Open Book Festival and WordnSound with the British Council
Monday, October 13, 2014, 08:43 PM... As a bit of background, this invitation was part of the British Council’s 2015 arts programme called ‘Connect ZA’ that aims to build cultural connections between young people aged 18-35 in the UK and South Africa. The programme across the board includes opportunities for showcasing, collaboration, innovation and professional development with a number of events and projects throughout 2013-2015. You can see more on the blog:
I board an evening flight out of Heathrow to Cape Town, arriving on Sat 13th September.
Like a flying supermoron, I watch movies all the way.
Toni Stuart, curator of Poetica at Open Book and Frankie Murrey, random snack provider and festival organizer of Open Book, greet me with chocolate and smiles at the swanky Townhouse Hotel.
Frankie is chilled for an organiser of an multi-lingual, multi-genred international literary festival. She takes this picture in front of a book display that I think she might have built herself.
You can check out Open Book and the miracles they perform here:
Then we are off to the Central Library, to do a short, fun workshop with participants, before they take part in a Mothertongue slam, with ten slammers competing in Afrikaans, English and Xhosa.
Poet and human jewel, Toni Stuart, introducing the slam.
The judges are a poet, a writer and an academic and they give frankly honest feedback to the slammers - clearly in the business of building a proper spoken word scene, with discerning, demanding audiences.
I am by this stage flagging a bit so Frankie magics some almonds from her pocket. I do a poem about a crime-fighting dog.
The next day, Toni scoops up my sleep-recouped self from the Townhouse and she takes me sight-seeing with Pieter Odendaal and Adrian Van Wyck. Pieter and Adrian, part hip hop dudes, part elder statesmen of an enlightened cultural scene, part labrador puppies, all poetry collective Inzync.
We drive to the sea, watch fishermen feeding seals by mouth in the harbour, eat calamari and snoek on the sea wall, shop for souvenirs in the craft market, bask in the sun. We drive to the mountains, to a mosque, where we collect sage for smudging - many people in Cape Town practise this regular space-cleansing ceremony. I had come across it in Banff, Canada with the Black Foot First Nation people I met there for Storyverse and it jangles my mind in a dissonant, pleasing way that people here so far away do the same thing with the same wild herbs.
The best bit of the day is the discussions – about capitalism and artists, of race and gender, of the politics of language and race in spoken word. Also the idiotic banter.
Next day, I fly to Johannesburgh, to meet Thabiso ‘Afurakan’ Mohare, the crown prince of Johannesburg’s underground slam poetry and co-founder of ‘WordnSound’.
Click on the link to see more, really, it's eye-popping what they are doing, with little to zero budgets.
WordnSound is an entrepreneurial and dynamic Poetry Collective with an innovative digital strategy, courtesy of Thabiso and co-founder “Q’.
It has an unapologetically ambitious five and ten year plan to change the cultural landscape and make a spoken word sector that provides artists with a sustainable career outside of the cushion of Government funding and charitable income streams, largely by creating an audience of mobile phone users willing to pay for short sharp hits of spoken word on their smart phones. Power to them, we have so much to learn and love about this in the UK.
Thabiso and I spend Wednesday on a new British Council process called Walking the City – where we talk while walking the city, (or more accurately drive from place to place and then stand around in the city, talking for London and ‘Johustleburg’ as Thabiso calls it.
Thabiso and I record our spoken word thoughts into a field recorder for three hours straight, talking alluvially, ranging far and wide and taking in everything. The recording is currently being transcribed by some poor soul at the British Council in London and when I get the link, I will attach it here.
I love this Walking the City project, it’s a fascinating and fun way to connect with a city and with a community of poets and most of all, with my new bff Thabiso, prince of Poets - I hope that this translates in the outcome.
The next day, I run a workshop with the Word n Sound collective and then performe at the Wednesday night slot at Poetry Corner – great venue, great audience, the diversity of talent is fantastic, one of the best nights I’ve been to, the audience so connected and the sense of intimacy and happening right now, the relevance and the connectedness electric.
They play Erika Badu’s The Healer before they start and everyone in the bar is singing and swaying. The waiters bring food and drink around – people pay at the end on an honour system. Some of the performers sing, some perform to playback, some in Afrikaans.
Here are some lines that I manage to tap out on my phone, the night is full of golden seams, precious and shining...
