Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Poetry, Landscape, and Radicals

Monday, February 11th, 2013

It was an elegant start to the Nottingham Festival of Words on Saturday with a day of poetry and storytelling at Newstead Abbey, Byron’s ancestral home. Poets travelled from Oxford (Nigel Thompson), Middlesborough (Andy Croft), Derby (Mark Goodwin), and Sheffield (Chris Jones and publisher Brian Lewis), and it was great to see how many people had made the journey to see what was going on.

In the early afternoon our 7-week-old baby had her first experience of a poetry reading, sitting quietly through 30 minutes of CJ Allen (not a difficult thing to do, as she can’t laugh yet) with just the occasional appreciative squeak. Newstead Abbey will be an amazing place to take her when she’s older, with winding paths, waterfalls, and a rockery…loads of places to run around and explore.

At tea time it was Poetry, Landscape, and Radicals, a triple-bill featuring ‘Outskirts and Outposts’ from Longbarrow Press, Christy Fearn on Byron the First Rockstar, and three poets from Smokestack Press.

I’m not sure if that’s the way we planned it, but it was a coherent as well as varied programme, with each part of the programme picking up on the location in some way—the landscaped environs, and Byron’s legacy in terms of the culture of celebrity and political radicalism. I was also struck by how all three used these different threads to draw together the contemporary and the historical.

In Russian there are two different words for ‘landscape’. Peisazh is borrowed from the French and refers to the landscape painting—landscape as representation. Landshchaft is borrowed from the German and refers to the landscape in nature—landscape as object. The Longbarrow reading took the landscape poem (peisazh) and stuffed it with a contemporary urban and semi-urban landschaft, giving the genre a social dimension that we perhaps often forget about.

Produced by Brian Lewis, the performance brought together the contrasting voices of Chris Jones, Mark Goodwin, and Matt Clegg (in absentia, via audio recording). While Chris’s reading suggested a coherent voice, Mark’s did the opposite, with bold line breaks that cut into the middle of words breaking up the conventional rhythm and syntax. The effect was to dehumanise the voice, creating the impression of a speech made up of lots of little packets of data and lacking an underlying intentionality. It reminded me of those digitally produced announcements you get in railway stations and on call centre menus where oddities in the spacing between words indicate the synthetic nature of the announcement—that it’s been stitched together from samples—creating a sense of disembodiment, of a voice that has no speaker (unless we want to admit a system as a speaker), of a corporation masquerading its personhood.

This seemed very fitting, given that while a human presence in the landscape genre is often absent or neglected, in these poems, as Brian explained in his introduction, there is a persistant social presence, derelict landscapes rarely truely vacant.

Later on, Andy Croft introduced a raucous reading from himself and Smokestack poets Mike Wilson and Nigel Thompson. It was interesting to hear Andy’s explanation of how his approach to publishing has changed over the years. Whereas Smokestack started out focusing on leftwing, leftfield writing, now he’s looking for comedy, rhyme (music), and anger, qualities he feels are in short supply.

We heard a few snippets from their contributions to Donny Johnny, a modern satirical take on Byron’s Don Juan that I’m looking forward to when it comes out from Five Leaves Publications in the next year. In it we’ll see DJ in various guises, as a food critic, prisoner, creative writing tutor, and retired rockstar, among other things.

Nottingham Festival of Words—here it comes!

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

After around nine months of planning and preparation, Nottingham Festival of Words is nearly upon us. Next weekend we’ll be at Newstead Abbey for a day of poetry, landscape poetry from Longbarrow Press, glimpses of Donny Johnny, a modern, irreverant take on Byron’s Don Juan coming out from Five Leaves Publications in 2014, Christy Fearn’s talk on Byron the First Rockstar, spooky storytelling, a book launch, and more.

