Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Club Britain (you’re not coming in)

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Club Britain

You’re not coming in.
Not by train or by bus or by sea.
Not by marriage or by family.
Your name’s not down and you’re not coming in.
Even if you half-drowned to get here
camped out in sub-zero temperatures
and risked everything clinging to the underside of a lorry.
Even if your house burnt down
and you spent your life savings getting on the list
it’s the wrong list
you’ve got the wrong name
and you’re not coming in.

Entry is at the discretion of management
and management don’t like your face.
They don’t like your sandals.
They don’t like your farmer’s outfit.
They don’t like your hair.
They don’t like your company.
They don’t like your dancing.
And they don’t understand a word you say.
The answer’s the same.
Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin
you’re not coming in.

(Robin Vaughan-Williams, 29 May 2016)

zq News April 2016: Words Aloud Sutton + Dance & Poetry Collaborations

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Words Aloud, Sat 16 April, 2–4pm

Sutton Central Library
I’ll be at Words Aloud in Sutton this Saturday with guest Lewis Buxton. I’m doing a slot, and the open mic is always excellent. Compered by Rachel Sambrooks. See their Facebook page for further details:https://www.facebook.com/events/455341517998768/

Publications and Collaborations

Quick Shifts dance collective

Quick Shifts Dance Improvisation Collective

One area of poetry improvisation I’m keen on exploring is movement—in terms of building up a relationship between speech and movement to give performances a more physical dimension, but also how posture and movement affect the way we speak while improvising. Getting performers pacing up and down the room can add nervous energy to their verbal improvisation, and simple things like whether they are looking at one another or up at the ceiling can dramatically change the dynamics.
So I was pleased to be invited to take part in a workshop with Quick Shifts, a dance improvisation collective based in Leicester, in February. We explored ways of incorporating speech into their performances, and one of these ideas formed the basis of their show on 3 March. I also benefitted a lot from seeing how people use improvisation in another artform where it is more established; for example, how they use the number of performers (solo, duet, triplet, etc.) as a central structuring principe.

Nottingham Poetry Improvisation Group

Earlier in April I met with Mark Goodwin for a session in Nottingham, where we recorded some duets and alternating solos (usually I work in bigger groups, so this was a good chance to explore techniques for working as a pair). We’ve both got the recordings, so there may be some alternative versions surfacing once we’ve got round to editing them. There are plans for more in Nottingham over the next few months, with probably a scratch event coming out of it at some point.

Obsessed with Pipework and Open Minds Quarterly

I was excited to hear last week I’ve got three poems in one of my favourite magazines at the moment, Obsessed with Pipework. ‘Story’ and ‘Lay-by’ are from my Poems from the Road sequence, and ‘Trickster Wind’ is about noises in the back yard. ‘Pills’ (which riffs off William Carlos Williams’ ‘This Is Just to Say’, but substitutes ‘pills’ for ‘plums’) appeared in Open Minds Quarterly 17:3.

Sutton Cultural Award

Next week I’m picking up an award, alongside Rachel Sambrooks, for our work on Sutton Stories, a project that ran from July to October last year as part of Imagine Festival of the Arts. It culminated in ‘a truly intergenerational event that gave the elderly a sense of connection to the community and emotionally moved many of the public’, in the words of the Festival Report. Thanks are also due to Joanna Steele, who put a huge amount of effort into the project and successfully managed to pull together all its different strands. There’s a blog post about the work I did with care home residents for the project here: http://www.zeroquality.net/zqblog/?p=747.

Digital Poetry Jam at WAC Arts

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

WAC Arts Interactive Poetry Jam 2015In September 2015 I ran a digital poetry jam project with young people in the WAC Interactive group at WAC Arts in North London. This was a trial project, exploring how we could use Keezy, a sampling app on the iPad, as a fun and engaging way into poetry. The idea was simple: we’d write lines (or just think them up in cases), sample them, and have a go at playing back in different ways. Participants would be able to create the content, use their voices, try out different arrangements, and produce a performance, but without the pressure of having to write a fully formed poem or read out in front of the whole class.

We had a fantastic range of responses, ranging from the poignant to the comic, and it was amazing to see how every person had a different approach to playing back the samples. One person would play back more conventionally, line by line, another would make use of the chorus, a third would go minimalist, stuttering back and forth between just two samples, and a fourth would use looping and layering to create a full-on DJ mash-up.

Here’s a mix I put together afterwards using Launchpad, a live sequencing app.

Many thanks to WAC Arts for giving me the chance to trial the project, and indeed sparking the idea in the first place through the Creative Innovation for Inclusion (CiFi) Think Tank  I attended there back in January 2015.

