Performance Poet

Author: Michael Wilson (Page 1 of 2)

LGBTQI+NI (How to Come Out on Stage)

LGBTQI+NI

How to come out on stage

Last year was the first time I was awarded Arts Council Northern Ireland Funding it was to help revitalise my career after Covid and Lockdowns etc. It has ended up changing the very way I write and perform.

There were several aspects to the project:

Writing Time

Rehearsal Time

One off Workshop Facilitation

Mentorship (2x 4 hour sessions)

Publicity

Getting the work out there.

I am by and large a confessional poet. My first one person show was about my battles with mental health. I ran it on several tours and a 3 week run at Edinboro Fringe. It was finally published by Eyewear.

My second show, Fix is about my battles with addiction. I seem to be battling stuff all the time! It is scheduled in for shows at the Fringe this year, as well as to be performed home and away over the next few years.

My third show, and the one concerning the project LGBTQI+NI is about my sexuality. In this era of gender flux it seems an important subject to write about and since it concerns my own identity, or at least a huge part of it, explorative and cathartic.

In Northern Ireland it seems sometimes to be dragging along behind the rest of a lot of countries, in reality though it is also quite progressive, especially in the last 20 years.

So I sat down to write.

The content flowed

It was as if something was being uncorked.

Somehow it ended up the best manuscript I’ve ever written.

I came out in Manchester. In Northern Ireland a lot of my friends knew I was bi, but moving back 10 years ago, I somehow kind of sort of, in a way, ended up thoroughly back in the closet.

I’d love to go into the story in more detail but that’s the job of the show I guess. The show also discusses sexuality more broadly, especially queer sexuality, and how it is viewed in Northern Ireland and the UK these days.

I realised that being a Northern Irish poet means that the show is actually a coming out in itself. Particularly in my home town of Portstewart. It marks the start of me as a queer poet, at least in visibility. The show also displays a closed mindedness of me fearing a backlash, judging people needlessly. In fact, for me, the show itself is a cry for tolerance, even a tolerance and understanding for the resistance queers face, not just in the past but in the current cultures we inhabit and move through.

Secondly, and even more important I managed to get the poet Gerry Potter over from Manchester to mentor my performance of the show. We had two sessions at the end of January. Gerry was confident the writing wouldn’t be the focus, it was the performance of it he wanted to explore. I’ve known Gerry for years, since I began this whole game of performance poetry stretching back to 2004. I knew he would be a massive asset to the project, and being a queer poet, who often writes and performs about sexuality, that he would “get it.”

Any doubts I might have had about the importance of the mentorship were thoroughly dashed when Gerry “turned my performance on”: in that he changed permanently the way I perform. He instilled in me the inherent importance of silence, of spaces in the show, the pauses and the changes of inflection that mark the changing from one “scene” or scenario from the next. Whatever the show does, whatever the project gave me, it has changed, improved my game as a performance poet from hereon in. It seems such a common sense thing, but I just needed the push and the lack of ego to make the change, to realise that even 18 years into performing poetry, it’s the influence of outside forces such as Gerry’s mentorship that we are always learning, always improving. I must thank him deeply for this.

I also got to work with OutWrite, a creative writing arm of the Rainbow Project in Northern Ireland. I facilitated a one-off workshop about sexuality with participants who wanted to take part. All done, of course, ethically, their writing not to be used directly but rather to inform me of some of the broad and narrow issues affecting people in Northern Ireland as far as sexuality is concerned. Some of their response blew me away.

The final part, and in some the most important for this particular project is taking it on the road. The first performances at Community Arts Partnership Belfast had to be postponed due to Covid itself, but is also being performed for a week at Edinburgh Fringe, been pitched to other Fringes as well. I can now also read sections of the show as part of headline slots at regular poetry events. Recently I headlined Blot From the Blue online, earlier this month. It ended up being one of my best ever readings of poetry. The silences and inflections making their impact felt. I am also planning international performances of the show internationally in the Autumn. Gerry suggested approaching OutBurst Festival in Manchester in November. There are so many avenues for the show. In his words: “it has legs”.

I have never really written or performed about my sexuality. This project changed that. Since writing it, I have begun being more open about it here. The reaction is that I have drastically underestimated people. Sure there are still so many battles left to fight, but these days, we have so many allies. Sexuality, Otherness, is now front and centre in the media. The show touches on many of these aspects. It has its difficulties but:

“Queer sexuality, can be and is,

such a beautiful expression

serious playtime through identity

the bright colours we paint our bodies

the electricity of connecting with each other

in time and space

exploration of the 4 best dimensional sides of ourselves….

