Thursday, 28 March 2013

National Poetry Writing Month ("NaPoWriMo") - April 2013

So, I saw that me old mucker Mark Niel, Poet Laureate of Milton Keynes1 is gearing up for his annual challenge of writing a poem a day for a month. I’m feeling seriously lacking in new poems at the moment, so thought I’d take up the challenge as well.

Turns out it’s all about NaPoWriMo (“National Poem Writing Month”2), something I’ve been considering going in for off and on over the last few years. And now, just as my life gets really busy (again), I’ve decided to give it a go. What could go wrong?!

I’ll be setting myself some ground-rules - things like the percentage of the poems that are “allowed” to be haiku/ senryū, whether I’m allowed to “double-up” if I’ve missed a day, that kind of thing. I know it’s not exactly Tim Clare’s “101 Poems in a day” annual challenge, but it’s quite enough for me right now! :D

So as not to overwhelm everything in NaPoWriMo stuff, I’ve set up a NaPoWriMo-only blog: Feel free to keep an eye on it and comment where appropriate...!

So, join me and Mark and our fellow NaPoWriMoers in the challenge; see you on the other side!


1 seriously - stop being surprised - there’s a lot of culture in MK; well... much more than you’d expect, anyway...

2Yes, like NaNoWriMo

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Advice from a Poetry Promoter

Originally posted on Facebook: Note that most of my knowledge of open mics is in the south-east and central England, and that if I listed every open mic I would run out of usable space. So yes, I’ve missed some people out. Don’t hurt me - I was focusing on those that gave further opportunities for professional engagements.

So, someone asked me if I had any advice about getting more performance poetry gigs and getting on the Festival circuit. I thought “No, not really...” then started writing and ended up with this essay:

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

I would recommend going to as many local and further-afield open mics that encourage poetry and spoken word as you can to perform. If you’re getting good responses, start going to the ones that have featured artists and basically show off a bit! :) Look for ones that have competitions/ do lots of evenings. e.g. in London and nearby consider Bang Said The Gun or Utter! where they vote for their favourite quick-round open mic/ paid gig contest entrant to come back for a featured slot, or RRRants who book featured acts for their gigs around the country. MK, Bedford, and Luton poets, you should definitely be going to Ouse Muse and Scribal Gathering regularly. If you’re based in the Midlands or you can travel, I’d also recommend WORD in Leicester, Rhymes in Birmingham and if you’re out further East, of course, my own nights - Allographic in Cambridge! :) A great way to find out about gigs in your area is to check online guides like Write Out Loud Gig Guide and the Poetry Society Landmarks.

Slams can also be a good way of raising your profile and gaining the chance to come back and show off again once you’ve won a round, if you don’t find the idea of slamming off-putting, as many fine performers do. Good contacts for that are Hammer & Tongue (based in Oxford, London, Brighton, Bristol, and Cambridge - yes, this is another slightly self-interested plug), who encourage out-of-town competitors, and the Farrago Slams in London. Other competitions (written or performative) can also prove useful.

Also: go to as many feature-only gigs as you can - it can be immensely inspirational! :) Going to gigs where you don’t perform helps you to keep perspective and focus on the good stuff. Apples & Snakes are a great set of contacts for this, and are arguably the biggest promoter of performance poetry in the UK...

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

If there’s nothing round you way, consider setting up your own event. Dan Holloway suggests (after being inspired by Nikesh Shukla’s advice):

“I think I would encourage anyone outside of London to think about starting a night of their own. I started running shows in 2009/10 when there were slightly fewer, but still, the audience response is incredibly encouraging, both in terms of numbers and enthusiasm. You need though a very thick skin (your fellow performers will see you more as an organiser than a poet, which is a downside), incredible tact (poets are a very sensitive bunch of egos), supreme organisational skills (poets run on ‘poet time’), and extreme patience (you will have last minute drop-outs and late arrivals and venue problems and PA problems however much you plan).”

In my personal experience, it’s a good way to make contacts but a tad harrowing at times! On the other hand, my bar for “disaster” is really, REALLY high these days. :D

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

To move onto the festival circuit, it would appear that you often have the painful issue of being able to prove that you’ve done festivals already...! :) So I guess focus initially on smaller ones. Talk to your local poet laureate or bard (if your town/ a nearby one) has one. In MK, talk to people like Mark Niel (Milton Keynes Poet Laureate) and Richard Frost (Bard of Stony Stratford) about opportunities in your area.

