration I felt when, on an Arvon course back in the 90s, I first saw Philip Wells - the Fire Poet - perform some of his poetry. He’s a superb performer and his material is both deeply mythic and utterly contemporary, but it was not what he performed that made the most impact on me that day, but the way he performed it. For it was the first time I had ever seen somebody stand up in front of an audience and read his own work from memory. It was a wake-up call, but one I've been pushing back to snooze for the past ten years. Now that I’ve started looking more seriously at stand-up techniques in an effort to improve my own performance as a reader, perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of Philip’s book and memorise my work.

There are few things more terrifying than walking up to a microphone in front of a live audience and having to perform your own work, even with the poems written down for you. Just the knowledge that I’ve agreed to do that or decided to make an appearance at some Open Mic event can make me feel physically sick for days in advance. It’s not always that bad - home crowds are easier than city gigs packed with strange faces - but even when I think I’ve got my fear under control, it still resurfaces in some way: tummy upsets for a day or so beforehand, an inability to eat on the day, sudden cotton-mouth when I walk up to the mic, my hands no longer under my control, shaking so badly I’m sure even the ones asleep at the back must have noticed.

And my voice? Croaky, squeaky or shrill, or worse, suddenly slurred as though I’ve been propping up the bar in the interval. I’m sure I can’t be alone in finding that my tongue grows at least half an inch thicker as soon as I approach a microphone. It must be one of the laws of performance theory that you only notice how many ‘f’s and ‘s’s are in close proximity in your poems when you’re called upon to deliver a line which comes out like a drunk reciting ‘She sells seashells by the seashore.’

How much easier it would be if you didn’t have to hold a piece of paper in your hand, or a sheaf of papers, or a book. But of course, if you take away the printed word, it’s like taking away a security blanket. The reference point has vanished. Suddenly, the words have gone and you’re on your own. The audience is waiting. Your mind’s a blank. You don’t even remember which poems you wanted to perform, let alone how they start. If it was terrifying before, when you had a book to hide behind, something to keep checking on while you read, nothing can describe how it feels to walk up to the mic empty-handed!

So what is the secret? How do performers like Philip Wells and many other stand-up experts manage to deal with this fear of losing the visual text? Well, I suppose the simple answer is that they can see no other way of performing and so they practise, practise, practise - alone and in front of an audience, even if it’s just the dog - until they’re word-perfect and have all those memory tricks down cold, the mnemonics or mental tags that help us remember what comes next in a verbal sequence like poetry. Nerves go with the territory, after all, and it must be liberating to feel confident enough to step up and perform from the page in your head, the open text in your memory, a text that relies on a poet’s innate sense of rhythm to keep rolling off the tongue without faltering.

Besides, text changes when it’s memorised, have you noticed that? Not in physical terms - the words are still the same on the page, still exactly where you left them - but in oral and auditory terms. The poem starts to ‘feel’ different in your mouth, starts to take on a new shape in your mind. It always makes me think of Tony Harrison’s poem 'Fire-eater': 'Coarser stuff than silk they hauled up grammar/knotted together deep down in their gut', reminding me of how you pull words and phrases, the sense and rhythm of your poem, out of your mouth as you perform, dragging them out from god knows where, some ancient inner reservoir that pre-dates the written word.

When you memorise, instead of remembering where lines end or begin, you start to think about where to draw breath, where the emphasis lies, where the silences are between words, between lines, even between poems. The memorised work starts to have a new presence, one that takes it beyond the printed page. Now it’s out there, alive in the space between you and the audience, and you can’t take it back.

But poetry can’t perform that dance, it can’t come to life in those terms if it’s just read flatly from the page, if it’s never allowed to find its own rhythm in your mouth, in the way your body moves in performance, even in your eyes, the expression on your face, the sounds rising and falling and finding their own dynamic pathways to the audience without reference to something as stolid and inflexible as print.

