Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Mortimer Ribbons



Towards the close of the last decade, just as the London spoken word circuit really started to find its feet and actually gain mainstream media publicity, numerous characters seemed to come and go.  In the rush of apparently new faces, it became confusing to keep track of what everyone was up to.  You would meet people fresh from university with William Burroughs books under their arms who would appear at Poetry Unplugged three times to read some cut-ups then never be seen again. Then you'd get poets or writers who were actually damn good who disappeared suddenly and unexpectedly, and had no mailing lists organised to tell us what was going on.  And Mortimer Ribbons - or Mort, as he was known towards the end of his performing career - was one such.

I first became aware of him at Poetry Unplugged.  An incredibly dapper figure, he sat down onstage and glassily gazed at the audience beneath the brim of his hat while delivering a sinister and downbeat monologue about the unrealistic nature of most ordinary people's dreams.  It referred largely to people's fantasies about relationships and sex, and was a straightforward piece but expertly delivered (I guessed immediately he had a background as an actor) and written with care.  I approached him at the end of the night to say how much I'd enjoyed his performance, and made encouraging noises believing him to be a new writer and performer.  He was perfectly polite and amiable about this, but to my embarrassment I later found out that he'd had a long history with poetry, running workshops and performing throughout most of the seventies and eighties, and had even been an actor in the Crystal Theatre Group in the sixties.  In my defence, I can only say that I've witnessed other people give similar 'encouraging' praise to long-serving performers at the Poetry Cafe and elsewhere -  if poets aren't on the Latitude hitlist and the first time you've see them is at an open mic, incorrect assumptions can get made. Hey, we can't all be everywhere at once, and it's not as if any of this stuff goes out live on the BBC, you know...

Our paths continued to cross, with us sharing a couple of poetry bills in London, including at a notorious event in Shadwell which booked bands and poets. The poets on the bill either tended to get a rough, mocking ride from the audience (and on occasion the bands) or blow everyone away. Numerous people got gigs at this night, had a brilliant time and felt insufferably smug while watching their fellow poets bomb, only to be invited back again another week to bomb themselves. It taught poets a lot about working with difficult crowds and developing some humility, something many of us needed to learn back in the mid-noughties. Anyway, I digress.

Mort, so far as I'm aware, never "stormed" it at this venue. His act was too macabre and sombre to possibly illicit whoops of enthusiasm. What do you do when someone stands on stage, staring at you through glassy eyes beneath a wide-brimmed hat, making slow, dramatic gestures and riffing on distinctly noir ideas about all the things that would never happen in your life, reminding you that death was an inevitability? A whoop and scream of "Yes!" wouldn't feel appropriate. And death began to feature much more prominently in his work. One piece I remember him reading regularly at this time contained the regular refrain "But not in this life". Each burst of optimism, each private fantasy, was demolished with this uttered dismissal. I wish I had the text or some sort of recording to show you how it worked, but I don't. And it did work. Mort was a captivating and subtle performer who just got audiences to shut up and look at what he was doing. And the particular thing he was doing was never going to spark a revolution or propel him to headline slots with Hammer and Tongs, but you remembered it - or I remembered it - years after the event, when all the hundreds of slam-winners and boisterous versifiers all joined together in my brain as one unidentifiable mush.

Months passed, and I didn't see Mort. On the poetry circuit, that's quite usual. People have demanding dayjobs, families with needs, problems of their own. I assumed he'd be back soon. Then I was talking to a poetry promoter - the very same poetry promoter who ran the night I mentioned - in a bar about a night he was giving half a thought to putting on for Halloween, consisting of dark or horrific poetry. (A night that never came to pass, so far as I know).

"Well, you know who would be a shoe-in for that kind of bill," I said. "Mort, obviously."
He looked at me slightly taken aback.
"Dave," he said. "Mort's dead. He passed away some time ago."

