Walking, I rake the clinkers
of burned cold stories
from the north, to kindle
flame words, amber voices.

(Colour Catchers from 'Firebridge to Skyshore' Original Plus Press))

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Style Council Estates

And Everybody's Reading 2015 is the festival that keeps on giving. Last night it was an outstanding performance by Andrew MulletProof Graves in GOD SAVE THE TEEN, his new one-man show. The theatre of Upstairs at the Western was a Tardis-like revelation. When did a pub function room ever open into a packed auditorium, blacked-out and spot-lit for the coming spectacle? It proved the perfect intimate venue for this confessional tour of one boy's adolescence amongst the pit-town estates of Nottingham. Like old friends, we accompanied him from bullying flashback to dysfunctional family anecdote, from bus-stops to youth clubs, from just-left-home squats to the adult threshold of moving in with the Girlfriend. You never wanted more for the Boy to get the Girl.
Credit: http://upstairsatthewestern.com/wp-content/uploads/
It was my youth too - minus the testicle-punching at the back of the bus. I'm in awe of the way his monologue swooped on the turn of an 80s Single from gut-wrenching pathos to a broad all-embracing humour that warmed his audience. We laughed, we gasped, we reminisced and along the way we pondered big themes about family, life changes, class war and oppression. None of it preaching, just the home truths of Thatcherite Britain (and Blair's 90's homage to her) seeping through this intensely personal odyssey. Great characters illuminated this quiet epic, especially the beer-bellied single father who between mining shifts and terse one-liners was caught bopping to YMCA and faking a heart-felt Valentine.
Sporting his trademark retro spiky hairdo and wry smile, Andrew MulletProof Graves  delivered an understated nuanced performance with the easy presence of a seasoned pro. His beautifully crafted poems were slipped in to his narrative, so that you just realised the rhythms were a little more musical with pitch-perfect rhymes. I'd have liked the actual music transitions to have lasted a fraction longer - don't be afraid of the spaces - because we were entranced and lost in the moment as those hits kept on coming. The show benefitted from some deft direction by Rob Gees, no stranger to performance poetry storytelling himself.  (You catch his Icarus show tonight at the same venue.) Keep an eye out for Mulletproof Graves' tour dates because this spoken word treat is not to be missed. And while you're at it, treat yourself to his debut poetry collection Light at the End of a Tenner which not only took me down the backstreets of his youth but to outer space along the way. I loved it.


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Red Moon at the Door

A poem to celebrate the big red moon that's going to roll into our skies in the early hours of tomorrow. This one was inspired by the last time I witnessed a lunar eclipse.


Blood Moon


a harvest spider

rolls paralysed prey

in plasma cocoon

a nicotine thumb

intrudes, penumbral blot

on spinster light


old master daubing

rose-gold flesh with umber


earth's basilisk breath

scorching elliptical slices

for amber teeth

till a raw knuckle

exposed, blood-smeared

knocks at our sky
(c) Siobhan Logan 2015
blood moon = red 'totality' of lunar eclipse

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Silent Seas & Talkies

No popcorn but a piano on-stage. Saturday mornings at the cinema just became a whole new experience. Or maybe we've been transported to a Twenties picture-house or 'Electric Palace' as they were billed. We were actually in Leicester's Phoenix Arts Cinema, a hub of local independent film-making in the digital age. But at 9am we settled down in the dark of Studio 2 for an inspired BFI homage to silent film with multiple features and live music.


I'd been seduced by a B&W photo of a 'full-rigged' ship in all its matchstick beauty with echoes of Shackleton'sEndurance from the same era. What I hadn't expected was a dark documentary wrapped in an English comedy. Moreover, this silent documentary filmed by two Australian journalists-turned-sailors had then had 'talkie' scenes inserted by London film studios. Apparently a movie mogul had demanded: 'Don't that ship ever get to no place, for god's sake! 20 seconds of that sea-stuff is enough for anyone!' A comedy writer was hired to pen a fictional script while a cast of earthy 'swabbers' delivered the conflict. Love interest was supplied by various cut-out women pinned by the sailors to their bunks. Open-air deck scenes were pure documentary. But it was the uneasy and quarrelsome comradeship of the sea that the resulting 1930 movie zoomed in on below-deck.