(A quick Google search suggests that, for a start, there are official bards/ laureates in the following areas: Bath, Armagh, Barnsley, Exeter, Glastonbury, Winchester, Avebury, London, Ely, Bristol, Flag Fen, Brighton, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Birmingham, Luton, The Fens, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, and Wantage.)

If there are any festivals nearby (consider how far you’d travel to find a new audience if no-one paid you anything, draw the circle on a map, and start researching! :) ), find out if there’s a spoken word element. If there isn’t, ask if they’d like one and round up some poetry mates to put together a proper “bill” for a festival that doesn’t yet know that it wants poetry.

Richard Grant advised on the Glastonbury Poetry and Words forum a couple of years ago:

“Glastonbury Poetry and Words sits amongst the best gigs for our artform each year. Selection for Europe’s biggest party always brings adrenalin, expectation and promise. Aiming for the top stages before trawling the smaller festival scenes seems a bit optimistic to me. My advice, check other festivals and start getting your work out there first. Trip Fest, Shambalah, Boomtown, Beautiful Days, Beat Herder, Big Chill, Womad, Green Man, Bearded Theory, Latitude, to mention a few...”
He’s not wrong. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface when you think of the likes of the Cambridge Wordfest, London Word Festival, the Norwich Fringe Festival, Nozstock, the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, the Camden Fringe Festival, the Buxton Fringe Festival, Boxmoor, Rickmansworth Canal Festival, The Wenlock Poetry Festival, and - of course - the big daddy: Edinburgh, to name, again, a pitiful few of the opportunities you could take this year to perform or listen to poetry and other forms of spoken word performance goodness. Go mad on Google, or go one better and check out the UK Literary Festivals site:

Daunted by the idea of going up to a big festival on your own? Find out who else is going and go together. Form a troupe. Find the open mics at Edinburgh, Buxton, Hay, Wenlock, etc., and crash them.

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

The ability to get featured gigs can also be enhanced by preparing a show reel - YouTube clips can be collected together in “playlists” for this purpose if you don’t have editing technology - of both audio only and video. Consider also your USP (Unique Selling Point) - what makes you stand out from the other performers out there? Think about enhancing or playing on that. Write a CV - exactly as you would for getting a “proper” job - and a standard covering letter. And then? Just send it to people. Go on... But make sure you have the experience and good reviews to back it, and aim reasonably sensibly to start!

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

Get a solid online presence. It’s not mandatory by any means, but a good website will help promoters know exactly what you do, how you do it, and what you look and sound like doing it. If you’re not up for running your own website (and, let’s face it, it can be a right chore!), it’s worthwhile investing in one or more of the following social media/ online-presence-hosted-by-someone-else widgets:

Twitter - people can add you to their feed and will be kept up-to-date on your poetic movements. What you can do with 140 characters can say a lot about your poetic acumen. Haiku rock! :) Consider separating your personal and your poetical online essences out if you want to jabber about your socks or latest stomach complaints to a sympathetic group of friends, but want to keep a wider group of acquaintances and strangers connected to your appearances. Twitter can also be embedded into any website where you have at least minimal control of the HTML coding, and you can add buttons/ links for your Twitter to many other online accounts.

YouTube/ Vimeo - great places to upload/ link to all your video recordings of performance greatness. You can collect together playlists of your and others’ videos of your performances to use as show reels. Yes - you don’t need to record/ upload videos yourself to use YouTube to create a good online presence. Playlists, etc. also be embedded in web pages/ blogs, etc.

SoundCloud/ MixCloud - if you have decent audio recordings of yourself performing (and bear in mind that it’s very easy, nowadays, to record your performances at home on standard equipment), these are great places to put them, and you can also link updates to your Twitter, blog, etc., and can embed in web pages.

Blog - upload your photos, videos, audio and - most importantly - your words of wisdom - onto an online journal. Most of the fun and flexibility of your own website with a lot less coding hassle. Blogs such as Wordpress can even take the hard work out of putting your own website together by basically making it based on your WP blog... Other such as Blogger, Dreamwidth, or even LiveJournal for the old-school among you, can give you the opportunity to direct people somewhere they can see what you’ve been up to, and read and judge (and even comment on) your work.

Profiles on Other Sites - however much you do of the above social media and online presence, it’s really useful to get yourself a profile on specialist places like WriteOutLoud, etc., and less specialist places like making yourself a Facebook “page”, a LinkedIn profile (for the more professional-network-minded of you), and a SkillsPage profile (the latter is useful when looking for poetic opportunities).