He went on to explain to me that, even while he was performing at his venue and doing other gigs besides, Mort had actually been going in and out of hospital for cancer treatment. His health had been in poor shape, and the last anyone had seemingly heard of him were a few half-hearted gig arrangements made on the phone, subject to his health, which were pencilled in then never confirmed. Radio silence commenced, and news filtered back through the circuit that Mort had indeed passed on. News I obviously hadn't received myself.

My first response wasn't to be upset, and I didn't feel the need to grieve. I admired Mort, but I was never  properly friends with him (more is the pity). We were on nodding terms and talked about each other's work on occasion, but I knew nothing of his life or background until after he died. What I felt, however, was terribly chilled and unnerved, and there are many moments where I remember him (like today) and still get that chill. I realised that for most of the whole time I'd watched him perform, he knew he was unwell, and possibly his life would be over soon. It seemed to explain the "Not in this life" refrain, and his obsessions with film noir and trash novels with death on every page. His work suddenly acquired an extra layer.

Of course, these are all assumptions on my part, and it's entirely possible he wrote all the material ten years before performing it and it bore no relation at all to his present life, and the whole thing was fuelled by some dark coincidence. But nonetheless, the fact that during a dark and worrying time in his life he bothered to get himself to pubs with sticky floors to take a mic and try to shut a chatty London audience up - that's astonishing. Will I spend my last year or two on Earth like that? I might, but don't bank on it necessarily, and I doubt I could ever do it with such style.

-----

Most of this blog entry has actually been sitting in my draft folder for three years now. I keep returning to it and feeling awkward about it. Is it really my business, as an outsider of a person's circle, to have this particular interpretation of someone's work and death? Have I said everything I wanted to say? Have I done Mort as a performer justice? I'm seeing three big "Nos" in answer to those questions, like a row of three lemons on a fruit machine. I don't know if I have any right to be saying this, or any right to be here. But a couple of years back, when I was surfing the web trying to find out more information about Mort, I saw James Brown (of "Loaded" fame) saying that he'd seen a memorial bench with Mortimer's name on it in a park. He asked if anyone knew who this Mortimer Ribbons character was. A couple of people piped up affirmatively. The bench has since attracted attention from people on other social media sites, marvelling at his name and wondering whether he lived up to it. Damn right he did. And I did want to actually answer those people's questions, somehow, if nothing else.

There are very few film or audio clips of Mort online, but I managed to find the one at the top of this blog entry on YouTube. It seems to be a clip of him from 2008 improvising work at an open mic in a pub where people happen to be watching a football match in the next room. It's not the best Mortimer performance I've ever seen or heard, but you can get a clear impression of his presence and where he was coming from, and the finality of it at the end is striking.

"And finally the waitress watched the hero walk away, realising at last... that he never was a poet, and he's never going to Paris, and he's not going to take her with him".

At least, not in this life. Not in this life.

So I suppose I could rewrite this blog entry again, and sit on it for three more years wondering if it's appropriate, but clearly nothing in this life can ever be perfect. In a minute, I will press "publish", and it will be done.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Leave The Capital


"The tables covered in beer
Showbiz whines, minute detail
Hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square
It's vaudeville pub back room dusty pictures of
White frocked girls and music teachers
The beds too clean
Water's poisonous for the system

And you know in your brain
Leave the capitol!
Exit this Roman Shell!
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Straight home, straight home, straight home
One room, one room".


The Fall - "Leave The Capitol".

(I drafted this blog entry a long time ago, in a foul mood. I then left it as a draft for months, thinking "Do I really believe this is true? Do I want to have an argument about it?" But I revisited it today, and thought "Fuck it", and I'm about to press publish. So far as I'm concerned, it's ALL true). 

Technically speaking, of course, I left the capital a year ago, though it wasn't entirely planned that way, and the way in which I've done it would have been pathetic and half-hearted if it had been a sincere attempt at a protest. I'm now back in my birthplace in Zone 4, Ilford, a border town whose actual geographical identity seems to confuse local residents. A recent local newspaper poll showed that around 60% thought it was part of London, the other 40% considered it to be part of Essex. Given that the postal address is in Essex but the borough the town sits in is designated as part of London, you could forgive everyone for being muddled. As for me, whether I deem it to be part of London or not depends entirely on what mood you catch me in and how contrary I feel like being.

