Tuesday, 30 March 2010

competiton competition

Amongst a zillion other names that blur into one scrolling orange feed of dot coms, is mine, up for scrutiny, fortune, worldwide fame and acolades, here:

If nothing else it might be an interesting point from which to discover some new blogs ...

Monday, 29 March 2010

Playing swopsies

A switcheroonie from me asking the questions to answering them - here on the Cadaverine website.

God, I don't half prattle on when given half the chance ...

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Another night out. Phew. All the invites have come thick and fast for the last few weeks.

And being the self-challenging git I am I decided to shake up my set a bit with a bunch of new poems. When I say 'new' I mean new to performance rather than newly written. And so I stepped into the spotlight with a greater than usual uncertainity of whether the words and lines would come out in the right order. (Oh, those classic monty python sketches - I seem to draw on them more and more as I get older)

And for some reason I picked some rather dark poems: angry, disparing house poems from the Bedrock sequence to open with. But people listened and, joy of joys, didn't clap between each one which would just cut me and the poems up. How do they know I don't like/want that? It's like I've got some enormous sign hanging around my neck saying KEEP YOUR HANDS APART UNTIL I'VE FINISHED. Especially since they clapped after each poem of the previous readers. Is it as simple as not saying 'thank you' after each poem? Are audiences as easy to prompt as Pavlov's dogs?

While a good set and people appreciative, I think the bonus of the night goes to hearing Andy Raven and friends play at the end of the evening. True, I'd done my bit so was relaxed, but what a bunch of upbeat talented musicians, who knew just how long to play for. Marvellous marvellous. Thank you.

And now, a week away.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Mouthtrap Gobsmacks at Debut

Despite getting my knickers in right old twist before our debut last night, resulting in a nasty hairball in my throat causing cough cough, which has become my most unuseful pre-gig tic, I had a highly vocal time last night with Steve and Beth.

My nerves were calmed during the sound check when I proved to myself that I could speak, sing and improvise in front of strangers, so the hour hang-out before the event got underway was not as wired as it could have been. Also, much more fun to chat with friends before a performance than hanging around by yourself not being particularly comprehensible to strangers trying to be friendly (my second most unuseful pre-gig tic).

Also, wonderfully, we were third on, which meant not too much time to get worked up - at least I couldn't get worked up over forgetting words, although I was distracted in parts during the first two performances, trying to recall films and paintings I liked that might provide props for the impending pieces.

And while I did think of plenty that were powerfully reimagined in my head, I didn't use any of them. Once on stage, I was far too busy being filled with new images, stories and voices arising from the other two. Beth began the first piece - and what a beginning - Ms Operatically Trained Diva plunged and soared within minutes of opening the set - fabulous. I couldn't help myself - the sad story of a mother losing her boy to adulthood just came tumbling out. Well, I say tumbling out, ask any of the audience and I'm sure they'd have different scenarios to tell them - the 'lyrics' being quite scant. But the emotional register was unmistakable. Steve picked up and threaded his own pearls onto the score.

The cheeky short piece was just that - well cheeky. Called Treasure (Steve's choice) it was a piece of urgency, wonder and suspense. Again I'd be interested to hear what any audience members took from it. We slipped into another cheeky short number. This time cheeky because it was based an a non-improvised poem of mine. That Steve and Beth then pulled off from. Skywards. I loved it. There's a line "the thin call of cirrus" in it, and that's where they took me.

And the final piece, initiated by Steve, was a bubbling roil of damp dark gaming. Honestly. High energy that pummeled any previous atmosphere into a thousand pieces and headbutted them again and again like there were bouncy balls - although I had marbles in my head. Steve's percussive obsession met with a Bangra-style beat boxing (he wouldn't agree, I'm sure).

So, such fun. For us, clearly. Which was a magnificient relief. But what made the night even better was how much the audience seemed to enjoy us. When I focused on them, they did seem to be listening and watching intently - and they'd been a pretty chatty audience through the first couple of acts. Each piece was received with a load of whooping and clapping. Afterwards, too, people were saying how much they'd enjoyed what we did - for its musicality, rhythm, unexpectedness and sheer fun-ness.

