Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Say Sumthin 5 with Lemn Sissay



I am very excited to be working on another show with The Mouthy Poets. Our headliner this time round will be the wonderful Lemn Sissay – Google him, there is only one. We, The Mouthy Poets, host two main shows a year, one in February and one in June.

As we have sold out the Neville Studio at Nottingham Playhouse in previous years, we were able to perform for two nights this February. The Friday was a straight forward show, and on Saturday we took over the whole building, all day, for a kind of festival of words, culminating in a performance in the evening.

On June 15th, we will be hosting a day of events in the Playhouse and our show will be on the main stage at 7pm. This is a fantastic opportunity for many of the young people, who may only have performed to small numbers until now. Part of the ethos of Mouthy is that all participants are involved in the running of the event itself, organising workshops, making and selling merchandise, marketing and advertising the show, as well as writing, editing and working on the performance itself. Many of the performers will be collaborating this time round, working with musicians and film makers as well as each other.

We ask a lot of our headliners too, they can’t simply turn up and do their set, they commit to being with us throughout the day, they watch our run through and critique us before the final show. This is one of my favourite things about working with the Mouthy Poets, getting to meet and work alongside some incredible names in the spoken word scene. To date we have been privileged to work with Inua Ellams, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Tshaka Campbell and Kayo Chingonyi as headliners, as well as having workshop sessions with Roger Robinson, Francesca Beard, John Berkovitch, Caroline Bird, Niall O’Sullivan, Jon Sands and Ken Arkind (from USA) and even Roger McGough who dropped in to join us before he performed at his show at Nottingham Playhouse. Have I forgotten anybody? I bet I have.

The thing that I am most proud of is that many of these artists who meet the young people, are so impressed by their talent and dedication that they ask to return and work with them again. I think it is vital for any aspiring artist to meet those who have forged a path ahead, to realise that it is possible to make their own career happen.

The collective allows each participant to grow as an artist, writer, performer, as whatever they want to be, and I watch in amazement as each and every one grows in stature and confidence – now I know I’m sounding evangelical, but it is true!

So now, we have the incredible Lemn Sissay. The theme of our show will be Journeys, and let’s face it everyone of us has a journey to share. For some of the Mouthys, Lemn is a very pertinent guest to meet as they share similar stories to his. 

If you are in Nottingham that weekend, or if you can get here, please do – we have 700 tickets to sell!


3030 Poetry Challenge -Day 18

Ahead of time, I give you day 18 of the challenge,
the prompt: cheap earrings


We laughed as we walked
through the streets,
boys calling out,
‘Ciao, bella!’

We got lost,
found our way, by asking
‘dove il Duomo?’
working back from there.

We tired of statues of David,
laughed some more,
arm in arm through the Uffizi,
then stopped as we caught sight of the real one,
illuminated by sunlight,
at the far end of the gallery.

In a street behind Santa Croce,
I bought those earrings,
brass crescent moons,
cost me 6000 lira.

I lost them years ago,
first one
and then the other,
but I still have the copy of A Room With a View.

Maybe we should go back,
now we’re old ladies,
see who calls out
‘Ciao bella!’

3030 Poetry Challenge (and I mean challenge) Day 14

this is getting harder and harder. Whether that is because the prompts aren’t prompting anything or because maintaining the momentum is hard, I’m not sure. I know when I started I was off work and staying in Cornwall, right by the sea, just me and my youngest, plus dog. Maybe it’s harder because I’m trying to cram this in between all the usual domestic stuff and day job and poetry job. Well here goes for Day 14…

Prompt for April 14th: Trickle Down


A girl stood on the stage,
or rather, a raised platform installed for this event.
Back straight, hands held by her sides, head high.
The sun cast its light across her hair,
which was reddish-blond.
The room was silent.
Once the scene of balls and parties,
now host to civic meetings
and these few weeks,
a festival of culture.
We gathered to share our skills,
compete for silver cups engraved with names of former winners.
I never hoped that I might be one,
but somehow it was expected,
that we should show up and do our thing,
receive a certificate, a critique.
Here I learned the word ‘adjudication’.

And so she stood,
the girl with golden hair,
and took a breath to start her recitation.
She faltered, stopped.
We watched and saw a pool of golden liquid gather at her feet.
Silence still,
except a gasp from one on our adjudication panel.
The girl cried out and ran the length of the glittering room,
up the aisle between the seats,
the faces of the parents and the teachers and the children.
Each of us then,
performing our set piece,
slightly off centre on the stage,
to avoid the remains of her embarrassment.

I remembered not so many years before, when I,
sat cross legged with the big kids on PE mats at the front of class,
too scared to raise my hand and ask to ‘be excused,’
allowed the rush of warmth to leave me,
sat in it till it was cold.
Played alone all afternoon,
for fear someone would know
the damp patch on the mat,
was made by me.

Winning, losing and taking part.

