busy elsewhere

Three months to the day since my last blog post! What on earth have I been doing?

My biggest news, in case you missed it, is that fellow poet Joolz Sparkes and I have been awarded Arts Council research & development funding for our London Undercurrents project. This has been my main focus since September, and will be for the next few months, so this is where most of my blogging and writing energy is going. Do check out our blog for regular updates, and we’re also on Twitter: @L_Undercurrent

garden chair cropEarlier this year I took on the role of Chair at my local community garden. I’m learning a lot, not necessarily about gardening (though it’s funny how some of my fellow volunteer gardeners suddenly look to me as though I’m an expert), and it’s an ongoing struggle to balance the admin and organising with the core purpose of the garden – which is to promote the use and enjoyment of a beautiful green space to the community.

Perhaps one day, there’ll be a tell-all memoir My Life as a Garden Chair.

I’ve also been busy stitching an A3 size panel as part of a community art project devised by Richard Grayson for Matt’s Gallery. I saw a call out for participants earlier in the year, and as the workshops were being held locally and no previous experience was required I thought I’d give it a go. There are 42 separate panels, designed and stitched by individuals from different backgrounds and with a range of stitching or textile experience (zilch, in my case), and together they will make up the phrase BOREDOM IS ALWAYS COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY. That’s a quote from a text by Guy Debord, and is one of the factors that attracted me to the project. I was pleased to find that I’d randomly been given the letter A to design and stitch, given that I was a complete beginner. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process and, having stitched my last stitch just a few days ago, I feel a great sense of Achievement. The full phrase will be exhibited locally early in 2018.

Then there was the (paid) role I applied for but didn’t get… though I came close, having jumped through quite a few hoops, or over a few hurdles… but I think I’ve got enough in my plate for the time being.

proud stitcher - finished

 

 

 

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busy in a good way

There’s not been much let up since my Thrive residency came to an end. On Sunday 26th June I travelled far north (for a south London gal) to perform at Finchley Literary Festival‘s closing event, the Poetry and Music Palooza hosted by Anna Meryt. The locals were friendly and it was a fun and uplifting evening, despite the drizzle and recent events. Here’s a YouTube clip of my reading. Thanks to Anna for inviting me to read, and to David Gardiner for filming the event.

Then on Wednesday 29th June I took part in my first Stanza Bonanza at the Poetry Café. Billed as a ‘war of words’ between the Clapham and Reading Stanza groups, I was a little nervous, as I’m not keen on poetry as a combative activity. Thankfully, it was all very good-natured, and I volunteered to read first for Clapham so I was able to relax then and enjoy the rest of the evening. The winner? Poetry, of course! And, well, half the Reading team seemed to have connections to south London, so really…

StanzaBonanza
Clapham versus Reading

After a bit of a London Undercurrents lull (Joolz and I have both had a lot going on) we’re pleased to have two poems published in the 10th issue of Lunar Poetry magazine. The launch reading was on Tuesday in Peckham and as Joolz was away, I read for both of us.

I’ve also got two poems in issue 13 of morphrog, which has just gone live. Hurrah!

The community roof garden is keeping me busy in a very rewarding way. It’s not just the produce, but the strawberries and raspberries taste fantastic and we’ve had some delicious beetroot. There’s also been a football tournament taking place in France, you may have noticed. And on Monday I was filmed reading a poem in a polytunnel. But more about that another time.

berries
Battersea berries!

 

 

January poetry jamboree

Poets, it seems, don’t hibernate. The first couple of weeks of 2016 have been jam-packed with poetry events and I’ve managed to squeeze in a few, despite a visit from the sinusitis fairy.

My personal poetry fest kicked off before the new year, with two poems published in Ol’ Chanty online. The issue also includes new poems and translations by Louise Landes Levi, an amazing poet, musician and life-force. Editor Richard Livermore’s essay What is poetry about? is well worth a read too, especially if references to Deleuze, Sartre and set-theory excite you. That works for me!

Then Joolz Sparkes and I got a lovely new year boost with two poems from our London Undercurrents project accepted for the third issue of Severine literary journal – coming soon! That set us up nicely for a brace of London Undercurrents readings, firstly at Beyond Words on Tuesday 5th, and then on Wednesday 13th at the ever-wonderful Loose Muse. Both events were well attended with appreciative audiences. Nothing like a bit of positive feedback to stave off the January blues!

In between performing at those two readings, I sat back and enjoyed a couple of others. On Thursday 7th January, Telltale Press hosted a free reading at the Poetry Café. I liked the format – two Telltale poets, Siegfried Baber and Peter Kenny, plus two guest poets, Kitty Coles and Jack Underwood. It was a great mix of voices and styles, and as I already had the full set of Telltale pamphlets – purchased in a spending flurry at last year’s Free Verse Poetry Book Fair – turned out to be an inexpensive night out. I would have bought Jack Underwood’s Faber collection Happiness but by the time I approached him he’d sold all the copies he’d brought along. Instead, he signed a Telltale postcard for me and I promised I’ll buy his book.

