Summer in the City

There isn’t a good excuse for not blogging for so long, except for there being a few technical problems with my website, but hooray – I’m getting stuck in again.

It really has been a long time since I last wrote about Peterborough.  Looking back over the diary, a huge amount has happened – as is typical of arts events during the summer.  My goal in this blog is to whizz through some of the highlights and focus on some things I’ve been involved in.

Charley Genever’s Freak Speak in July marked the end of Peterborough’s first Pride events.  The night featured the astonishing Caroline Bird with Toby Campion, Sophie Sparham and members of the Freak Speak Young Collective.  I’d put this date in the months before – such was the draw of Caroline Bird for me.  I had been fortunate enough to attend an Arvon writing retreat in Devon earlier in the year, where she and Andrew MacMillan were the tutors.  Her performance at Freak Speak didn’t disappoint, leaving us all reeling with the wit of her writing.  I enjoyed hearing Sophie Sparham and Toby Campion was also excellent. An important part of the evening was the opportunity given to two members of the collective (young people Charley is working with to support and develop as artists in the city).  Leah Bird and Charlie Maddox took to the stage and delivered their first sets incredibly well, all credit to them for their boldness and determination. For more information about upcoming events and projects see the Freak Speak site and for a further great opportunity for young poets, see the Writer’s House Metal event.

Later in the month I met with Adrian Oates and other members of the management team at Ferry Meadows to discuss the prospect of poetry and other creative projects in the park. Nene Park has seen huge success with the Moments With Trees project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and has recently hosted celebrations for the its 40th birthday.  Activities there are ever expanding, due in part to recent investment.  The meeting was incredibly positive, with the team looking at a range of ideas for more artistic engagement and making plans for a large funding bid.  I was struck by how open they were to a range of ideas, all very exciting, so watch this space.

Good Shout Poetry Slam version 2.5, hosted by Alex Tyler and featuring Henry Raby, happened at the end of July – my first time competing in an actual slam.  It was a fun evening, with an energetic performance by Henry and some great local poets.  This time Metal at Chauffeurs Cottage was the venue, due to the closing of the Broadway Theatre.  The fantastic and hilarious Sandy Wardrop was declared the slam champion, which was much deserved.  Another highlight for me was Rob Harding’s poem about a mother’s depression. It was also good to see Adi Smalls and another young poet – Sammy Mitchell, who is new to the Peterborough scene and delivered a gutsy performance.  I made it to the final round with a poem about truth and got my first slam under my belt – yesss.

Rob Harding performs at Good Shout
Sammy Mitchell performs at Good Shout
The winner Sandy Wardrup

I was commissioned by the Poly-Technic – visual artists Kate Genever and Steve Pool, to work on the PECT’s Green Festival which happened in Nene Park in the middle of August.  The theme of the work was ‘The best things in life aren’t things’, following on from last year’s Planet B festival. Kate and Steve were working alongside other artists including Katy Hawkins – who delivered a series of walks called ‘Wander With’, Anne Bellamy – who ran a project with her Jailbirds group at the prison and me.  The work was designed to open up a conversation about where we find our joy and to consider the future and reducing the amount of waste.

In the lead up to the event the Poly-Technic shone projections and put up tear-off posters to highlight the work.  They collected recordings of a range of people talking around the theme, which was put together using an old reel-to-reel tape.  The result was a soundscape that could be listened to on headphones at the festival.  People were also encouraged to write on slate stones at the event and then skim their words on the lake, taking part in a moment of reflection and enjoying a simple pleasure.  Katy’s ‘Wander With’ walks took place at various times at the festival and encouraged mindfulness whilst walking; a noticing of the details that we are often too busy or distracted to think about.  And Anne’s Jailbirds project encouraged little acts of kindness; seed pods were made with inspiring mottos on and then given out on the day.  See the Poly-Technic’s blog for more information

My work naturally developed to be centred on water.  The experience of skimming stones and the rhythm behind it formed the basis of a poem for the soundscape. However, in the poem the skimming stones became objects – things that built up and crowded the experience of the simplicity of life, only to be knocked down towards the end – stripped back to the original pleasure of skimming.  To listen to the full soundscape see the link: poem from around 2 minutes in.