The mogul was wrong about 'the sea stuff' and the writer missed the extraordinary real-life drama of the Grace Harwar voyage of 1929. It was two Australians, AJ Villiers and Gregory Walker, who ditched their jobs on a Melbourne paper to make a cinematic record of the last of the full-rigged grain ships of the era. Indeed it amazed me that long after luxury Cunard liners and WW1 U-boats, these wooden ships with billowing sails were still undertaking a perilous journey from Australia to London via the notorious Cape Horn. Walker and Villiers, both in their 20s, spent their life-savings on two cameras and joined an inexperienced and unlucky crew of 13 for a voyage of disasters. Following a becalming in the Doldrums, near starvation and food-poisoning by piglets, Walker was killed during a storm. The traumatised crew also saw two attempted suicides and one nervous-breakdown before limping into harbour a month late.

Credit:  Ronald Gregory Walker
National Library of Australia
Yet out of this disaster, Villiers salvaged a remarkable film, despite not knowing how to work all the equipment. The two journalists had no movie experience but Walker had had some flair with a camera. They were dedicated to capturing the fierce beauty of the high seas, and shots of giant waves rolling onto the decks and men pinned to the spars above wrestling with heavy canvas sails give the film a unique authenticity. To be fair to the Welwyn Studios who added all the below-deck talkie scenes, they created a claustrophobic atmosphere with constantly dripping bunks and convincing sound-effects of wind, wood and water. But the eeriest moment of the film is when the young hero, standing in for an unnamed Walker, is buried at sea. Real film footage of a harrowed crew grimly gathered on-deck is mixed with shots of studio actors and Grace Harwar's tragedy collides with a movie story-arc. In truth, the reason I found this film so affecting is because a pre-showing introduction by BFI speaker Laraine Porter framed the action with a history of the film's making. The intersection of Walker-Villiers raw footage, the 'sea-stuff', with an ensemble cast performance, made for a powerful maritime movie with a tragic undertow.
The Festival continues on Sunday 13th. Catch these rare cinematic gems while you can. I'll be looking them out in the BFI's store of DVDs along with Villier's book. More reviews to follow ...

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Singing Hairy Star

Josh Barker of the National Space Centre, spatula in hand, promised to unleash his 'inner Delia.' More like Inner Jamie, let loose in a lab - with a dash of St. Trinians thrown in. Starting with a black bin bag and cardboard box, he was soon hurling in metal filings, a jug of Shiraz and vials of chemicals. When he shovelled in frozen CO2, it began to steam like the mad experiments of a Hammer Horror professor. When he heaved in the whole container of dry ice, a 'sublimation' of frozen gases billowed out. Finally with a triumphant gesture, he lifted aloft the newborn 'comet', an icy lump that you could imagine orbiting through the Kuiper Belt.

Meanwhile Prof. John Bridge of the University of Leicester took us right out into space with his animations of comet 67Ps elliptical journey around the solar system to reach perihelion – its closet proximity to the sun. He could even pronounce Churyumov–Gerasimenko without flinching. As a Professor of Planetary Science, involved in the Stardust and Mars missions, he studies cometary samples and opened up the 'bigger picture' of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission for us. We got to see behind-the-scenes snaps of Rosetta's instruments being invented and he scattered in anecdotes and charts like Josh added ingredients. And there was real awe in his voice talking about the 'extraordinary feat' of the ESA landing a space probe on a comet 'at such velocities'.

My contribution was 'a mash-up of ancient myth and modern space adventure.' No dry ice involved. Instead I relied on fantastic Egyptian stories about the sun-god Ra's cyclical journey through our skies and then the underworld Duat. I explored the drama of Philae's own descent into that underworld facing comet 67P's fierce jets of 'dragon-breath' before the victory of its 'reboot' under the sun's influence. I was performing from my new work 'PHILAE'SDESCENT INTO DUAT: An Egyptian Book of Hours for the ESA's Comet-lander.' In the form of a scroll, it features my own illustrations and hieroglyphic symbols and includes some background notes on the mission and the mythology. There are copies still available - £3 each from me at siobsi@yahoo.co.uk.

We were well looked after by our hosts, Leicester'sAstronomical Society, a 'crew of gods' who kept us supplied with votive offerings of juice and biscuits. When all the spells had been chanted and we'd reached our own perihelion, we ended with a Q & A. Here's what our audience said afterwards:

'A stunning alchemy of myth, science and poetic genius!'

'An out of this world adventure.' 'Excellent evening!'

'Exhilarating … one of the more unusual spoken word events in the known universe.'