(Largely to see what would happen, I corrected my local takeaway owner the other day. He said to me "You know, sometimes I don't like living in London".
"You don't, though," I said. "This isn't London".
"Well... it is and it isn't", he replied). 

For today, I'm going to be a contrary sod and insist that I've left London, and I will do so only because I personally believe that it puts me ahead of the curve, meaning I can affect a pathetically superior air. Some time ago I interviewed Luke Wright about his brilliant book and spoken word piece "What I Learned From Johnny Bevan", and you can read the final results here (this is an exceptionally late plug, for which I apologise). Luke is somebody who has spent much of his career in either Norfolk or Essex, away from the financial pressures and distractions of the city, and is now one of the leading lights in live poetry, not just being a top draw himself but organising major events including the poetry stage at Latitude. At the time when Luke first began to gain a serious profile as a poet and performer, there was a bit of a dominant myth around the spoken word circuit that you had to live in London to get gigs and progress. Without being able to network freely, attend gigs and open mics regularly and be on call at the drop of a hat, you could forget it. A lot of poets in other towns and cities around the UK were occasionally openly angry about how much bias and preference London poets were shown. These days, I have to wonder if London is more of a hinderance than a help to anyone's development - it's true that there's a huge volume of poetry gigs and readings around the capital that probably rival any European city you care to name (much less British ones), but... well, let's weed out the problems, shall we?

1. The Cost Of Living

I hate to open with an obvious one, but unless you have a healthy trust fund or a constant flow of cash from willing sponsors, London is presently nigh-on impossible for an aspiring artist to survive in. Shelter recently published a tube map showing which stations were "affordable" to live near by. The results probably won't surprise you - the suburban concrete slabs of Essex are probably the cheapest places to get by, the rest is largely unaffordable.

Landlords in London seem to have a stronger likelihood for being greedy chancers, purely because the market dictates they can be, and very few people buy spare property with the aim of being a charitable service - their main concern is just extracting the maximum cash they can for their pension fund (at best) or expanding their business empire (at worst). If a flat or some shared accommodation happens to be within your budget this year, there's absolutely no guarantee it will be in 2017 - that Organic Greengrocers that's just opened up 200 yards from your house may be a signifier of gentrification and a huge rent hike. Back when I lived in Walthamstow, I'd see Real Ale pubs opening up and not feel any joy that I could now buy Chocolate Stout in a pub with a vintage pinball machine in it a stone's throw from my house, I just genuinely worried about what it meant in the broader sense. Nobody really wants areas to improve anymore apart from the people with mortgages. This is how perverse things have become (a few years back, my wife actually told me off for getting involved in a campaign to improve public transport in Streatham, because "if that actually happens, we won't be able to afford to live HERE either").

London, of course, hasn't been an easy city to get by in for decades, but the traditional support networks that existed for artists are being eroded away at a terrifying rate. Squats and co-operatives are disappearing as property skyrockets in value, with the relatively secure option of co-operative living being wiped out of the picture by councils of both Labour and Conservative persuasions (Lambeth Labour's anti-co-operative propaganda was interestingly one-sided and vicious for a supposedly "Co-operative Council". But the excessive dilution of the original principles of the Labour Party in its London incarnation are another topic for another day).

In the good old days, these obstacles were a bit lower and just about surmountable if, as an artist, you were prepared to take on a mind-numbing, simple day job which involved clocking in at 9 and leaving at 5 on the dot, providing you with a modest pay packet and an uncluttered mind. Local councils and education services used to be a brilliant source of all kinds of glorified data entry jobs and filing and post room work - however, as these roles now don't pay enough and are also often taking place in grossly understaffed environments, they're just not the source of a steady wage and a clear brain as they used to be. Also, a lot of the work I used to get paid to do in my twenties in London is now actually being done for free by people on "work placements".