The second piece I wrote was in a completely different style and looked at water in a light-hearted way by making a series of statements that were immediately contradicted.  The aim was to entertain and to get the reader thinking about water’s qualities, questioning the truth behind the statements – all whilst watching the paper dissolve and the ‘facts’ disintegrate into nothing!  I got some good feedback about the piece, with people saying they were going to have a poetic and contemplative moment in the bath that evening, others intending to put it in their ponds, whilst others placed it on one of the lakes in the park.  Later in the summer I took some time to dissolve the poem in the sea.

And then, quite suddenly, she was aware of echoes, or whisperings, of hints, inklings, reflections.And she heard again the words of Old Mazy: “Water always finds its own level…” – Helen Cresswell, The Secret World of Polly Flint

The eyes of water are wide – wider than storms, wider than a reef

Water has no eyes, only a body

 

Rest on water and the world’s wounds float skyward

Millions have been smothered by the weight of an ocean

 

Flotillas of small craft can be watched navigating a peninsular

Boats never sail on water, preferring instead to manage their time between bottles, yards and museums

 

Swimming is prohibited – nothing good can ever come of it

Everyone must swim one kilometre of backstroke twice a week for the sake of personal hygiene and physical robustness

 

Clouds have been known to be hooked out of the water by eager fisherpeople

There is nothing below the surface of water, any allusions to substance are merely reflections

 

The moon and water have long been in collusion to taunt five-year-olds – revealing what there is to be netted, before covering it all up again

The moon hates water and intermittently strives to restrain it, wrestling it from where it wants to go

 

Jellyfish have been found to inhibit nuclear plants and to eat peanut butter

Jellyfish are messengers of the devil

 

The only way to survive this place is to stop treading water

Stop treading water and you’re finished

 

 

There was a lot of good stuff to attend or get involved with during August.  I really enjoyed being part of the PECT Green Festival and heard lots about ‘Once Upon A Festival’ – the story-telling event that happened in Central Park on the same date.  Peterborough Presents also ran the Millfield Movement Project – an exciting series of dance workshops, working towards producing a film. And the culmination of lots of programming, effort and community involvement was the Millfield Festival (which the film was shown at, but I was on holiday for) on 26th August.

I write a week before starting rehearsals on my one-person theatre piece ‘Cold Snaps’, which will run as a scratch event as part of the Platform8 season of theatre. Having made the decision to perform the piece myself, the following weeks include a number of rehearsal sessions.  I’m planning to blog about the process in the lead up to the event, so look out for it.

Netball, Netball, Philosophy, Poetry, Netball

It’s the end of the season for the netball team I play for –  Hereward Harriers (a Peterborough-based regional team).  We managed to keep our place in the league – just about. Whoop!  I’ve been writing privately about netball for a little while now, but thought I’d share some thoughts.  You might be a little surprised by how multi-layered this gets, but bear with it, I find it interesting – you might too.

A theme that’s been consistently seeping through my writing in recent months – making a comeback after my philosophy degree – is that of the body; the body that we grasp and make sense of the world with and through.  I am continuing to write with this on my mind – often poems where the body is dissected; parts speaking back their interpretations of experiences and surroundings.   To me the body is what we have – synonymous with mind, soul, spirit – however you define them.  We are an amalgamation!  Of course in poetry I can do what I want – separate them all out, play; inhabit the dreamscape.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty – a modern French phenomenological philosopher wrote a lot about perception.  Edward S. Casey draws on Merleau-Ponty’s judgements and talks about the distinction that is often made between mental and physiological memory, saying it is not necessary to distinguish between them.  Habit memory is neither strictly mental or entirely physical, but a mixture of intention and behaviour – animation by the mind and enactment by the body.