The weekend after that (16–17 February) will be the Festival hub at Nottingham Trent University’s Newton building, where we’ve got readings, talks, workshops, a book fair and fun activities for people of all ages to get involved with from across the literary spectrum. With around six simultaneous events on at a time, everyone will get their way with words. Over the Festival fortnight (9–25 February) there are also events taking place around the city and its environs—Alice Oswald at Lakeside Arts Centre (one of the things I really hope to get to), talks on Scottish and Irish writers, Rachael Pennell’s play Byron Beloved at Thrumpton Hall, several literary walks, and Love, Lace and Bedtime Poems at the Flying Goose in Beeston, to name just a few.

If you’d like to attend the Festival, you can browse the programme at the nottwords website, where you can also sign up to the newsletter to receive updates. Tickets can be bought online and by phone from our partner Experience Nottinghamshire, and in person from Nottingham Tourist Information Centre. Follow us on Twitter (@nottwords) or Facebook.

Although I’m spending most of my time on organising the Festival, I’m still working on a couple of individual events. The Speaking Space is a room in the Newton building that people will be able to pop into to get away from the Festival bustle. I’m putting together a spoken word playlist of work by Festival participants and Nottingham writers, so visitors will get a chance to listen to some of the writers that they might have missed, and there’ll be a bookswap there too.

I’m also working with John Lucas of Shoestring Press on a jazz and poetry night at the Hotel Deux Guitar Bar on Wednesday 20 February from 8pm. We’ve got Derbyshire Poet Laureate Matt Black, always a captivating performer, as our guest poet, and there will also be sets from Alyson Stoneman, Wayne Burrows, Zayneb Allak, and I’ll be doing the first part of ‘Time Is Running Out! (restart your system now)’. The band includes bass, guitar, cornet, and clarinet. If you’re thinking of coming, let us know of Facebook.

Additional content added December 2013.

Here’s a recording of Stephen Lowe’s stirring speech at the Festival of Words launch on 12 September 2012 about Nottingham as a city of literature:

Poetry Line-up for Sneinton Festival

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Here’s the final poetry line-up for the SEND World Vibes tent at Sneinton Festival (Trickett’s Park) on Saturday 7 July 2012:

13:45 – Aly Stoneman and Milk Milkovich (poetry and music)
14:15 – MulletProof Poet
16:00 – Panya Banjoko
16:45 – Robin Vaughan-Williams

…with loads of music before, after, and in between.

It’s all free. Let me know if you’re coming along.

Trickett’s Park is behind the Greenway Community Centre on Trent Lane, NG2 4DF.

Fishing for Words poetry booklet

Friday, June 15th, 2012

The booklet I produced for Aphasia Nottingham finally arrived last Friday. It was a bit last minute—the printers delivered it fifteen minutes before the end of the session—but they’ve done a fantastic job. The cover (below)—which I scanned from some of the painting the art group had been doing—has come out really strong, even bolder, I would say, in print than on the screen.

Fishing for Words front cover

The booklet contains poems produced during the Fishing for Words sessions organised by Aphasia Nottingham in the past year, with poetry workshops (run by me), art workshops, and singing sessions.

You can find one of the group poems we wrote in my blog post Making a Collaborative Poem.

Poems from the Road

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

If you were driving up the M1 recently near Nottingham and noticed a figure with a black umbrella standing in the rain just outside the hard shoulder, that was me, capturing the sound of your engine for my Poems from the Road.

This Wednesday I’ll be giving the poems their second outing, after a set at the Luxury Goods Festival in London on 2 May, accompanied by some of the recordings I’ve made.

The Menace of the Road

I started writing them a couple of years ago because I felt that the road was the last place left where we regularly encounter a flight-or-flight mechanism in modern society. The road has a menace, it’s a place of danger, yet somewhere we frequent pretty much every day because, well, we have to; just like an animal that has to go out in search of food, in spite of the threat of predators.

I feel this constantly as a cyclist. On a bicycle in the city you are living through your senses in a hyper-alert state, scanning all around with your eyes and your ears, ready to react at any moment. This affects one’s experience of time. I used to enjoy catching the bus or underground into work in London years ago. The journey acted as a kind of buffer, a period of transition from one activity to the next, giving me time to think, read, write, or just take in my surroundings. By the time I arrived home I’d be feeling fresh, even at the end of a long day. On the bicycle there is no such buffer; you are catapulted from one state to the next without time to adjust. I leave work and suddenly I’m home, but my mind’s still restless, ticking over, like it’s impatient for the next task and not ready for a change of pace.

