In which 2013 begins properly (Kent Uni, Litmus Test, Pete the Temp, crowdsourcing & scratching!)

beaneyOh hello!

I’m still collecting words for #discoverpoem! The deadline is Wednesday, so get your words over to me soon to be part of this crowdsourced poem for The Beaney in Canterbury. Click here for how to take part, and you can find a lot more information about the project here. ITV Meridian made a short piece about it, which went out last night on the evening news! Watch it here.

This week, I have mostly been in Kent. My first gig of the year was back at the University of Kent – my old University in Canterbury – where I introduced three top spoken word poets to an intimate audience at the English Department’s Creative Writing Tuesday Reading series. Anna Le, Adam Kammerling and Amy Acre spoke poems at a Performance Poetry Special – though we were quick to argue about that label during the Q&A! Performance poetry? Spoken word? Live literature? Something else entirely? Regardless, the academics, students and members of the public who attended enjoyed watching and talking about the medium.

Then a quick jaunt to The Gallery Café in Bethnal Green (which seems to be the epicentre for spoken word in East London at the moment!) for a new popular science night, The Litmus Test. A brilliant debut night: a great atmosphere in the room with a large and appreciative audience watching stand-up, films, spoken word and more on all things science. I love performing at science-themed variety gigs for a few reasons: 1. I get to introduce spoken word to an audience who may not have seen it before and 2. people get a lot of the references in my pieces. Highly recommend checking out the next Litmus Test when it inevitably returns!

I supported Pete the Temp at Creek Creative on Wednesday evening as he took on environmental devastation by himself in Versus Climate Change. It’s a brilliant show, really well-written and performed, and never becoming didactic or patronising. By turns hilarious, eye-opening, bleak, hopeful, silly and serious, it left me thinking a lot about what we’re doing to this planet of ours. Pete’s on tour with the show now and later this year – an essential one to see!

I’m working on my first solo show to debut at Edinburgh Fringe, aided massively by taking part in the Conway Collective’s ‘Creating Solo Performance’ workshops. I have a few scratch performances lined up to try out new bits from the show, with the biggest test on Monday 18 March where I’ll scratch 45 minutes. That will be a double-header with the estimable Niall O’Sullivan at the Poetry Cafe– would love to see you there! Other scratch performances are available, look to the right hand side of this webpage for more.

LogoIn the meantime, I have a gig in Greenwich (pun unintentional, but it’s staying) on Wednesday at the very cool MVMNT Café, made from a tweet by Lemn Sissay and, you know, wood and glue and other building materials. Come down – it’ll be fun! Oh, and there’s the small business of the Anti-Slam on 15th February… more on that anon.

– Dan

Museum of Broken Relationships Slam

The blog has been rather quiet of late for a few reasons, the main one being that it’s quiet on the poetry front this month. I’ve only been to a couple of gigs, though I’m going to have a surfeit of shows when I head up to the Fringe on Wednesday. Other than that, as I’m responsible for the blog over at Apples and Snakes this one has been slightly neglected. I did write a post about Edinburgh there which is worth checking out!

So just a quick update about a fun gig I was at last night. There’s an exhibition at the moment at the Tristram Bates Theatre on Tower Street (just off Seven Dials) that showcases objects from relationships that have ended. It’s quite cool, with every piece telling a story – some are heartbreaking, others hilarious. It’s a nice idea and well presented, so I highly recommend going to have a look if you find yourself in the area! My favourite object was the English-Armenian dictionary that told the story of a political criminal hiding out with his lover. They change the objects periodically, and your ticket is valid for a week, so one to come back to I think!

This was the backdrop to The Museum of Broken Relationships Poetry Face-off! I had originally been down for an open mic spot, but due to a drop out I was asked by host Curious to fill in on the slam. After the excellent Alex Iamb’s feature set (my first time seeing him – a fantastic, funny and moving poet) we got down to round one. Anna Le, Amy Acre, Peter Hayhoe, Michelle Madsen, Captain of the Rant and I performed some heartbreak-type poems before being ushered off into the museum itself to write a new piece whilst the open mic happened. We had thirty minutes or so to write something in response to the exhibition – perhaps about one or more of the objects and art pieces that were on display, or perhaps a more general response to the theme. The museum is in the theatre space itself, so I decided to write about the tech box and fire safety information signs.