If we agree that memory doesn’t reside purely in the brain or in the body, but in a response that inhabits both of these, this opens all kinds of implications.  We aren’t ending up with a visual projection of a memory, or of a feeling / body movement of that memory, but something that exists in the overlap – it could be reproduced without subscribing to any identifiable representational format, characteristic of a dream-like state maybe.  I love this idea, which fits with the fact that truth is subjective – fluid, unable to be pinned down. This is a marvellous thing to hang on to when writing poetry.

Anyway – more of the netball. I’ve long wanted to write about my experience – the bodily experience of playing sport – stemming from the repetition of the same movements, the same way of planting the feet, the same way of reaching and bringing a ball down from above you and the same way of launching, turning in the air and landing.  These and many more actions are things that are re-enacted over and over again (for me for over twenty five years).  As a defender, I feel the hit of pleasure when all those movements, along with cognitive functions unite and the result is the perfectly-timed interception.  That is the peak of the physical experience of playing, although it could be different from player to player, position to position.

My age and a changing body have brought this all to the forefront in recent months.  I’ve been faced with questions about when to stop playing netball and a possible change of match day for my club could mean that I’m not able to play as much in the near future.  It is pertinent when I hear about sports stars who couldn’t cope with retirement.  For them, their entire existence (unlike mine, although there has been times I’ve been very driven) has been motivated by and geared towards being the best they can be in their sport.  However, I think there is something much deeper, more inherent in their identity at stake.   When we have lived, sometimes for the majority of our lives, performing specific actions over and over and have learnt pleasure from the results of particular actions, we have establishing a way of being – a mode of relating to the world through the body.  This is what it feels so difficult to give up – an ingrained way of being in the world!

Merleau-Ponty’s examination of the bodily nature of perception feels significant in so many ways. He states that,

‘The corporeal schema is an incorporated bodily know-how and practical sense; a perspectival grasp upon the world from the ‘point of view’ of the body’.

John Hockey and Jacquelyn Allen Collinson go on to talk about the symbiosis of rhythm and timing, in relation to sport.They state that each sporting social context requires its own particular rhythm and this varies from sport to sport. Defining this rhythm as a,

‘patterned energyflow of action, marked in the body by varied stress and directional change; also marked by changes in the level of intensity, speed and duration […] To accomplish such rhythm, participants must skilfully coordinate certain bodily parts, with the complexities of that coordination varying considerably between sports.’

In my latest writing venture – a one-person play looking at elements of the body and their relationship to the environment on and off the netball court, I recognise that I am setting a rhythm through the metre of the lines that is set against/alongside the rhythm of playing netball.  The continuous and repeated movements in a relatively small space are safe – there is a ‘measurable’ and more ‘concrete’ identity. Whereas the rhythms and language of the body negotiating itself around a vaster, more complex environment are more dangerous, less able to be repeated and embedded.  There is a safety in knowing how to be.

A little excerpt:

 

I love you body

I love the way the skin is strong on me

I love you body

you’ve been so good

I’ve been so sure of you

so sure-footed – hopscotching rocks at a beach

so sure

 

I love you body

I love how your brain hones in

on ball and body

calculating distance/trajectory/speed

needed for the certain intercept

A spell – exact recipe:

 

legs launch

torso smooth turns

arms stretch

fingers breach the Centre’s attack:

frustrate, set back and

the ball’s yours                 all yours

 

This short piece does distinguish brain/body, but in the name of poetry – ha!

To take this further – In Feminist phenomenology and the woman in the running body, Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson acknowledges that there are powerful influences and constraints upon lived experience and the corporeal specifics of bodies that are located in time and culture. She talks about her experience of running.  In this activity that she loves and has repeated over decades, she has been unable to experience that safeness, because of the nature of being female in the environment.  She writes:

‘Over the years, I have been subject to varying degrees of verbal and physical harassment; men/teenage boys have lunged and grabbed at various parts of my anatomy. The embodied consequences of such abuse and attack mean that at times when corporeal vulnerability is brought forcibly to the forefront of my consciousness, I run warily, eyes and ears on full alert, breath at times shallow so that I can better listen for sounds. My running body is no longer the running habit-body, at ease with itself and the environment, but is brought vividly and jarringly to consciousness.’