‘'The synonym for sin also describes the shades of the vessel you live in,
This is my home'
'Throat armed with centuries of black pain,
Mouth firing black talons
This is Oscar Pistorious to the imaginary intruder'
To the rhythm and tunes of Sir Mixalot, 'I like big books and I cannot lie.... '
‘What happens to a mine when all the gold is gone?’
‘The most valuable thing to come out of a mine is a miner.’
I am sitting by the window, just up and in the gulfsteam of a steady supply of people smoking pot outside and so by the time I take the mic, I have been the recipient of the world’s most sustained blow-back.
At the end of the evening, I give a brief interview to camera with Jamal Edward’s SBTV charming, efficient and possibly still teenage camera crew. The wunderkind himself was not there, having been prevented from travel by a waterstained passport – once again, border control rocking the free world. I think the British Council and Border Control should officially brand and anti-twin themselves, to be the Superman and Lex Luthor of cultural exchange.
Thabiso drives me back to my hotel before he goes home to work on his day job, creating a huge digital campaign for one of Zozi’s biggest tv stations. Thjen he’ll be up in a couple of hours at 4am to deliver the press releases for the Word n Sound International Festival which opens next week.
Before I leave the next day, he comes back to my hotel where I introduce Thabiso via skype and email to Professor Chris Greenhalgh at the Mixed Reality Lab, Nottingham University so that they could prototype a new app that Chris had built within the upcoming WordnSound festival that was happening later that month – looking forwards to hearing how that went and what conclusions can be drawn.
I love Jozi, the tilting and sliding surface in the pockets of that place, the destabilised sense of a city that is simultaneously so friendly and also so zoned, walking around at night in Braamfontein, on my own, not being able to decipher the signals. I feel connected in a way that I didn't in Cape Town. The hustle on the streets much less emotionally stressful than Cape Town's natural beauty, gorgeous and appalling backdrop for the meth heads on Long Street. Plus, I have one of the best meals of my life in Joburg, rice and slow-cooked spiced fish stew from a shop around the corner from the Easy Hotel.
On Thursday, I fly back to Cape Town, straight from the airport to Stellenbosch, to a private boarding school so perfectly privileged that the airbrushed playing fields are a different green, the green of Brideshead Revisited or Dead Poets Society. Adrian and Pieter chaperone group of kids to take part in the launch of South Africa’s version of Poetry by Heart. It is strange and salutary to see Pieter and Adrian’s group of five nervous kids in an audience of children, the same age, clearly, painfully, a drastically different economic situation. One of the boarding school children actually performs ‘Oh Captain, my Captain.’ The Inzync kids kill it, they perform their own poetry, in their own languages, the whole hall erupting in applause.
The canapés are excellent as is the wine.
I share a fascinating and too short taxi-ride back to the centre of town with Tom Porter, who organized the Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi when he was 19 and now, a scant few years later, leads the Connect ZA programme. He flies to Johannesburg tomorrow but I’m glad to have met him and hope to do so again. I think he’s going to do some interesting stuff – watch that space.
On Friday, I return to the Fugard Theatre to run a 2 hour workshop with Cape Town poets, some of whom I’ve met before at the slam event, others new. Frankly, it feels too short, I’m too aged and long-winded and actually have too much to give now to feel happy about a 2 hour workshop. I want a whole day.
On the bright-side, I get the chance to meet up with Sophie Woolley one of my spoken word heroes, who lives in Cape Town now and Jacob Sam-La Rose, Sensei and digital word guru who is working with Toni Stuart on one of his genius projects. It is golden to see them and also to meet Jean, Sibongile and Owen from the British Council, who take us all to dinner to celebrate poetry and life with Adrian, Pieter and Toni.
On Saturday, six finalists battle it out for the title of Open Book Poetry Slam champion. I am one of three happily contentious judges, the slam is sold out and respectfully raucous – what was clear is that multi-lingual slams not only work but they make the whole business of slam that much more imaginative, exciting and palatable.
Multi-lingual slamming is an alternate, bettert reality of competition when contestants are battling in different cultures, wooing the audience in languages that are mysterious and partisan. I'm going to find slams in just one language stilited and two-dimensional from now on, that's how perfectly apt multi-lingual slams are. Let's have more.
At various points I am given cheesy snacks by Frankie Murrey and hang out at comic fest.