The arc of the rainbow

That binds us in the realisation

That everyone is sacred

But also, just are.”

 

The Social Politics of Magic

A dream always makes perfect sense at the time.

It’s own logic, always shifting, always protean, is always some kind of logic towards itself: Psychosis is engrossing in a way normal perception cannot hope to capture or emulate. Psychosis is magic.

It falls on me not to romanticise psychosis whether in hypomania or full ahead mania. However, it is a state that I am proud that I have survived through so many times. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Psychosis is a state that is either heaven or hell, there is no middle ground, there is no earth in its ways it is celestial or it is damnation. The change can be a sixpence moment, when the thoughts sometimes draw you from your house or flat, out into the night, with all its good and bad. One thing about psychosis, which is universal: it leaves you incredibly vulnerable. I have explored outdoors when fully manic in a cityscape and in a small town I grew up in. It brings you into a different world, where different people become some kind of Charon character, or pieces in a game, or covert actors in an ever shifting play.

Many people fear someone being psychotic. There has been a misrepresentation of psychosis in film and media. Psychos such as Norman Bates and Scorpio in Dirty Harry but also in print media, cherry picking stories of the mentally ill as some way dangerous. Psychosis is dangerous, but only really to the psychotic person themselves. 99% of the time.

People also sometimes see psychosis as romantic and enthralling. Living with folk in my 20’s I remember them being captivated when I foolishly opened up and described some of my experiences. They thought it all sounded wonderful. That was until they realised I also wasn’t taking my meds. Then things got difficult.

But why is psychosis so engrossing for the sufferer? In my case it was because it solved all the world’s problems. I was chosen to help the world. That through control of TV and film, the sequencing of programmes and films we could mould popular opinion. It was an illuminati partly staffed with lecturers and professors at my university. It was a beneficial, good natured illuminati at that. Most of my psychoses have one key, central element: to belong somewhere, to belong to a faction of people. Also, to be a force for good. For me it is always about belonging.

The wish to save or at the very least change the entire world was something that was embedded in me back in my Uni days between 19 and 22. I thought Che Guevara was someone to hero worship and wish to emulate. Thankfully as time went on my mindset became more focused on peace particularly during my Masters studying the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr. What remained was a belief that anyone can change the world.

It’s hard to know if changing the world was always going to be the flavour of a lot of my psychoses, an overflow from the general belief that I could change the world. Psychosis was, in itself pure wish fulfilment. It sounds incredibly valiant and good natured, but it is also egotistic and grandiose. Psychosis is not without its absurd, ridiculous side.

For me sometimes Psychosis was about gangs or paramilitaries, then it wasn’t about changing the world, it was about facing death one way or another. Another flavour of it was that my family were doomed and only my death could save them. It’s at times like these when you realise that your lifeforce is the one thing that keeps you alive. During extensive psychological testing on aspects of my personality etc out of 0 to 5 points my suicidality was ranked at 0. If it was much higher I’m confident I wouldn’t be writing this now.

And that’s a key thing to remember with psychosis: it isn’t really magical, not in any positive sense anyway. Some belief the psychotic eye has a knack of understanding reality in a way the normal mind can’t. Even if that was true, the way the psychotic mind eventually changes from heaven to hell indicates that it isn’t really all that useful. It can make someone seem exciting but in reality it ends in the most boring of ways: acute illness.

So the social politics of magic? It’s down to how social media influences reactions to psychosis, as a powerful tool for warping psychotic mindsets. It is a pallet where diverse and diffused stories, updates, photos and news stories can seem deliberately curated by a central power to influence thought. In 2002 when I believed a benign illuminati were influencing thought through TV programming then it’s not a huge jump to say that if Facebook and Twitter can existed back then, that would have been the source for me, the apex, the domain of much of that muddled thought. A link between one story and another is done instantaneously. The very mercurial shift from one story or image to another the way the random can be understood as part of a nexus is one that is very dreamlike. Social Media however, does actually, through logarithms draw adverts, news stories etc together in a way that seems personally selected for us. This is because it is. To understand social media and the internet in general we have to be able to see how there is a psychosis at work in the net. Like psychosis the net presents us with so many sources under one umbrella: stuff it thinks you are either interested in and/or buy. It is also dreamlike, in that it pulls lots of diverse threads together to present an echo chamber.

There is an old saying or phrase that all life is dream. The way we find links between one thing and another, is certainly dreamlike. The inability to truly live forever in the now also reflects this way of being. The great and the terrible are wonderful in the way they contrast existence. Maybe there is always beauty and truth in magic, no matter now fantastical it is. As Robin Williams once said: “You’re only given a tiny spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” The only other thing I’ll say: be careful.