I also get this sense of menace from the road as a driver. Driving in the dark, pulling off a slip road, realising you’re in the wrong lane on a roundabout, facing oncoming traffic on a narrow country lane, driving in someone else’s car, in another country, on the wrong side of the road, off road, in snow and ice, oil slicks and water planing, luggage obscuring the rear view mirror, the first couple of years after passing your test, and those near misses that happen every so often.

One of the most terrifying driving experiences I had was driving a loaded estate car across Germany on the Autobahn at night in the rain, which resulted in this poem, available on SoundCloud.

Recording the Road

I wanted to see what it would be like reading Poems from the Road accompanied by the sound of the traffic, to give the audience a feeling for the menace and sheer physicality of the road, so the last few weeks I’ve been on a few sound-recording trips. I quickly discovered that not all roads sound alike. Doing 30mph about town sounds slow and uneventful. The stop-start movement feels much more drawn out when you listen to it than when you’re actually doing it. Even standing by an A-road with traffic racing past at 50mph didn’t have the energy I needed. I found the sound restful in fact, with more of a gentle swoosh than an explosion of sound.

At 70mph plus the sound is far more intense, with a low restless hum accompanied by higher pitched roars. The engines are working hard, and you can hear it. Standing on a bridge over the M1 though, the traffic was too distant and undifferentiated. I needed to get right down beside it. But the trouble with a motorway is that even if you’re right behind the barrier, you’ve still got the entire width of the hard shoulder between you and the traffic. In the end, the ideal spot was a lay-by beside a dual carriageway section of the A52, where I could wind down the window and capture the sounds of lorries and cars shooting by at 70mph, so close you can feel the air being punched out of the way as they pass.

Poetry at Lee Rosy’s

I’ll be reading alongside Wayne Burrows, Anna Robinson, and Georgina Lock at Lee Rosy’s, 17 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ, starting at 7pm on Wednesday 9 May 2012.

The Transit of Venus (a poem)

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

On 6 June 2012 the second and last transit of Venus across the face of the Sun this century will take place, not to be repeated again until 2117.


It is the rarity of the crossing that makes it precious
but also the shared experience of seeing a spot

not just a shadow on the retina or weak-minded
figment, drift across the mother of all eyes

the tears caused by prolonged staring at a light source
and the camaraderie of fancy dress as we ask

workers of the world to drop their tools and don
their welding goggles, 3D glasses, bounty hunter

masks, whatever protection they can muster
to gaze and amaze. A story for their grandchildren!


Any solar event is innately dangerous and risks
turning its observers stone blind. Moreover

because of their extreme low periodicity
transits of Venus penalise entire generations

who forfeit the opportunity of witnessing a small
black disc moving across the face of the sun

merely by dint of their birth. We favour solar
eclipses by the moon, which occur several

times a year across the globe and are really
rather spectacular. When has darkness ever fallen

and the birds folded their wings for Venus?
Such transits should be permanently abolished.

Poetry at Lee Rosy’s, 9 May 2012

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Anna Robinson, the author The Finders of London and editor of Long Poem Magazine, is visiting Nottingham on Wednesday 9 May, and will be reading downstairs at Lee Rosy’s Tea from 7pm that evening with Georgina Lock, Wayne Burrows, and myself (Robin Vaughan-Williams).

I first saw Anna reading alongside Jo Roach at the Torriano Meeting House in London in 2007, and was so impressed I promptly invited them both up to Sheffield for Spoken Word Antics. Songs from the Flats, her first pamphlet, weaves an urban dreamtime round a Waterloo housing estate as she explores the lives and voices of its inhabitants. The Finders of London, which builds on Songs, was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre Prize for Poetry in 2011.

Entrance £4/£3 (concessions)
Lee Rosy’s Tea, 17 Broad Street, Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ
7pm start, Wednesday 9 May 2012

Let us know you’re coming on Facebook.