So, I entered a poetry competition. I don’t often do this and I think perhaps I should. It gives me a focus and a deadline. I work better to deadlines. Some poetry competitions charge an entrance fee, I must admit that puts me off. This one did not, and the prize was an Arvon writing retreat. I have been on 2 Arvon retreats. Arvon weeks cost a lot of money, but they are worth every penny, however if you don’t have £600 spare, then they are a bit out of reach. I was lucky enough to be awarded a grant for my first one and my second one was part funded by Arvon and part funded by The Mouthy Poets, when we had a week arranged specifically for us. The Mouthy Poets are the poetry collective for young people, set up by Deborah Stevenson, and assisted by me with my glorious title of ‘co-director’ or as they often call me ‘Mother Mouthy’.
With the huge carrot of another FREE Arvon experience, I set about writing a poem. The competition was run by Arvon and English PEN, who campaign for freedom to write and freedom to read. The remit was to write a poem about a made up word.

The winner wasn’t me, but I am one of the 30 shortlisted writers who will be published in an ebook, so I am happy about that. Then I found out that the winner was David Grubb, a proper full-on published poet, so I am in good company! All in all, I am encouraged to submit to more competitions, although my suspicious nature will make me do a bit of research before parting with my hard earned cash.

HIs entry was entitled Cribbling

and mine:


Changed by the loss of her.

The hole she leaves behind,
larger than the space she inhabited,
has caused a backdraught
which sucks me
from adult to grown-up.

Shape shifted.

These shoes pinch
my owntwofeet
now I am standing on them.

3030 Poetry Challenge Day 7

Prompt for April 7th


She was from the valleys.
That made her small town
but she had big ideas.
Trouble is, when you’re born in the valleys,
it’s tough to shake it off.
She never really made of her life
what she had wished for so hard.
When I moved away,
to a warm Mediterranean island,
I learned that here,
‘the valleys’ translated as ‘village’ .
‘She’s so village,’ they might whisper
about a less popular girl,
including me in their precious clique.
‘But so am I,’ I thought,
at my roots.
Because however high
my grandmother climbed,
she was very village too.

3030 Poetry Challenge Day 6

Prompt for April 6 –

things people say

“I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own tastes.”

― Marcel Duchamp

“I don’t give a damn what people say!”
She said.
But of course, she did.
She gave a very big damn,
huge and over-flowing.
But, she would bear what they said,
rather than fold herself into an awkward shape,
to fit the space they had made.

3030 Poetry Challenge Day 4

Prompt for April 4 –

sometimes you have to walk away

“My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

― Miles Davis


Sometimes you have to walk away, she says.
Shakes her head like she is wise.
Wise old she-elephant.
Slow and deliberate, jowls flapping,
that amber pendant of hers shifting across her chest,
chain catching across remnants of salmon-en-croute
in asparagus sauce,
on the front of her blouse.
The one we bought her when we came visiting last year.
I wonder if she wears it to show that she remembers,
never forgets,
or if she pulled it out of the drawer by chance.
Or is it all she has to make a show of dressing up
for a family occasion?
We do not visit as often as…
we should.
We do visit,
based on a complex algebraic formula
calculated via emotional osmosis.
Hope and hurt replacing integers,
x = trust and y = disappointment
We visit.
But running away is all I’ve ever seen her do.
This time I’ll take the advice.
Sometimes you have to walk away.

3030 Poetry Challenge Day 3

Prompt for April 3 – out of luck
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
― Maya Angelou

Out of Luck

You were born out of luck.
By which I mean,
not that you have none left,
but that, through luck,
because of luck,
you were born.
My bad luck.
Bad time, bad man.
But luck turned to good.
They say the more you use your creativity,
the more creativity you possess…
and that is true for me,
because in you I find a melting pot
of all the things my procreation has produced before,
but more.

3030 Poetry Challenge Day 2

Day 2:
Prompt: On the Couch.
“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Pablo Picasso.

Picasso Girl

Stanley is an etching,
you hardly notice him at first ,
but when you take the time,
you will find fine lines that make up light and shade,
cross hatching that defines his mood.
He is clear and clean.
Rachel is a watercolour,
some people think her dull,
but she has subtlety of tone.
Her colouring can take you to hazy meadows or Italian cities.
She is older than she looks.
If you give her space she glows,
move in close and you will find secrets that other people miss.
Sarah is an Impressionist painting.
Her presence caresses the eye.
Soft textures and swathes of light and colour.
‘Most everybody’s taste,
and yet with that comes a loneliness.
Nobody takes their time to look up close
and see the brush strokes that create that sense of ease.
Robin’s a Pollock
First glance you think he’s loud and brash
but up close you’ll find a peace between the splats and sparks.
And my girl?
It is an acquired taste that finds beauty
in two eyes where one should be,
one open, one half-closed,
nose off-set and rather elongated,
ears that could be violins,
skin splashed with, not strawberries and cream,
but aubergine left too long in the heat
and a smile like a half eaten pomegranate,
a smile nevertheless,
and one reserved for those that see.

3030 Poetry Challenge Day 1

I have signed up for the Wordxword Festival April 1-30 poetry challenge where we are sent a prompt a day for 30 days and are challenged to write a poem. Here is day 1 -, bit of a rush as I spent most of yesterday driving to Cornwall.

Prompt for April 1 – -from start to finish

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

― Kurt Vonnegut

I was born with wings

But nobody encouraged me to use them.

Instead, rather politely

We were to shuffle along ledges

Occasionally stretching

our plumage catching the sunlight.

Mine did, somedays when I hadn’t even stretched.

One day I was pushed.

I found I could not fly,

I had forgotten I had wings at all,

But I could glide.

And that’s what saved me.