 

 

How the Arts Saved My Life (on more than one consecutive occasion)

2009, darkness at the window, my head half submerged in drink. Sat in a studio apartment (meaning Bedsit in old money) I felt suicidal, at the end of my tether with life. It alarmed me. I’ve had moments of thinking about it, (usually as a side effect or maybe a platform plank of my depression and anxiety) It’s just a fleeting thought. This time though, there was something dark and dingy about the whole feeling, a feeling of being stuck.

It elicited a decision that still ranks as one of my best reactions to poor mental health. I would get the next train to a station somewhere and start a travelling street art project over the course of a week, I’d only made a tentative approach at in my home town of Manchester

A week later the project, Show Your Bones had been taken to several cities in England and Scotland. I somehow ended up in the MEN and on regional BBC Radio talking about a strange little quirky project. I collected lost property umbrellas took a trusty sharpie (those things are fantastic) and wrote poetry on the outer fabric. At first they were all written in a single spiral but mistakes led me to work with those mistakes and more eloquent and expressive concrete poetry emerged. It still ranks as my best, most popular, most long running and most fun little projects. It has been used in multiple ways including being curated for exhibition at the Contact Theatre as part of Unsung Fest, “performed on stage” at several Manchester Fringe Fest events, used at a music festival (Stendhal) as well as a raft of other ventures. The whole point I am telling you this is that the arts can take a broken mind and help heal it. It is often at our most darkest hours that creativity and the arts in general can floodlight the once pitch black, art can give a shaft of light to let you see what you are up against. Necessity is the Mother of Invention as they say, if you back creativity into a corner or a box, it will show not only let you see but will help you navigate the most dangerous times. Creativity is a ship.

Going through my life of poetry and some street art as well as other artsy type stuff I can see so many times how it pushed me on or dragged me along. Winning a slam during a period of crippling panic attacks, channelling all that pain into performance and both helped each other along. In hospital I learnt to write, in hospital I gained a voice, a purpose and the illness never had a chance against those pocket moments of lucidity and calm that seem to usher in any time I sit to write.

There are, of course several if not numerous strategies that can save your life, diet, good sleep, social network, exercise, travel, a balance of rest and activity to mention a few, but for me the arts have saved me more times than I can count. It may have done the same for you. It wouldn’t surprise me if virtually everyone, if not literally everyone, has, at some stage had the arts help dig them out of a pit even if only for a blessed moments serenity. It is not the only reason for the arts, but for me, its up there.

Poetry still turns me on, it still helps me reach people, it helps me recover, to analyse and emote, it makes a life more authentic and more bearable, on more than many an occasion it can also make life more beautiful. Don’t stop creating. Turn the poison into something potable and gain a sense of self from what you create and how you created it.

You never know, you might save someone.

I can however argue, that you can definitely save yourself.

The Year 2021

Happy New One Everyone!

 

Onwards and Upwards, we hope. It’s been a sucky year in so many ways but its also been one full of better moments, sometimes we forget that even in years like this there are chinks of light, moments of grace and inner peace. A year of contrasts

Poetry-wise Zoom continues to enable many regular events and festivals but there’s also been the return of life gigs in all forms of entertainment. For me a huge highlight was the Northern Irish Stendhal Festival held in August. I was blessed to put together the poetry output for the fine festival and the crowds were so up for it and the acts so excited that despite a reduced no of festival goers the poetry was incredibly well attended. If you managed to get to a festival this year you probably went through the same vibe, the same buzz, live gigs in the heart of summer. Good Times. For me the poetry line-up over the days was some of the cream of NI poetry, page and stage. There is such a wealth of great NI poets that it was hard to only be able to pick 11. They were