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

Lastly: professionalism. If you want to be taken seriously, treat performing/ hosting as a job. Learn how long your poems are with applause - time them, learn them; if you can’t learn them, have them on something that’s nice to look at from the audience perspective (attractive notebook or folder/ Kindle/ tablet, etc.). Don’t make your entire set a “So, which one do you want?” thing - you don’t look professional, work out what you’re doing in advance. And work out what poems will fit (reasonably) with the tone, time limit, etc. Stick to the time-limit. We cannot emphasise this enough! Turn up on time, don’t get drunk/ high - whether you’re fronting or performing - and don’t be an arse. Anything that could get you fired from a “real” job will see you a) not asked back, b) talked about as an arse throughout the circuit. Don’t be That Poet, in short...!

Get Out and About Do It Yourself Festivals Your USP Get Online Professionalism

I’ve revised this considerably in the light of other comments on the Facebook version, and have spent the last couple of weeks trying to take my own advice, especially in terms of online presence and marketing myself. If anyone has any other advice/ links to add, go at it in the comments section and I’ll revisit this as frequently as is useful! :D

Monday, 18 March 2013

Tweet Poems

Behold the nerdery!

Hammer & Tongue March 2013

Blimey. Well, the setup could probably have started worse. There could have been snakes...

Afterwards, we figured that every area of potential technical issueage had taken a hit. On top of me having a bruised neck joint and being halfway useless at hefting stuff:

  • The car (and therefore the gear) turned up 30 minutes late.
  • Our Chief Technician (let’s call him that - I’m sure he’ll approve :)) had food poisoning.
  • Snow started pelting down as I set out with the gear, and traffic - presumably due to snow - was dire.
  • One of our boxes finally completely broke.
  • The mic stand’s mic clip turned up broken and the spare mic clip didn’t fit the stand.
  • The Hammer & Tongue Cambridge banner was broken as the result of a) someone kindly taking it to bits last month, b) it getting dented in the meantime.
  • The complete lack of sound from the mic turned out to be due to the DJ desk not being plugged into the sound system in any way; it being an unfamiliar one, we’d no idea what to do with the trailing wires.
  • We had to shift the chairs (minor, I know, and there were at least chairs already set out, but let’s complete this whinge!), and there was no merch table available.
  • I forgot to bring the cash box.
  • The Council decided that 9:45pm was the bestest time to start digging up Regent Street, right outside where we were performing and just as our quietest poet started her piece...


  • Wes, who’s swiftly becoming our Chief Technician this year, was there, and Got Stuff Done with admirable cheeriness, speed, and pragmatism.
  • Alex-the-Poetry-Stall hefted stuff, and magically fixed the banner in some kind of intensely Krypton Factor manner. It had long defeated me, so for once I was fine handing over such a problem to someone else (mental note: pride not always useful).
  • I used gaffer taper to Blue Peter the mic stand.
  • Diane came and made everyone feel welcome with a will. She has fast become a past mistress of persuading people to become slammers or judges... :)
  • The lovely Fountain staff (including our dedicated barlady Briony) were cheery and supportive, and manager Jordan sorted out the DJ desk.
  • Alex set up a truncated merch stall as part of the FoH area, and provided a float for the table.
  • We had enough people turn up to cover our fees to the featured acts and return Alex’s float to him (+£8!).
  • Our featured acts turned up on time (i.e. well before we kicked off) and not only turned in great performances but were polite, pragmatic, and friendly off-stage. No divas here!
  • We started only 7 minutes or so after advertised kick-off and everything ran very smoothly after that, despite my brain’s best efforts to trip me up throughout the evening.
  • The last few poets coped admirably with the road-drilling, and it was all over by the time the headliner took to the mic; I was even able to park the car outside the venue when we were loading up after take-down.
  • We didn’t lose or break anything else. (Okay, I left my new tablet charger behind, but hey...)

We had what must have been one of the most brilliantly surreal slams I’ve ever experienced, let alone curated. From the sheer range of the poetry (style, content, delivery) to the sheer range of scores (one person got a 5.2 from Consistently Low-Scoring Judge, and yet there were more Perfect 10s than we ever usually see!) to the guy who didn’t want to be scored at the end of his poem (but did want to distribute his pamphlet) to the drilling, to the polyglottal poet, to the guy who made roughly 97% of his allocated timeslot about the introduction.

Our top three scorers were all from the SKOPT group in Colchester and totally stole the evening! The overall winner was Tess Gardener with one of the meatiest pieces of the night, delivered with increasing confidence and verve throughout the poem, proving once again that you can be as funny or as clever as you like, but audiences really, really like verity. Doesn’t even matter whether it’s your actual story or not, if it speaks the truth, audiences will eat that up. Don’t get me wrong - they love to laugh and they love to hear great voices or be dazzled by terpsichorean vocal prowess, but poetry audiences hunger for the truth.

