New poetry collection / Iceland residency

Over the last year, in between learning to run sensory workshops for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, and trying to stay financially afloat in the enemy-of-poor-people economy of my new home city of Brighton, I have been working on a new collection of poems…

It is called ‘Boys’ and will be published by Burning Eye Books in May of this year. Its a short collection exploring themes to do with…. you guessed it, boys. Growing up with boys, living with boys, fighting with boys, grieving for boys, and attemps to untangle some of the nonsense messages that this world we live in tells us about what boys (and girls) should say, think, do  and feel. I’ve worked really hard on it (along with my dear friend Jamie Harrison and his very sharp editorial brain), and I’m really excited that it will be available in real life very soon. I’m planning a small book tour in June to celebrate its release.

Also in May, I’m very very excited (and a bit nervous) that I’m going to be Writer in Residence at Klaustrid (managed by The Institute of Gunnar Gunnarsson) in the Fljotsdalur valley in East Iceland. It is situated at Skriduklaustur, which was built in 1939 by the famous Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarsson! Its apparently 40km from the nearest town. I full of trepidation about being so far from home on my own for a whole month, but also bubbling over with excitement about getting to explore a new part of the world, learn about a different culture, and have loads of time to get some writing done.

It took me SO long to get into the flow of writing and editing critically while I was working on Boys- its easy to get out of the right brain space, what with doing other work too, and money worries, and just being (as I am) prone to bouts of anxiety and depression which are not really conducive (for me) to a really meaty creative process. But now, just as the collection is finished, I find that I HAVE found my flow. New ideas come all the time, in my day to day thinking. I feel confident about knowing whether they’re shit or not, and pushing myself to work on them further if I think they’re ok. And best of all, I can feel the little magical wonderment compartment of my brain fizzing away- looking for magic, or ways of making things register as magic and unusual and fantastical, in the day to day. This often happens after a period of instensly working on something creative. The problem is that it is difficult to maintain once a project is finished and we are obliged to go back to normal life, with its bills and bedtimes and such. So, and I feel very super grateful about this opportunity to go to Iceland, and determined to use the time as productively as possible.

That’s all for now. Check back for details of the release date for ‘Boys’, I should know more soon!

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BRAND NEW short film of my poem Bit Red

Today is an exciting day because I can share this video for the first time! It is a short film of my poem Bit Red, imagined into visual form by film maker Zoe Alker.

I’m so pleased and proud of how sensitively and realistically it follows to poem’s theme of exploring how difficult it can be to talk about sex, and the kind of sex we want to have. I don’t think we live in a world yet where, especially for women, it is comfortable and natural to discuss, explore, express, articulate, explain the particulars, details, specifics of what kind of sex we would like to be having (or not having). I don’t want to say too much on the matter because its a poem not a socio-political statement, but hopefully poems can start conversations.

I’m so excited and nervous for people to see it. Please take a peek.The actors are Bryher Flanders and Harry Gould, and they are so brilliant.

THANK YOU TO THEM, and also to Zoe Alker, Ryan Sharpe, Georgia Ingles, Jamie Bell, Isabel Macfarlane, Chlo Edwards, Jack Cookson and Cat Wright for making this totally gorgeous and sensitive film!

A letter to a younger poet (or just to myself, five years ago)

Here’s a little thing I was asked to write for a residency I recently did for a lovely project called Word In The West. 

I hope it isn’t too prescriptive, its just a list of things I like to remind myself of occassionally, as a writer.

1.

Being able to support yourself with your art form does NOT validate your art. Emily Dickinson never made a penny from her work. If you can make yourself sit down and start writing a brilliant poem, still wearing your uniform, just after getting home from a ten hour shift in the pub / care home / office where you work, it is still a brilliant poem, and writing it is a worthwhile pursuit, even if no one ever pays you for it.

Having said that- the first time you DO get paid for a performance, commission etc, it will feel really great and that’s completely fine. The fact that doing something you love is earning you a little financial gain is of course really something to be excited about, it’s just not the be all and end all. Write anyway!