The netball court holds no resemblance to this.  However when we consider sports women, and in this case netballers, on a general level there is much to be said.  Allen-Collinson writes that looking at these things sharpens our focus on our embeddedness within the cultural and social worlds.

As women, we enter a world that is already steeped in patriarchal hierarchies, those in sport certainly being no exception.  As I grew up I found myself to be a bit of a sporting all-rounder – doing gymnastics, ice-skating, playing on most sports teams and doing athletics and cross-country for the school and at higher levels.  In my experience netball required just as much exertion, skill and competitiveness as the other sports I took part in, but I just happened to be better at it than the others.  However, it wasn’t long before I learnt to regard it in a negative way.  At school, I found that a couple of the sports teacher didn’t think much of the game and I came to be embarrassed about saying ‘netball’, always justifying how physical and great a sport it was by sharing my list of injuries – broken nose, knee, fingers etc… Many sports that are played by women are becoming more prominent and don’t seem to hold the cringe-worthy connotations, or be perceived in the same way and I have questioned why this should be. I always arrive at the same conclusion. Netball was first and foremost a women’s sport, not a man’s sport that women started to play, and as such took its lowly place in the patriarchal set up.  It is not an Olympic sport and even though television coverage is now slightly better.  It is in no way proportionate to the amount of people who play it both at school and beyond in the UK.  On radio phone-ins about encouraging more women into sport, it is hardly mentioned, despite being one of the only sports particularly for that gender.

I will continue to harp on unashamedly about this.  Perhaps I will think of something more provoking or further-reaching to do one day.  I don’t think the answer is to relax and say that the profile and coverage is better than it was.  When the first lot of women secured the vote, the campaign wasn’t over until they all had it and there’s still so much to do about all aspects of woman-hood – issues and passions and ways of being.

This last little rant was instigated by the previous thinking about body-knowledge and the body’s grasp on the world.  The more time and coverage we give to sporting pursuits that are out of proportion to participation and interest, the more society is guilty of valuing one way of being-in-the-world more than another.  Thoughts on this are welcome.

For more reading on sport and philosophy see Grasping the Phenomenology of Sporting BodiesJohn Hockey and Jacquelyn Allen Collinson

Pictures, Projects, Platform 8

A whole month has somehow got lost, despite all my good intentions to post here regularly.  I put it down to going away at Easter and all the busyness that came afterwards.  It would be a pity not to write about some of the highlights of the last month and include some thoughts and writing I’ve done in that time.  In fact, it would make sense to say that my aims in posting here are to let people know what I’m up to as Laureate, to respond to other cultural events that happen in the city (although they might not directly be related to being Poet Laureate), to share some of the thoughts and avenues for my own writing and, in general, to let you know what a marvellous place this is!

At the start of April the Currie family were excited to be going to the launch of the ‘Put Yourself in the Picture Exhibition’ at Peterborough Museum, initiated by young producer and arts student Hanna Hughes.  The project was supported by Peterborough Presents’ Emerge Programme – giving training and support to young creatives.  Members of the public were invited to be made into images of famous masterpieces, which were then framed and displayed in the gallery.  It was great to see the exhibition, alongside the work of other young creatives from Peterborough College.  The standout point for me (apart from having some brilliantly quirky art works for the downstairs loo) was that the project engaged the whole family.  This is rare with children’s ages ranging from five to twelve, so a great testament to Hanna.  Watch the video below for a taste of it all.

Off to the land of bright yellow gorse and lots more. We went to Wareham, Dorset (home of my parents), during the school holidays.  The first few days were warm.  We made our way to Arne, Durdle Door, Kimmeridge.  I sat and watched the children on the beach (something getting easier and easier the older they get – some relaxation is now possible, ha!)  I wrote the bones of a new poem, inspired by my youngest.  It would be accurate to describe him as outgoing, energetic and incredibly competitive. I watched him on a rock, whilst the sea came in and out around him.  He stood – gesticulating, posturing, blowing raspberries – daring the sea to get him.  It was very amusing, but got me thinking and writing about the experience of childhood, the ego, audacity, lack of self-awareness and confidence that gets squashed the older we get.  It wouldn’t work for us to stay that way (we’d be a danger to ourselves to start with), but it is magical!