Elizabeth McGeown

Cat Brogan Frank

Rafferty Mel Bradley

Gaynor Kane
Matthew Rice
Gemma Walker-Farren (“Granny D”)
Clare McWilliams
Paul Butterfield Jr
Cathy Carson
Carolann North
Every single one of them put in a scorching performance. The audiences were hugely appreciative
Slam has been strong this year. OohBeehive ran its incredibly successful national comp this year, each month’s 2 finalists went head to head in Dec. I competed twice and got to the semi in Nov, in this monthly slam Northern Irish poets have been frequently in the mix. Cathy Carson only started slamming and managed not just to qualify in her heat but to come 2nd overall in a national comp. Kudos. The wonderful Jay Mitra bagged the win in a fiercely competitive slam where every single slammer has already got their stripes in the heats.
For me it was a huge slam year, I managed to win the All Ulster Poetry Slam for the first time in Oct. My first second Slam since Covid struck. I found that Zoom has some benefits and has plugged the gap but there’s nothing so alive as the experience of performing live. It rocks. Thanks to FLive and the Ulster and Ireland poetry slam peeps, especially Frank Rafferty. In Dec I managed to get to represent Ireland at the Euro Poetry Slam in Brussels which was an absolute career highlight. We, the 20 national finalists all bonded incredibly well. As we said to each other during the comp the slam wasn’t what it was about for us, it was getting to meet everyone. Philip Meersman, the MC for the event and chief planner told us the night after the slam “You are all family now.” We all felt that. I bagged 4th place after Belgium 1st, Spain 2nd and Italy 3rd. I was floored. The top 10 qualified for the World Cup in Sept this year. So I am humbled and so, so appreciative for the experience and opportunity.
They were
(* means qualified for this year’s world cup)
Hrvoje Mimica (Croatia) *
Dimitrus Stamiris (Greece)
Cosimo Suglia (Luxembourg)
Sad Tuna (Poland) *
Veroni Gyenge (Hungary) *
Tamara Stocker (Austria)
Sved (Czech Rep)
Argyris Loizou (Cyprus) *
Nikola Dukoski (Macedonia)
Danil Astachov (Russia)
Marie Darah (Belgium) (1st)
Matteo Di Genova (Italy) (3rd)
Monique Hendricks (Netherlands)
Mara (Slovakia)
Mama Fiera (Spain) (2nd)
Matic Acko (Slovenia) *
Kelli Kiipus (Estonia)
Neimad (France) *
Matt Charnock (Denmark)
Every single one of the slammers were superstars
One of the best experiences of my life, never mind in poetry.
Finally in slam I got to compete in the National Final of the Hammer and Tongue at the Royal Albert Hall. An absolute honour, Elizabeth McGeown was also there from NI as well as so many fine finalists including Kathryn O’Driscoll, both huge slam champs. Rick Dove read two very different poems to claim the crown. It was my first live performance since March the previous year so it was a fantastic way to go back to the stage
Saboteur Awards are always worth a gander and this years shortlists included:
Best Spoken Word Performer

Special Mention goes to

Best Lit Fest

Special Mention:

Best Regular Spoken Word

Special Mention

Best Spoken Word Show

Special Mention

Most Innovative Publisher

Special Mention

 

Touring is on the way back, or at least it was towards the end of the year I embarked on the Hybrid Tour throughout Nov. It was a mix of live gigs and zoom performances. Gigs included Fire and Dust Cov headlined by War Poet Antony Owen who read about growing up in Coventry. I also attended the Genesis Slam in London, Beatification Manchester, Manky Poets, Write Out Loud Sale, and many online gigs such as Jackanory, Yes We Can’t and Write and Release. I also MCed Lit Up from a hotel in Manchester. I love touring as I’ve mentioned before having blogged the tour. For those who haven’t read those blogs let me just let you know. There is little more joyful in Performance Poetry for me than touring. As a friend told me about touring “You are always moving forward”. Finally thanks to those who make tours possible for me Spoz,  Michael and Catherine Reeves, John and Bryony, Kev White and Tony Curry. You are what makes tours so good. It’s not so much the gigs (although they are amazing) it’s the meet ups with friends, discovering new friends. The sights familiar foreign and beautiful. Thank you.
The tour’s highlight for me was performing my new one person show at Manchester. It’s first outing. Fix is a spoken word show from a recovered club casualty and will be being performed hither thither and yon next year. Spread the love.
Lit Up continued throughout the year online. Its a regular poetry night with a twist we encourage performers to read a mix of their own work and covers. This year we were blessed by numerous open micers but headlining we had
Cat Brogan and Nick Lovell,
Stephen Sexton and David Braziel,
Kathryn O’Driscoll and Colin Hassard,
Clive Oseman and Matthew Rice,
Linda McKenna and Skylar J Wynter,
Ross Thompson and Neil Bell,
Dominic Berry and Abby Oliveira,
Spoz and Cathy Carson
All, every single one of ’em put in a blistering set, their choices of cover always keenly selected, their own work always hitting home. The remit of Lit Up is that all is inclusive, page headliners, stage headliners, both given equal footing, after all they are both united in one thing: the love of poetry. Thanks also to all the open micers. They never fail to floor me. Massive shout out to Community Arts Partnership who host Lit Up and of course to the steady hand of Conor Shields the CEO, Lit Up wouldn’t happen without him. Shouts out also go to Shelley Tracey and Gordon Ferris. Yes.
Finally the Arts Council ran an award for recovery from covid, how to revitalise your career. I was humbled and excited about being granted funding for my new project. I will give more deets in good time. Congrats to all those who got accepted for those who didn’t keep on trucking poetry peeps
That’s yer lot. Thanks to all those poets and organisers who have kept the heart of poetry beating so strongly. Here’s to a year of severe ups and downs and the hope, the wish, the prayer:
Onwards and Upwards
You made it this far: Keep Going.
Peace