2. The Focus Is Moving Away From London
Artists from other parts of the country may not actually hate London, but they certainly resent the focus it's had over and above other cities. Increasingly, the media are picking up on this and no longer want to publish stories about the latest Swinging Dick Whittington who moved to the capital to make their name. Rather, they would prefer to write about somebody who stayed loyal to their local community, helped to develop a scene (especially in a deprived or culturally desolate area) and came out with some unique sounding work, whether individually or as part of a collective. As the Government's drive for increasing artistic funding outside London gains ground, and more minor arts organisations in other areas up their game, this is going to become a more common story. And about time too.
If I were 22 years old now and two clear options were apparent - move to London to try my luck by myself, or attempt to join in to help build a poetry night or movement in a less obvious city, I'd probably take the second route for a whole host of reasons. Not only would I dodge the expense of the capital, but I would also be entering into exciting, unknown territories. The "streets paved with gold" tale is folklore, but creating something unique from scratch and giving a local environment something they possibly didn't even realise they wanted is far more exciting. Make your own myths and build your own movements - you don't have to join the existing machinery here. 
And as somebody on Twitter said to me recently: "If Bowie got a scene going in Beckenham, anyone can do it anywhere". (If you've never been to Beckenham, you possibly don't realise the significance of this statement. Take a train there and look around one day and wonder at how anything at all could have ever happened in Beckenham, even a thunderstorm).

3. The Supportive Environment
Poetry, like all niche art forms, has its arguments, spats and rivalries in any town or city you care to name. At its best, though, it offers a supportive community of generally like-minded people. Or at least, it should. 
When I first started performing in London, gigs were thin on the ground but everybody knew each other, and regardless of the genre of poetry they felt they were delivering, it was generally assumed that we were all roughly on the same side. It's true to say that some experimental poets tended to be slightly aloof and even argumentative, but we all generally moved in roughly the same circles and bumped into each other at events. 
As the circuit has grown bigger, however, the supportive social element has largely gone for a Burton.  If you attend a poetry gig in London these days, a poet is more likely to thrust a business card into your hand and bugger off after two minutes than actually make an attempt to befriend you and attempt to talk about the work over a drink. Networking has become fast and impersonal. The scene has also fragmented into different genres and different geographical bits of the capital, meaning cross-fertilisation of ideas is becoming increasingly rare. In the past, poets of all stripes would quietly absorb ideas from each other - these days, it's rare to see a page poet, slam poet, experimental artist and comedy poet in the same room at the same time, never mind the same bill.
None of this means that London doesn't also have some of the most well-organised and entertaining live poetry nights in the UK, but getting noticed here is harder than it ever was, particularly if you're trying to attempt something slightly outside the mainstream. Overwhelmingly, the promotional focus in London is on showing poetry to be an immediate, relevant and everyday force - a noble and necessary aim, but not one that's always fantastic for poets who want to find the time and space to develop a unique voice.

4. You're Not Wanted Here
I genuinely believe this is true (at least, we're not wanted by the powers-that-be). It's how I feel, anyway, often quite bitterly. If being born here counts for fuck all and London residents are steadily being forced out of the city, do you really think anyone cares about your latest collection of prose pieces enough to grant you easy access? "Money talks, bullshit walks". 
London now is a city that, through its financial pressures alone, only welcomes artists who have already accomplished something and are successes. It's where household names settle. It is not a city that offers developing artists the time, money or means to find their feet. If you've got a sugar-daddy or wealthy parents, or family who live within the London zones you're happy to cohabit with, then sure, you can while away your time developing your craft here. If not - you are coldly and unreservedly on your own.
This isn't something that's about to happen or might happen in the future, contrary to what you might read in the press - it's the state London is in right now. We lost the argument. Which is why nobody, not even those of us born in the general area, could blame any aspiring artist or writer from catching the first train in completely the opposite direction and taking their chances there. Go forth and seek your fortune. Just do it in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol or Hull. Only a complete idiot would chance their arm here. 
(These views are entirely my own and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone else at all. Sometimes that's just the way it goes.)

Monday, 8 August 2016

20 Years of Poetry Unplugged



















Legendary London open mic night Poetry Unplugged celebrated its 20th Anniversary last week, and to mark the occasion a huge shindig was thrown featuring some of its most memorable acts from the period.