(Okay, that’s only my theory, but if you look at the people who place high in Slam Finals, meaningful almost always trumps cheap thrills. Don’t get me wrong - if you can do it all you’re on a roll, but still...)

Our features were cases in point - both of them have shouty and easy poems which got them noticed in the early days, but both “Angry” Sam Berkson and Adam Kammerling now specialise in the telling of stories. Sam’s set glittered with observations of the people who stand out from the dark shores of public transport around London, but had time for Hopkins-esque nature poems that literally shimmered. I’d only heard a couple of his pieces before, at the Hammer & Tongue National Final last March, and it went to show yet again that you should not judge poets on the pieces they pull out when hosting nights. My Hammer & Tongue hosty poems are not necessarily the style for which I’m renowned (I tend towards the easier pieces - certainly the shorter ones - when hosting), and Sam supported this notion - his work and his delivery was surprisingly gentle and considered (time to remove the “Angry” from his moniker?!), the set generous and eloquent with some neck-pricklingly pretty turns of phrase. Yes, there were some Tempestuous set-pieces, but my take-away sensation was that of a wide-eyed wonder and the feeling that I was being hugged by words.

I introduced Adam all wrong. ALL wrong. He essentially had to correct me in his introduction since although his website bio talks about his hip-hop roots and his music-and-poetry work it turns out his current style is a kind of darkly hilarious, occasionally surrealistic cinematic raconteurism. Instead of pounding rhythms and devastating put-downs (I once saw him do a piece where he essentially rap-battled his past Grimey self) he steered us through the choppy waters of erudite muggings, service sector revenge, and the problems with obsessive love. Sarcasm (or at least the overturning of expectations) seemed to be the strongest theme, and despite deprecating his own rambling-between-poems style at the beginning, the introductions were among the highlights. The revenge piece was introduced as a story about the time he and a troupe of Sadlers Wells dancers defeated a jewellery heist using a rusty Zippo (for what it’s worth, I’d love to hear that poem, if anyone wants to write it...). The poem Open-Ended Process illustrating the ludicrousness of the anti-gay-marriage camp (hah!) included the phrase “insidious wasp cock” when describing the title-providing MP for Hendon. I am using that. Fair warning, Adam - I am completely stealing that.

Recordings will go up soon. Some kind of podcastery is long overdue for Hammer & Tongue and Allographic nights, and since there’s no time like the present, um, it’ll be soon. Maybe when my annual leave kicks in at the end of the month.

See you all soon, spoken word fans! :)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Poems and Such

Just quickly - I’ve started putting my actual poems (mostly, so far, those that have already been shared online) into a blog. You can find it at

That is all - carry on! :)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A long day of self-congratulatory code

Did that just happen? Yes, it appears that I not only decided this week to completely redesign my website by hand, but left until the last minute putting together a proper set of audio and video showreels and, due to these delays, left it until the 11th hour to apply to perform poetry at Glastonbury Festival’s “Poetry and Words” stage this year.

(Delicious though the frisson of delay and frankly autostimulatory antics of dicking about with HTML and CSS to make me look good may be, yes, I have actually submitted my application. I only sabotaged my sleep.)

A decent web-presence is pretty important - more important than it used to be to independent performers who need to stand out, especially as the baseline for a “normal” amount of web presence has shifted so much in the last 5 years. And with many people using Wordpress and Moonfruit to make pretty sites for themselves with little-to-no knowledge of the underlying code and engineering of a site, it’s also easier than ever. As a promoter and host, when I have an artist I’m going to be marketing, the very easiest thing is for me to go to their website, grab the best-looking (or most conveniently-proportioned) picture of them, a swift bit of bio-blah and chuck it into an event ticket site, flyer, Facebook event, etc. And then a quick click on their YouTube or Soundcloud presence and I can use that to whet the appetite of the audience. For me the best performer sites have been both easy to navigate and pleasant on the eye, and have contained all these elements in one central place while giving me a good idea of the character of the performer through little things like colour choices and layout. I wanted something like that for me.

It always comes as a shock to me when I ask a performer “And do you have a website we can direct people to?” and they shrug a “not really...” I’m expecting at least a WriteOutLoud profile page or free blog; Twitter and Facebook are less useful unless they have a well-structured fan page on the latter, but still something. I find myself wondering how they market themselves...