 

Finish (Shrewsbury Slam, Jackanory)

What a month November was. A month in which I have done tours before, mainly my Arts Centre tour of England and NI in 2017 reading My Adventures in Mental Health show for the first time (later became the book Bedlam’s Best and Finest). It’s always a lovely way to spend the month before the build up to Christmas. For me it was wonderful to have dropped in on so many poetry communities to see how poetry scenes tick and the in jokes and bits of banter here and there. And the end of the tour was no less important to me for that.

The Shrewsbury slam was ably and wonderfully compered by Poets Prattlers and Pandemonium, a trio of poets, Steve Pottiger, David Pitt and Emma Purshouse, I’ve had the pleasure of being a feature at their Home and Away event earlier in the year, representing Northern Ireland along with Nathan Elout-Armstrong and Cat Brogan, two poets I also admire. The slam was a great event and many poets came ready with their A game. It was also great to see poets in the flesh for the first time, mainly this time being Clive Oseman, who I have seen virtually many times now. It’s always an experience to see each other in real life and for the slam there was a really good turnout. Check out the Shrewsbury Lit Fest next year. It really is a lovely town

I was staying in hotels in Shrewsbury and enjoyed the place immensely, from its Tudor buildings to its cobbled streets it was a lovely place to finish the tour and Jackanory, an online event I was happy to feature at was a sweet ending to an amazing month

The week since landing home has been a bit of a blur, getting all the documents etc for going to Brussels on Wed for the Euro Poetry Slam on Fir has been done and now there’s little else to do but go for it! I am reluctant to publicise the event much on FB etc in case I jinx it. Saying that JF Travel in Coleraine have been most helpful. If you live nearby they are worth a shout.

It’s always emotional coming home, but with Lit Up coming up and the Brussels trip there’s been little time to just sit and reflect, but hey, I guess that’s what Christmas is for.

More news to follow….

Beaten Down but Happy (Manky Poets, Fix, Word Central, Survivors)

There is a strange feeling comes over you when you reach the beginning of the end of a tour. Sat at hotel restaurant in Shrewsbury I felt very emotional, beaten down but alive, sad but happy, grounded but affected, all at once. It was a complex kinda feeling one that felt right though. Natural. Honest.

Starting in the middle Fix was an experience for me. Monday, Fuel Bar Cafe Manchester, A real honest spoken word account of my days and nights as a hedonist, the good, the bad, and the strung out. One of my favourite ever performances, one where I really enjoyed myself on stage. It felt good, it felt right. It was well received. I have big plans for Fix. More to say about that at a later date but believe me, wheels are in motion.

Manky Poets was a lovely event to come back to, hosted by the dab hand of copland smith. It’s the longest running Manchester poetry event and its headliner for the month, Steven Waling did it proud. It was also a chance for me to air a few sections of Fix a few days before the full show. Fix is actually about an hour and a half in length (without the necessary chapter intros) so may never get read in its entirety, as a result each reading can be more or less unique, in what sections get read and in what order. Since the show is non linear (decided by themes not dates) it can be read in virtually any order. This excites me. As for Manky Poets and earlier Beatification I really enjoyed the poetry of Ben Willems, a real talent.

Tuesday was Word Central. I had already a headliner during Lockdown but had yet to make the live gig. I had not been to the Central Library in Manchester since its massive refurb so loved being in there. Tony Curry is a fascinating and supportive MC and Paul Neads runs a tight ship. It’s always lovely to perform and being with a live audience was an excellent experience.

Survivors was a wonderful blend of poetry and music, the headliner was captivating reading her poems about the USA in Fall and Yorkshire, her nature poems perfect for a November evening online. Deborah McNamara is a very warm and welcoming host. It did the soul good.

So now there are only two more events. So my next post will probably be my final blog on the road but I’ve really enjoyed going back over recent, fresh memories. I may have felt a mixture of feelings tonight, but positivity always rings through like a peal of bells.

Yes.

The Corridor of Days (Sale Write Out Loud, Beatification and Lit Up)

There is a joy to touring that is impossible to express in its entirety. It is, as I have already said the elevation of the mundane, the familiar world seen through an unfamiliar lens.