About the Poets

Anna Robinson

Anna RobinsonAnna Robinson was born and lives in London. As part of Poetry International and the South Bank Centre’s Trading Places project, Robinson was Poet in Residence in Lower Marsh in 2006. Her pamphlet, Songs from the flats (Hearing Eye, 2006), which draws on this experience, was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice.

Her first full-length collection, The Finders of London, was published by Enitharmon Press in 2010. Her work has also appeared in several journals and anthologies, including Poetry London, Magma, Brittle Star, the reater, In The Company of Poets (Hearing Eye 2003) and Oxford Poets 2007 (Oxford/Carcanet). She is a founding editor for Not Shut Up! and the newly established Long Poem Magazine.

Listen to Anna read on the Spoken Word Antics Sound Archive (you’ll need to enter the username and password displayed in the right-hand column on the Sound Archive page).

Wayne Burrows

Wayne Burrows (photo by Nick Rawle)Wayne Burrows has published three collections to date, Marginalia (Peterloo), Emblems (Shoestring) and The Apple Sequence (Orchard Editions). He was writer in residence at Nottingham Contemporary during Spring 2011, has edited Staple magazine since 2008, and is currently based at Primary Studios, Nottingham.

Georgina Lock

Georgina LockGeorgina Lock’s one-act play Daddy’s Bed, was performed at Lee Rosy’s as part of Nottingham’s Triliteral Festival (2010). She has also written, directed and produced short films including The Unicyclist, Short, White Pleated and The Pick Up. Her short fiction is published in various anthologies and literary magazines.

Robin Vaughan-Williams

Robin Vaughan-Williams (Oct 2009)Robin’s sequence The Manager, which charts the backwaters of managerial reality, was published by Happenstance Press in 2010, and his work has also appeared in publications such as Fuselit, Under the Radar, and Long Poem Magazine. He has run numerous live literature events, such as Spoken Word Antics in Sheffield and Word of Mouth in Nottingham, has produced several collaborative poetry performances, and presented the Spoken Word Antics radio show for Sheffield Live. He is also Development Director at Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

Extra Notes on This Lake Used to be Frozen: Lamps

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

I’ve just finished a review for Sphinx of Ian McMillan’s Smith/Doorstop pamphlet, This Lake Used to be Frozen: Lamps (2011), but it’s only 400 words and I’ve got more to say! So here are a few extra notes.

There’s a lot of everyday experience here, what the Russian Formalists would have called byt. Byt, derived from the same root as byt´, the verb ‘to be’, was usually placed in opposition to art. For Viktor Shklovskii, art was a means of refreshing our everyday experience by defamiliarising patterns of experience that had become habitual. By ‘making it strange’, it makes us look again.

These days, however, the everyday has more going for it. In contrast to the artificial construction and simulation of experience through the mass media, the everyday is seen as a refuge of genuine experience. So in addition to the opposition of art vs life, we’ve also got what might be called hype vs life.

One of my favourite poems from this collection is ‘The Evening of the Day Pavarotti Died’. The very first line, read after the title, primes us for an art/hype vs life showdown:

I poured some Carnation Milk into a cup of coffee

We appear to be confronted with two irreconcilably different cultural artefacts here; can there be any overlap between the worlds of Pavarotti and Carnation milk? A couple of verses later, however, it turns out that this showdown is itself a construction, as Pavarotti enters the back gardens of a South Yorkshire neighbourhood, replete with sheds and squirrels:

[…] from Mr Lowe’s house next door
And from Steve’s house up the street we heard
The last note of Nessum Dorma rising and hanging

There like light on a tree.

Admittedly, Pavarotti has made his entrance via the radio, so maybe what we’re witnessing here is an instance of the mechanism by which mass media phenomena install themselves in the fabric of our lives, yet at the same time this is clearly also a moment of genuine and universal pathos. Pavarotti might have become an over-familiar and automated icon for artistic experience—to the point where you didn’t have to actually listen to Pavarotti, because you knew you were listening to Pavarotti—but this poem shows Pavarotti doing, even if just for a moment, exactly what he’s supposed to do: transforming the perception of our everyday environment.