And last Sunday, I had a fourth row seat (thanks to Jill Abram’s excellent forward planning) for the T S Eliot Prize Readings at the Royal Festival Hall. I hadn’t read any of the shortlisted collections, so I went with an open mind, ready to be wowed. The readings which impressed me most were:
Mark Doty – humane, demotic, poignant and wise
Sarah Howe – a powerful and poised reading from memory
Selima Hill (read by Karen McCarthy Woolf) – short ambiguous poems suffused with pain and humour
Rebecca Perry – fresh, unusual, her own self
Claudia Rankine – mesmerising

By the end of the readings, though, the sinusitis fairy, which had been hovering nearby, had definitely taken up residence inside my head, so I made my excuses and hurried home. Thankfully, I was able to dislodge her before Joolz and I were due to read at Loose Muse.

There’s no let-up next week, as I plan to attend the Lumen Poetry reading on Tuesday 19th featuring poets from Malika’s Kitchen and then a poetry workshop on Saturday. Yes, a workshop. Me. Maybe I’ve caught poetry fever.

 

 

In print again, reading again!

If you’re in or near London, it would be great to see you at the South Bank Poetry issue 21 launch this Friday. The editors promise a bit of a ‘coming of age’ party!

London Undercurrents

We’re dead chuffed to have two London Undercurrents poems included in the Summer Issue 21 of South Bank Poetry. And we’ll be reading, along with a number of other contributors, at the magazine’s launch this Friday 31st July at the Poetry Café, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX, from 7:45 p.m.

SBP’s launch events are always lively and varied, so come along and immerse yourself in some fine London and urban poetry. Admission £6.50/£5.50 concs. includes a copy of Issue 21, hot off the press!

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eight week review

It’s just over eight weeks since I quit my job and time is doing that weird thing it seems to do of speeding up and filling up the more ‘free’ time one has. So I thought it might be good to take a step back and reflect on what I’ve done in that period.

I’ve written six new poems and reworked two old ones into much better shape. I’ve submitted a couple for an anthology and I’m deciding where to send the others. I’ve also written three short prose pieces, each in response to a specific call for submissions, so they’re out there now and time will tell whether I’ve hit the mark or not.

Joolz Sparkes and I performed a bunch of our London Undercurrents poems at March’s Fourth Friday and were buoyed by how well they were received. Since then, I’ve been researching ideas for new LU poems, including reading a lot of, and about, Angela Carter.

On Easter Saturday I attended a one day poetry workshop in a small group with Ruth O’Callaghan, around her dining room table, partly fuelled by mini gold-wrapped chocolate rabbits provided by one of the other participants. I’d booked back in January, and didn’t know what to expect, but came away with a handful of rough drafts, and a burning desire to read more Alice Oswald. One of the poems we’d looked at was Oswald’s strange and powerful Autobiography of a Stone.

Last Monday, I went along to my first local Stanza group session, and found it welcoming and stimulating. It’s still fairly new for me to share work in progress, especially with a group of people I’ve never met before, and I’m also not terribly confident in giving feedback on others’ work – it’s hard enough being articulate about my own! – but this feels like something I need to expose myself to. I left with my sense of myself as a writer still intact, and intend to go along to next month’s meeting.

As well as all this, I’ve been to a number of readings and events, one of the highlights being the private view of the Prunella Clough retrospective at the Osborne Samuel Gallery. Clough is one of my favourite painters. I love her muted palette and her subject matter – industrial spaces, overlooked detail, the scraps and discarded elements of mid to late twentieth century England. I’d been excited to read in Frances Spalding’s excellent monograph Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped that in the 1950s Clough had spent time sketching in the Peek Frean Biscuit factory in Bermondsey and later worked the sketches up into paintings. That sparked an as yet unpublished poem for the London Undercurrents project. In the current exhibition, two of the Peek Frean Biscuit factory paintings are on show, so it was very special for me to see these.

Inevitably, there have been some niggles and frustrations. Much of it is about balance and discipline, keeping on top of emails without allowing them to dominate, not giving in to the distractions of social media, and reminding myself that it’s not possible to fit in every cultural event in London. Not if I want to write. And there’s an ongoing plumbing issue (domestic, not medical), which is tedious but is taking up a certain amount of time and mental energy.

Overall, then, perhaps I’d give myself 7 out of 10. Room for improvement, but on the right track. Now, get back to that poem!

Friday night and Saturday morning

On Friday night I was on the bill with Joolz Sparkes at Fourth Friday at the Poetry Café, reading a bunch of poems from our London Undercurrents project. There’s more about the event on our dedicated LU blog here. I’d been looking forward to this and practising for quite a while, and, as the reading seemed to go down well, I was buzzing for some time afterwards. A few of us went for a drink in a nearby pub after the event to debrief and celebrate. Then Nick and I made a dash for the tube, and decided to walk from Sloane Square rather than wait for a night bus. It was a clear night, the river very low, and so still that the low arches of Grosvenor Bridge were reflected perfectly upside down on the surface of The Thames. Quite a magical sight. We topped off the night by treating ourselves to a portion of excellent chips from the iconic Chelsea Bridge Tea Stall. Well past pumpkin hour when we fell into bed.

