Wild Awake In Winter

2018 is, I hope, the year of TWO retreats. I spent the last week in January at Dhanakosa, marking my tenth annual retreat, enjoying snow, writing poems, and collecting footage for this filmpoem inspired by our discussions on environmental activism.

If you’re considering a retreat and would like to learn more about meditation or Buddhism, I really recommend Dhanakosa. They have wonderful week-long retreats throughout the year for beginners, and the meditation is always partnered with a sympathetic activity like yoga, writing, painting, photography or even hillwalking. Prices are also on a dana basis – you pay what you can. Go; you won’t regret it.

Speak up, larches.

Now the wind has gone

you have stopped your roaring song.

Instead, you watch the buzzard

trace gentle circles in the air.

And now you hold your arms out

to catch the chaffinches, and the rain.

Fiddling on with film

Hey hey, how’s it going?

I have a new filmpoem for you to look at – it’s VERY amateurish, hooray. I filmed my shadow at Hartlepool station when waiting for a train one morning. (Pretty soon I’m going to have a collection of work entirely created at Hartlepool station while waiting for trains). There are two soundtracks overlaid; one is a free download of wind chimes, the other is my annoying voice being much more boring-intoning-typical-poet than I’d like. Anyhoo, give it a look if you’d like 🙂

Even Though I Looked, Even Though I Listened

Oh, and the poem itself was written in response to work by Louise Bourgeois, during a workshop led by the rather super Lisa Matthews.


How do you solve a problem like Imelda?

2013-02-23 16.41.36.jpgImelda is my alter-ego. She’s the troll under my Bridge of Sanity, she’s a mostly-dormant sub-routine, she’s development so arrested she has a rap-sheet. Little id-dy creature, she is not me. Except when she rises up from the depths like Godzilla, and eats me whole, with her slappable stupidity in matters of the heart.

She gets her own slot in the new show, because compassion starts at home, and the trouble with that is – who here really likes all of themself? But I don’t want to ‘be’ her when I perform, so I plan to hide under the table while I play a film of her poem. Luckily, I know a very talented film-maker. Laura Degnan and I will be spending a couple of days this month out and about in Hartlepool and beyond, making two of my poems into films for the show. In preparation for this I have bought the following items: a ‘High School Sweeheart’ curly wig in strawberry blonde, a vastly oversized pink floral nightdress, a vastly oversized fleece cape with a sleeping-cat-head hoodie bit, and an enormous chocolate cake. Now, doesn’t that make you want to see the show?!!

After she has her moment in the spotlight, I will be asking the audience for words of kindness. In my opinion, what she needs is not tea-and-sympathy kindness, but some tough love, a little bit like these wonderful words of advice to wibbling narcissists everywhere. As one respondent to my teensy survey has said, when asked about kindness received in their life:

“Several good souls over the years have pointed out and guided me towards the truth of certain key situations in my life. Telling the truth hurts a little (like when you give blood and the staff say “Sharp Scratch!) but it’s best to hear it. Then you can make informed choices, take ownership of your life.”

The Trouble With Compassion will have its first outing as part of Crossing the Tees literature festival, with dates at Hartlepool Library, ARC Stockton, and Middlesbrough’s Rainbow Library.

Filmpoems : Poemfilms

So I was rejected recently. Nothing new there. Got knocked back by Verb New Voices, who didn’t think much of a proposal featuring filmpoems. I don’t care, I love filmpoems, so here’s a couple of new ones for you. Please contact me if you’re available to re-record the voiceovers, I loathe the sound of my adenoidal toddler-voice.

This one written from a 52 prompt…

This one written from a Buddhist text…

Plus of course, the inevitable sweary rant that is Primavera, recently screened at Stage 2 of Northern Stage!!! Hahahahahaha.