If you’re interested in me running a digital poetry jam for your school or organisation, get in touch via my contact page.

Tea and Cakes with John Hegley

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Sutton Central Library, St Nicholas Way, SM1 1EA
Saturday 24 October 2015, 2.30–4.30pm

John Hegley hosts this inter-generational poetry event bringing together re-imagined stories of Sutton. Robin Vaughan-Williams has been working with the residents of two care homes in Wallington to create poems about their lives, from hissing gas lamps and clunking meters to lavender fields and wailing sirens, and Rachel Sambrooks has been working with younger generations (adults and teenagers) on their response to these poems and the place they live in. There’ll be video poems, group poems, individual readings, comic verse from John Hegley, and of course tea and cakes.

The event is free and open to all ages, but booking is essential as tickets are being snapped up. Book your place via EventBrite.

(Read more about the first stage of the project here, with some of the poems from the care homes.)

See the full flyer

Sutton Stories: Intergenerational Workshops

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Here are the details of the spoken word workshops that form the second stage of the Sutton Stories project I’ve been working on for the Imagine Festival of the Arts (part 1 here). They’ll be led by Rachel Sambrooks, and I’ll be assisting with the first two.

There are two sessions for adults and two for 13–18 year olds, and they’re all FREE! We’ll be performing the work we produce at an event on 24 October hosted by John Hegley in Sutton Central Library.

In July 2015, writer Robin Vaughan-Williams worked with residents in two care homes in Wallington to explore their experiences of Sutton, from bicycles and trams to shops and libraries. In the poems they produced we discover a Sutton of hissing gas lamps and clunking meters, lavender fields and wailing sirens.

In the spoken word workshops we’ll be using the experiences of older residents as our springboard, exploring our experiences of the borough to connect past and present in new ways. We’ll be working on group and prompts for individual work, using different devising techniques to help generate ideas. We will be working towards some poems to perform at the final live literature event on 24th October hosted by John Hegley in Sutton.  We will also have time to practice, share and rehearse before the event.

Dates and Booking

Spoken Word Workshops for young people, 13–18

I. Tuesday 29 September, 4.30–6.30pm

II. Tuesday 6 October, 4.30–6.30pm

Spoken Word Workshops for adults

I. Tuesday 29 September, 6.45–8.45pm

II. Tuesday 6 October, 6.45–8.45pm

You’ll also need to be able to commit to a rehearsal on Sunday 18 October and the performance on 24 October.

Sutton Stories: The Poetry of Memory

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

In July I ran a series of three workshops in a couple of care homes in Sutton as part of the literature strand of the borough’s Imagine Festival of the Arts, which takes place 16–31 October 2015. Because the Festival’s theme this year is ‘Sutton stories’, we were working around the concept of place, using residents’ memories of Sutton and other places they have lived as material for a series of poems.

It was a great pleasure working with the two groups, who enjoyed sparking off one another and seeing their words written up and re-purposed as poetry. I found that the best way to work was to base the sessions around a loose discussion, with me picking up on some of the things people said, writing those up on the board and asking a few guiding questions to help draw out their memories and experiences. Some of the poems are collective, with contributions from several members of the group, and some are individual in their origin.

I have edited the poems, but they all retain the words and voices of the speakers, and in only a few instances have I added words or lines of my own. The test of this was when we came to video the participants reading their poems; I’d show them the poem first, then ask if they felt it was their own voice, and the response was always a clear yes. One thing I’ve learnt is that memory is selective, with an aesthetic logic of its own—you can trust in the poetry of people’s memory.

We’ll be playing recordings of some of the writing at an event hosted by John Hegley at Sutton Central Library on 24 October 2015, alongside writing produced by younger generations in workshops this September. If you’d like to participate in these, you can sign up to the Spoken Word Workshops on Eventbrite. In the meantime, here are a few of the poems to come out of the project.

He Went to Church

My father bought a television set
from Broughton Radio, aged sixty-five.
One day he walked to church in the snow
sat down in a pew and died.
My mother went to pay the bill
but the technician said his debts were forgiven.

Sunday was a day of rest, and like good Christians
we walked to church in the pouring rain
trying to keep our straw hats dry.
Over Westminster Bridge, the flower lady
on Parliament Square. We let the buses go.
Saved our tuppence for another day.

Source: Joyce Buckingham

Croydon Airport

The airmen used to come down to our house on the corner
to shelter in the garden when the sirens went.

Their melancholy wail and terrible moans
stopped everything. We hid in muddy dug-outs.
No dogs allowed.

When I came out my shoes had gone
along with the house
so a workman lent me his boots.