District 6, round the corner from Fugard Theatre and Open Book venues.
On Sunday morning, I get to see a couple of events, one about Xhosa poetry which I’m still thinking about. The ‘Bushmen’, the Koi, the first human language, their word for an individual is ‘a person of people.’ We are human because we are one of others.
I meet Mervyn Sloman, the other organizer of the festival. It is the last day of the festival. Him and Frankie must be running on fumes. They are delightful and witty and chilled.
Toni Stuart is also running on empty. As well as bringing all the elements of Poetica together with grace, she has been preparing to leave Cape Town for London, for six months. If you are London based, I recommend you look out for her, she’s wonderful.
I deliver an hour of spoken word and q and a and general hanging out with the audience. It’s a bit like a workshop and also a live art experience. The audience is awesome. It’s a total treat.
Then I get on a plane to London. When I get back to London, I send this to Mervyn and Frankie and I mean every word:
Subject: Thank you you Beautiful Humans
Thank you so much, so very very much for including me in the fabulocity that
is Open Book, I don't know how you did it, but it was spectacularly
ambitious and diverse and eclectic and genuinely inclusive of different
literary genres and also, certainly for it's scale, the most friendly and
intimate and relaxed literature festival I've ever appeared at. You made me
feel really welcomed and valued and I think you were like that with
everyone, a miraculous gift of warmth and charm and smarts.
It was a pleasure and a privilege, I am a life-long fan and will be telling
anyone who will listen to get themselves to Cape Town in September for a
May Cheesy delights be yours and also other things when you prefer,
If you've managed to get to here, thanks for the perseverance and apologies for the long-assed post, I know it's bad form and if you have any criticism, please give it to me on the feedback page.
To remind you who have come so far, thank you to ‘Connect ZA’ that aims to build cultural connections between young people aged 18-35 in the UK and South Africa, with opportunities for showcasing, collaboration, innovation and professional development with a number of events and projects throughout 2013-2015.
You can see more on the blog:http://connectza.tumblr.com/
Thank you so much to everybody at the British Council, particularly Sibongile Musundwa, Tom Porter and Jean September in South Africa and Sophie Wardell and Owen Martin in London.
Great schools, good teachers, bad systems.
Sunday, June 22, 2014, 03:37 PM
This Wednesday, I'm going to Queens Park Community School for the launch of the anthology that celebrates the two terms I spent there as the First Story writer in residence.
If you don't know First Story's work, check them out here: http://www.firststory.org.uk/
They do wonderful, important work, it's been a joy to work with them and I'm hoping to do it again.
As for QPCS, I took over the residency from my good friend Ben Faccini, who was there from 2008 to 2012. Frankly, it was annoying to have to follow in his footsteps because he's much nicer than me, a brilliant facilitator and everybody adores him in general and at QPCS in particular. Ugh. However, the teachers I worked with, Leo Hardt and Alison Hook, were not only exceptional but also really warm and welcoming and the enthusiasm and openness of the creative writing students of Queen’s Park Community School made every visit a pleasure. Which is not always the case.
Over the course of two terms, a visitor gets numerous opportunities to see behind the facade of an institution. In my experience, Queens Park is a genuinely exceptional school, filled with genuinely exceptional students, teachers and staff. I wish more schools could be more like QPCS, run along the model of trusting teachers to do their jobs well without micro-managing them or burying their enthusiasm under punitive box ticking.
I have a personal and passionate hatred for the way that state education is going in this country. My 9 year old was recently told that if she didn't fill in her reading record, the reading didn't count. Added to that, her reading focus was to 'Learn to evaluate a text quickly and efficiently for it's value.'
What the nonsensical, counter-productive fuck? I filled in her reading record alright. All the blank pages were covered with words to learn and reading focuses, plus some quotes from recent Children's Laureates. Although there was not any actual swearing, It got confiscated by her class teacher, presumably, before it could find it's way outside of his classroom. I think he threw himself on it like an unexploded grenade. After an informal chat with Mr B, (who my kid loves as he seems to actually like kids/is not on a personal mission to take away their outside play time) my kid no longer has to fill out her reading record. She loves reading, it's one of her favourite things.
So, QPCS - a great school, offering art, sports, drama, philosophy, freedom and support to think. It has been a sincere pleasure and privilege to follow up on Ben’s work, to collaborate so closely with Leo and Alison and, most of all, to engage weekly with the young writers of QPCS, to share their imaginative worlds and be part of the risks that they take, the discoveries they make, through creative writing, about themselves and each other, their shared and their inner worlds.
The title, ‘Who Here?’, comes from a game we played at the beginning of most sessions – a kind of musical chairs, where the person left standing in the centre gets to ask the group a ‘yes/no’ question. If your answer to the question is ‘yes’, you must stand up and try to change place with the other weirdos just like you. We soon learnt that it was not just OK, it was actually fun, to be the one left standing, the odd one out, the one who asks the questions.
extract from Who Here?
The QPCS Writers Collective
Has carried out a sun dance in the pouring rain?
Turned their room into a fort with bedsheet walls?
Who here has looked at a sunset and started to cry for no reason?
Who here has no idea what's going on?
Who here has never ever tasted sushi but says it’s disgusting?
Who here feels like a DJ when they turn up the volume on the speakers?
Tricked their sibling into believing you could read their mind?
Held a funeral for a pet that had died?
Who here wants an island all to themselves when they are older?
Who here wishes they could breathe underwater?
Has a plan in their head of what to do if they get kidnapped?
Who here has woken up in bed with a book pressed against their face?
Clissold Leisure Centre: Best Residency Ever
Sunday, June 22, 2014, 02:56 PMAs part of SPOKE*, I was poet in residence at Clissold Leisure Centre through October and November 2013.
Sometimes as a writer in a public space, it's a challenge to engage the public.
‘Hello, I’m a poet’, is not always a winning conversational opener. And it can be tricky to negotiate how to work as a writer within an organization, there’s internal politics and sometimes staff don’t know what you are there for and everyone’s super busy with their day-to-day responsibilities. There’s a risk that you act like a spare part, a spanner dropped into the works. Not at Clissold Leisure Centre. Dudes, it was a dream job.
From the start, Martin, the manager, my contact there, was really relaxed and friendly, supportive of the residency and also flexible and open to ideas, a pretty perfect combination. All the staff I spoke to were really different and themselves and yet, they were uniformly open and good humoured. Nothing seemed to be more than anyone’s job was worth, in fact, everyone was up for a chat and even, a laugh. Amazing.
My first day, Jayden on the front desk made me a badge with my name and Poet in Residence sticky labeled onto it. On Sunday, his identical twin, Ryan booked me into a pilates class, even though I called him Jayden and told him to stop messing with my mind.
My plan for the residency was to introduce myself to a cross-section of the people who use or work in the Centre and to either work with them to write a piece or to write a piece inspired by what they shared with me. By doing this with 10 - 15 people, I wanted to create a poetic collage that showed the spirit and reality of the building.
Apples and Snakes arranged for three emerging artists to shadow me during the residency, Ehsan Khan, Temi Lateef and Rachel Long, all very different in style, all brilliant at engaging with people. They were commissioned to write a new piece which they would perform as part of the final Splash event in November. As well as working on their own commissions, they also spent time talking, listening and writing with staff and public at CLC.
As a celebration of the residency, Apples and Snakes programmed an event in the pool, with John Hegley, Lemn Sissay and myself, plus the shadow poets who were working alongside me and the staff and public with whom we’d been writing.
The event was nuts, in a great way. Lemn performed across the Olympic-sized swimming pool, without a microphone, seated in the lifeguard chair. It was electric, to hear his voice straining over the sounds of the water, wanting to be heard, the words became particles, waves, meaning and intention. John, as warm and witty as ever, came down with his dear friend Andrew Bailey, because John and Andrew are local and often meet for a swim at Clissold Leisure Centre. Andrew performed with a yellow glove on his head, like a giant gold coxcomb. Martin made a lovely speech.
I’m pasting some of the poems I performed at that event, co-written in collaboration with the people from Clissold Leisure Centre.
Jayden at the front desk and his twin brother Ryan were for me an instant mood lifter. Everytime I walked through the revolving doors and saw them on the front desk, I felt happy. In fact, imagine Pharrell Williams but younger, taller, often standing next to himself and from Stoke Newington - you’re pretty close to Jayden and Ryan.
Poem for Jayden.
In the weight room, I see mirrors,
I see myself.
I know if I train, I am fitter.
I know if I run, I become stronger.
I know when I reach my goals,
I'll set myself a new challenge.
In the past, I've known how it is to feel small.
At school, the girls used to chase me round
And not in a good way.
At school, I never leant to swim.
At school, I learnt to be a joker,
Make the other kids laugh in class.
In the playground, I was a wheeler dealer,
Bought 4 cola cans from the pound shop,
Sold them for 50p each.
At school in Stoke Newington,
You get to know about different cultures,
I learnt that everyone is on a different path.
Here at Clissold Park Leisure Centre,
I see balance, strength, discipline.
On the front desk,
I know that to send a smile is to receive one.
I see people come from different places,
Are going through different challenges.
I know that sometimes it just helps to smile.
At home, I know how to wake up in the morning and smile for no reason,
I know that sometimes everything feels right.
In myself, I know what it is to feel alive.
Conversation with Sena on the Front Desk
The Worst Thing About My Job?
People pour in on Saturday and Sunday mornings,
Couples with matching towels and smiles,
Dad holding a baby in arm bands,
Kids with noodles and goggles and giggles.
Everyone excited and happy for their swim.
And I have to tell them that the pool is full.
Then their faces fall.
They come in all jiggy - now they're gonna have to wait.
And I am the cause of this, the mean gatekeeper,
Horrible troll, personally preventing them from their goal.
- What do you mean, the pool is full? -
- How long do I have to wait? -
-How long is not long? -
- Have you checked? -
- Can you check again? -
- Mummy, Daddy, why? -
Every time the gate opens, they look up,
Hopeful, glum, angry,
And I want to say,
Please don't glare,
If I had my way,
You'd be in and swimming, believe me.
Some are patient, they are the good ones.
Of course, they all get in, angry or polite.
They come out relaxed and smiling.
Oh, now you want to be friends?
I just smile back.
I feel for them, but I don't really get it,
I never learnt to swim.
Now, if it was a beach, I'd understand,
And it would be proper sunny,
30 degrees, ice cream van,
White sand, like getting a pedicure for free,
Sea gulls wheeling,
Warm blue sky like chocolate muffins,
So delicious you just want to eat up the air.
The beach at Clissold Leisure Centre,
If it was a beach, there'd be room for everyone,
The whole of Clissold Park.
(For Cassie and all the Life-guards at Clissold Leisure Centre)
Seabirds on the high rocks,
Heads tilting back and forth,
Sentinels in red aertex,
Some have shoes, some not.
They work in 90 minute blocks
Eyes scanning the crinkled water,
Surveying, ceaselessly splashing surfaces,
Seeing through the random patterns of noise
To clock the octogenarian’s stoic crawl,
The whippet tweens, trembling on edges,
Protein-thick hulks, powering down narrow lanes,
Puff-cheeked six year olds, eyes closed, mouths gasping
Puppy-limbs churning furiously beneath.
The life-guards watch this all unfold,
Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day,
Week by week, patiently patient.
Rapt by accidents waiting to happen,
How do they keep their heart-beat steady,
Hopeful, placid, calmly answering the customer queries.
What time does the pool close?
Where are the toilets?
Can I have a plaster?
Will you watch out for my son, my daughter?
Meanwhile, always alert for that stitch unpicking
At the farthest edge of vision,
Like Icaurus in that picture,
The figure falling unseen by everyone else.
They are artists creating non-events,
They make for no disaster.
They are the sea-wall,
The blent-in net around rocks,
The bell that no-one tolls,
Touch wood, thank God.
Mariann likes working as a cleaner at Clissold Leisure Centre, not least because her boyfriend works there too.
Conversation with Mariann
My name is Mariann Schibalitz
I am from Hungaria.
We say Magyarorsza,
Country of the people who speak Magyar.
I came to London last Februa'r
It was raining all the time.
Sokat Esik as esô
I work here as a cleaner
I so like it here,
My boyfriend works here too
The staff are friendly,
Kind and helpful.
That's the best thing about my job.
The worst - I don't speak good English.
When someone asks me something I don't understand
I feel stressed, szörnyü e'rze's,
My head is a rubbish bin tipped all over the floor.
People look at me disappointed,
And I walk away and I wish I could say
"I'm sorry, I wish I could answer your question,
I wish I could help you,
I want to understand you.
I like to ask you questions -
How long have you lived in London?
Where does your family come from?
Do you speak other languages?
This country is so big - az orszàg nagyan nagy,
This city is so so fast - a va'ros gyors.
When I was five, I had a chocolate birthday cake
On the dining table with an orange cloth,
I felt scared and happy,
Anya apa, növe'r basa'tok,
My mother, father, sister, neighbours were there.
My favourite food is fruit -
Bananas, apples, köeö - those small green balls,
I like to wear black clothes because it's more slimming,
But I like all the colours,
When I was little,
I used to like singing,
I still sing sometimes, when there's no-one around.
Conversation with Tim Prendergast, Paralympic Gold Medalist
I met Gold and Silver medal winning ParaOlympian runner Tim Prendergast, originally from New Zealand, when he came to talk to the school groups as part of Sports Inclusion Week. In training for the 2012 ParaOlympics, he made a super-awesome greatest ever 10000 song playlist to run to, which he shared with me, just one of the unexpected joys of this residency.
If I could turn time back,
I’d be clocking nine to five in Wellington.
From adversity came opportunity,
Losing my sight as a young kid
Opened my eyes to the world,
I've run past the Acropolis,
The Opera House,
The Emperor's Gates.
When I run, my mind paints pictures,
I tune in to other senses.
On my morning run through London,
Birds locate the trees,
My feet draw the long line of the path below,
Stretching through the park
Along the wet shine of canal.
The smell of dough opens out the sky
Above the biscuit factory.
The stench of urine hollows out the underpass.
Slowly fading peppermint gum
Spells out the distance come, the distance run.
I am beads of sweat, a heart beat,
Feet impacting on the concrete.
My breathing, steady.
Limitless fallible companion.
My body, my journey.
During my residency, as part of Hackney School Sports Championships, schoolchildren of all abilities came together to take part in the country’s biggest inclusive school sports competition organised by Hackney Learning Trust and to receive coaching from outstanding sportspeople such as Paralympian Tim Prendergast.
Stormont School helps me with the things that are hard.
I forget, sometimes, a lot.
I like it here at Clissold Leisure Centre.
I like playing wheelchair basketball.
Rolling, wheeling, spinning, turning.
The ball bouncing on the floor is a heartbeat.
Shooting, scoring, shouting, cheering.
Feels like relief, like a great big YES!
Making friends, meeting people.
Feeling exhausted in the hands and in the head.
The best part of the day – it makes me sleep better.
It is lunch time in the sports hall.
The Seabright Children's Centre Under Fives Group
Has painted the tips of their noses with strawberry yoghurt
To look like rabbits.
Everyone is sitting on their bottoms,
Ready to do good listening.
‘Do you like sport?'
I ask them
'I don't know what is sports,'
They declare, triumphant.
‘Is sandwiches sport?’ – ‘No!’
‘Is rain sports?’ – ‘No!’
‘Is brushing your hair sports?’ – ‘No!’
‘Are kittens sports?’ – ‘Nooooo!’
Running is sports, hopping is sports, jumping is sports,
Egg and spoon is sports!
Axel loves bouncing on the trampoline.
Mafalda's best part of the day
Is that she has a baby brother Hector.
Her job is nursery.
Liv had a bouncy castle with a dinosaur on Charlie's birthday.
When Liv is grown up, she'll eat tomatoes later.
It is time to go back to Seabright on the special coach.
They are robed like miniature racing shepherds
At a secular nativity,
In adult sized white tee-shirts,
With numbers pinned on chests and backs.
They walk in a conga with hands on the shoulders of the one in front.
Goodbye Luca, goodbye Luca G,
Goodbye Mafalda and Axel, Vincent and Liv,
Thank you for your good listening
And for my good listening.
From conversation with Roberta Desselvi, Yoga and Pilates facilitator.
This is a gift -
Life is about learning
My reason for being here
Life is about helping
Healing, being open
The deepest things are simple
Openness will take you far
People spend time searching
These simple acts
I can help them find
Life is a dance
Life is a gift
To give, to receive
This is a gift -
Conversation with Iyengar Instructor Rowan Ikasaya
Presentness could be stillness
Presentness could be moving
Presentness could be breath
Breathing could be prana
Drawing in energy
Breathing could be life
Breathing’s a cloud, blown by the wind
Breathing’s a wave, rolling under the sand
Breathing is the out again in again flow of the tide
Mirroring nature, the body, fire, air, water
Breathing is incense, eucalyptus, lavender
Breathing is presentness, rhythm and flow
Flow is a wave-like figure of eight
Folding, unfurling, opening out
Presentness is flow, is stillness, is play
Play is light, is openness, life
Stillness is listening
Stillness is ohm
Stillness is balancing
Emin, 6 years old CLC Oct 2013
I like the running machine.