"That's a very direct and factual establishing sentence there, Dave, though a bit overlong and bland. Now, why don't you tell us a bit more about what happened on the night?"

Erm. I can't. I fully intended to go, but unfortunately was struck down with Tonsillitis, and decided that a late night in the Poetry Cafe's cramped basement wasn't something I could handle, even under the most celebratory of circumstances. The noise of me constantly churning up pus from the back of my tonsils can't have been anything anyone would have needed to hear, either, not even as an experimental five minute "noise poem" called "Tonsil Tennis Played With A Bigger Racket Than Usual". Still, from all the accounts I've read online since it was a great night.

Despite not being there to celebrate the anniversary, there's utterly no reason whatsoever why I can't talk about why it's an important event in the poetry calendar, and why it's twenty year landmark is a heartening thing. I've talked about the night once already in the Morning Star, but short articles in left-wing newspapers and personal pieces for blogs are two entirely different things with very different rules attached, and I can actually reminisce about my personal connection with the place hopefully without being boring.

I was actually something of a latecomer to Unplugged. For exceptionally naive reasons, I'd decided that the Poetry Cafe was an awful venue filled with deeply unfriendly nights after one bad experience I'd had there in its earliest days (Don't ask me the name of the event or the person who ran it, gossip-hunter - it's far too long ago for me to recall those details now. In fact, I can barely remember why I was so put out.) This was childish and simplistic of me, a bit like turning up to a bad gig at the Brixton Academy and then blaming it on the venue itself, but in my defence, you have to remember that the poetry circuit in London wasn't necessarily all-embracing in those days. If I'd walked out of the Poetry Cafe with the impression that all its events were essentially quite dry, academic readings with no young riff-raff to be tolerated, it might be because those frosty divides did exist in those days, and I felt that I'd been stung a few too many times. They still exist to an extent now, of course - and some young spoken word artists on the circuit have erected walls and barriers of their own, complicating matters further - but the circuit in general is more liberal and accepting than it was.

In the end, I was persuaded by a well-meaning acquaintance on the circuit to give Unplugged a go, and at some point in the year 2000 I wandered down the Poetry Cafe's basement steps into a small room jammed with people. The evening was run by John Citizen in those days, who had a reputation for running a tight ship in an eerily laidback way, as if he'd mastered the art of two contradictory states of being at once, a zen-like watcher of the clock and the reading list. I recall nothing of the acts who went on before me (and I doubt any Unplugged debutante ever does) because I spent the best part of 30 minutes worrying about the sheer volume of people, all seemingly from different backgrounds, with different expectations about poetry and different ideas. And such noisy bastards, too - they cheered at poems they particularly enjoyed, roared encouragement at newcomers, and in general made the place seem like a night out, not a test pad for new poetry.

If this sounds equally naive and you're spluttering to yourself, thinking "Don't be silly, the Poetry Cafe is a tiny venue, not the Hippodrome!" - again, context is everything. Most non-professional poetry nights on the circuit in those days, especially open mics, were lucky to get twenty people through the door. And it would usually be twenty quiet people in a slightly large upstairs pub room, not crammed into a small basement area. This felt new to me.

When the moment came when John Citizen announced my name, I rushed to the stage nervously and over-enthusiastically, and accidentally stomped on his foot. He howled out in pain, and my first words on mic at the Poetry Cafe - ever - were "Er shit, I've just trod on his foot. Sorry, John!" A new catchphrase was not born that night. Nobody laughed at me, which made the situation a bit worse. I suspected that instead, they might be dying inside on my behalf.

I rushed through my set at what felt like a breakneck pace, did the one poem I had I was genuinely sure of, and to my amazement got encouraging applause and cheers. I honestly doubt this was because my performance was genuinely good - I doubt it was even tepid, to be honest - but the audience seemed motivated to push me along because they'd not seen me there before, and they knew I'd got off to an awkward start, and somehow pulled through the mess. There was a camaraderie at the night I hadn't witnessed on the rest of the open mic circuit, and while it wasn't an explicit rule (I don't recall John Citizen telling everyone to give new readers big cheers back in those days, as the present host Niall O'Sullivan does as a matter of course) I get the impression that this attitude had already woven itself into the fabric of the night. From that point forward, I was back frequently, and I was never as nervous again.