This was a collective poem fusing together several wartime recollections from participants at Ryelands, but drawing in particular on the memories of Beryl Steward.

Beddington Lane

We lived on a new estate on Beddington Lane
on the site of a pig farm.
Used to go fishing for sticklebacks with my mum
over the Wandle and up the hill
four years old, paddling in the stream with my fishing net.
My dad’s dad lived in Wallington
the gas lights hissing. You had to pull them down
feed a sixpence to the meter
turn the thing round and it went clunk.
Spare coins on the dresser in case the lights went out.

Source: Pam Bollom

Libraries

There is an overwhelming amount of knowledge
in this large room full of books
filled with the voices of children singing
for half an hour on Thursday mornings.

A quiet, meditative space
time to think in silence
look things up, email
and pick up your Freedom Pass.

It’s like passing your A-levels
flying around the world
being on the top of the South Downs
a non-denominational chapel.

This last poem is one of the few pieces resulting from a structured session. We were talking about libraries. I asked about the things people do in libraries, how they’d describe a library, and finally we invented similes for libraries, and you can see pretty clearly how each line in the poem originates from one of these categories.

Thanks to the staff (especially Dawn and Marie) and residents at MHA Ryelands and The Abbeyfield Society, and to Joanna Steele, the Imagine Coordinator, for their enthusiasm and making it all happen.

zqNews Apr 2015: Texas 2 London Skype poetry + Word’s a Stage poetry impro

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

In this issue of zqNews, find out about two forthcoming events using Skype and poetry improvisation to make connections, and check out a couple of videos recently uploaded to YouTube.

Texas 2 London

Texas 2 London, my next Skype event, is happening this Friday, 10 April, in Colliers Wood, London. We’ll be linking up with a parallel event at the Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF) in Texas with three featured poets either side of the Atlantic sharing their work. There’ll also be a chance for three open mic participants to perform in front of the Austin audience via the video link.

One our side we’ve got Matt Black, Agnes Meadows, and Kayo Chingonyi, and in Austin we’ll be hearing from three AIPF poets: Element615, Teresa Y Roberson, and Mr Dave.

I’ll be presenting alongside electro-pop poetry duo Project Adorno, and the Texas event will be hosted by Thom the World Poet. Thom is a gloriously spontaneous, unpredictable, and inspired poet and also committed to the principles of democracy in the arts. Check out his appearance at a previous Skype event on YouTube.

The evening kicks off at 7pm with the open mic (first come, first served), then we’re online with Austin from 8 to 9.30pm. For more details about the programme visit http://www.zeroquality.net/texas2london.html.

Friday 10 April 2015, 7–10pm
Colour House Theatre, Merton Abbey Mills, SW19 2RD (near Colliers Wood underground)
£3 on the door. Enquiries to 020 3730 8039.

Let us know you’re coming on Facebook.

Word’s a Stage Improvisation Project

Word’s a Stage

The last couple of months I’ve been working with four poets—Becci Fearnley, Sean Wai Keung, Andrea Queens, and Zahrah Sheikh—on putting together a performance using poetry improvisation techniques. We’ve got one more workshop to go, then the final event, where there’ll also be a collaborative performance from Apples and Snakes’ GasWorks group, will take place on Tuesday 14 April at Free Word (Farringdon) from 7.30pm (Free).

It’s the first chance I’ve had to work with a group over a sustained period on a poetry improvisation project, and the first time I’ve used improvisation to put together a performance rather than recordings, so it’s been an exciting and new experience for us all. The group has been amazing, fearless, and eager to rise the challenge, and I’ve learnt a lot from them myself during the workshops.

Our final piece is provisionally entitled ‘You are not the voices inside my head’ [later changed to ‘Grey Parrot Singing’] and circles loosely around the idea of ‘search’ and what happens to our voices in the age of social media. YouTube has been a significant source of material, from trolling to cat videos, self-hypnosis and political rants. The performance includes several improvised scenes, including free improv, pair work, a human-generated Apostrophe poem, and a warm-up that surprised us all by uncovering the poetry of numbers.

The project is coordinated by Apples and Snakes, and you can see the event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/836322796452518/

NWS in London

Andrew Kells at NWS in London

It’s been a busy few months what with Texas 2 London and Word’s a Stage coming up, and the Nottingham Writer’s Studio’s London showcase, which I hosted on 21 March 2015.

When I was Development Director at NWS we’d been talking about a London showcase to help bridge the gap between the London-centric publishing world and the strong writing communities in Nottingham and other regions, so all credit to my successor Pippa Hennessy for taking the first step in making this happen.

