Sunday, 28 November 2010

Poetry at the Blue Walnut

Last night was Poetry Island night at the Blue Walnut Cafe hosted by storyteller and performance poet Chris Brooks and with Matt Harvey as headline, support from Liv Torc and a host of poets from the Exeter, Torquay and surrounding scenes including Clive Pig, Jon Freeman, James Turner, and Tim King from Taking the Mic. The cafe was packed, and cold as it was outside (it was sleeting at one point), the venue got so hot, that windows had to be opened! Everyone was on flying form, although it was hard not be biased in the view that the Taking the Mic crew were really pulling out the stops (although I'm sure poetry isn't really like having football teams...?!). James' poem about God and the Devil, Clive's singing, Jon's love poem and Tim King's letter based Bob Cobbing style piece were all very memorable. Liv was just before Matt Harvey (there were two intervals as so many were performing), and mastered the space at once with her usual show-womanship, doing poems contrasting lust with love to great effect, before Matt Harvey did his set. - And really, however many times one hears some of his pieces, they just get better. He also broke into a hilarious comic 'true story' about Torquay vs. Totnes 'hooligans' which had the audience rolling in the aisles, and as well as doing many favourites, he did recent ones such as poems written for his residency at Wimbledon Tennis Championships, and as well as being funny, charming and full of a very humane empathy (suited to the creator of 'Empath Man'! his Radio 4 series from which he did a brilliant sketch), they were also clever with language and rhyme/rhythm/assonance and quietly subtle in the deeper points which many of them make.
   All in all it was a really good evening, Chris and his sidekick 'Clipboard' doing the honours, and getting everyone involved with the clapping for his 'The cow is the mother of the milk' opener which most of the audience knew or quickly picked up, and a wacky competition for the Poetry Island advent calendar - which involved everyone writing a preferably rhyming short sentence to fill the empty days, of the festive variety. Incredibly, my rather obvious spur-of-the-moment entry (sitting on the holly is an act of folly) drew the most laughs, and I won a kid's advent calendar from Poundland, plus some Belgian chocolates! I was startled (never having been one to win raffles etc.), but it certainly added some extra laughs and audience participation to the evening.
   It was an excellently put together evening, and I was interested in the contrasts and similarities between it and Taking the Mic...both having committed and energetic hosts, both having an emphasis on performance (rather than just read) poetry, having other acts (eg; comedy, music, etc.) and which are intended to be an evening's entertainment selling itself to people who want a good cheap night out rather than a writer's circle or poetry group/open mike for readers. But the Blue Walnut perhaps has a little more of an emphasis on comedy/comic poetry? Just an impression. It was certainly a big hit with the audience, and while there were poets there who I recognized as previous headliners etc., a lot of the audience seemed to be just that - audience rather than poets. And, just as with Taking the Mic, that's a really good sign of a night that really reaches out to people!
   The Blue Walnut itself as a venue is a charming cafe (if small when coping with larger audiences!) with a tiny nickleodeon cinema at the back with delightful vintage upholstered seating. They serve excellent fairtrade coffee ('Origins') complete with star shaped shortbread biscuits!

   Thanks to Chris for organizing it and putting everything together so well and making things go with such a bang, to Matt Harvey for a great performance, and to Liv and all the supporting poets too, for making up a high quality night of performance poetry. 