There was a moment, last night (18th) where I had a clean 2 hours before Lit Up. I was booked into a hotel in Manchester city centre. I meandered through the Christmas Market. Now, a friend of me described it as buying stuff you didn’t want during the year. I echoed him in a way saying that it’s full of niche things. I told him about a wooden collapsible fruit bowl I’d bought a few years ago. I was just trying to sound cool. I love the market, wherever it ends up, there’s not a huge difference between the one in Birmingham from Belfast or Manchester, but that’s not what I’m looking for, it’s that rosy cheeked kind of  cosy smaltz that I love sometimes.

So I walked through it, it’s more spread out because of Covid, I prefer it that way. Walking around I felt an affinity for city living. There’s a sense in me these days that there’s a crossroads coming up in the headlights but then we always believe we are living in interesting times. There’s a sense  here that Manchester is my spiritual home, a place I still come back to.  Looking out from my 7th floor window over central Manchester it hit me: how come I’ve never seen the city from this angle, this perspective?

Working backwards, just cause, Lit Up last night was brilliant. Thanks to Conor at Community Arts Partnership, Nick Lovell and Cat Brogan headliners and of course our amazing open mic. This blend always makes for a good show. We encourage everyone to perform a mix of their own poems and poetry covers.  Cat performed poems ranging from the Tyrone colloquial to poetry about women as mountains, of kids like frogs, a smattering of Yeats and her own experiences with learning Irish. It was a superb set.

Nick Lovell also performed an eclectic set, his own poems, life as a dog track race, refugees, and a blasting of Nigel Farage with a huge nod to John Cooper Clarke’s Twat. His selection of poems was also inspired, everything from Macavity the Mystery Cat, to a series of Adrian Mitchell’s anti war poetry, including, of course, Mitchell’s Tell Me Lies About Vietnam

Open mic was brilliant Gerald Kells, Rhoda Thomas, Mike Baynham, Jeff Cottrill, Raquel McKee, Paul Butterfield Jr, Sarah L Dixon, Lorna Meehan, Nathalie Sallegren, Clive Oesman, Lantern Carrier and Geraldine Reid. As you can see from that roll call the gig was a treat. Thanks to all.

Finally, Conor’s skill in writing a wrap up poem at the end of each event, relating, in poetry the themes, subjects and purple passages of all the poems of the evening. Always a highlight and a fine way to finish. Next one December 16th.

Wednesday’s Beatification was a warm hearted return to the stage at Fuel Bar Cafe where I will be reading Fix on Mon. It was packed and once again it was a joy to see in the flesh, various poets I’d only been interacting with in small digital boxes. The format is great, it’s pretty much open mic but John G Hall extends a 10 min slot for all performers so you really get to stretch your poetry legs. Turns from Gerry Potter bashing Thatcher and Morrissey, Ben Willems was a revelation, I’ve heard him many times and he’s always been good but on Wed he was really on it. Anna Percy read from her new book, Steven Waling again brought his surreal skein at everyday life observations, John himself was unashamedly political as per. Other readers such as Helen Clare and some new faces I really enjoyed. I had to split slightly before the end to get home but left with a headful of inspiring words, tender hearted moments and a little moxie.

Monday’s Sale Write Out Loud was a lovely intimate affair. Everyone got to read plenty of work so I performed 3 sections of my new show, the first time I’d read any of it in public. I loved the vibe that night with great readers including Joliva, Dominic Walsh and Tony Sheppard and others. The host Sarah Pritchard is a fine performer and also very knowledgeable so it was no great surprise to find out she was an English teacher. Keep an eye out for the long running event (I headlined there in 2010), I have a lot of fond memories of the place and event, whether it was run by Steve O’Connor, Rod Tame or Sarah. Good times.

Tonight is Manky Poets Headliner Steven Waling Chorlton Library 7.30pm start. I’m open mic-ing it. I’ll write that up in good time.

For now though, it’s time to appreciate where I am. Manchester is a fine city. Head there some time. It can open your mind and do your heart good.

 

London and opening times at Manchester (Write and Release, and Genesis Slam)

It feels like so much and so little has changed since the last blog entry.

London was a wash with little highs and very few sighs. Staying with friends and their families has become a mantra on this tour. My brothers family in Cov, My old uni mate Michael, his wife Catherine and his two kids. Now, in Manchester its a friend Kev from my clubbing days and his 2 little ones. It’s been wonderful.

Attended Write and Release online from Michael’s front room in Redhill, his pad got a good rating from the other poets as I had to move from the kitchen due to signal. It was lovely to perform at Write and Release again, having headlined it a few months back now. It’s hosted and run by Randy Horton. It had a good mix of open mic and I would recommend it as somewhere to try new stuff.