But there wasn’t much chance for a lie in on Saturday, as it was the Big Dig day at our community roof garden. There were 5 tonnes of compost to be shifted from street level to the roof, up two flights of metal stairs. We warmed up with a little gentle weeding and digging through of a couple of beds, and I also planted a few onion sets. Then, onto the main, somewhat Herculean task. I hadn’t fully grasped what 5 tonnes of compost might look like. Five ginormous PVC bags, full to the brim with dark, rich-smelling topsoil. Between the dozen or so volunteers we got a bit of system going, one or two shovelling compost into empty ginormous bags until the next in line to lug judged it had reached optimum weight; then grasp the handles, fling it over your shoulder and lug it up the stairs. There, another volunteer loaded the haul onto a wheelbarrow, trundled it off to empty the compost onto the beds, and the emptied bags were bundled downstairs for more spadefuls. Mostly, I lugged, and my limit was around 8 good shovelsworth.

We had a welcome break at one o’clock for a delicious shared lunch of rice, lentil curry and dhal, cooked by one of the volunteers, and then it was back to the compost relay. The last portion of compost was lugged up to the roof around 3:30. Hard physical work, and immensely satisfying. A cup of tea, a hot shower, and a very early night beckoned.

a short idiosyncratic list to round off 2014

The year is nearly out. Here are a few of my highlights of 2014.

Ravel Day on BBC Radio 3 Friday 7th March was dedicated to the music and life of Maurice Ravel. I marked the day on my calendar as soon as I heard about it. His 139th birthday, so not a traditional landmark anniversary. Nicely quirky. Like the man. On the day, we stayed in, Radio 3 on in the bedroom and living room, and streamed through the computer in the studio. I remember smiling a lot, feeling warm, charmed, uplifted. All the music he’d written played during the course of a single day – not prolific compared to many other composers, but what sparkling beauty and subtle variety. Interspersed with the music were contributions from Ravel experts and enthusiasts, and a delightful audio tour of Ravel’s small, eccentric house near Paris presented by Sara Mohr-Pietsch. There were pieces I know and love, such as Le Tombeau de Couperin, and discoveries such as the one act opera L’enfant et les sortilèges with a libretto by Colette. I can’t imagine ever tiring of listening to Ravel’s music.

Orpheus by Little Bulb Theatre at Battersea Arts Centre I’m not a big theatre-goer. But this was more than theatre. This was cabaret meets Hot Club jazz meets Greek tragedy on a rain-soaked Saturday night in May in the magnificent Grand Hall of Battersea Arts Centre. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice transplanted to 1930s Paris, with Django Reinhardt and his infectious music centre stage. A multi-layered and inventive musical drama performed by a prodigiously talented and energetic cast. They sang, they played, they acrobatted, they mimed, they acted as stage hands. And when the show was over, they took their instruments and passion and gave a free gig in the Scratch Bar. Tremendous.

#readwomen2014 Joanna Walsh‘s Twitter initiative/campaign/consciousness-raising hashtag has been inspiring and thought-provoking. An attempt to redress the imbalance between the number of books written by women compared to the number of books by women that are read and reviewed, it has influenced my fiction choices in particular this year, and got me going on a bit of a Virginia Woolf jag (To the Lighthouse and Jacob’s Room, as well as Frances Spalding’s Virginia Woolf – Art, Life and Vision and Alexandra Harris’s 2011 Woolf biography), which in turn has prompted me to delve into Katherine Mansfield‘s stories. Of course, this issue doesn’t disappear at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and I was excited to receive two novels by Marguerite Duras for Christmas, which I’ll be adding to my 2015 reading pile.

Discovering Rosemary Tonks At the end of October, we went to The Disappearing Poet at Kings Place, an event organised by the Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation, exploring the poetry, lives and disappearances, a century apart, of Arthur Rimbaud and Rosemary Tonks. It was a stimulating evening, especially the contributions from very-much-present poets George Szirtes and Matthew Caley, but the real highlight was purchasing the new Bloodaxe publication of Tonks’s collected poems Bedouin of the London Evening. And then reading these flamboyant, rich and strange, brave, EXCITING poems. I love her arrogance, her swagger and contrary revelling in the rank, rotten and sordid. Poems steeped in the fogs and grime of London, and unafraid of the declamatory, the exclamation mark, that poetic gasp of O! Poems I want to carry about with me, dip into, reread, knowing they will continually surprise me.

London Undercurrents  This is the poetry project I’ve been working on with friend and fellow poet Joolz Sparkes for the last year and a half and a bit. It’s been my main writing focus for this period, and although we’ve individually tweeted about our collaboration, it’s only in the last few months that we’ve started to read some of the poems at open mics, as well as sending them out to magazines. We’ve had some very encouraging responses at readings, and were utterly thrilled to have four poems published in the latest South Bank Poetry magazine (issue 19). You can read more about our project on the blog we’ve set up here. In the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about and starting to research ideas for more poems voiced by south London women. Roll on 2015!