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!
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.
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?
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.