Naturally we're all very excited. With Steve and Beth either side of me, I felt we were up for anything. So if any of you know of a spoken word night that would like a little something different to enliven the regular line-up with ingenuity, spark, poetry, haunting harmonies and wayward mouth music then get in touch ...

On a more reflective note: possibly the most rewarding aspect of the evening was the achievement of an ten year old ambition to improvise narratives and poems to an audience. I remember disucssing this with 3dV, the collaborative live lit trio I wrote with 1999-2004 and it not being taken up. Everything in its time. It gives me hope for Mr Puppet ...

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A day of movement in a place of beauty

In the slow process that is me getting myself and Mr Puppet ready for a joint performance sometime later this year, I went on a movement for puppeteers day workshop n Saturday, held by the London School of Puppetry, not in London, though, but, joy of joys, in Linton. Which if it isn't famous for its snowdrops, ought to be. Just look at them all. And made all the better with snow still curled up in the creases of the hills.

And despite the distractions of these and the view from the Linton Institute window, I managed to learn a few things about my body during the day. More specifically my body in relation to the puppet and the space we're in.

Possibly the most useful (if obvious) point I took away with from the day is that the energy between us originates with me, yet I am led by the puppet so by keeping the balance between my feet I can't be wrong-footed by him (easier said than done).

The most illuminating point: holding the puppet is akin to holding the posture of a ballerina.

The most fascinating: it's far easier to lift and control the movement of my arms with the muscle beneath my shoulder blades rather than with those on my shoulders.

The easiest exercise:arching away from the wall to develop these aforementioned muscles.

The simplest explanation: our movements can be broken down into four archetypal body shapes (Lavan stereotypes, apparently) of the pin, the wall, the screw and the ball.

What delighted me most about the day was while all this was incredibly useful for me and Mr P, my brain was whirring around how I might use a lot of the information and exercises for my solo work.

I love it when learning comes together, when my career suddenly starts looking like an orchestrated plan with a master strategy to it.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Friday Night in the Pool

So yes, I went to Blackpool on Friday. And while I spotted the fabulous tower I didn't get to paddle or ride any donkey. The workshop with students from the Dead Good Poets Society at Blackpool and Fylde College was a full-on rollercoaster of mucking about, playing Tag, Hamlet, Trevor MacDonald and old-fashioned parlour games, all in the name of confidence building and stage presence. Everyone seemed to respond really positively to what I asked them to do, which always makes things a whole lot easier and more fun.

What was particularly lovely about this job was we were all, after our two hours together, off to town to perform our work to each other and, as it turned out, about fifty others, at the West Coast Rock Cafe.

I loved watching the people I'd worked with earlier stand in front of this sizeable crowd and hold their own, given that three hours earlier they'd been pretty nervous in front of their colleagues and quick to exit our makeshift stage.

It's one of my biggest gripes that us writers are given the most amazing degree of attention from an audience and people so often don't value this: barely acknowledging the audience, shuffling papers, taking up way more than their alloted time, apologising, reading work as if it's totally unfamiliar and committing a host of other irritants. Musicians would adore the kind of ardent listening we literature people get at a live literature/spoken word evening.

I know, I know. It's terrifyingly exposing for starters to stand up in front of people and read out your work, which is why I'm on my mission to support people in making that step. And those people who were in the audience at my first ever reading in Brighton back in 1994 ish would be the first to verify how appaulingly bad I was. I was supporting the American writer, Lynne Tillman, although more accurate would be to say I blocked and hindered any limbering up of the audience before she came on. Fortunately she wasn't in the least bit shy in telling me just how badly I'd read and ignored the audience and what she suggested I do to improve.

And boy does it make a difference when you enjoy a reading. It's such fun to communicate work so directly to people. And Friday was no exception in that. I succumbed to the mic, but off its stand so I could at least stomp about the stage. It helps both my memory and delivery if I can move. Although I'm not entirely sure how it helps people's concentration. Obviously it's meant to help, but I've never had any explicit responses to it. I mention this since, on the way home, I suddenly wondered how I would respond to someone delivering their work like I do. My first thought was I'd be terribly irritated at all that parading around. But I'm not sure. I think if they seemed absolutely genuine rather than prima donna-ish I might enjoy the physical punctuation. Maybe not. It's impossible to be objective. Maybe it's time for a video of my performance again, so I can be my ow audience member, however narcisstic that sounds.