G.

That’s him – laughing

raspberry-tongued boy – body versus sea,

‘You can’t catch me!’

as he ninja-slices water

 

How does he not know he’s on the losing side?

How does he not know he is a fragment? –

 

stamping stone and rock

like it will crack under a five-year weight.

Surprised

when it does not.

 

Oh mini demi-god will you learn in one year, five, seven at best?

And at what nanosecond will you know?

 

No.

 

For now

 

reel in ships on kelp lassos,

conjure swells – surf them senseless,

conduct whales, lion’s mane jelly fish, colossal squid,

smother the Straits of Malacca – Sumatra to Tanjong Kedabo,

Subdue currents captain, rule indestructible –

 

boy – unbreachable –

 

the angles of you and ocean –

the angles of you on the world –

the angles of you in skin before life set in.

 

When you laughed at the sea.

 

I trekked back northwards in time for the launch of the Stamford Verse Festival.  The festival included a selection of well-known and local poets. Highlights included seeing Chris Martin crowned as the new Stamford Poet Laureate – whoop.  He performed a piece from his Spoken Word Theatre show ‘Rain Dance’.  Lemn Sissay mesmerised his audience and spoke with passion about issues surrounding social care for children / young people, based on his own experiences.  I took part in ‘Prosecco and Poetry’, organised by the outgoing Stamford Laureate – Emma Cuddeford, also featuring Keely Mills, Gin and Yonic, Gemma Baker and Camilla McClean (a fun Prosecco-fuelled afternoon!)  It was good to see a range of poetry experiences on offer, including local poet Pete Cox’s Poetry Pub Crawl – bound to entertain.

Mid April I was asked to judge this year’s ‘Rethink Your Mind – Yellow Book competition’ at Peterborough Regional College on 12th April, along with Joanne Hather-Dennis and College Principle Terry Jones. The competition saw students and employees complete for places in three categories – photography, art work and poetry. The theme was the promotion of mental well-being – a current and highly pertinent one! I was struck by the quality of the writing and was pleased to be involved in awarding the overall prize to Imogen Cook for a sophisticated piece of poetry.  I really liked her use of imagery and the underlying universal theme of humans as stories.  Well done to Imogen! All the entries were published in the Yellow Book, which was given out at a special tea in the college restaurant.

In the latter half of April came more performances from Platform 8, with Jumped Up Theatre and Battersea Arts.  Sponge was at St John’s Church in the city centre – a squishy squashy, spongey 70s dance show for babies and toddlers, complete with aliens, wigs and funky moves.  Jumped Up Theatre are responsible for programming some high-quality theatre in many spaces that aren’t typically used that way.  Sponge was no exception.  I think I need to admit to being a 5”8 toddler.

There was a distinct change of theme for the next Platform 8 piece, at the city’s Key Theatre.  ‘Ugly Chief’ mapped the experiences of Victoria Melody and TV antiques dealer Mike Melody following a diagnosis of a terminal illness, which is then revealed to be a misdiagnosis.  The show tackled the daughter/dad relationship with brutal honesty, tenderness and plenty of humour.  As usual, Jumped Up Theatre got stuck in with plenty of extra community engagement events, including a father and daughter photoshoot and an open invite to Peterborough peeps to meet and talk about one of life’s few certainties – death!

Another Platform 8 piece was the home-grown piece Anonymous by Urock Ensemble – an immersive dark and sometimes humorous look at pros and cons of the internet. The performance was bold and gripping.  It was performed at the Undercoft beneath Tesco, Serpentine Green – a space being increasingly used to engage the local area and offer an alternative to the city centre venues.

