I’ve been lucky enough to be commissioned to write some really interesting things over the past few years, and I wanted to collate them all together here, because it is a really interesting part of my job. I really enjoy writing to a brief and responding to ideas and themes outside of my own little world!
MIDRASHIM (2013. Hidden Perspectives, Sheffield Hallam University & LGBT Society)
This is a a piece I wrote for a project in Sheffield called Hidden Perspectives that aims to challenge dominant interpretations of biblical texts and narratives found in mainstream culture.
SWANS (2013. Fulangchangandi)
Here is a piece I wrote specifially for this track with brilliant London-based ambient noise / not noise band Fulangchangandi. They asked me to write about swans. I am scared of feathers and of the sun going super nova and I think I had been watching a lot of SIlent Witness around this time.
OUT OF THE CLAY (2014. Unpacking a Potted History, Right Up Our Street, Mexborough, S Yorks)
‘RIght Up Our Street’ is a community arts initiative in South Yorkshire. Unpacking a potted history was a project which explored the rich history of the pottery industry in Mexborough, South Yorkshire. They commission me to write a few pieces responding to this brilliant project.
Out of the Clay
This town is yours.
All of its treacle glazed streets
and the thumb print heart where its embers
are still winking at you
like a stoker.
Let your eyes slide sideways at the car boot,
spy domestic treasure among
all that is mass-produced.
Let yourself imagine some here-made gem
secreted in the royal vaults right now.
Shadowed from history, but glowing with pride,
an imposter in the ranks, waiting to be found.
In this marketplace,
between old scaffolding bones, corrugated roofs,
Jehovah’s Witnesses spreading their truth,
fancy cakes all the way from Barnsley
and summer dresses for five pounds or less
we have been offering up clay.
They made pots, in this town.
Before strikes, before collieries,
before they even knew there was black gold
sleeping in the ground
under the Common.
They made pots
in the nail bar on the corner
and behind Pettits
and over there –
if you burrowed like a spring hare under Lidl,
your digging would unearth at last
the fired shards of a ceramic past.
Moulded, glazed and buried,
asking a supermarket to keep our secret.
To sit on it until we are pirates too old
to remember where we buried our treasure.
Here is the clay.
And here is the china –
made, it turns out,
from actual bones –
press your palms against the cool
mud of home,
dig in your fingers tips
not minding the squelch of it
under your nails today.
I watch new hands working at the old art
and I want to sketch them quick –
catch a small part of the magic
in a real image.
Shoppers stop to shape new life
from these raw materials,
begin to unpack their potted history.
A boy who can’t be more than ten,
taking the time to prop trusty BMX to one side
then let his deft fingers discover an unknown talent
for crafting bone china flowers,
delicate as our own songs.
I’m good at this, he says
and he’s not wrong.
Little hands work quicker, neater,
stamping those tiny blue patterns,
repeating the tender skills.
These streets still remember
A girl with hair as red
as an autumn sunset over Denaby Ings,
face calmed in concentration.
Rolling and pinching until her own heritage
sings out of the clay.
all battle-scarred earth and quiet horizons.
Landlocked and pulling things out of the ground,
We can make whatever we want around here.
This is your town.
A SLOW INVASION (2012. Apples and Snakes 30th Anniversary Celebration)
Pioneering spoken word organisation Apples and Snakes commissioned a poet from each region of the UK to write a piece for their 30th anniversary in 2012, exploring how poetry might be, behave, maifest itself in 30 years time. Here’s my response.
A Slow Invasion
I was drunk four days in a row
before starting work on this piece.
It wasn’t procrastination,
I had some idea that a heady combination
of fermented apples
and sugar, and yeast
and hops, and juniper berries, and rye,
and some unidentifiable Spanish liqueur
would throw a fire blanket over the pain in my chest.
And for starters, I think it would be best
if I’m not still tackling every miniature disaster like this
when I’m fifty six.