The readers were all contributors to one of NWS’s new ventures, a literary journal that has so far covered ‘crime’, ‘secrets’, and ‘a sense of place’. You can get hold of the journal in electronic form for free on Issuu: http://issuu.com/nottinghamwritersstudio.

It was great to hear the stories and poems I’d read in the journal straight from the writer’s mouth and to feel the enthusiasm in the room from both audience and readers. One of my favourite stories was Lynda Clarke’s rather gruesome tale ‘Stealing from the Dead’, and Andrew Kells and Liz Hart in particular electrified with their energetic performances.

Videos

Reuben da Cunha Rocha Skyping Nottingham, Oct 2014

I’ve been uploading videos to YouTube recently. Here are a couple you might enjoy.

  1. Brazilian poet Reuben da Cunha Rocha mesmerising the audience at Skype Me! Nottingham and the World, 18 October 2014: https://youtu.be/4iTPu4KvPtM
  2. ‘Frogger’, a poem that started out with dual origins in a 1980s computer game and an attempt at a perpetual cycling accident, but which ended up in the twisted fairground of the imaginationl, read here at Word of Mouth in Nottingham, November 2012: https://youtu.be/HiyH980Fv6Y

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zqNews Jan 2015: Texas 2 London, Death on the Road, and Word’s a Stage

Friday, February 6th, 2015

In this issue of zqNews, find out about my forthcoming video link between Texas and London, new audio tracks from Poems from the Road, and poetry improvisation projects in the pipeline for London and St Andrews.

Poems from the Road

Poems from the RoadI’ve uploaded two new tracks to my Poems from the Road SoundCloud playlist. There’s a fascinating interview I conducted with London Grip editor Michael Bartholomew-Biggs about poet-cum-cricketing commentator John Arlott’s pamphlet-length poem ‘Death on the Road’, and ‘Travelling the Roads in My Red Mini’, a poem by Ann Vaughan-Williams exploring the voices that accumulated in her car during her time as a psychiatric social worker

The Poems from the Road podcast is now available on the Apples and Snakes SoundCloud page, so if you missed it in December, you can now listen to it at your leisure. And the additional materials that I wasn’t able to include in the podcast are up on my SoundCloud page until the end of February. Check out the Poems from the Road webpage.

I’m also planning to submit a 10-minute Poems from the Road feature to Radio Wildfire, so if you’ve any favourite poems from the show or additional material, let me know and I’ll consider them for the feature.

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to the show!

Texas 2 London

Skype Me! Sheffield and the WorldOn 10th April the Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF) is coming to London with Texas 2 London at the Colour House Theatre, Merton Abbey Mills. AIPF is renowned as a melting pot of world poetry, and our three guests will be trading poems with poets in Austin via a live video link. On our side we’ve got Matt Black, Agnes Meadows, and Kayo Chingonyi, and on the Texas side there’ll be Element615 plus two more to be confirmed.

Take part!
There’ll also be a chance for you to perform your work at the AIPF. At 7pm we’ll have an open mic (offline), and three participants from the open mic will then be offered a short slot during the video-linked part of the evening.

I’m co-hosting with electro-pop poetry duo Project Adorno, and the hosts on the other side of the Atlantic will be the irrepressible and always surprising Thom the World Poet and James Jacobs. I’m collaborating with OpenHaus Arts on producing Texas 2 London, and it’s supported by an Arts Development Fund grant from Merton Council.

Friday 10 April 2015, 7–10pm
Colour House Theatre, Merton Abbey Mills, SW19 2RD (near Colliers Wood underground)
£3 on the door. Enquiries to 020 3730 8039.
More info: http://zeroquality.net/texas2london.html

Poetry Improvisation

Poetry ImprovisationMy December workshop at the Scottish Writers’ Centre in Glasgow got a great write-up, and I have several poetry improvisation projects coming up in the next couple of months.

I’m particularly excited about an Apples and Snakes project called Word’s a Stage that’s starting this Saturday. I’ll be leading a series of four workshops with four emerging writers to develop a performance for early April (exact date TBA). We’ll be using improvisation techniques to generate material and the final performance will be at least part improvised on the night.

This is a valuable opportunity to explore what we can do with poetry improvisation when working with a group over a sustained period of time. I’ve got some ideas about feeding off the audience (so the audience become part of the poetry), chorus work, and layered set pieces with background and foreground voices, but in the end it’s down to the individuals in the group to see how they interact and what we come up with.

Leaving the Comfort Zone
I’m also offering a poetry improvisation workshop at Scotland’s Stanza poetry festival in St Andrew’s on Saturday 7 March. This will be a day-long workshop during which we’ll devise material for a short performance at the end of it. I believe there are a couple of places left, so still time to book.