Sponge, Platform 8, Jumped Up Theatre

On 27th April I was invited to the Vivacity Book Bus launch at Fulbridge Academy.  This followed on from the launch of the new Vision For Reading, which I performed at at the museum.  A spanking new purple book bus, with lots of bunnies on, was parked up in the school grounds and some of the children were invited to explore it.  Illustrator Ellie Sandall, who created the design, ran workshops for the children and entertained everyone by donning bunny ears, along with MP Fiona Onasanya, Kevin Tighe – Vivacity CEO, Becky Graham and Mayor and Mayoress John and Judy Fox, to officially open the bus.  Another entertaining moment was when fantastic local writer Sandy Wardrop told the story of the bus and thanked all involved in the form of a playful poem – superbly executed. The bus will promote reading by visiting local primary schools – introducing them to the library service and offering space for storytelling.

The day after a new book bus, came one of the most poignant things to happen in the Millfield area in recent months – the My Lincoln Road Trail.  This was delivered by Collusion – a company working with art and technology to deliver community-based projects.  At the start of their work along Lincoln Road businesses and residents were met, food was sampled, relationships made.  This was then translated into an exploration of the road via trail, with new technology from Paper Rhino at Allia Future Business Centre.  Positive stories were collected about the area and embedded into specially designed lanterns, which could be accessed through Wifi and hung in shops.  A trail down the road began with Dhol Drummers and dancing outside The Lounge, an internationally renowned Sitar player near to Barclays, Portuguese tarts and street theatre outside Sado Bar, Turkish/Greek traditional song and excellent poetry from Zain Awan outside Chaiiwala. Zain had written about the potent words his teacher had spoken, during a school trip through his childhood territory and how that affected his view of self and place.  The project was a fantastic way to help develop a sense of community and it feels like the start of something great for the road.  Despite the bitter cold, many people paused their journeys to become part of it.  It would be fantastic to see more.

My Lincoln Road, Collusion

I’m going to Arvon on Monday 7th May – whooooooo! I have an amazing chance to gleen poetry knowledge and be mentored by Caroline Bird and Andrew MacMillan.  Arvon was established in 1972 and has hosted many well-known tutors including Angela Carter and Salmon Rushdie.  It has centres at several sites including Ted Hughes’ former home at Lumb Bank and Totleigh Barton in Devon, where I am off to.  Excited doesn’t really begin to describe how much I’m looking forward to hearing from Caroline Bird.  She is a fascinating writer who speaks about dream-like qualities of poetry and has won the Foyles Young Poet of the Year, among many other awards.  Wish me luck.

It’s the end of the netball season.  Netball is something that I’ve done for 29 years and it informs some of my thinking and writing.  Instead of shoving it into this post, I’m going to give it one of its own.  Watch out for that next time and for what happens at Arvon.

Poems and plays and some dance thrown in too

Back in Peterborough after an exciting four days in Southend-on-Sea, I faced several busy days last week.

The next season of theatre for Platform 8, delivered by Jumped-Up-Theatre with Battersea Arts began.  This is a bi-yearly event not to be missed and sees some top-quality theatre in the ‘boro! The first event Live Before You Die with Byron Vincent was a show exploring maleness and mental health. Byron looked at his life and main friendship with Dave McGinn as it was and is affected by his PTSD and bipolar disorder. Leading up to the event, he was involved in discussions with local community groups and hosted a curry evening – Curry and Chaat.  I went along to help, ate some delicious curry from Punjab Balti House and took part in the conversations.  One of the key discussions in our group was on the subject of who we share with and how much we disclose.  Lots to think about.

The 21st March was World Poetry Day.  I was invited to Avery House Care Home in Hampton Vale to deliver a poetry workshop and share some of my own pieces with them.  I oversaw a session with links to The Dreamcatcher Project (a former venture with Jumped-Up-Theatre and One-To-One Development Trust – see the link). The residents shared their hopes and aspirations for the future of Avery House and then drew on their surroundings and encounters to contribute to a poem.  I’m going to work on their material and return to perform the poem to them. It was great to talk about the qualities occupants brought to the building – a plethora of wisdom and experiences.