London’s only live gig was Genesis Slam on Thurs. It held a packed audience and a lot of keen and talented slammers. The winner was well deserved and it was fun to see Dan Simpson MC at the slam. I came across Dan at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, his poetry is of very high concept and incredibly cerebral but packaged for instant ingestion. Joel Auterson’s final round sacrificial poem about growing up was one of the most beautiful poems I’ve heard in ages. The winner mixed triumphs over stuttering and the pure joy of his poem about how to love yourself left you feeling full of light. It was a fine slam.

BTW Dune (5 stars)

Now, in Manchester its time for 3 gigs this week, Manky Poets on Fri, Beatification on Wed and Sale Write Out Loud event tonight. I have performed at them many times, as open mic and headliner. The bend this time is to promote the one person show at Fuel Bar Cafe in Withington Mon 22nd (8pm start £5 door). It means this week I will be reading snippets to give a taste of the show. I am very excited about finally rolling it out and nervous energy threads its way through the days.

All in all though, this tour has been full of positive, little lifts and beautiful interactions with old friends and new acquaintances. Onward!

Hybrid Tour (09/11/21) Brum and London (Oooh Beehive Slam and Yes We Can’t)

Howdy

Another few days of the Hybrid Tour and it hits a couple of online events. Fri was OoohBeehive Slam and Sunday Yes We Can’t feat. Vic Pickup and Kevin Higgins

However, this section of the tour was a chance to stay with an old poet friend Spoz and also his wife Claudia. The two of them are superstars and as I told them over dinner, the highlights for me aren’t just the events but also meeting old and new friends. The touring throws up so many memories and new experiences, performing so many times in places like Birmingham means there’s always a mixture of the familiar and the brand new. The cafes bars and restaurants don’t really change much but the  city around it often shifts form, there always seems to be something new to discover and places as worn and comfy as old shoes. I love the cities with their mixture of the original and the derivative. It’s at times like these that I mentally riff on Psychogeography.

For the uninitiated Psychogeography is the study of the effects city architecture and roads have on the emotions and behaviour. It started as a political expression of action through the Situationists of 1960s Paris and lives on today as a largely literary schematic. Novelists such as Stewart Home, JG Ballard, Will Self,  Peter Ackroyd and others often write as active psychogeographers. I have been a huge fan of Psychogeography, in literature it is often expressed as how certain areas of cities perpetrate cycles of behaviour, as if it is the location that controls behaviour not free will so much. It is often concerned with occultism and ley lines, how geography affects mood and therefore action. In literature it is a very rich seam for plot, theme and narrative.

I have sometimes gone on a Derive,( a walk as political act, as an active meander), taking note of the effects of city geography on thought, mood and behaviour. London and Paris are the archetypical locations for Derives but they can be done anywhere. Key Psychogeographical texts include Hawksmoor, Lights Out For the Territory (Non-fiction) and Crash. The Situationists thought that Derives were the necessary research to be done before re-ordering the architecture of a city to best aid emotional harmony and happiness. These days it is good way of understanding cities, how they flow, structure themselves and prohibit some meanders while supporting others.

As for the gigs, Oooh Beehive I did a good turn, got to the semi final and was pipped to the final spot by the fantastic Elizabeth McGeown. Elizabeth and I have gone head to head many times in slams, she is an awesome performer and writer. For me, what was wonderful was that our semi final group of 3 (there were 2 groups of 3) were all Northern Irish poets, also including the powerful performer Mel Bradley. I am often evangelical about how many good poets Northern Ireland houses, and under Covid the online poetry events have been witness to numerous NI poets who have graced slams, open mics and headline slots and features. As I stated before, Covid has had some real silver linings. However I was left after the slam wondering if I should have performed a different poem. As it is you can never know how another poem would have gone down, judging is always subjective. I am happy though that Elizabeth and Chris Campbell are through to the grand final in Dec. Check it out, it should be a fine event.

Yes We Can’t was an open mic slot but for me the main thing was to get a feature set from Kevin Higgins. Kevin is a highly accomplished Irish poet and I can’t believe it took so long to hear him. I was not disappointed, his crackly wit and skilful take on world events, politicians and society and culture is a must see/hear. The weirdest thing though was watching and performing from a hotel room. It was kind of surreal but luckily the wifi was fine. Finally I also heard Vic Pickup, also for the first time. Her personal take on motherhood and also poetry itself was a joy. As for the gig in general it had a huge turnout and was ably and fantastically run by Poets Prattlers and Pandemoniums (Emma Purshouse, Steve Pottinger and Dave Pitt) all three are worth checking out individually, but as a three part group they are heard to beat event-wise. I was part of their Home and Away Event representing Northern Ireland, which introduced myself, Cat Brogan and Nathan Elout-Armstrong to a lovely poetry scene based in the Black Country. I was lucky enough to have been to their event in physical form, the headliner being Ash Dickenson, he is also worth checking out.