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Poems from the Road: Bonus Material

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Seven additional tracks that I selected for the Poems from the Road podcast but wasn’t able to include in the final edit for reasons of time are available to listen to on SoundCloud for a limited time.

You’ll find poems there by River Wolton, Luke Wright, Rochelle Potkar, Jo Roach, Hilary Mellon, Andrew Sclater, and Nick Toczek. They’ll be up from 1 December 2014 to 28 February 2015.

Listen out for Andrew Sclater’s A1 incantation, Luke Wright’s day in a transit, Rochelle Potkar’s evocation of the road to the mountains, and River Wolton’s ‘Language of Lorries’.

Later in the month, I’ll also be posting a fascinating interview with Michael Bartholomew-Biggs about John Arlott‘s poem ‘Death on the Road’, where you can hear all about Arlott’s journey from poet to cricket commentator.

To listen to the poems, go to soundcloud.com/robinrvw, then click on the Poems from the Road playlist. You’ll find a few other tracks there that are part of my Poems from the Road project as well, including ‘Little Spaceships’, a poetry improvisation on poetic tweets from the A-roads, and a couple of my own poems recorded with the M1 in the background.

More about my Poems from the Road project.

The Poet on the Road: A Kaleidoscope Equipped with Consciousness

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Minzu UnderpassThe road is many things to many people. Mostly, I suspect, it’s a bit of a blank. A place that eats up substantial chunks of our lives, yet largely ignored as we focus on getting from A to B, the destination rather than the journey.

For me, the road has always been a hostile place. As a child with severe asthma and ecological concerns growing up in London, I was hyper-sensitive to traffic pollution. I felt I could smell the fumes the moment I stepped out of the house in the morning, even if other people didn’t seem to notice.

As a cyclist, I’m very aware of the perils of the road and the state of hyper-alertness that I enter when negotiating city traffic on my bicycle. The effort of continually responding to the flow of stimuli around me injects passages of adrenalin into my day when I seem to live rather than experience reality.

This reminds me of a passage from Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’ in which he discusses the experience of traffic in a big city:

Moving through this traffic involves the individual in a series of shocks and collisions. At dangerous intersections, nervous impulses flow through him in rapid succession, like the energy from a battery. [Illuminations (Pimlico, 1999), p. 171.]

In the words of Baudelaire, one becomes ‘a kaleidoscope equipped with consciousness’. While the shock of the road was for Benjamin something modern, I also see it as an encounter with a very raw and primitive part of ourselves, as it is perhaps the only place in modern life where we regularly encounter a fight-or-flight mechanism.

I think this holds true for driving as well. We tend to think of drivers as encased inside a protective bubble, not always aware of the danger they are exposed to or pose to others. But when I started driving, I found that I often experienced the same state of hyper-alertness I was used to on the bicycle, sometimes just for moments of emergency, other times for prolonged periods, as when driving at night down unfamiliar country lanes or on a dual carriageway in a foreign country. I also noticed periods of abstraction, especially at night, when you can lose your usual sense of spatial relations as lights and other road objects start floating about in the rearview mirror.

These were the things that attracted me to writing about the road—alienation, danger, and abstraction—but I wanted to see how other poets wrote about it as well, which is how the Poems from the Road podcast was born.

In it you’ll hear poems from twenty-six poets journeying up and down the country. Yes, there’s death, there’s roadkill…Michael Greavy’s sheep that ‘splits like dropped shopping’, James Caruth’s ‘battered blue Ford’ that strains like ‘an old man fighting for breath’. But there’s also the road as a place of intimacy, memory, and homecoming, as in Matthew Stewart’s ‘Dad on the M25 after Midnight’ and Julie Burke’s ‘Angel of the Road’. There’s optimism and satire in Andrew Freeman’s story of a community takeover and Mark Gwynne Jones’s imagining of the Sherman tank as the next SUV. We see how the road both divides and connects us in Luke Wright’s ‘A12’—‘England’s crude appendix scar’, and the road as a place of dreams that sometimes takes us outside of ourselves. ‘I’m from the fog’, says River Wolton, to which the 1970s Polish pop musician Tadeusz Wozniak replies (in my fantasy podcast world where poets and scraps of road become detached from their historical locations), ‘One day near dawn cars fell from the sky’.


Home Cooking: Poems from the Road is a podcast produced by Robin Vaughan-Williams and commissioned by Apples and Snakes. It will be broadcast 5–6pm on Hive Radio every Thursday in December 2014, and will subsequently be available to listen to on SoundCloud. For more about the project, visit the Poems from the Road webpage.