I want to make a distinction here between the importance of keeping on writing- experimenting, editing, trying new things artistically- regardless of financial reward, and the importance of not working for free. Performing, running workshops, writing commissions- that is working, and you must try to at least make sure your expenses are covered if you are going to work. Otherwise you are undermining yourself and the artistic community.

2.

I guess this applies particularly to poets who are keen to be involved in the world of performance. There are all different kinds of performers- big, loud, dramatic ones, funny ones, intense and confident ones, theatrical ones… and all these kinds can be brilliant. But what I want to say is- if you are none of these things, if you are not funny or flamboyant or intense, it does not mean that you can’t be a great performer. Poetry also sometimes needs performance that is understated or serious or warm or friendly in a quieter or more gentle way! You can bring these things to the stage and they can be valuable, but you must be clear and confident in your delivery. Your audience must be able hear your words or it is pointless saying them out loud! So, learn them. Say them clearly and honestly. Give them the reverence they deserve.

3.

You can’t – CAN’T – write well unless you read. And that’s not elitist, reading is free. And it doesn’t matter what you read, or what you like, but you’ve got to read in order to decide what you like, and what kind of writer you want to be!

If you find that are struggling to write anything good, put away your note books, get a stack of poetry books from the library and spend a few days reading and ENJOYING them! Think of it as putting petrol in the tank. Writing, and creating in general, is a process that requires you to choose to take part in it. Don’t wait for the muse to come and visit you. Be pro-active in trying things, experimenting, and improving your craft. On days when I feel like I am a terrible writer, I am comforted by the thought that there are almost endless things to read, study, and try out in order to improve my writing, and no limit to how much better I can potentially become with hard work, persistence and a love of words.

Workshopping in Bristol with BUDDY WAKEFIELD!

A great opportunity for writer and poets based in Bristol, the south west (or anywhere in travelling distance really!) Multiple World Poetry Slam Champion and all round incredible poet and performer BUDDY WAKEFIELD is coming to Bristol on November 30th for an afternoon of workshopping at the Left Bank on Stokes Croft. Details and tickets are available here, and you should grab yours quick! http://www.wegottickets.com/event/292635

Summer Shakedown

It’s been on my to-do list all summer to write a little blog about each lovely thing that happened, poetry wise. But summer for me is always a grass stained blur of fields and tents and walkie-talkies and hearing poems over the distant rumble of the bass from a nearby reggae soundsystem and glitter and working more hours than I sleep and perhaps, the occasional cider. So in the few days I got to spend at home in between festivals (and running some super fun workshops for Take Art in Somerset) I was mostly desperately trying to claw back some sanity and rest form the depths of my duvet, or doing laundry.

As such, here is a quick round-up of Summer 2014, if for no other reason than I can look back and remember what happened.

I was booked to perform at Glastonbury Festival for the first time, on the Poetry and Words Stage. It was a real honour to be asked. I jumped up and down in a café on Stokes Croft when I got the email. The thing is about the Poetry and Words Stage is that they take open submissions to from potential performers, so they are never booking poets from one particular scene or city. As such, I got to meet, spend time with, and watch perform, some amazing poets that I hadn’t previously had the pleasure, such as Stephen James Smith, Molly Case, Abe Nouk, Jess Green, Antosh Wojcik and Victoria Shineman, and ones I don’t get to see perform half as often as I’d like, such as Scott Tyrell, Sara Jane Arbury and Marcus Moore. There was also a whole host of friendly faces and poets that I already adored to the very bottom of my socks, so I left feeling proud of my craft, and to be part of such a diverse and talented community. There’s me on the Poetry & Words Stage, looking like a flower pot man! (Photo by Matt Gillet)

glastonbury matt gillet

Fellow poet Scott Tyrrel made us all into owls for the publicity!

Fellow poet Scott Tyrrel made us all into owls for the publicity!