So, I am now staying with an old friend from uni days Michael, chilling with his kids and Catherine, so these few days are another highlight. Thurs is the Genesis Slam, Hackney. I have to be sharp to nab a sign up on the night slot. It should be exciting. In the meantime, thank you London and Birmingham, it’s been a blast

 

Hybrid Tour (5/11/21) Touring, Zoom and Fire and Dust

Howdy

I love touring. Touring is an absolute joy and I have sorely missed it under Covid. Some events are returning to live physical shows, some of these are purely live, some, like York Open Mic have gone hybrid.  Hybrid means there is a laptop and probably a projector screen at the event and zoom poets can perform up alongside poets at the venue.

What seems to be the general POV is that all the gigs being online has served a great purpose. Poets from around the world join others at online events. Events that were once held in a room somewhere filled by local poets are now including people from at far away as USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There is a global network of poets who, before Covid didn’t know each other and had little chance to ever meet.

Some events, such as Fire and Dust in Coventry has is now running two events a month: a live gig and an online one. The live gig was sold out and was a fantastic experience. One of the hosts, Raef Boylan informed me that many of their audience had been well served by Zoom gigs and that they weren’t about to abandon that sector of their overall audience who have got so much out of the format.

I got to the stage where I was champing at the bit. I had missed touring so much when gigs started returning I took the decision to do what I am  calling the Hybrid Tour. It does what it says on the tin, it’s a mix of live gigs and online gigs all done on the road, as it were. It’s also a chance to see old friends, family and colleagues.

The focus of the tour is, for me, finally performing my one person show Fix (The Spoken Word Show of a Recovered Club Casualty). It’s to be read for the very first time at Fuel Bar Cafe Manchester Mon 22nd Nov. It is beyond fitting that it is to be read in that city at that particular bar venue. Most of the carnage I wrote about in the show has all been based in Manchester when I lived there for 11 years. It is the city I started my poetry in and where I developed as a writer and a performer for 7 years until moving back to Northern Ireland 9 years ago. The show is being performed fittingly at Fuel, the place I read for the very first time in this month in 2004. I have performed there at various key moments and periods of my career: ran events there, book launches, residency etc.

So it is that I got to read at the first gig of the tour: Fire and Dust with headliner Anthony Owen Coventry. I was reading as part of the open mic. I was not disappointed. A fine event in a lovely warm backdrop of an independent bookstore. The gig was hosted by Raef Boylan and also Ann Atkins and the open mic played along just nicely. One of the readers had practiced sign language with me online during the second lockdown so it was brilliant to see her in the flesh for the first time. This, I am sure, is going to be a theme of the tour for me: finally seeing poets in the flesh after always seeing them in a small box.  The headliner Anthony Owen was superb, a professional, assured performance by an accomplished Cov poet who’s book Cov Kids (Knives Forks and Spoons) is a love letter to his city. He is mainly known for war and peace poetry. HIs use of imagery was fantastic and I was glad to get the opportunity to hear him read.

The gig was only my 4th time on the mic since March 2020. Some poets are still to perform live again. I do appreciate what Zoom has done for poetry as I have already mentioned. I have been so used to it that I forgot just how exciting and engaging live readings are. Having a mic in the hand doesn’t sound much but for me taking it off the stand and seeing the whole audience as a body of people just plugs me into the reading straightaway, seeing and most of all, hearing the audience reaction is something we really miss online. To explain, when reading online most of the times the whole audience is on mute and poets have had to accept the strange experience of finishing performing a poem with no sound of applause.

That said though, as I have said Zoom has its upsides and I look forward to competing at the Oooh Beehive Online Slam tonight 7.30pm, knowing there can be competitors attending from all around the globe. Oooh Beehive has been a revelation during Covid, lockdowns and the slow return to “normalcy”. That is what the Hybrid Tour is all about for me: performing online at some of the finest zoom events round the UK as well as seizing the opportunity to perform and compete at live events as they return to their requisite poetry scenes.

There are several reasons I love touring so much. One of them is dropping in as a visitor into a local scene, experiencing the community feeling at live poetry events. The network of regular contributors that you get the privilege to see, hear and perform for. It’s a way of breaking the routine of seeing the same faces at the same gigs. It is a breakout. A breakout from the day to day, a breakout from  drudgery and doing nothing for the sake of it. A musician friend told me once that the reason he loves touring is because it is front facing, it is always moving forward. It is for me the elevation of the mundane, even a train journey becomes somehow slightly magical. Onwards and Upwards

 

 

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