So yes, I think it does make a difference if we perform from memory. But it also takes courage and determination; courage to face the audience without the safety net of the page, and determination because you’re bound to make mistakes in the beginning - though most people are probably gifted with a better memory than me or are better able to hide their mistakes with some smooth ad-libbing! - and you have to deal with that possibility. Luckily, I think the adrenalin and energy that come from facing our fear are motivating factors, bringing us back to the mic empty-handed again and again.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Lemn Sissay shows us 'Something Dark'

Coming to a theatre or club near you over the next few months is Lemn Sissay’s new one man stage show Something Dark. According to Apples & Snakes, this is 'Lemn’s masterpiece. One man, one stage, one hell of a story – all shot through with a powerful sense of lyricism.'

Something Dark will be running at the Battersea Arts Centre from 21 Feb to 12 March. If you can't wait until then and you happen to be in Malta at the moment - which, admittedly, is a long shot - it's on in Valletta tonight (Saturday, 14th January) at the St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, starting at 8pm. Alternatively, you could catch it back in the UK next Friday, 20th January, at the earlier time of 7.30 pm, when Lemn Sissay will be performing his new show at the Uppingham Theatre, Rutland (near Leicester).

Something Dark will be on tour around the country for the next month or so, so do try to see it when it swings round your way or make the trip into London to see it when it's showing at the BAC. Further details of venues and dates can be found on the Apple and Snakes website, which can be found opposite this post under Links. And if you'd like to know more about the poet and performer Lemn Sissay himself, his personal website is also listed there.

T. S. Eliot Prize Reading on Sunday 15th

The T.S. Eliot Prize Reading takes place tomorrow evening at 7.30pm at the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre, London. It's always a star-spangled event and this year looks like being even more dynamic than usual, with a host of talented new poets rubbing shoulders with veteran performers. Poets due to read include Polly Clark, Helen Farish, David Harsent, Sinéad Morrissey, Alice Oswald, Pascale Petit, Sheenagh Pugh, John Stammers, and Gerard Woodward. That's an impressive line-up. The poems of Carol Ann Duffy are going to be read by the poet Elaine Feinstein.

You can still order tickets by calling the UCL Bloomsbury box office on 020 7388 8822. For directions, visit their website at www.thebloomsbury.com.

Ticket prices are as follows: Full Price £10.00/Concession Price £7.00/UCL Discount Price £4.50

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"Poet Yourself!" at Oxford Open Mic

Six or seven years ago, I went to a Poetry Slam in Oxford with the poet and novelist Mark Haddon, around the time he started getting his poems published in magazines. Neither of us was quite sure what to expect. It turned out to be an odd sort of night, peopled by characters out of a bad comedy sketch show, and I was a little put off by what I considered then to be 'performance poetry'. Wrong again, of course. But I was a performance virgin in those days and a Poetry Slam was still enough of a novelty outside London for me to regard it with suspicion - especially in a city like Oxford, long associated with academia and traditional poetry. With hindsight, it was simply one of those fringe events with too many novices like ourselves on board and a couple of bizarre stand-ups who were more interested in getting audience laughs than writing good poetry.

Today, the open mic scene has changed. Not in its entirety - you're always going to find novices and flash types at any open mic event, Slams in particular - but there's been an air of professionalism about stand-up poetry in recent years. And it's continuing to change and grow and improve, mutating every time a new event surfaces.

In Oxford, the Back Room Poets have been meeting for open mic poetry every month since 2000; the longest-running open mic event in town. And this week it's changing venue.

From this Monday, January 16th, the Back Room Poets will be hosting their monthly Open Mic Poetry event at Far From the Madding Crowd, a pub at Friars Entry - just round the corner from their former venue, downstairs at Borders Books. If you're in Oxford and would like to read some of your own work in front of an audience, the evening kicks off at 8pm, though I imagine you might want to turn up a little earlier to sign in.

If you've never been to an Open Mic event before, I can highly recommend it. It's far more relaxing than a Slam - where you're reading against the clock in fierce competition with other poets - and if you go to one event regularly, the social aspect can soon become almost as important as the poetry itself. (As if that were possible!)