Petrol Station with a Grass Roof

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

…as seen on the 16:15 London to Nottingham.

At first a blank, but the moment I begin to write
a sheep appears from behind the rooftop
chewing on greased-up blades
licking its lips longer than usual

while below a tanker pulls in
viking at the wheel, shakes his gold ring
tambourine of an arm at the attendants
to unscrew his caps and drain the trailer.

Satisfied, he leans forward and pulls out
a scalded sheep’s head, plucks an eye
tugs a cheek with his oily finger.

Time Is Running Out! at Say Sum Thin III

Monday, March 26th, 2012

I’ll be doing an extract from Part I of ‘Time Is Running Out! (restart your system now)’ at Say Sum Thin III on Saturday 31 October at Nottingham Playhouse. This is the first time I’ve performed anything from this piece since originally putting it on in Sheffield in October 2009. We got an amazing reception that night, with some wonderful comments afterwards, my favourite of which was, “I could go on listening to it all night”. At twenty minutes, I was slightly concerned that it might be a bit long, but clearly no need to worry.

This’ll just be a short extract at the Playhouse, with no musical support from Ella Luk this time. However, we hope to get together to put on the full performance again soon, either in the UK or possibly in Berlin.

Say Sum Thin III also features former UK slam champion Kayo Chingonyi and a group piece by Mouthy Poets which, judging by a snippet I caught at Speech Therapy the other day, looks very promising indeed.

Here’s the info (below) about ‘Time Is Running Out!’ first time round. I’ve pinched it off Google Calendar, which seems to be getting a bit buggy at the moment. An extract from the rehearsal (naturally, I forgot to press ‘record’ when it came to the actual performance!) is available to listen to on the Spoken Word Antics Sound Archive.

Time Is Running Out! A performance of words and music

Text and Music, The Riverside Cafe Bar, Sheffield, 27 Oct 2009, 8–10pm

Ella Luk in rehearsalTime Is Running Out! is a new collaboration for Sheffield’s Off the Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading, mixing poetry by Robin Vaughan-Williams with the deep rhythms and ambient textures of the Ella Luk music project.

Time Is Running Out! follows two people on the run from the all-devouring trappings of modern life. As they are propelled through a world of home improvements, burgeoning inboxes, and work-related stress, their trajectories accelerate until one day their paths cross, and suddenly time expands.

Now based in Iceland, Robin spent 9 years in Sheffield where he ran Spoken Word Antics for five years, developed the Antics radio show, and organised a series of site-specific sound and poetry performances. More recently he started exploring collaborative poetry improvisation, and first worked with Ella Luk on the poetry-collage performances ‘Verbiage’ (2004) and ‘Demolition’ (2005).

Ella Luk is a solo project of Reykjavik based Andraya, the singer and bassist of ambient noisecore group L.Minygwal. For this performance she will be joined by Berlin instrumentalist Thomas (Arc Twin, L.Minygwal). Their music creates surreal stories and bizarre landscapes using lo-fi samples, voices, and unusual instrumentation.

Also appearing on the same night will be Linda Lee Welch performing Beyond Childhood with her band, Jackalope Tales. Beyond Childhood is a multi-media performance that was commissioned by Signposts for Off the Shelf in 2001. Linda Lee Welch has written a chronicle comprised of poetry, script and songs, which looks at growing up and the childhood memories we take with us into an adult world. She will read and sing, accompanied by Jackalope Tales.

Linda Lee Welch is a prize-winning poet, novelist and musician and a lecturer in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. As well as the novels ‘The Leader of the Swans’ (2003) and ‘The Artist of Eikando’ (2005), published by Virago, she has contributed to a number of poetry and short story collections and has performed regularly at Off the Shelf and other spoken word events in Sheffield.

This will be the second of two text and music nights; the first will take place a week earlier on 20 October, and will feature Bat Detector from Elizabeth Barrett and Robin Ireland, and a collaboration between Shelley Roche-Jacques and The Only Michael.

Organised by Signposts.

Ella Luk:
Off the Shelf:
Riverside Cafe Bar: