Monday, 23 January 2017

UPDATE: We Real Cool (5 things)

1) News: We Real Cool

Modern poetry geeks will understand all the hype around the Golden Shovel, a poetry form invented by Terrance Hayes as an ode to the late Gwendolyn Brooks. Many American high school students are already familiar with Brooks' poem 'We Real Cool', although this side of the pond, her work isn't very well known.

Hayes's 'Golden Shovel' poem embeds Brooks' poem inside his; the technique he used has launched many poetry classes in recent years! It's a neat way of honouring poets you respect and I've used the form a few times... In case you don't believe me, I have Golden Shovel poems in my pamphlet (cough cough!) and in forthcoming work.

So... it was only a matter of time before the first Golden Shovel Anthology came out in honour of Gwendolyn Brooks. Peter Kahn, who set up the Spoken Word Educator programme, helped to bring about this mega volume, and I'm mad pleased to have a poem of mine accepted in the anthology alongside fellow colleagues Raymond Antrobus, Catherine Brogan, Indigo Williams and some heavyweight poets both sides the Atlantic and beyond. It's available to buy from the University of Arkansas Press, or you can wait 6 weeks or so for its Amazon release. I can't wait to get mine!

2) What I've been up to - in a nutshell

(or, to continue a previous theme... I'm a full time PhD student!!!!)

Part of the reason I've been quiet on the blog is I've been busy precariously balancing several projects. I'm now at the stage of my PhD where I go through the 'upgrade' process. For the uninitiated, that simply means I can't technically call myself a 'Doctoral' student until I hand in a third of my thesis and my supervisors sign me off as sufficiently proficient to continue. If I don't pass, then I stay in 'MPhil' limbo. Basically, it's a big deal!

I've also managed to perform at a couple of gigs, judge a Smut Slam, attend several workshops and generally ease into the year while trying to avoid any mention of Br**** or Tr***. I'm doing a couple of school projects too, and in two weeks, I'll be taking a group of students up to the Houses of Parliament to deliver speeches they've written there!

Meanwhile, now that I've conducted most of my non-creative research and I've moved on to the creative stage, I've started to work on my novel again. I've also taken on another couple of projects that involve me looking at the history of London and constructing short narratives around that. I'll be able to say more when I can make sense of it myself. And, meanwhile, the book loans have been stacking up.

3) Checked Out: 24 books (and counting...)

Current tally:

Senate House Library: 13
SOAS Library: 5
Poetry Library, Southbank Centre: 4
UCL libraries: 2
Birkbeck Library: 0
Total: 24 books on loan

Duplicate items: 1
Fines to date: £10+
Number of items directly relevant to academic endeavour: 6
Number of items directly relevant to non-academic research projects: 5
Number of items read so far: 3 (well, kind of)
Number of items expected to be returned unread: 2+
Number of items balancing on top of printer: roughly 12 (too tired to count)

Okay, better get reading!

4) Upcoming...

Stay posted! Public performances in February include:

Incite @ The Phoenix (Thursday 9th)
** (Feb 14 tbc)
Spit & Polish @ Lion & Unicorn, Kentish Town (19th)

and more info is on the Upcoming tab!

5) Other things I'm looking forward to, in no particular order...

i) summer
ii) more coffee
iii) my book release with Burning Eye in April!
iv) more books arriving in the post
v) time to read

Currently listening to: Solange (again)

Monday, 9 January 2017

Postcard From Home: New Year's Resolution 2017

Bloomsbury, WC1

Happy New Year etc! Back again after another hiatus. Updates coming soon!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

TONIGHT: STAND UP & SLAAAM!! Camden Comedy Club

Tonight is going to be fierce...

Who wins this time? Will it be poetry (yes!), will it be comedy (unlikely!), will it be a tie between poetry and comedy (never!)? Whatever happens, the audience will be the winners, and the judges... so, er, the more support us wee poets have, the better :)

It'll be a fun night in any case. Looking forward to bussing a rhyme!

Further info can be found here and here. Otherwise just turn up to the Camden Comedy Club at the Camden Head (in Camden Town... not the one in Angel) for an 8pm start and watch the battle commence.

Friday, 14 October 2016

If you’re taking the time to read this, you’re probably not walking along Hampstead Road right now…

NOTE: This has been written as a guest blog post for The related performance, Show Me The Money, is at Camden People's Theatre on the 14th and 15th October, 2016. Check out Paula Varjack's website here.

