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.
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.