On the evening of World Poetry Day spoken word artist Alex Tyler kicked off a new event for Peterborough in the shape of a poetry slam – the first of its kind locally.  It was a fantastic event at the Broadway Theatre and had a big audience, including a large contingency from Lincoln. Mark Grist performed a set in the interval (he noted that it was the first full length set he remembered doing in the city for years).  I enjoyed having an unusual break from performing.  I relaxed, was entertained and spent most the evening laughing.  The overall winner was Amber Page, who performed two incredibly poignant pieces – the deserved slam champion!

Good Shout Slam  photos courtesy of Thomas Davies

After only two days break from poetry and theatre happenings, it was back to it on Saturday for two more Platform 8 events.  The first was a family-centred story by Paddleboat Theatre Company called According to Arthur. If I had to pick, I think this would be my highlight of the week.  The show traced the journey of old Arthur – a man who had become shut off from the world around him.  It followed the search for his friend the moon, which leads him to remember a more connected time and ultimately value friendships. Movement and props were used in unusual and brilliant ways, but the test of it all – an energetic five-year-old who sat enthralled throughout and loved showing old Arthur some funky dance moves.

To finish the week, I went with my daughter to The Head Wrap Diaries, from Uchenna Dance (brought to the city by Peterborough Presents for Platform 8, Jumped-Up-Theatre) – a complete change of tone from Paddleboat Theatre and a great experience.  I especially enjoyed the celebration of women in all their diversity alongside their cultural roots – symbolised by hair and the head wrap.  The performance was beautiful and dynamic. At home we had been watching He Named Me Malala (which I would highly recommend) – a documentary about the young activist Malala Yousafzai who was shut in the head by the Taliban for speaking out about the rights of girls. All-in-all we enjoyed a good couple of days of female empowerment and inspiration.

Photo courtesy of Tony Nero

There are still three other Platform 8 performances that are open for booking. They are Sponge by Turned On Its Head, for babies, young children and their carers, Anonymous by home-grown ensemble URock and Ugly Chief by Victoria Melody.  All look set to be fantastic events and well-worth booking in to.  For more information see the Jumped-Up-Theatre site.

Writers House 2

Today – snow – after even having to take off my outer layers when walking to the seafront yesterday!  It was a shock to open the blinds to it this morning, but a bit of a treat to get the estuary views in clear sunlight and then snow in the space of two days.

Yesterday I finished off a day of writing by listening to some poets at the Sundown Arts’ event I am Looking for Words. Let’s just say I laughed – a lot, especially at Rachel Pantechnicon.  I don’t think I’ve heard anything quite like it in poetry circles, in a surreal, ground-breaking type of way.  I need to hear or read about the Cheesegrater Leg-Iron Lion again!  Molly Naylor was another of my highlights on a completely different level.  She read some observant and moving poetry from her new book Badminton, published by Burning Eye Books.

On a snow day it was appropriate that I was spending time indoors.  I attended Situated Practice: a one day creative writing course relating to place, at Metal with celebrated author Lee Rourke.  The day was spent examining the traits and mechanisms of writing that evokes a clear sense of place.  It was really good to meet new people and learn from each other and Lee (who was a mine of wisdom and information).  I took on the task of writing a short piece evoking the fenlands back home, something that I feel better equipped to do as a result of the day.

In the lunch hour, I did a ten minute reading slot in Café Valise at Metal, reciting some of my more recent poetry.  It was good to get some positive feedback from the listeners.

It’s been a pretty sociable day! I went out in the early evening to an Italian street-food restaurant with my fellow resident Veronique Chance.  Veronique is an artist on sabbatical from university lecturing and is developing a piece of work on running – investigating the body’s response to its environment through it.  She relays pictures and tracks her runs as part of the process and is working towards running from the source of the Thames to the sea.  It was great to chat over pasta and a glass or two of red about her incredibly interesting project.