We came back to the café for the second half and the second round of the slam. I went up first, fairly pleased with my piece (reproduced below – as expected, it needs some work!). The quality of the new writing was really very high, with Anna Le, Captain of the Rant and Amy Acre’s pieces in particular impressing the audience. Amy and the Captain went to the final, a head-to-head freestyle in which hate (Captain) and love (Amy) battled it out. After some poetical words from Amy (and some less poetical faux-insults from Captain of the Rant) Amy was literally crowned the winner. A shout out to Vanessa Kisuule too, who won the open mic with her brilliant piece Red Ribbon, and many thanks to Curious who hosted with humour, style and aplomb! A great gig with a wide range of poetry and lots of laughs thrown in.

A quick mention too about the Vorticism exhibition currently on at Tate Britain: it’s absolutely fantastic. The visual arts side of it is exhilarating, particularly the sculpture by Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, but it’s worth going to for the poetry too: Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot all featured in BLAST, the Vorticist magazine.

That’s it from me till I’m back from the Fringe – have a happy end of August!

– Dan

Control Room

Control room: strictly no entry unless authorised.
This door must be kept locked at all times.

That was the sign that hung on the doorway
to our relationship.

One day I went up to it
pushed the door slightly
and it opened
light spilling out like hope
or that bit in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I forced my way in
finding the discarded detritus of theatre:
the make believe scenery
the fake props
the masks, wigs and make-up
that transform people into actors.

You stumble in after me
eyes wide in the spotlight.
Here, neither of us know our lines
and we’ve missed our cues anyway:
the roles we play those of actors.

No sound, now: the machinery is broken
and the speakers muted.

One of us shouts “fire”
and there’s a rush from the stalls
people running for the ailes
like blood pumping out of ventricles
bursting through the aorta and into the air.

We look from one another to the other door in the room
the door marked Fire Exit – Push Bar to Open.

My eyes drift to the Fire Action Information sign
that hangs nearby

(it reads)
Sound the alarm.
Attack the fire if possible.
Leave the building.
Close all doors behind you.

Do not take risks.
Do not return.

I consider its advice
reach for the bar, push
and exit.

Pop-up poetry at Lounge on the Farm, multi-gigging (and Dave Florez)

Hosting poets at the Playhouse (photo from Peter Fry)

It’s been a bit non-stop since my last blog post. After the excellent Homework, I was down on Merton Farm in Canterbury for Lounge on the Farm festival. It was one of my favourite gigs last year and I was delighted to be coming back, this time with some fellow poets. On Friday we had a slot on the Playhouse stage, where I hosted some incredible talents from across the spoken word spectrum: Peter Hayhoe, Catherine Brogan, Keli Anne B, Paul Cree, Anna Le, Amy Acre, Richard Marsh, Talia Randal and Keith Jarrett showed an appreciate crowd of Loungers what could be done with performance poetry.

On Saturday and Sunday we continued in the same vein, this time on our portable pop-up poetry stage, where Alan Wolfson, Mel Jones, Kyrill Potapov and Naomi Woolnough joined us in our poetic performances. Pop-up poetry went down phenomenally well – it was fantastic to take the stage somewhere in the Meadows fields, drop it down and watch a crowd build as the poets performed their words. One of the great things was that we attracted all sorts of people: people passing by on their way to a band who stopped for a poem or two to some who sat down for the entire thing before following us to our next location for some more! I think we also showed some people poetry in a new light: as an entertaining, funny, moving and passionate medium of expression that is accessible to all. We had some great feedback from our audiences, with one or two saying it was the highlight of their festival.

I have a couple of favourite moments from the pop-up stage. Late afternoon on Saturday a group of fairly inebriated women stopped to see what was happening, with one lady in particular shouting up at the acts. Mel Jones, on stage at the time, handled it with humour and aplomb, dropping a trademark filthy and funny poem. Not only did it silence the lady, but she sat down and listened in silence for about twenty minutes and thoroughly enjoyed the acts. Then on Sunday we set up outside the cafes and shops near the Playhouse, where Sam, a guitarist, had just been playing a few lovely songs. He came over and provided some backing music to a couple of the poets, which was a brilliant touch that set us off well. We had a 50-strong crowd of people, most of whom, once they had sat down to listen, did not leave.

It was a fantastic weekend from both a performer and audience perspective, and massive thanks go to Lizzy Chittenden, Lucy Platel and Tim Slater (who made our perfect pop-up stage) for having all us poets down. Thanks too to all the poets mentioned for giving up their time to bring poetry to a new audience. Check out the photos below from the weekend!