For more details, and to discover more about the Back Room Poets, click here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

London Launch Readings for Rack Press Poets

The Welsh poetry pamphlet imprint Rack Press is to be relaunched in January 2006 with three new titles: The Green Buoy by John Barnie, Lute Variations by the sixteenth century French poet, Louise Labé, with a range of English “improvisations” of two of her sonnets by Richard Price, and a longer collection The Narrators by Nicholas Murray.

The launch reading for these pamphlets is being held on Wednesday 11th January at 6.30pm at the Swedenborg Hall, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1. Free admission. For further details call 07817 424 560.

Rack Press was started in 1995 by Nicholas Murray; the newly relaunched Press hopes to publish two or three short poetry pamphlets a year. Due to existing commitments, however, it cannot currently accept unsolicitied manuscripts.

The first crop of poets include the leading Welsh poet and editor of Planet, John Barnie; the prominent Scottish poet, Richard Price, whose collection Lucky Day has been shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize due to be announced in January 2006; and the Liverpool-born poet and biographer, Nicholas Murray, whose biography of Aldous Huxley was shortlisted for the Marsh Biography Prize in 2003.

Commenting on the launch, publisher Nicholas Murray said: “We have seen in recent decades a shift in British poetry publishing towards smaller (and not so small) non-metropolitan presses that are bringing out some of the most interesting and innovative work while so many of the former big names in poetry publishing play safe and avoid risk.”

Rack Press publications are published and printed in Wales. In London, Rack Press titles are available from the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL. Tel 020 7269 9030. Readers in the Welsh Marches, home of Rack Press, can obtain copies of pamphlets from The Rowan Tree, High Street, Presteigne, Powys LD8 2BE (01544 260202). Also available from Pemberton's, 4 High Town, Hay-on-Wye, HR3 5AE (01497 820159).

Fiona Sampson at the MAC this week (with an Open Mic)

Fiona Sampson, the editor of Poetry Review, will be reading at the Midlands Arts Centre on Thursday 12th January at 7.30pm.

This is part of the Poetry Bites series at the MAC, which means there will be floor spots available for those members of the audience intrepid enough to want to perform too. If you do want to read your own work, bring two or three poems and arrive a little earlier to make sure of a spot.

Fiona Sampson's most recent books are: Travel Diary (Patuvacki Dnevnik) (Knixevna Akademija, Macedonia, 2004); Evening Brings Everything Back (translations of Jaan Kaplinski, Bloodaxe, 2004); A Fine Line: New Poetry from East and Central Europe (with Jean Boase-Beier and Alexandra Buchler: Arc, 2004); Folding the Real (Seren, 2001); a chapbook, Hotel Casino (Aark Arts, 2004); and, forthcoming, The Distance Between Us (Seren, 2005). Awards include the 2003 Zlaten Prsten for international writing, a Hawthornden Fellowship and the Newdigate Prize. She has a PhD in the philosophy of writing process (University of Nijmegen, 2001) and is AHRB Research Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts at Oxford Brookes University and Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Sussex.

Persuaded by all that?

Ticket prices are £4/£3 concessions. Click here for booking and other information.

To find the Midlands Arts Centre, MAC says they are 'next door to Cannon Hill Park, opposite the County Cricket Club on Edgbaston Road – off Pershore Road (A441) and Bristol Road (A38). There’s lots of free parking for cars and bikes in the adjacent Birmingham City Council car park. If you come by bus, the number 1 stops right outside and the numbers 45 and 47 stop just around the corner on Pershore Road. You can pick up bus timetables from our Ticket and Information Office at MAC, or call us on 0121 440 3838.'

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Patsy Rodenburg - Poetry & Voice

Legendary voice coach to the stars of film and stage like Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes, Patsy Rodenburg will be presenting an evening of poetry in London on Thursday January 19th, reading and discussing poems that have become inextricably linked with key points in her life.

Patsy Rodenburg is Head of Voice at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and Voice Coach at the National Theatre. An OBE recipient in 2003, her bestselling books include Speaking Shakespeare and The Right to Speak. 'She teaches the use of the voice by engaging the heart, mind and body, and poetry is central to all her teaching.'