We returned quite noisily right at the start of another event – Exotic England: The Making of a Curious Nation, with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.  A leading commentator on race and human rights with multiple television and radio appearances to her name, Yasmine examined the curiosity the English have always had for other civilisations.  She read from her recent book and endowed everyone with the sense of the richness that England had always craved and gained especially from Eastern nations, and the relationship between them spanning centuries of history. Lots and lots to think about.

Being in residence at Chalkwell Hall has been extremely worthwhile.  It’s been so good to have time to develop ideas, be stimulated by workshops, performance and discussion and to be still and draw from the environment.  I feel like I’ve benefited from several weeks’ worth of input in relatively few days.  It’s been great to be here – thank you Metal

Writers House 1

It feels like a good opportunity to publish a post from Southend-on Sea, where I’m staying as part of the Essex Book festival.  During March, Metal at Chalkwell Hall has morphed into a pop-up Writers House and is offering a wide range of events celebrating writers and books of all genres.  This includes talks with guest authors, spoken word poetry and prose performance, seminars, and discussion.  Over the course of the month, the Georgian grade II listed hall is also housing seven writers-in-residence, of which I’m one.

I arrived on Thursday evening and settled into a large room with a writing desk and estuary views, then joined the Big Book Club Get-Together, which was taking place in the building.  All the book clubs in the area had been invited to read the same book – a lesser-known science fiction novella by E.M. Forster: The Machine Stops – and to meet together to discuss it. Key sections of text were read aloud by actress Sarah Mayhew and lots of lively discussion came afterwards.

I am familiar with several of Forster’s novels, but not The Machine Stops and it seemed this had been the case for a lot of people attending.  The reaction from those at the event was to marvel at how precisely and uncannily Forster wrote about the future, when writing in an age when radio was not yet a mass medium! He wrote about a machine as a medium for nearly all interactions, in a world devoid of nurture and human touch.  An idea considered valuable was one which had been handed on through at least ten intermediaries – evoking the current click/share culture and there were many more current thought-provoking themes. The overwhelming response from those involved, was shock at how accurate Forster’s predictions were and an inclination to read more science fiction in the future.

Whilst in residence at Chalkwell Hall I’ll be continuing to work on a one-person play for the Shall I Speak For You project with Jumped Up Theatre and Battersea Arts.  I’m currently developing the play-script which focuses on sport, mental health and motherhood.

The play consists of a series of monologues and spoken word pieces addressing the body – firstly as something the central character is in love with – a sports woman, who has always valued being a strong physical force. And secondly, in contrast, the body that finds the mental load of everyday life difficult.

Thinkers such as Plato wanted to separate mind from body, placing the emphasis on the intellectual. But later philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty had a far more holistic approach, writing about the bodily nature of consciousness. I find this fascinating, especially talk of muscle-memory and ideas that not all memory is stored in the brain.  Our bodies adjust to our own surroundings, for example – If we drive, we learn to perceive the car as an extension of ourselves.  It is also incredibly interesting to hear stories from patients who’ve received transplants reporting that they’ve inherited thoughts, feelings and personality traits from the organ donor.  Our bodies as mediums through which we form a grip on the world is something I want to explore further in my writing, especially as a woman.

Tonight I’m excited to be attending I’m Looking For Words, with Sundown Arts – an evening of spoken word with Matt Abbott, Molly Naylor and other poets.

A Writer’s Pub – Write Club

This week is a busy one for the diary – full of spaces to write and perform.  As I type, poets in the city are gearing up for the this evening’s Write Club – an event which pits teams of writers/performers against each other, as they compete for the ultimate prize – free beer.

It’s good to see people with different angles and writing styles all sharing in a local space. I’m taking on the role of team captain for the first time and have an awesome squad of poets (even if I’m biased), including some new faces.

The evening, which is held at The Stoneworks, beginning at 8pm, is hosted by Charley Genever – Peterborough Poet Laureate 2016 and sees Chris Martin and Keely Mills as the two other team captains.  The theme (chosen by an audience member at the previous Write Club) is ‘Thoughtlessness’.