Blog-hopping across the universe…

I have been tagged in a big ol’ blog-hop intended to plug you, my readers, into a vast galaxy of writers writing about writing. I was tagged by this lady:

Valerie Laws#8 (2)Valerie Laws (www.valerielaws.com) is a crime novelist, poet, playwright and sci-art installation specialist. Of her thirteen published books, 4 are currently available as ebooks. A mathematics/physics graduate, she devises new poetic forms and science-themed poetry installations and commissions including the infamous Arts Council–funded Quantum Sheep, spray-painting haiku onto live sheep to celebrate quantum theory. Much of her recent work arises from funded residencies with pathologists, neuroscientists, human specimens and dissections. Another quantum haiku on inflated beachballs in Hackney Lido featured in BBC2’s Why Poetry Matters with Griff Rhys Jones, and live at Royal Festival Hall, London, and her installations have toured all over Europe. She performs worldwide live and in the media.  Her many prizes and awards include a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and two Northern Writers’ Awards.  She is disabled and lives on the North East coast of England.

And here’s my answers to the questions on everyone’s lips….

1. What am I writing?

As usual, several things at once. I am one of a vast array of poets who have been commissioned to “respond creatively” to the Bloodaxe Archive, a collection of manuscripts, correspondence and ephemera recently donated by Bloodaxe Press to Newcastle University. The brief has proved dauntingly open, so I have several ideas in various stages of (in)completion – a selection of fragmentary documents from a lost archive of a dream nation; a performance poem about Tony Harrison, obscenity and the objectification of women; a sci-fi dialogue between a digital archive interface and a memory-user; and a text-based visual print. Typically, it is the two pieces featuring foul language that have made it almost all the way through to the submission deadline on Tuesday.

I am also editing a short series of poems written for a local WW1 project, which are due to be anthologised in December. I’m also both editing, writing and re-writing around 35 poems for a second-round submission to Burning Eye Press, in the hopes that they may decide to publish my first full collection next year. In and around that I’m trying to write short ekphratic pieces responding to art exhibitions I’ve attended recently (especially Louise Bourgeois), and I’m also testing out some review-writing skills by blogging about spoken word shows I’ve seen at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. I will soon be writing theatre reviews in a semi-professional capacity for the North East Artist Development Network, so I’m trying to keep high-minded whilst in actual fact I am mostly doing short humourous Facebook reviews of Ryan Gosling movies.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Bloody Nora, that’s an intense question, presupposing I have a much wider knowledge of my contemporaries than I actually do. On stage I think I’m characterised by musicality of language and delivery. I was described by Sabotage Reviews as having an “intense lyrical talent”, which is nice. Thematically, I’m more Buddh-ish than many out there. On the page I think I still have a long way to go if I’m to establish a really unique voice. My recurrent struggle seems to be to write something that doesn’t bore and infuriate me with its polite striving to be another frigging poem. I’ve also recently developed a delight in shifting randomly from male to female pronouns – I think I may be interested in constructed gender identities and their relationship to sexuality. Possibly.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Poetry is my natural gait, I can’t help the way I walk.

4. How does my writing process work?

Commissions aside, I usually write because an event, feeling or encounter has struck a note inside me and then another completely unrelated moment has come along and resonated with it. Sometimes the two notes are struck many years apart, but once they are ringing together then arcs of connective meaning spark out between them and a poem grows. When all goes well, the poem knows exactly what form it needs to take and I just follow it, praying I have the stamina to keep up.

I always have multiple drafts, I’m a fanatical believer in editing, and much of my editing is done through reading aloud whilst walking on the beach near my house. This usually means that once a poem is finished, I have learned it by heart and can go on to perform it on stage.

And my recommendations for your blog-reading pleasure are as follows:

James McKay – seen here performing at Other Voices, snapped by Fay Roberts.

james at other voicesPoet, traveller and classicist James McKay has been standing up and speaking in rooms, and helping others to do so, since the turn of the millennium: initially as part of Newcastle’s Home Cooking night; in recent years as a key team member and performer at Utter! Spoken Word events in and around London.

His vintage poetry-speaking show The New Popular Reciter was a late-night cult hit at the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh 2013, and will reappear in 2015 in a version directed by Matt Panesh (aka Monkey Poet).

Along the way, his poems and performances have appeared on the poetry-and-prog-rock album Follow On by The Morris Quinlan Experience (Round and Round Records, 2007), in his first published collection Quiet Circus (Vintage Poison Press, 2011), and at a bewildering variety of cafes, churches, small magazines, warehouse parties, weddings and miscellaneous spoken word events.

James has a wonderful blog in which he posts all manner of poems, interesting reading recommendations and travel tales – http://www.mckaypoetry.com/