In brief

In no particular order, here are 5 things about me that may come up over the course of this blog

1) I have an exhibitionist streak
2) I’m easily distracted, particularly close to a deadline
3) I’m often overly ambitious
4) I resist being told what to do
5) I’m a full-time PhD student (this is an ongoing theme. See some of my previous blog posts)

Step into my window

It’s Thursday morning and, for the second time in a week, I find myself cooped up in one of the window spaces at Camden People’s Theatre for a whole working day. Everyone else seems to be edging towards the weekend with more finesse, but I’ve chosen a cold, hard window.

Facebook has advised me that upwards of 4 friends are celebrating birthdays today, whoopee! An email alert has advised me that my library books are due. The wifi inside the window is non-existent so by disabling my phone data, I shut all of these concerns out and plan to get on with my work… my creative work.

Here’s the problem: the idea is to treat the theatre window as a creative space, under the watchful gaze of the busy junction where Hampstead Road and Drummond Street meet. I am late with a chapter of my thesis, which I meant to send to my supervisor last night, but didn’t. And now Hampstead Road is watching me, groggy from an unsettled night and two coffees short of any coherent thoughts. And I’m expected to be creative? Or at least do some work related to my creative practice? Hmm…

I know this road pretty well, and this side of it is mostly just a work corridor: a lot of bus and lorry traffic coming from the north, and a lot of people running up towards Euston, a few hundred metres to the east. It’s a busy working day and most people, generally, aren’t concerned with slowing down to observe the movements of a writer in the window. I should be ok being on display; isn’t that what most people’s workplaces are like nowadays? I know someone whose office has just, over the course of a weekend,  turned into one massive open space with ‘touchdown areas’ (office jargon much?) and non-designated desks which you have to occupy on a first-come-first-served basis everyday. Presumably, in this organisation-which-I-will-not-name, meetings take place in whatever beanbag corner is free and the brightly-painted cubicle at the far end can be used for multiple purposes: namely, 1) as a toilet 2) as a place to weep for a few seconds once an hour over the personal space and privacy that has been lost.

I’m rambling because I’m distracted. This blog is meant to be about #artistwindowstudio #showmethemoney #excitingnewventure. Exclamation exclamation.

looking hopefully on Monday
The problem is, doing what I’d otherwise be doing in the privacy of my home - except fully clothed and without access to a washing machine or Daily Politics, where I get my 60 minute dose of frustration every day - makes it more like going into an office or a library, where I’m conscious of 'performing' normality. (I won’t go into that too much, but basic things such as talking to yourself, adjusting your genitals, belching etc. become policed in public spaces, whilst, at home on your own - at least for me - they take up almost zero headspace because you do them unconsciously and, more importantly, un-selfconsciously. If I were to run on about this for another sentence or two - and I won't - I might add that I have a theory that the object of undertaking any creative endeavour is to free up as much brain space as you can, including diverting any energy invested in 'performing' the 'normal' into creating new worlds, whether that be literary, musical, visual etc...).

In short, I’m absolutely not against libraries and offices; once I’m in either, I tend to be more productive than at home. But I’m still not used to navigating that performative space when I’m writing/working creatively. This - me in window not because I happen to be in a window but because I was put here - is a performance. Tweeting, writing Facebook posts, broadcasting on Periscope (yes, I did that and attracted all of 15 viewers!), writing on a chalk board, looking out of the window back at the person who has tapped on it to check you’re a real person and not a mannequin, when you’re daydreaming, all of that is performance and takes up headspace.

And yet I choose to come back today, Thursday. I do it twice. Why?

The simple answer is:

1) I liked having that designated space for my creativity on Monday, especially as I have lots of other deadlines for non-creative things
2) I also liked the fact that I managed to edit thirty five poems and, after another couple of edits, thirty two of them will be part of my poetry collection coming out next year
3) And I also like the camaraderie that comes with working next to other artists, even if they can be a little distracting.

(Update: Rhys – in the window next to me – i.e. behind my head – is beat-boxing while practicing a lip-sync sequence; Rihanna is growling ‘Bitch better have my money…’ in the main theatre space behind this goldfish bowl, as Paula Varjack does another rehearsal of ‘Show Me the Money’ which begins tomorrow)

my lovely neighbour, Rhys

Ok, I don’t know why I’m back here. Maybe it’s because I feel I have something to learn from this window. Maybe because there is a window inside each and every one of us. Maybe because I am a window. Maybe it’s because I want to be seen.

(Ok, a quick little diversion... The thing is, no creative practice exists in a neutral space. Yes, I write for myself but, the moment my writing becomes a spoken poem or published article, it is a public entity©. It is an attention-seeking artefact, even if the person behind it would rather be left alone. In this way, life imitates art. I put myself out there, simultaneously craving to be noticed while hating the idea that I am.)

Where was I? ...Maybe it’s because I want my creative process to be seen as work, not just by the public but by me too. If I weren’t here, the poem edits would have taken three times as long because other work would have taken priority.

The timetable of truth

Anyway, here’s how it goes:

I start planning my day, setting out two different timetables on the chalk board in the window: one for what I plan to do and one for what I actually do. The latter, of course, is updated as I go along.

Over the course of the day, I learn from the window. I didn’t realise that eating yoghurt takes ten minutes. I didn’t realise that I could power nap so effectively while laying down on a hard, cold floor and having some wise guy knock on the glass (he must have thought it funny). I also didn’t realise all the other stuff about race, gender and sexuality that occupy my academic and creative concerns would follow me to there too.

This, for time and space concerns, I won't discuss in great detail. But knowing you have a window and a chalk board and that someone behind you, in a neighbouring window, has the same space (only bigger) - and you will be judged not as individuals but as a collective performance - is a bit of a weird one, especially when you're just trying to work.

Being in public is not a neutral space. People make quick judgments about you. And when they see two people in the window, one of whom (Thursday afternoon) might be lip-syncing behind you, with a big chalk sign saying THIS IS 1.5 HOURS OF DISCUSSING WHITE PRIVILEGE or when you have someone else earlier in the day (Thursday morning) rehearsing jokes about Brexit and writing interactive comments on his board (Let's cheer for Bob Dylan!), and when you have another woman encouraging people to send in jokes about Asian stereotypes (Monday), and when they come in different genders and races and, most importantly, from different disciplines (including stand-up comedy), it can sometimes make for uncomfortable working knowing that their output - unseen to you - is married to yours.

Each of my three neighbours were more interactive than I was; the public reacted in different way to each of us, from amusement to suspicion to indifference and beyond. And I wonder how much the raced/gendered dynamic played into that reaction. No one, least of all me - just trying to get on with an honest day's work - can ever tell for sure. So I will leave this comment hanging on my uncertainty.

Final thoughts

I wanted to find a smart way to wrap this up. What have you learned, Keith? What will you take away with you? And I realise I can't put a bow on it. Working inside that tiny crawl space at the side of the theatre, with a fan heater to stop my feet going numb, near one of the most polluted junctions Central London has to offer provides no neat little moral, unless I want to push to create one.

I would love this to be an ongoing project; I would love if, next time, I could arrange for a bright big eye-catching logo in the glass which would immediately explain what we were doing there. But that would be more work. Finally, I would love to have ticked off all the things that I had planned for the day(s): editing all of my poems for this collection; sending them out for feedback; rehearsing/ memorising three new poems; drafting a commissioned piece; replying to overdue emails/messages on social media; updating my blog; chasing up an invoice; working on a chapter of my novel; reading 2 collections of poetry; ....

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

NEW VIDEO: Hip Hop Salvation

It's been a while since my last post, for a mixture of reasons.

A fuller update will be coming soon but, in the meantime, here's a new video, of which I'm pretty proud. It was a lot of fun writing this, I'm sure you can imagine. And it's mostly true [insert embarrassed emoji here]. So here it is, a meditation on the joys of gospel rap, fragile teenage masculinity and some French thrown in for good measure:

In other news, I'll be working in the window of the Camden People's Theatre (near Warren St) tomorrow, from 10am-6pm, as part of a live installation. Come and gawp at me :) Or drop me a line if you want to join me mid-afternoon to discuss poetry and things...

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Postcard from Home: The people for Corbyn

Kentish Town, NW5 (last week)

It's a strange one. Earlier today, in a newspaper interview, the London Mayor gave his support for Owen Smith (the other contender for Labour leader) joining about 80% of the Labour parliamentary party who don't back the current leader. Meanwhile, last week, Camden Labour members voted to support Corbyn, despite the local MP vehemently backing Smith. And it's kind of a given that Corbyn will be voted in (again).

Whatever happens, it's not ideal and it's going to get messier. There aren't many ways to resolve this and get to dealing with external issues without big compromises, but there's too much anger involved.

Meanwhile, I know at least half a dozen friends who've joined the Labour party in the last 6 months who would like to vote and can't... Interesting times!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

UPDATE: Keith, we care about you and your memories...

Just over a couple of weeks ago, I followed some of my attention-seeking friends* and wrote a statement on Facebook along the lines that I'd be logging out for a while, but I'd still exist in real life somewhere (although probably not at a poetry gig). Largely, after deleting the app from my phone, I've stuck to it, and I've gained about half an hour per morning where I'm not scrolling through other people's lives.

Talking about social media use is not particularly interesting, nor is being sanctimonious about switching off (look up, anyone?**) but, after relaying this a couple of times to mates, I thought I'd share some of the build up to me leaving.

The One Where I Sound More Than a Little Neurotic 

First up, I hate being told what to do, what to like or share or think. Or who to be friends with (especially when people from my phonebook mysteriously appear on my 'People You May Know' list). This particular social platform has been rubbing me up the wrong way for a while now and it was only a matter of time before I needed a break. 

But it was this whole EU Referendum that did it for me. The world has not ended (yet) but, since the end of June, there's a whole lot of pessimism coming from some of my friends and I, already a dedicated pessimist, don't need more encouragement! 

Being a stereotypical liberal North London urbanite... (or whatever you want to call it), I was in a bit of a funk the day after the vote. No one yet knows what leaving the EU means, despite the enthusiastic but still unhelpful 'Brexit means Brexit' comment from the new Prime Minister. Even so, it had an immediate effect on a couple of friends of mine who lost contracts the day after because of the uncertainty, and the mood around my local university campuses was particularly heavy. All for a decision that is by no means clear. But, hey...

So, in a show of europhile solidarity, I emptied the contents of a tote bag I'd been using for my unpaired socks, which I'd been given at some kind of EU-sponsored fair. Needless to say, it's bright blue with 12 golden stars and says something vague about the EU Commission for something yawny. I topped it off with some jeans and my Italia hoodie (with four stars - one for every World Cup win) and left home to see what deals were on at a supermarket which I shall not name.

I pretty much go to this supermarket every week, maybe once or twice, to see what's going on in the reduced section. If I'm lucky, there'll be an item with two yellow labels - i.e. reduced for a second time - and I'll try to nab it before someone else does: 9p bread, 50p vegetables, a £2 whole free range chicken.... On a few occasions, there's a crowd hovering behind some poor member of staff who's been entrusted with the labelling. Sometimes, no sooner have they stuck the new price on, a pesky shopper will snap it right out of their hand. I'm not quite at that level yet - I usually wait a couple of seconds after an item has landed on the shelf - but I've been seen to hover and pounce.

All that said, I'm known to the security guard. I know how to lurk in a shop until the food I want comes down to the price I want (and I don't know where I got that trait - I was brought up to be proud) and that doesn't go unnoticed. The guard will often chat to me, we'll punch fists, we'll exchange pleasantries while I have the corner of my eye focused on the reduced shelf... 

On this particular day, I entered the supermarket in my Europhile fuzz, feeling hungover from referendum blues. I wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone, I just needed a bargain fix. Needless to say, the security guard was waiting for me as I entered. His usual grin froze as he saw my bag; it contorted into a grimace. 

'Ha! What are you wearing that rubbish for? You lost! Get over it'

I was shocked into silence. And he continued. 

'I voted to Leave and we won...'

I was shocked into rambling something about recklessness. 

And then he continued. (He rehashed the 'Britain is the 5th largest economy' line...)

And then I countered with something about geography.

And then he said something about the Commonwealth being full of potential.

And then I got louder, saying something along the lines that Britain's current elevated economic position has more to do with colonial exploitation than anything else.  

And then our voices must have raised a little more. Because everything else around us seemed to stand still and it was just us and our angry voices taking up space in the middle of the bakery aisle. 

And then out of the corner of my eye - the corner that was usually reserved for the reduced shelf - I saw a member of staff running towards us.

And the colleague shouted the security guard's name.