I went to a Voice & Poetry Workshop run by Patsy Rodenburg back in the late 90s; there were about twelve of us, as I recall, upstairs at the Poetry Society. Mario Petrucci was there too, a new poet I'd only recently met on an Arvon writing course but who is now, of course, very well-known on the poetry scene. Patsy Rodenburg's expertise was awe-inspiring; I imagine she knows everything there is to know about the voice as an instrument. She had us rolling our shoulders, breathing through our noses, memorising Shakespearean sonnets and addressing invisible dots on the far wall, all twelve of us declaiming at once as we wandered about the room. It was noisy and chaotic but astonishingly effective. We went in as rather muted, diffident individuals and strutted out four or five hours later, speaking with deep confident voices that seemed to well right up out of our boots. I got some surprised looks on the train home that night, practising my amazing new voice on everyone I met!

This is one of the Realms of Gold series and will take place at the London Review Bookshop
14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL Nearest tube: Holborn
Tickets: £10 / £5 concs, members and LRB subscribers
Box office: 020 7420 9896 or email marketing@poetrysociety.org.uk

So where does the phrase 'Realms of Gold' come from?

On First Looking into Chapman's "Homer" by John Keats (1795-1821)

MUCH have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne,
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold.
—Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

'Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold'; even though Keats' poem is about reading a great poet, discovering their work for the first time, this seems to me a clear-cut, very modern description of how stirring it can be to hear a poet's 'voice' and feel something deep within you respond. Performance poets, take note!

If anyone is lucky enough to catch this Realms of Gold event with Patsy Rodenburg, do please drop me an email with your comments so I can post them up on this site. 

SHORTFUSE - home to the POETRY IDOLS contest

SHORTFUSE, according to their publicity, is 'an electrifying weekly fusion of stand-up poetry and spokenword.' It takes place every Thursday evening at The Camden Head, Camden Walk, Islington, London N1. Doors open at 8.30pm and tickets are priced at £5/£3 concessions. You can turn up and pay on the door or book tickets by emailing tickets@shortfuse.co.uk

'Spokenword' is a term increasingly applied to club-level work which is performance-based but doesn't fall under any easy to define heading. It can be a vibrant and eclectic mix of words, music, poetry, stand-up comedy, both dark and slap-stick. Not to everyone's taste, but it may constitute a possible future for performance poetry that has grown beyond page-based readings.

SHORTFUSE also hosts regular POETRY IDOLS contests, where 6 selected competitors battle it out in front of a live audience and a panel of judges. The organisers say, with some heat, 'POETRY IDOL is not a poetry slam!'

If it feels like something you might want to get involved in, they are now accepting submissions for the next POETRY IDOL contest. Deadline for submissions of work (they need tape, CD, DVD etc recordings of you performing a typical set of 10 - 15 mins) is Thursday 23rd February. The contest itself will be held on March 9th. And if you're not sure about the idea, why not go along and see the contest in action? Click here for full details and listings of artists due to appear at SHORTFUSE.

On Thursday January 26th, well-known Scottish poet and raconteur par excellence Roddy Lumsden will be doing a full length set at SHORTFUSE, alongside previous Poetry Idol winners Wayne Smith and Gareth Jones. Sounds like it could be worth a visit.

Six New Poets to read at the Troubadour this Monday evening

Six new poets, including Mavis Gregson, Alan Murray and Carrie Etter, will be reading on Monday night at the Troubadour Coffee-House, 265 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5. Tickets are £5.50/£4.50 from 020 8354 0660. The event begins at 8pm. For more details of this and other live poetry events at the Troubadour, email CoffPoetry@aol.com.

Regular Poetry Events at the Troubadour
'Monday night is Coffee-House Poetry. This Arts Council funded programme sees the presentation of the best in contemporary poetry from new and established writers - local, regional and international. There are special small-press and magazine evenings, celebrations of the great and the dead, an annual "Epiphanies" event for up-and-coming writers and regular "themed" poetry parties…all hosted with interval music, poetry books and magazines on sale and the latest "buzz" on poetry happenings throughout London.'
Taken from the Troubadour Coffee-House website, which you can find here.