We also had two great reviews of our event – one by theatre critic SallyJacks for SabotageReviews – and the other by Margaret Penfold of Leicester Writers' Club. Take a look at where the event transported them to. Many thanks to our two thoughtful reviewers and to Carol Leeming for snapping these pics during the evening. Hopefully you may be inspired to dip into the ESA's excellent website to see their stunning photos of the 'Singing Hairy Star' and to follow the next episode of the adventure as Rosetta tails the comet till next September.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Perihelion Poetry in Motion

Today is PerihelionDay! Scientists at the European Space Agency and beyond will be popping the champagne and donning party hats to mark 'Rosetta'sDay in the Sun'. And many ordinary punters like myself will be joining them on-line as this extraordinary space mission reaches its zenith. What this all means is that comet67P has travelled around in its orbit to reach its closest point to the sun in 6.5 years. As it does so, the sun's heat melts icy deposits in its body or nucleus and so the comet is firing off jets of dust and gas that create the comet's distinctive tail.

Credit ESA: http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2015/02/11/new-perspectives-cometwatch-6-february/

As in ancient times, astronomers on Earth can now track the flaming ball with its streamer of light across our night skies. But for the first time in history, we have a spacecraft sitting right on its tail, hitching a ride. And if that's not wondrous enough, there's our trusty Philaerobot snuggled into a cliff wall on the comet itself while all this mayhem kicks off around it. Vicariously, through our machines, we have been getting a front row view of the fireworks show with mesmerising photos of this alien world beamed back every day from Rosetta's cameras. I can't resist the 'we'. Partly because the Rosetta mission does feel like a feat of human ingenuity and curiosity that we can all revel in. And partly because the ESA have been so generous in sharing their data on their website that its possible to feel like you're with them every step of the way. In fact, they recently won an award for their educational programmes around this mission, working with schools and teachers.

Credit ESA: http://www.esa.int/var/esa/storage/images/esa_multimedia/images/2014/02/philae_descent/14277309-1-eng-GB/Philae_descent.jpg

They have also inspired artists like myself. Back in November I was riveted by the unfolding drama of Philae'slanding. Would it smash on the rocky surface? Would it more likely just bounce off and drift into space given the comet's low-gravity? Would it be able to talk to us or be just another dead machine on an alien world? As it was, although it bounced three times and disappeared from view, it managed to lodge under a cliff-face that sheltered it from the heat of advancing perihelion and the fierce jets of material. The scientific mission was highly successful with nearly all its instruments working. For three days Philae ran an on-site laboratory and up-loaded all its packets of data before going 'to sleep' when its solar batteries ran low. 'I'm tired' it tweeted. And then silence. A storyteller could hardly wish for more of an Act One plot point.

Credit: http://www.egyptartsite.com/myth/raboat.jpg

While Philae slept, maybe for good, Rosetta was busy mapping the comet's surface in a series of fly-bys, yielding these spellbinding images. I was fascinated by the ESA's choice of Egyptianmythology to name its '19 regions' as well as the mission itself. When I began to research the old Egyptian stories, they seemed particularly apt. Here was Philae descending into a cometary underworld where it vanished from view, lost in the darkness. And the comet itself was travelling back towards the sun, like the cyclical journeys of the sun-god Ra moving across our skies only to disappear into Duat or the underworld each night. I was moved to write a new poem sequence tracing Rosetta and Philae's adventures on the other side of the solar system. And my narrative is a mash-up of modern space science and the ancient mythology. Here's one of the verses from my 'Egyptian Book of the Hours' for Philae.

9 Duat

'I'm tired,' you twitter
a tin-foil chick alone in the dark
and packets of data dispatched
you burrow into the hide
of a frozen mammoth haunch;
dormant not extinct, you're
descending by robotic barque
into an underworld cyber-space
where a lab-coated Anubis
will weigh your feather-heart.

Two weeks hence, on 1st September, I will be joining scientists and astronomers for our own celebration of Rosetta's mission. 'To Perihelion and Beyond!' will be staged at the NationalSpace Centre in Leicester. Our event will feature poems & performance, science and story, and a 'Build Your own Comet' demo. And my Book of the Hours will be available as a scroll, papyrus style, to cast a spell as we re-live Philae's Descent into Duat. Hopefully it will honour the storytellers of old as well as today's space adventurers.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Sun Spot Singing

My first ever solar eclipse and since we won't get such a full-on show again before 2090, I'm surely unlikely to repeat the experience. So here's a special poem it inspired. We've been entranced all week by the BBC's Stargazing Live coverage. Unable to get hold of the necessary glasses, I enlisted my father-in-law David Thomas to help me construct a cardboard viewer. As it turned out, Leicester was in a corridor of sunshine with ideal conditions. While the street darkened around us, we peered at that tiny reflected circle. Awesome.