Meanwhile, if you've seen me do anything of late and have an opinion, I'd be very interested to hear what you made of it.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Class Act - Vanishing Act

We launched Vanishing Act, the latest Flax anthology, on Wednesday night.

And now it's all over I can admit how nervous I was about the event. Because the anthology itself was a bit of an experiment - riffing off our standard audio files and playing with potentials of the spoken word - we'd decided to experiment a little with presenting it to people.

First there were the straight readings from the writers' back catalogue as it were, then we went into darkness to hear the audio tracks for people to form their own imagined and emotional responses to the work without any visual triggers.

Then we heard the audio tracks accompanied by films made by Morph Films, who had made five responses to the work. When I spoke to them about that process, Gareth talked of how much he enjoyed not thinking about what the client might want, but to just register his response to the piece and turn that into a visual response. He translated the rhythms of speech into visual rhythms, and sought out the less obvious elements to present. So not literal at all.

The evening finished with the creators of the work reading the pieces again. Reowning them, as it were. So the five pieces of Vanishing Act were heard three times. Risky. But it paid off. People really responded to the opportunity to hear a piece delivered in different ways and spoke of how strikingly different that made their own responses. I loved the theatricality of the event, especially the alertness of listening in the dark. But I think most of all I loved the sense of giving the writers a special present of a film of their work. I tried to watch each of them in the dark as they watched the film - for the first time - and lapped up their pleasure, surprise and interest in what they were watching. Okay, so we can't pay them for their work, but this really felt like some great alternative.

So, if you missed it, shame, but you can relive it in part by listening to each piece or watching the videos made in response to the poems.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A trip to Blackpool

I'm hoping this glorious weather holds until Friday, when I'm off to Blackpool for a performance workshop followed by a performance at The West Coast Café, from 6-8pm. All very kindly arranged by They Eat Culture and The Dead Good Poets.

It'll be a first for me - being in Blackpool, home of variety and entertainment. So I've been working out a suitably varied and entertaining set ... Don't think I'll dig out my parasol, or frilly knickers, though.

Still worth coming along to, if you're in the area.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

More Mouthtrap

This is the way Mouthtrap begins every rehearsal - Steve and Beth poring over the techie bits. And me watching them.

I shouldn't mock though, since the jam men (loop machines) add another dimension to the work, especially for Beth's singing, enabling her to harmonise with herself. And they're great fun for me to pull out single words that work as the base rhythm to any given section. Perhaps most of all they enable the blending of each voice to creating a stong whole to the three sections.

Of course there is a danger to them. First: they might not work on the night (my perennial fear). Second: we get lazy, let them do most of the work for us, so sections go on for far too long than they would do otherwise if we had to generate the sounds/words ourselves. Probably the bigger danger.

So the second piece we're planning for the Totally Wired event will be acoustic. We're playing on Monday with the various structures that we might work within.

I find it fascinating that we rehearse improvisation. It's like a tuning in of ears, a deepening understanding of how we fit together, even if that changes everytime, A reassurance that it works, that everytime something (however different) entertains us.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Loving Gone Large

Along with five others from other poets based in the NW England, one of my poems went large a couple of weeks ago in the NICE bar at The Storey in Lancaster. They're all on the theme of love, and were picked, by Litfest, for their wholehearted, non-ironical tones. How sweet. Except I've been told mine has been getting the most comments. Oh, I said and had another read of it.

Thereby witnessing one of the great mysteries of the profession - that of the collective consciousness, ie, the re-reading of an old poem in new light once others have read it. The same happens when I read or perform my work to an audience. It's as if I hear it through their ears/brain/interpretations.

And so, what was a lovely poem comparing the state of love between people to moon jellies, has become a right raunchy number. Hmm.

Anyway, here is a flavour of what some of them look like:

At safe distances so you can't read them or turn innocence into hard core ...

Other poets in the bar are Chris Culshaw, Josephine Dickinson, Gaia Holmes, Pauline Keith and Ian Seed. So feel in good company. In fact it's a little like an alternative version of that dinner party I'm so excited about.