I've since met and made some of my longest-standing friends at Unplugged, as well as being offered my first proper poetry gigs through promoters who happened to be there flyering for their night. Back in those days, they would engage in a sly bit of talent-spotting as well as engaging in promotional activity, giving Unplugged an additional purpose as a place people may earn paid ten-minute slots elsewhere. This element of Unplugged has fallen by the wayside in recent years, with only John Paul O'Neill still attending on a regular basis working out who to encourage. This is, to say the least, a deep shame, but let's leave the point to rest for now and have the argument another day.

I'm not necessarily claiming that without Unplugged I wouldn't have made these friends nor been offered those opportunities, but it would probably have taken me a lot longer. And on top of that, the fact that the night is in Central London at a specialist poetry venue means that it's the true hub of the circuit, the central drinking fountain - all poetry life is here, from dub poets to slam winners to Creative Writing students to self-confessed oddballs. While most poetry open mics tend to become clubs for like-minded writers and people, acting as extensions of the host's personality, Unplugged has always been far more unpredictable, and embracing of that unpredictability.

There are some (though not many) people who don't like Unplugged and seldom go, but what's interesting is that their criticisms are often sitting on opposite sides of the spectrum. I've heard the insult "Too orderly, not anarchic enough" before now (usually from hipsters angry that they couldn't read for ten minutes). But then I've also heard the insult "It's too rowdy". This is proof that when you're trying to satisfy a diverse audience, someone somewhere will still feel left out despite all your best efforts. Others have made the mistake of attending while believing that every performer must be above a certain standard, which is a rum expectation to have of any open mic.

The hosts have all had a tricky balancing act to carry out in the last twenty years, and have all handled the situation in different but equally successful ways. Citizen, as we've established, was a walking Little Book of Calm and a genuine comforting presence to new poets. Before he was famous, ex-Unplugged urchin Pete Doherty harboured ambitions to take over his reign, but sanity (and chart success) prevailed and Carl Dhiman stepped up to the ranks, often being gently sardonic to regulars in the process but a considerate and incredibly encouraging man towards new readers. O'Sullivan has sat on Unplugged's throne for the longest time of all of them, and manages to be entertaining and gregarious while still proving to the newcomers that he's interested in their ideas, ensuring they get maximum audience support and encouragement.

For me, it's a fantastic testing ground for new material (even after all these years) where I can get a firm impression of how a poem might sound in a lively venue. I still get to meet some interesting people. And I occasionally get the odd person asking me "Are you new? That was quite promising", which always brings me down to Earth with a bump irrespective of what other compliments I've had that month.

I'm glad it's twenty. Even if that makes me feel incredibly fucking old.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Scriggler






















As I'm sure I've probably whined on here before, the life of the part-time writer with a "proper" day job is never a simple one. You may mean to update your blog, write new material, get stuff out to publishers and even tap promoters on the shoulder and remind them you exist, but if you're working overtime more often than not and struggling to get indoors before half eight in the evening, it's not going to happen. And all of us have those periods in our lives.

Failing that, of course, you  might just live in a desperate bit of nowheresville, a small town orbiting a not particularly interesting city, and lack the ability to get feedback for your work or even perform. I've been there too. Every single time I've ever ended up staying for an extended period in my parent's spare room, I've relied on the Internet to get feedback on my latest work. The lack of any other local cultural outlets at all made it the only way.

Last time this happened, way back at the turn of the 21st Century, I used the long-forgotten but actually pretty brilliant literary sharing website Poesie, which allowed you to share drafts of short stories and poetry. It was busy enough to keep me interested, but quiet enough to spot the regular contributors and home in on the best. In particular, I always got huge enjoyment out of the work of the Austin-based poet Cindee Sharp, who is hopefully still producing poetry somewhere.  It had a varied user-base, ensuring that the style of the work was also varied and it was easy to at least be surprised by someone's work even if you didn't actually enjoy it. A few fairly famous London poets even cut their teeth on Poesie, a fact I found out years after the event.