Sunday, 21 November 2010


It's always good to check that titles to your books / chapbooks/ pamphlets / CDs / etc., either haven't been used yet, or alternatively, have been used for something else that they won't get mixed up with. 'The Book of Contentions' hasn't really any exact namesakes that I could find - but interestingly, there IS a monograph called (and in other editions just 'Strife between the') 'Al Maqrizi's Book of Contention and Strife concerning the relations between the Banu Umayya and the Banu Hashim' - now, whilst I know nothing about the latter two clans, it appears (from cursory Google research) that they are Islamic tribal peoples, AND that Al Maqrizi was an Egyptian scholar 1364-1442, and so seeing as 'The Book of Contentions' starting point was the Occupation of Iraq, that seems itself something of a serendipity.
   'The Book of Indictments' also has some interesting connections - again, there isn't (so far as I've found) an exact match, but what there is is fascinating - 'Officium clerici pacis: a book of indcitments, informations, inquisitions and appeals...with large additions of modern indictments' !!! about which it says; 'The 18th century was a wealth of knowledge, exploration and rapidly growing technology and expanding record-keeping made possible by advances in the printing press. Now for the first time these high-quality digital copies of original 18th century manuscripts are available in print, making them highly accessible to libraries, undergraduate students, and independent scholars. This collection reveals the history of English common law and Empire law in a vastly changing world of British expansion. Dominating the legal field is the Commentaries of the Law of England by Sir William Blackstone, which first appeared in 1765. Reference works such as almanacs and catalogues continue to educate us by revealing the day-to-day workings of society.' Fantastic! for a history fanatic, anyway. Plus, from 1618, more court records - 'PROCESS REGISTER BOOK OF INDICTMENTS. VOLUME. I. f. 122. James Scutts and George Richardson of St. Martin's-in-theFields for burglary; both at large.' Perfect!      
   For 'The Book of Offences', I made it into a feature, citing it on the back cover, the fact that the Swedish law codes were codified in the Code of 1734, divided into two parts - The Book of Offences, and The Book of Punishments! Absolutely classic. As it says in the back cover blurb; 'Not to be confused with the Swedish Book of Offences of 1734, and undoubtedly not its companion, The Book of Punishments...'

   Finally 'The Book of Convictions' also appears to have no exact namesake, the nearest being 'The Book of the Beliefs and Convictions' a phrase in a book of 'Medieval Jewish Philosophical Writings'. So, also historical, and not without a kind of resonance. 
   It was really interesting to find oneself trawling through places like the National Library of Australia online catalogue to find out about the texts with 'names like..' - I recommend it! 

The Book of Convictions

The fourth in The Books of...Trilogy / series is now out, 'The Book of Convictions', and it was odd how new pieces kept on getting themselves written, and then how another Book shaped itself out of the majority of them - themes emerging, following on from the previous Books, deepening and broadening the notions explored, in some cases. At last I managed to decide on a title (from the various options), and a cover image - another from the brilliant Banksy. 'The Book of Indictments' having the scissors cutting out a section of wall, 'The Book of Offences' having the famous barcode as gaol bars, and 'The Book of Convictions' having the wall built by the Israeli government in the West Bank with the image of an opening in the wall looking out onto palm trees etc..
   In a sense it is still a Trilogy, as 'The Book of Contentions' can easily act as Book Zero, as it's quite different in character to the other three. It certainly starts the ball rolling, but being 150 odd aphorisms all in sequence, it's a different kettle of fish to the others with their 'chapters' each often self-contained as poems. The project appears now to be ongoing! But then there is an awful lots of news...bad news, and stuff going on all the time... Like a satirical cartoon strip, it seems that there's no lack of material for such a series.
   There are plenty of other pieces, some pasted up as 'Indictments of the Month' on the Cartwheels Collective website, some that just didn't fit the feel of one of the Books, some I just don't like very much! Having to write about something, especially something unpleasant, doesn't automatically make one like a piece of work! Even if you think it has 'something to say'.
   But I think I'm pleased with how 'The Book of Convictions' hangs together...and it's rather a nice shade of green...