We both froze, took a sharp intake of breath and I stared him down one last time before they both walked to the back of the shop, him head bowed, and the doors to the Staff Only area flapped behind them.     

And then I felt pathetic, looking at the empty reduced shelf and all my fellow customers who refused to meet my eye. I felt pathetic. I didn't know his name until that point, and there I was, in his workplace, arguing with the man and potentially jeopardising his job (though, to be fair, he was the one who jumped down my throat, fingers wagging and all).

I felt ridiculous with my blue EU bag which, until then, had only been good enough to store stray socks; my empty blue bag which would return home empty. 

On the bus home, I thought to relay this story on Facebook, where I'd be guaranteed a few laughs and likes, especially if I exaggerated a little. But my feed was full of more depressing rants and invites to events I'd be too busy to attend, and threats of terrorism. And I suddenly couldn't be bothered to engage. 


Two weeks later, I returned to the shop sheepishly, and he was still there, and he gave me his usual beaming smile, and we shook hands. 


Weeks later, there were so many other things going on around the world. A friend of mine was stranded in Istanbul after a bomb; police continued to kill civilians in the US and in Brazil; I continued to obsess over below-the-line comments: how can people think like this? How can people write this? What kind of a world makes people so ignorant/petty/arrogant/rude? 

I had a deadline to send work to my supervisor. I missed it. 

a safe place?

Meanwhile, I wrote a little poetry. I completed the first draft of what will either be a pamphlet or my first full collection (I believe I mentioned that in my last post). I continued to transcribe interviews. 

Interviews/ Testimonies/ Stories

I've been conducting interviews which last around 90 minutes. I have a series of questions I'm interested in but, primarily, I ask the interviewees to recount their 'testimonies'. I'm deliberate about the word 'testimony'. It has religious and/or legal connotations. It is vague, open to interpretation but works for setting the scene. 

My research is largely non-directive. It's about retelling stories and removing some of my own impositions, my own framing devices. There are so many books on conducting oral histories - which I'll have to reference in my research later - but I'm mostly concerned with the narrative. How can/does my research relate to literary form? How do I continue to conduct interviews and analyse them with one foot in the 'science' of it and another in 'creative writing'?

I've been writing down the voices in my head, at half the speed they originally spoke. The vowels stretch out further. Verbal tics are heightened - a propensity to say 'like' or 'sort of' or 'you know', or to leave the ends of sentences hanging (I wince when I hear my own voice, trying to formulate a question, sometimes stumbling, often very imprecise and emphasised by hand gestures which are almost invisible to the naked ear). 

The job of transcription, largely, is to write these verbal tics out and to concentrate on the intended meanings. But I can't help being taken back to the offices, the homes, the takeaways(!), the churches, the leisure centres(!) where I sat in close quarters with the interviewees - most of whom I didn't previously know - who told me their stories. 

The art of listening without prejudice is a tough one as opinions seem to be so entrenched nowadays  (and I'm not just talking about anti-EU security guards or internet trolls). Your interviewee may think you are simply going to hell because you do not believe what they believe. They may be appraising your presentation, your deliberately smart/casual attire (minus the Euro tote bag). They may be suspicious of your motive. They may be friendly and over-familiar, assuming the best or worst of you. They may be suddenly uncomfortable as a memory almost drives them to tears. 

You, on the other hand, are aware of the pressure on your bladder after an hour sitting still, the diminishing battery on your phone, the background noise you hope doesn't drown out their quiet voice, the sudden urge you feel to write a poem, the way your mind hangs on a particular word they say, their pronunciation of said word, your desire to not control the conversation, even as the 'testimony' takes unintended turns, which may or may not be of use to your project.

And at the end of that conversation, you realise how privileged you are to take someone's time and listen to their experience. You listen and you ask questions and then you listen some more. Sure, some of it will go into your research. Sure, you will clip their words and see how it fits with someone else's words, and the 90 minutes will be reduced to a 500 word fragment at best. In the meantime,  you'll realise how important these moments are, you'll realise how these relayed experiences are changing you too, sometimes challenging your preconceptions, sometimes strengthening your ideas, and just occasionally hitting an emotional nerve. 

*I was immediately asked, 'who are you trying to impress?' when I did this - apparently it's all a ruse

**if you don't get that reference, don't worry. 
There was an error in this gadget


See Coming Up tab at the top of the page