Those nights on a dial-up internet connection in my parent's spare room ("David, could you get off the Internet, your Aunt is trying to phone me and she's confused by the bleeps on the line and thinks something's going wrong?") eventually fizzled out. Due to the fact that my life has got a bit too hectic for poetry readings or workshops in the last few months, though, I've decided to give another poetry and short story sharing website a try - namely Scriggler.

I haven't been a user long enough yet to form a definite opinion. I get the distinct impression that you really need to join specific clubs or communities to get the most out of the service - it's awash with vampire stories, fantasy, erotica, thrillers and angst-biographies as well as other work, and trying to land on something that's to your taste is often difficult work otherwise. They have a tagging system in operation on the site, but there's nothing specifically for non-genre fiction, for example, which might help in cutting past some of that other material (I've nothing against people who read fantasy or vampire novels, you understand, but it's really not my bag). Like all literary sharing website and open mics, of course, the tone and quality are often wildly divergent as well. That's the deal you get with open access - it's not curated, it's wild and open. Sometimes that's fascinating in a "Human Zoo" way, other times it's trying.

All that said, the site is clean, simple and pleasant to look at, and has the clear and obvious support of a number of social media users who retweet and highlight work they enjoy. It seems as if you'd get more feedback and possible support by posting a new piece there than slapping it on your blog and getting the usual five people to comment - and for that reason alone, it's serving a positive function and going one step above the areas the pre-social media Poesie managed.

I've placed a number of my own pieces of work on there. You'll be familiar with some of them already, as I'm not putting up much new material until I get to better grips with the site, but there's one short story on there that's never been published elsewhere. Go and take a look, and I'll continue to add more material over time. It would be nice to get some feedback and comments as well (*mumbles to self*...)

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Forthcoming gig/ Emma Hammond's "The Story of No"


Yes, I know, it's been ages since the last blog update. But as it seems like I begin every new entry with an apology, I won't bother this time. Moving house is a mighty old chore, especially if you're moving into a new place that needs considerable volumes of work done to it - I'm typing this entry right now from the one inhabitable room on a laptop with a newly cracked screen (if anyone has one they'd like to sell to me, you know where I am) while builders have left their bricks, concrete, wood and rubble in the downstairs area.

Still though, I'll be out of the chaos on the evening of Thursday 26th November and doing a gig for the Girlfriend in a Comma spoken word night, alongside musical comedian and poet Cecilia Delatori and award winning American poet Molly Rivkin. It all kicks off at 8pm at the Full Stop Cafe at 202 Brick Lane, E1 6SA. If you're on Facebook, you get the simple and easy diary details here.

It's been a long time since my last gig as well, largely due to various bits of chaos (good and bad) that took over my life from the Spring right through to this Autumn. I've given some material a test run at Poetry Unplugged and it felt very, very unusual to be back out doing poetry again, while at the same time reminding me why I enjoy it so much. I complain and whinge as much as the next poet about the fickle waves of fashion in the scene, but the reality is that none of it really matters that much - twenty years down the line, just getting a chance to mess around with new ideas is still simultaneously nerve-wracking and thrilling.

Meanwhile…






















It's been my absolute pleasure to review Emma Hammond's latest collection "The Story of No" for the Morning Star newspaper. Like any other daily newspaper, The Morning Star doesn't have room for 1,000 word dissections on new poetry collections, which is a deep shame as this a book I would have been fully able to give that treatment to. Early drafts of the review sailed way over the word limit. The poets I tend to respect the most are those who have a very recognisable style and world-view of their own, and Emma has that in spades - her influences always seem to be as much rooted in the 60s/ 70s poetry underground as they are modern spoken word and satire, and it meshes together unbelievably effectively.

You can read the review here, and you really should buy the book.