Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.

Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:

My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:

Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:

Visit the writers' development service I co-run at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

About Me

My photo
Leicester, East Midlands
As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring. In addition, I co-run The Writers' Shed, a service for writers, at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Green Lyrics Singing

Oh the lushness of green at Lyric Lounge. As I arrive, everyone's in a corner creating something. Pillars are filling up with brand new poems and drawings. Some of them make their way into our lunchtime open mic session. Graham has brought green laurel leaves (from his neighbour's garden) to garland our offerings. He improvises a reading of 'Auroral Football' with me, playing with those green Northern Lights. Ishi Khan-Jackson runs through a gentle comedy set about her Punjabi grandmother. At one point, John Hegley strolls in. He's asked if he'd like to throw something in and he plucks a poem off the wall that's caught his eye. It's by a young man called Josh who absolutely doesn't want to read it himself. So John reads it for him and it's a blinder - the lyrical rush of 'The Hungry Moon' blows us away. John bows out. Jean Binta Breeze moves in, hurls in poems about tropical sunshine and tropical rain while the weather outside is lashing windows. She does a wonderful poem called 'Lyric Lounge' which I must track down for you. And then it's the music.

What can I say about the music - Aly and Milk? Aly - aka Alysson Stoneman - is a gifted poet who's set her words to the sweet acoustic guitar sound of Milk, her mate. I've said before that I think of poetry as singing with words, with the voice, and her phrasing is just on the edge of singing. It's sublime. And when she's not busy doing gigs and writing, she is also a co-ordinator for Nottingham Writers' Studio - another happening place for words.

And that's the great thing about Lyric Lounge - the buzz of the place and the people you meet. More tomorrow when we part in yellow and round off with John Hegley's evening show. Not to be missed.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Dolls' House Blue at Lyric Lounge

Blue day at the Lyric Lounge. Rain streams the windows but inside is sunny as ever. Tables are littered with fascinating, rust-bitten objects from Leicestershire Museums. In the corner, the Book Doctor has her stethoscope out for a surgery with two writers. People begin to pull chairs around and I find myself kicking off the open mic lunchtime set with 2 poems in blue. At the last minute, a bus-load of children arrive and I am weaving between them as I unfurl this arctic story:

'... like a ribbon of blue
green or violet
your breath will
loose in the sky ...'
(Last Breath Singing)

Mark Goodwin reads a series of poems from the Behind the Scenes workshops inspired by museum objects. As he does so, the curator Nikki Clayton opens a mysterious box-case and sets out 6 Victorian dolls' house chairs. I lay a porcelain dolls' head amongst them and Mark moves on to a spooky poem about a doll dressed in Red Riding Hood clothes. The children are snapping pictures on their mobile and digital cameras. Some of the young Lyric Lounge attendants read their own poems, fresh from this morning's workshop. Jean Binta Breeze drifts across to throw in her 'Third World Blues' poem and a musician takes up his guitar, sings us through to the end of the set.

Lydia rushes off to take some young people to a Truvan film project that is part of the Lyric Lounge festival. It transpires that the children who were snapping were part of a press pack that now descends with forms to sign away permission for those pictures and requests for an interview. My mini-interview is written onto a speech bubble card and I'm photographed beside it. A creative chaos emanates from the Lounge. As I pack up my things to go, people of all ages are crouched with crayons and pencils for the afternoon's Drawing workshop. I'm half reluctant to leave but I'll be back for the Write Way Up evening performance. Seven poets inspired by museum artifacts ...

And a quick evening post: Home from Write Way Up - a fabulous show at Lyric Lounge putting really original work by young writers together with film and music - why isn't poetry presented like this more often? Kevin & Pam did a great job with these performers - cheers all round ...

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Purple Poetry at Lyric Lounge

Today I drifted into the sunlit Lyric Lounge for 'Bridging the Gap', a discussion on the relationship between the Page verses Stage. This is a phrase I've been hearing more and more frequently with poets often announcing themselves to be 'a page poet' or a 'performance poet' or some hybrid of the two. Page poets write for literary magazines, with a readership of subscribers, and work to get a chapbook or collection published. Performance poets play at live spoken word events on a growing scene of slams, open mic sessions and gigs. Here the twain met in the pleasant no-man's-land of the Y-theatre lounge to shake hands and swap challenges.

The panel intros. were very good natured with much agreement but the discussion was wide-ranging and threw up all sorts of questions. Is poetry on the page seen as better, 'proper poetry', more complex, more 'academic'? Is there an Establishment of the poetry world, a class divide between page and stage? They certainly have very different audiences. How has performance poetry been rooted in music and the rhythms of an Afro-Caribbean or Black American culture? What part does non-verbal communication, movement and personality play in performance poetry? Why do many page poets 'murder their own work' in reading it aloud? Are some performance poets lacking in writing 'craft' or 'morality'? Can performance poets get published? Can and should page poets learn the skills of communicating with an audience of listeners? What can either 'side' learn from the other?