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Despite being exhausted from a long weekend in a field, on coming back from Lounge I decided to go to Hammer and Tongue in Camden, where they run a friendly and fun slam. Michelle Madsen and Angry Sam run a smooth night where putting out good performances and quality words is valued higher than competition – as a slam should be. I got to see the excellent Simon Munnery for the first time, along with the funny and occasionally twisted Amber Tamblyn. I finished up second in the slam just behind Dave Florez, who I seem to be stalking this week, since I was on the bill with him for last night’s Kiss the Sky. This is a great new night set up by the aforementioned Alan Wolfson and Mel Jones, and the first show went down a treat. Some great open mic-ers preceded Dave and I, before Jo Bell headlined. I love Jo’s well written and deftly performed poetry, mixing up humour with moments of bleakness. Alan and Mel hosted with charm and humour, putting their own poems into the mix at the right moments. A lively and lovely audience turned up, so check the night out in two weeks time!

 Lastly, I’m compèring another brand new night in London this weekend. The Word House is happening on Saturday at the Gallery Café in Bethnal Green, and kicks off at 7.30. We have the phenomenal Zena Edwards headlining, with Ray Antrobus and (yes, of course) Dave Florez featuring. There’s also an open mic with some high-quality poets already signed up to perform. It promises to be a fantastic evening from some of the best spoken word talent in town, and I’m really looking forward to hosting it. You can get tickets here for just £4, or £5 on the door (though it’s looking like a sell out, so come early!).

I’ll put up another blog post tomorrow, since I have more news than will fit in one message. Until then!

 – Dan


Phew! What a busy couple of weeks! Between census collecting and gigging, I’ve not had time to update the blog properly. However, now that my collecting duties have come to an end and I’ve got a bit of a break before my next gig, it’s time to rectify that.

The Tooting Takeover at the end of April was brilliant fun – Amy Acre and Katie Bonna put together a great set of mini poetry events for the festival in the covered market. I went straight into Masterpoet, competing against Keith Jarrett, Sh’maya, Peter Hayhoe and Anna Le in a battle of verse. We kicked off with one of our own poems chosen by the audience before the real challenge – performing one of the other competitors poems. I got a poem by Sh’maya, who comes from the hip-hop end of the poetry spectrum – quite far from my style! His poem was about hip-hop dancing and clearly called for moves to be bust out. I decided to perform the poem in a posh voice, which went down quite well, especially when coupled with some terrible dancing. Keith Jarrett walked away the eventual winner, having performed my Robot poem in a robotic voice. Masterpoet is a great concept and I hope I get to compete again sometime! There was also a Poetry Den, where I got to read some poems to people one-on-one. Quite intense, but good fun.

The day after was the Camden Crawl, and Bang Said the Gun put on a special show. Some amazing poets were on the bill – Polarbear, Pete the Temp, Karen Hayley and The Antipoet to name a few – alongside the regular Bang poets Dan Cockrill, Martin Galton and Rob Auton. I was part of the Slam with even more brilliant poets – Mel Jones, Anna Le, Amy Acre, Peter Hayhoe, Katie Bonna, Furious George and Richard Tyrone Jones – and we were all tasked with writing something based on the word ‘crawl’. Anna Le went on to win, getting a massive cheer when she dropped the word ‘crawl’ into her piece. A really good day out and thank to all the Bang dudes for inviting me to take part.

I was into yet another contest on Tuesday for Utter! Their monthly shows are always themed, and as it’s been a year since the current government formed, this was a coalition edition. Richard Tyrone Jones asked me to take part in the paid gig contest in the guise of my Poetry Party character. During the interval I gave out Poetry Party stickers and said hello to members of the public, getting the usual mixture of responses from incredulity to going along with the charade. I then delivered my speech and it went down well. Then came the time for the audience to vote for a winner – rather than a first past the post system, RTJ introduced a new way of voting: AV. Whilst votes were counted, the Dead Poets took to the stage – a coalition of English teacher and poet Mark Grist and hip-hop MC Mixy. A really incredible act that simultaneously played up to and subverted their respective roles. Funny, smart and utilising plenty of irony: my favourite type of performance. The results of the paid gig contest vote came in and 2nd preferences weren’t needed as I had won over 50% of the vote! This topped off a wonderful night of poetry and spoken word. I’ll be back at the next Utter! (Nutters) on 7th June.

Just space to mention Bang Said the Gun on Thursday – the Slam aside, I hadn’t been to a regular Bang evening in ages so on Thursday I went along and it reinforced my appreciation of the night. Luke Wright completely stunned me with a 15 minute political poem parodying the Conservative Party’s time in office, Mel Jones read some of her excellent NaPoWriMo pieces and I saw Tony Walsh for the first time: a phenomenal set that ranged from laugh out loud funny to heart-wrenchingly tender. I put out a new piece at the open mic that was well received, and Catherine Brogan deservedly walked away with the Golden Gun. Tonight I’m off to Liz Bentley’s Perverse Verse at the Poetry Café, so I must dash.

– Dan

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