Sunday, 14 November 2010

More Radio Show Adventures

You turn up and the previous DJ/show host never turned up...but at least there is light in the studio this time! Albeit that of a bedside lamp mended with stripy safety tape...however, things generally seem to be working, and your co-presenter figures out how to switch off 'Myriad' the automated system, and you can begin! The show dealt with the idea of critique - i.e. those looks at or steps back from, the mainstream, the orthodoxy or dominant culture which often surface as satire, personal choice to 'make a difference', historical throw back or call on a historical event, figure, movement, period etc.,  and suchlike. As well as a chance to look this multi-faceted theme, and cue for some interesting discussion (and finding some great historical tracks!) it was an opportunity to showcase some Stand Up Philosophy and The Books of...Trilogy, from our respective solo shows. Deor performed the justification for a 'Just War' by Thomas Aquinas, complete with Tony Blair impersonation! and Kant's 'What is Enlightenment?' a splendidly ambiguous text - revolutionary or reactionary? And I performed work from 'The Book of Indictments', 'The  Book of Offences' and the latest in the 'trilogy', 'The Book of Convictions'.
   We felt it went well, and didn't have the terrible feedback in the headphones that thankfully, the person after us last time showed us how to switch off! But it was still despite no one turning up once it went 10 either! and so having to mix carrying on with impromptu performances while ringing numbers on the noticeboard to ask how to put the automated system back on not leave silence! which was all rather stressful. At one point I just read from the posters - 'this is Phonic FM, 106.8 FM, Exeter's sound alternative - no adverts, no training for the DJs...' afterwards I wished I hadn't! but one does strange things under stress...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Halloween Shows

Halloween is almost always a busy time for storytellers, and this one was no exception - we were booked to do some Halloween storytelling as part of the Halloween celebrations at the Sharpham Estate run by the Sharpham Trust near Totnes, which came hot on the heels of our Halloween Radio show on Phonic FM. For the latter, we had some wonderful classical music from the likes of Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, and Bach, haunting tales from Old Iceland and Devon, and fabulous classic poetry from Robert Frost, Ben Jonson, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Causeley, Harold Munro, John Masefield and others.
   For the former, we arrived at the Sharpham Estate in the afternoon after a beautiful journey over the Haldon Hills and south of the Moor, and found that the Estate in no way brought an end to the dazzling Autumnal experience - the views over the Dart Estuary, the woods in all their glory and many different vistas and plenty of visual interest greeted us. Volunteers came to collect us, and show us to the Quarry which is where the pizza oven and big fire, seating areas etc. were. We were led in through a door, and out past a very attractive vegetable garden, and then through winding paths with lovely views up into the forest, and finally round to the quarry, and then up to our changing space and prop storage venue - a dry warm yurt with sofas and LED lighting. The quarry space was welcoming with some delightfully carved pumpkins on the bar area - one with a huge smile, and another with a tree and bats silhouette, cobwebbing over wooden structures, and a powerful but subtle LED spotlight for our performance space, plus a ring of lanterns made by people earlier. We were brought pizza and tea, very kindly and once everything was ready, and most people had finished eating or queuing for food, we began - we didn't do our most frightening tales as some of the audience sitting around the campfire were rather too young, so as well as trademark tales 'Molly the Dauntless Girl' from Norfolk, and 'The Girl Who Gave a Knight a Kiss of Out Necessity' from Sweden, and the creepy but high energy 'Tipingee' from Haiti, we did the tale of the Chinoo - a Native American heart warming tale with an unusual twist, and (to suit the lantern making and procession) a Chinese New Year story. Everyone seemed to enjoy the set, with lots of applause and a good 'ahhh!' at the end of the Chinoo story. Organizers, volunteers and audience all thanked us afterwards and 'brilliant' 'wonderful' and 'awesome' were words that warmed our hearts. So despite having left the shoes I had been intending to perform in and so jumping about in the mud on an October evening, and getting lost once the lanterns were put out in the pitch dark wood in deep country with a maze of paths and only a couple of torches and starlight at one point! we felt it had been well worth it. We were also very fortunate with the weather - it had been raining and misting earlier, fine for walking, but not good for sitting about or costumes and masks, but it dried up to be a beautiful warm evening, and the paths were a little muddy but not bad at all. All in all it was a really good gig - the Sharpham Estate more than worth a visit - they do lots of courses and events, and the whole Halloween evening went with a swing. And it was all rounded off for us by a party at a friend's house in Dartington.
   Big thanks to Dani for booking us, to Jenny, Sarah and the rest of the volunteers for being so endlessly helpful, and to Jade for recommending us!

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