But will still I have friends like this beautiful country singer,
who will drag me from my heartbreak house,
tip me into home-brew mixed media conversation
sit with me in the calm of the café, linger until
I’ve started to write?
And when I grow up,
will I still have the inclination to drag my sorry bones
to an open mic on a rainy Bristol Sunday night
assured that we will weave a spider’s web of words
across the back room of the pub,
leave it to settle on our strung-out spent brains
like a salve?
Words written in busy weeks, on the back of napkins
or scribbled on lunch breaks and at train stations.
People build a hinterland to their normal lives,
they are double agents.
They bring their secrets service sermons,
spill their guts and thoughts and proclamations
across the floor, here.
It is a new art,
but an ancient one, this tonic
to have words said aloud,
and hear them collectively.
It is a skillet for our cold phonics,
they start to sizzle and spit between our ears and lips,
until our listening and saying, and breathing and praying
and being in the same room has brewed a hot distillation
of what we have been trying to put down.
And I don’t like all the poems.
Some of them slip past like dim street stalkers
while I am thinking about dinner.
But you know the swell of salt and serotonin
that comes from hearing a poem articulating
the finger paint noise
that your heart’s smudge is making.
I don’t get that, really,
from youtube-voice computer speakers.
Not the same fresh, face-slap pain
of oh shit, that’s what I mean
you get from when stranger’s words
wear worst love or your best fears.
And I can’t help wondering if we’ll still do this-
all of us in the same room, in thirty years.
All of us in the same field, in thirty years.
Dirty from days of dragging our mucky ears and
damp hearts around in the mud, collecting gifts.
And yes, they’re here for the music really,
but if the clouds shift and the rains come,
or their brains need sating
with the succour of something less hectic,
they pile into the poetry tent.
And it is like before,
before generators and amplification.
I realised that this here is the foundation
of us gathering as pack animals
and listening to each other.
And it is new again,
saying poems out loud
instead of writing them down.
We have re-found it.
So we are reaching backwards and forwards at the same time.
Grabbing handfuls of this past tradition
and flinging it towards ourselves and over an audience like:
‘We don’t really know how this might go…
we’re sorry, but whatever, we’re in this together.’
And they are laughing, or bemused, or tweeting, or confused,
or frowning and meeting it with all the derision and delight it deserves.
And look at us, like cave people, all in the same place, playing with words.
Will we lose this, with neat electronic friends keeping us mute?
Will we chose this, over remote sonic salutes?
And is there this slow invasion pushing us apart?
Every day now I am encouraged to share my art
with the world, from home.
Make it, upload it, record it, on my own.
I don’t know much about technology really,
but I feel sometimes like it is eating my syllables
and making them something other.
Words smudge across my tongue smothered
in the black algorithm of data structure.
I can reach the world this way, maybe,
but some base note of meaning is stuck in my throat.
I want wrap my own teeth around my poems,
call them out whilst wobbling on the back wall
of a rum-soaked house party.
Shout them down a crackling phone line
to a lover who I need to come home. Now.
I’m sure I thought that’s what they were for,
and I think about how
cameras make my face red
and keyboards will always make my hands cold.
Then it’s four o’clock in the morning
and it’s not all bad
I can hear Buddy Wakefield tell me
that we are not tragedies,
at the click of a button.
He can be the fire blanket
when I’m not sleeping too well,
and no one else is awake.
And we can catch a stitch of the magic
of the things that we make,
and make them more.
Muddle them with sugar and lime juice
and colours and music.
Watch our words breed hybrid beautiful beasts.
I want to touch them, sometime
they are wondrous.
But if it comes,
facing the tundra of mega-bytes and plastic moulded information,
I will be hanging around at the back of the queue,
hoping to grab hold of something luminescent and dirty and real.
Hoping to grab hold of you.
And when I grow up,
I want us to be poets.
NOT SO BAD (2012. LitroTV)
I was LitroTV’s poet in residence in 2012 for a few months. They gave me a brief of responding to the theme of ‘Poland’. I kinda ran with it a little, because I’ve never been to Poland…