I guess that, for many people (and I’m thinking primarily here of Londoners), they’re not looking to travel much to perform - they’re looking to rock up to local open mics and impress, then get booked for feature slots. This is a good way of making it work for you, but what do you do if there isn’t much for you to rock up to where you live and no promoters with funding to see you if you did? And what do you do if - like me - most of the open mic nights on in your vicinity are run by you? Yep - virtual networking: make those intangible connections (much as our ancestors did by carrying out correspondences - sometimes for decades - with people they’d never met but with whom they shared interests, by the way - this is not a new phenomenon), publishing your best work (seriously - not a new thing, just a new technology), being cheeky and getting in touch with people you’ve never met, telling them about the good opinions of people you’ve both met who think you’re both ace, and doing people favours remotely.

I’ve spent the last week gathering quotes from people I trust whom I think that festival-makers will trust and asking them to say (nice) things about me. I’ve been poring through old pictures, video footage and audio recordings of me and splicing it (somewhat timorously, I have to confess, considering I have a lot more material at my disposal than I’ve used) into portfolios that might show me in my best light, critically examining photos, videos, and audio for ones that made me look and sound good. If you thought the website-building was Onanistic, you’ve no idea the horrific mingling of shame and pleasure all that’s brought me.

I love hosting. There’s nothing quite like bringing an audience along with you to cheer and clap for someone else - someone who may be terrified, or just uncertain. It’s amazing and I hope I never stop doing it. But I love performing too, as me, and for that I need to have gigs to perform for, and for that I need to sell myself, despite all the nice-girls-don’t-do-that memes in my head.

So, returning to the new-look website itself, why did I hand-crank the site when Wordpress is so pretty and easy to use? Good question, and one I’d seriously debated. I’ve been coding my own site for a long time now (in fact, for over ten years, now I come to think of it, especially if we count the Word-made sites!) so turning to blogging as a baseline for a whole site seemed a little... retrograde. And while Wordpress, Moonfruit, and Google Sites make things pretty, they’re also deeply limited, even if you pay for the more l33t versions, and can be very difficult to edit (Google, this means you).

So pride and stubbornness get us to the point where I’ve decided that Wordpress isn’t good enough, but my skills aren’t up to Da Pritty. What next? I ask performance-focused web professionals, and it turned out that if I want a pretty site I can subsequently edit myself it would cost a bunch (worth it, long-term) but also take a few weeks.

I didn’t have a few weeks, I had a few days, and the old site just wasn’t going to cut it. Which is why Thursday saw me starting to train myself belatedly in CSS language, and Friday saw me cannibalising other people’s sites to get an idea of how it works out for simple examples, and yesterday saw me bodge all that together in a new site. Going through the process was intriguing from the point of view of what I do as a day job - I’m a technical project manager, mostly for online applications. For this project I had to be client, sponsor, project manager, designer, developer, and tester. I drew it all out on bits of paper, set myself timelines, and wrote out a list of (seemingly endless) tasks. Like a good developer, I ramped up the thoroughness of the testing as the system became more complex, and I used templates and libraries where I could (where I understood them - CSS is stupidly hard for what it is and for who I think I am). I didn't do commenting or draw up any documentation, but luckily the handover process is pretty minimal, so I reckon I’ll get away with it...

Like every technical project in the history of ever, it went out late, incomplete, and with at least one defect. I’m inclined to blame the designer, though the tester missed a blinder. We had minimal scope creep and came in under budget while the product was fit for purpose in the right time-frame. So a win on points. And experience.

Hopefully my future blog posts won’t be this long, but I just wanted to document the thought processes and a little of the physical processes. There’s plenty more to do on the site, and I may well get a professional in at some point, but for now it’ll do, and for now I have something to wave at people from across the country.

Big thanks to all the people who’ve given me quotes to use. If you don’t see yours on there yet it’s because everything else became more urgent, and it will go up. I recommend this process of asking nice people for nice comments to anyone as a morale booster - it’s been like getting the nicest leaving card EVAR and I don’t even have to go anywhere! :)

Saturday, 9 March 2013

New Website, New Blog

I’ve started overhauling my poetry website and thought I’d start a poetry-only blog rather than the mixed-up LiveJournal one which not only included the occasional poem and gig news, but also daily Tweet digests with some very personal rantings and ravings and wahs from a previous life.

So this one will include the occasional poem and gig news and the odd rant about stuff. It will be from the perspective of a poet who is also an events host and spoken word promoter and who fits this all in around a full-time job.

Enjoy! :D