Me and Nuala did one of our last ever shows of ‘Folly’ at WOMAD Festival, and I did a few solo sets as well. We were performing as part of the Hip Yak Poetry Shack, headed up by the endlessly talented and capable Liv Torc, with a little help from Chris Redmond and Jonny Fluffy Punk. It was so nice to be made welcome into another poetry family, and the weather was so glorious all weekend that sometimes whilst dancing bare foot to Senegalese music, it was genuinely difficult to remember that we were just in a field in Malmesbury. I was nervous about performing Folly outside in the open air for the first time, especially with the nature of audiences at festival’s being quite transient and fickle (and the show being an hour long), but it was real pleasure. By the time we performed on the Sunday, all the brilliant poets that had been performing as part of the Hip Yak Poetry Shack over the weekend had built up a happy and comfortable audience which were really friendly and welcoming to a watching a whole show, and it was lovely performing in the sunshine. We were in the arboretum so all the trees were swishing above us.

Performing at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack at WOMAD 2014

Performing at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack at WOMAD 2014

Then came the magical washing machine of taking our beautiful Wandering Word Stage to Boomtown, and then to Shambala Festival, in August. I could write an entire blog / poem / opus / book about what a pleasure it is working for Wandering Word, welcoming new poets onto our stage and welcoming back poets that we are already privileged to count as part of our family. Maybe I will write that, but for now I will say- it was an emotional, sleepless, hard-working, harder-playing, glitter and words-fuelled jumble of joy, and it makes me so proud to be presenting a stage which champions poets and spoken word as a form of entertainment and engagement as a natural part of such party atmospheres as the music festival scene. As a stage, we are open for 48 hours over the course of Shambala weekend, and of course some of that time is taken up with brilliant bands and DJs, but the majority is spoken word, drawing crowds of up to 250 hundred people. It makes my heart sing with pride. As an organisation, we are ten years old this year, and it is so exciting to be going from strength to strength.

Compering on our beautiful Wandering Word Stage at Boomtown 2014. Photograph by Duncan Stokes

Compering on our beautiful Wandering Word Stage at Boomtown 2014. Photograph by Duncan Stokes

Our newest piece of decor, by treasured artist Anna Higgie, marking ten years of Wandering Word poetry with quote from some of our favourite poets from over the years.

Our newest piece of decor, by treasured artist Anna Higgie, marking ten years of Wandering Word poetry with quote from some of our favourite poets from over the years.

In between those festivals I had the absolutely terrifying pleasure of finally getting to perform at Tongue Fu, an amazing poetry night in London where they get you to perform with an incredibly talented band of improvising musicians. I haven’t had stage fright like that for years, but it was such an amazing experience, once I was able to breath steadily!

I also wrote a commission for an arts project called ‘Unpacking a Potted History’, which you can read more about HERE, and was lucky enough to be involved in Somerset-based charity ‘Take Art’s ‘What Change?’ project, which ran throughout the summer in Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea. I love seaside town, so getting to run poetry workshops in seaside towns was basically my dream job. You can read the more about the project, and about Take Art HERE, and I suggest you do it you are based anywhere in Somerset, they do fantastic things!

Lastly, at the beginning of September, Nuala and I took our show ‘Folly’ on a mini tour of our last EVER three shows, in Bristol, Brighton and London. It was so very emotional to be performing our beloved show and knowing it was the last times we would ever perform it. We worked so hard putting Folly together- in our bedrooms, with no funding or come to that, no money at all! And never knowing if anyone would ever book us or think it was any good. Having then had the wonderful opportunity to take it to the Adelaide Fringe, and be funded by ACE and the British Council makes me very proud and grateful, and it was real sad to be putting to bed a show that has taken us on such a journey. But we knew it was time, and we are SO keen and eager to get to writing something new and exciting together! Thanks so much to Hammer and Tongue for hosting our final Folly’s! It was an honour and a privilege, and the audiences were so supportive and responsive and kind.

brighton folly

So, good bye Folly and good night summer… what’s next?

Commissions

I was recently applying for some funding and the application asked me to detail all the pieces I had been commission to write over the past few years. I realised that there were quite a few that I really like! So I collated them all on this little ‘Commissions’ page here, if any one wants a peek…

https://sallyjenkinson.wordpress.com/recordings-of-me-saying-poems/commissions/