Credit BBC at: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/81787000/jpg/_81787003_proba-2_view_of_europe_s_solar_eclipse.jpg


pin-hole sun
a speck of fire
chromosphere spark
piercing cardboard sky
unstarred & solitary
a solar particle
bitten by dark
moon smile
on cue
dusks the morning
chills a lunar breeze
from bird-muffled trees
but planet hushed we
squint on twilit street
catch that lidded
furnace eye

(c) Siobhan Logan 20th March 2015

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Skin-dancing with the Snakes

This collection should come with a warning. Its word-charms get under your skin and wriggle it loose. Its rhyme-chimes sing you awake. The poet SusanRichardson strides into her third collection by CinnamonPress, abandoning rucksack-baggage, at ease with her own voice. In the opening poem, 'Let my words be bright with animals', she announces her song;

'Let my verbs be studded with Glow Worms.
Let Painted Ladies flit from each vowel I sound.'

Richardson's eco-poetry is as subversive as it is playful. A tiger-woman hunts 'not just for prey but for pungent signs/ that her kind has stopped declining.' I caught the spirit of AngelaCarter lurking in the undergrowth of her reworked fairytales; a daughter-turned-deer in 'The White Doe' is undaunted:

'Though the man I was meant to wed
turns hunter,
I will out-wood him.
For an un-life in the unlight
has taught me slinkness …'

At the same time, the bounce and burble of its sound-patterning, the glitter of its word-coining, reminded me of Gerald Manley Hopkins. So her starlings insist on their collective pronoun;

'… though she'll try to un-us
she'll cuss our dizzy-dazzle
us-gloss of flight
us loves to live thus
usly ...'

The lower-case title skindancing signals the collection's unifying theme. It is a twenty-first century Ovid's Metamorphoses that refuses species/ gender boundaries or lexical standardisation. Throw the dictionary away with your rainproof OS map. Richardson explores the 'Humanimal's cloven nature, our intimacy with and alienation from our animal origins. In 'born wrong-bodied', a mole-human celebrates ' mud's velvet hug' while in 'Chiaro', the pure animal Brown Dog 'sniffs your body-length/ then pisses stars and glitter';

'This is my joyspace! This! This! This!'

Others are more conflicted, like a seal-woman unwillingly changed:

'I had to earn the sea's esteem
spurn the urge to scream
beneath its upturned ceiling.'

('Homophoca Vox Pop')

Richardson's metaphors typically put you right inside the metamorphosis so you experience the sensuous possibility of another skin;

'What my spine believed were prickles of unease
were the birth-hurts of feathers.'

(The Pen is Mightier')

However Richardson also dances her way in and out of the skin of words as much as stories. She is teasing at the edge of language, its whoop-whooping and its gestures towards a physical reality. This poetry swoops from the ancient to the urban, from the lyrical to the colloquial, as easily its creatured humans shape-shift;

'… and i look
down and omigod
my belly's covered
in scales and
i'm like
wow Sri Lakshmi
what have you
done here? … i'm
totally cool
with it though ..'

(the full moon)

As in texting, sentence lose their capitals but the polyphony of voices gets ever more fluid. They slip the boundaries of 'man-made' grammars. Word-classes revolt and re-form; neologisms slither into animal language – the 'rrrrrraaaaaw' of the lion, the 'gubfobs shrull glupper' of seal-speak and best of all, the vowelled-sibilance of a merfolk transcript complete with an extended 'translation';

Flosha plisha flof sleeshi
ull sosh hallisha soosh.
Blip floff mosh ussa lasha.'

('Sleesh Flosha')

I haven't even mentioned the wonderful illustrations by Pat Gregory which 'con-verse' with the poems. They match the closely-textured nature poetry and catch the undertow of its mythologising. Richardson is a 'Wales-based' poet and Welsh stories and place-names lace the collection with a distinctive Celtic tang. Gregory captures this in her twining spirals of animal-human forms, in prints that echo the capitals of an illuminated manuscript and a cover as knotted as the 'what-animal?' riddles of the verse. The artwork heightens the pleasure of the word-singing. Gregory also captures the rich vein of humour in the poems, as in the wry illustration to Zoomorphic' where the Insomnia Llama clasps a sleepless woman, clothed in 'zzzzzz' pyjamas, in an unshakeable embrace. But above all, these poems will leave your skin tingling and your synapses firing. You will be itching to slip into a new pelt with a richer musk;

'When I tried it on I suddenly believed
I could speak shrimp and brine.
It made me feel oceanic.
Made me as high as a spring tide.'