Inevitably, this discussion challenges us all to see where we fit in. I write for both page and stage and one reshapes the other in a fluid process with no clear boundary, though some poems obviously work better with listeners than others. The label 'performance poet' might lead an audience to expect a different style than mine, I'm not sure. But I have learnt a great deal from the performance poets I've seen at Leicester's WORD events. I love their theatricality, how they use movement and claim the whole space of the stage, how they cradle the audience within their performance. And I try to do all those things in my shows. But the same poems do their stuff on the page in my new book - the white space they originated on.

I very much enjoyed not only the interplay of ideas but the generous vibe between panel speakers and audience in today's Lounge. Graham Norman of Leicester Poetry Society, conveyed his love of words on the page but also his growing awareness of the power of live, spoken poetry. Sureshot, aka Michael Brome, revealed the same love of reading song lyrics on vinyl records and the importance to him of crafting the poem on the page first. Lydia Towsey and Alison Dunne shared their own experience of both forms. And Jean Binta Breeze strolled in, gorgeous in purple (today's Lyric Lounge colour) to share some final words from a poetry mistress: 'A love of language is everything - without that, you don't have a poem.' 'Your voice is your instrument - your sound should seduce your audience and create that space where your poem can live.' 'The performance is a conversation between artist and audience - it begins even before you get on stage.'

The Lyric Lounge is part of the cultural program for the Special Olympics and as such is a vibrant and inclusive affair with all sorts of workshops, performances, open mic sessions - you name it. If you want to experience a passionate engagement with live literature wrapped up in lots of fun, head down there. Jean is doing her stuff every lunchtime. And they have John Hegley on Friday. Tomorrow, the colour theme is blue for those who like to chime with the time. I'll be dreamy in turquoise.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Icebergs and Dark Flames at Polyverse

I feel my recent silence in the blogosphere needs some explaining. For the past fortnight, I've been nursing a bad neck strain, negotiating the world at eye-level gaze. Even neck swathed in scarves, peering at my keyboard aggravated it so blogging was out.

Luckily, I was able to rehearse my revived show STORIES DRUMMED TO POLAR SKIES. I was thrilled to be appearing this weekend as one of the headlining acts at the Polyverse festival. On Friday evening, I played to a very responsive audience in the Martin Hall theatre at Loughborough University. It was great to be doing this show in a theatre space again, with Saami music drifting over the PA and dramatic lighting to capture the mood of these arctic stories. At the end, one audience member said she wanted me to rerun the PowerPoint images and replay the whole thing; poems, music, auroral physics and all. Now that's what a poet loves to hear.

Polyverse was my first ever poetry festival and I was completely smitten. I heard some stunning poetry, bought a heap of books and chatted with editors and jobbing poets from across the country and beyond. It was especially good to finally meet my lovely editor from Original Plus, Sam Smith, down all the way from Cumbria. The festival lived up to its name with an astonishing range of styles and voices and subjects. I particularly enjoyed the other 'arctic poet', Susan Richardson, whose vivid performance was a revelation. I am so envious of her journeys to Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland and her poetry found a magnetic resonance in my bones:

'It's a force that's attracted to the North in her,
the thunder of summer light,
the blood of explorers in the tundra,
the tilting cap of ice.'

There were many other very engaging readers, including some startlingly talented young poets, and of course, Carol Ann Duffy was sublime. A consummate storyteller, here is no declaiming. Her delivery is sly and taut and draws us in to collude in her mischief. The hair is all dark flames. She has a way of holding back on the last line, leaning into the mike and loosing that killer phrase with a glint in her eye. Her wicked narrative poem, 'The Laughter of Stafford Girls High' , rang a real bell with me from my own Catholic girls' schooling. This was delivered in separate slices to keep us begging for more. And then the moving sonnets of Rapture to finish. Here in the lover's 'Row', Duffy's images are so astonishing and right and conjured for me that stomach-pit feeling:

'But when we rowed,
the room swayed and sank down on its knees,
the air hurt and purpled like a bruise,
the sun banged the gate in the sky and fled.'

On Sunday I attended 2 really useful workshops on 'what to write' with Pam Thompson and 'who to ask' with Damien Walters of the Literature Network re. resources, funding, publishing etc. So I feel I got a glimpse of the whole poetry landscape. We were incredibly lucky to have this festival on our doorstep and let's hope this is the first of what will become a long tradition. I'm indebted to Radcliff Gregory for his vision of it and also Kerry Featherstone who steered this rambling herd of poets in the right direction all weekend. Fabulous!

Now I would mention Lyric Lounge, that other great spoken word event in Leicester, running all this week - but my neck is starting to do that twisty, creaking thing. More later ...