2010 Poetry Highlights

Peggy from East Kent Live Lit said I should pick some of my poetry highlights of the year so I have done just that!

The 14th Tale – Inua Ellams at the National Theatre and Gulbenkian

My poetry year really kicked off in February, when I signed up to do a couple of workshops with Inua Ellams off the back of his poetry solo show, The 14th Tale at the National Theatre. At the time I was just beginning to think about poetry as something I could pursue more seriously than simply as a hobby, and seeing Inua’s brilliant show made me realise the versatility and flexibility of spoken word poetry. His workshops also made me reconsider myself as a writer and performer, and started me off on the path to leaving my job to try to make a living from the medium. Personal reasons aside, the show itself has to be a highlight of the year – and Inua praised for bringing poetry and spoken word into the National Theatre with such artfulness, feeling and wit.

Bang Said the Gun

Bang Said the Gun is simply one of the best regular poetry nights in London, and you can find me there most weeks. They consistently programme the best artists from the spoken word world and give new people the chance to perform as part of their Golden Gun competition. I have been lucky enough to win it twice, and the prize of a 10 minute slot at the following show (along with the wonderful and slightly ludicrous trophies) is very welcome to us up-and-comers. If you’ve never been to a poetry night, this is the one to go to first, showcasing the best qualities of a spoken word evening.

The Funeral of Richard Tyrone Jones

One of the strangest and most interesting shows I went to all year. Richard Tyrone Jones, poet, host and Director of Utter! events, organised his own funeral for his 30th Birthday. People read for him whilst he lay inert in a coffin, planted mourners in black wailing and weeping. My friend Kyrill Potapov stood up and made a hilarious point about scotch eggs (you had to be there). In a further twist, Richard suffered some ill health later in the year (that’s putting it mildly – he had heart failure). He’s now turning the experience into a show, and having heard some of the work in a workshop, it’s going to be brilliant.

Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think of You – Molly Naylor

I saw a few poetry shows at the Fringe, but I have to pick Molly Naylor’s poetic monologue about being caught up in the 7/7 bombings as my highlight. I reviewed it here.

National Poetry Day 2010

I wrote up what I got up to on National Poetry Day here, but this was a massive highlight of the year. I would recommend sitting in a tiny space with Simon Armitage reading his work to you to anyone.

Skittles Are a Reason To Live – Richard Marsh

I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know a number of excellent poets this year, and count myself lucky that Richard Marsh is amongst them. As well as producing disarming, charming and very clever poetry, he’s a writer for Theatre 503 and all-round top guy. He wrote and performed a brilliant solo show for the Nursery Festival, detailing the story of a relationship using a recurring Skittles motif. The monologue was more overtly ‘poetry’ (read: more rhyming) then the other solo shows I’ve mentioned, with the writing and performance easily in the same high-quality category with Inua and Molly. Let’s hope he repeats it one day!

Poetry City

Workers of Art organised a Canterbury Festival Fringe event, with the poet John Siddique writing a series of poems based on his stay in Canterbury and culminating in one being projected onto the Westgate Tower. One day was set aside for a number of poetical happening around the city – I returned as the leader of the Poetry Party, Vicky Wilson and Gary Studley made up poems based on people’s shopping baskets, poetry bracelets were handed out and a poet-tree created. It was a great day and all the artists brought poetry to people in unexpected ways.

Apples and Snakes The Writer, Performer and Director Relationship workshop

I took part in this two-day workshop with poet Zena Edwards and director Anthony Shrubsall at Apples and Snakes HQ in the Albany. Not only did it help me as a performer, but it changed the way I think about performing. Zena is a phenomenal spoken word artist and it was incredibly informative to see the way a poet can work with a director.

The Canterbury Slam

I’m not always a big fan of poetry slams, but Apples and Snakes and East Kent Live Lit put on a spectacular evening that was more of a celebration than a competition. I finished as runner up to the eventual winner Christian Watson in a lively and stylistically diverse night of high-octane spoken word featuring Catherine Brogan, Indigo Williams, Spliff Richard and Vanessa Kisuule. Patience Agbabi hosted and Kate Fox guested. Even had I not been performing, the line-up alone would have made this one of my highlights. A fantastic event to close the Canterbury Festival and send off Orange Street Music Venue.

101 Poems in a Day – Tim Clare

Tim Clare’s attempt to write 101 poems in a day was brave and insane, and I followed much of his progress with excitement as each poem dropped. The standard was consistently high, and it was a delight that he took three of my title suggestions to write about. Writers Centre Norwich is a great resource and institute, and must be commended for supporting him in his foolish, ridiculous and ultimately triumphant endeavour.

And finally, if you’ll indulge me…

… the highlights of this year from the things I was involved in. I performed at my first festival – Lounge on the Farm – and thoroughly enjoyed it due to the responsive and enthusiastic crowd. As part of Canterbury City Council’s MAD scheme I brought poetry to the streets and beaches of Whitstable for the Oyster Festival with The Poetry Party to great success. My volunteers and I fused street theatre and poetry, fooling a lot of people along into thinking we were a real political party by canvassing and holding a rally. I have also had a couple of poems published (in a Children in Need Charity Collection an upcoming Fuselit journal) and Year One Consulting commissioned me to write their Christmas card.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good number of gigs this year and perform at a number of brilliant open mics. The Canterbury Slam is an obvious highlight – all the poets entered into the friendly spirit of the evening which made performing a pleasure rather than a pressure. Performing my own work at the National Theatre at the end of Inua’s workshops will always stand out, but so too do the more informal venues: Bang Said the Gun is always fun, as was Rum Do in the summer. More recently, the open mics at Anna Le’s final Sage and Time and the end of year Christmas spectacular that was A Partridge in a Poetree (organised by Katie Bonna, another great poet I’ve had the privilege of getting to know this year) rounded off a brilliant year of poety. I even got a quick poem off in the last days of 2010 at The Oubliette’s takeover of The Limelight Church for The People’s Mass.

However, my top personal highlight of 2010 is Tongue Tide, back in the hazy days of May. Looking back, I feel that it was by no means a great performance and there have been many more in 2010 that were technically and artistically better, and better received by the audience. It was, however, my first professional engagement and I’m grateful for the opportunity Apples and Snakes and East Kent Live Lit gave me – it provided me with the self-belief, confidence and push to further myself as a poet and writer and just get better. I think I’ve come a long way in the seven months since that gig but it opened the door to that development, which has been the most important thing for me in 2010.

– Dan

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