When it goes faster, you have to run so fast.
If it goes too fast, you go inside it's mouth and it swallows you up.
Then you be the running thing too.
I have a gold robot shark.
It swims by itself,
It doesn't do anything but swim
And that's what I want it to do.
I can do flips, six in a row.
I want to get good at flying in the water,
My arms moving like wings.
I met mother Susannah and three year old Isabel while they were waiting for Isabel’s second ever swimming lesson. We scribbled on paper and told a story together. When it was time for the swimming lesson, Isabel strated crying so her mum had to promise to do more poetry after the swimming, for which I felt bad but also great.
The water’s secret ssshhhh.
In the night-time, it runs away.
Isabel and Susannah are waiting for Isabel's second swimming lesson.
Isabel will be 4 in July.
She loves stories, all stories, especially stories with sad endings.
She also likes stories with sad middles. And sad beginnings.
Together, we tell ourselves the story of Esmeralda, Arabella Isabella, an orphan in the swerves of London, bullied by giant rats.
She escapes by swimming down the Thames, to the countryside where the sky is blue and the sky is green.
She meets the water babies, they become her family and they take care of each other.
Then the time comes that she has to go back to London to be human.
They have to say goodbye.
It is very sad.
Isabel goes on alone into London, all alone.
She sings this song to calm herself:
‘The water has lines like the legs of a cat.
‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ is the song of the water.
The secret of the water is it might run away.
Relaxing happy water, it smells like pink pens.
With love and thanks to The Legacy List, Apples and Snakes, Martin Young and all the wonderful staff and members of Clissold Leisure Centre.
*SPOKE is a new visionary poetry and spoken word programme that offers people in East London an opportunity to watch, perform and develop careers in spoken word and performance poetry in and around the newly re-opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The Special Relationship, May 14th 2013
Monday, May 13, 2013, 02:54 PM
The Special Relationship returns with a word fix from our all-star lineup:
Matt Haig - Award-winning novelist and outer-space thinker
Francesca Beard - International performance poet and spoken-word sensation
Matthew Spektor - Columnist, writer and diviner of the Tinsletown subconscious.
Joanna Rossiter - Debut novelist weaving tales of the land and the sea
With new stories from our regular readers, Jarred McGinnis and Sam Taradash, and hosted by the inimitable Guy Caradog Morgan, London’s literary polymath is back.
Tickets £5 at the door, or available from wegottickets.com/event/217206
The Book Club
100 Leonard Street, EC2A 4RH London,
Houses of Parliament, Represent, Kids Company
Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:36 PMI performed last month at the Houses of Parliament for an Apples and Snakes/Freeword collaborative project called 'Represent'.
Me, Beyonder and Steve Tasane worked with Index on Censorship young people's theatre group, TripWires to run creative writing workshops with young people around the UK. We sent our words to Inua Ellams, who turned them into a beautiful and funny poem film. The film was shown at an event in Westminster Hall along with performances by me, Steve, Beyonder and a poetry collective from Kids Company.
It was inspiring to work with the KidsCompany group. I keep looking for excuses and or funding to work with them again, but that's another story. Anyway, on this particular night, I knew that they were going to bring it. Their creative energy is brave and pure and true. It made me want to write and perform something new and particular for the event.
I started writing a poem about libraries and it turned into an acapella folk song.
There will be a moment when I unleash this on the public, but that moment hasn't yet come. Also, I knew Steve was going to do his wonderful piece 'Save the Libraries'.
So then I started writing a piece called 'On Explaining Black History Month to the Aliens', but it turned out to be a 3 minute silent performance art piece.
It was a mime. 3 minutes is actually quite long for a mime.
So then, I wrote the poem 'No-one Knows How Beautiful You Are'.
It's posted in the entry below.
I decided to perform that one, the most poem-ey one, the one not involving mime or singing, which be fair, aren't what I'm known for and maybe that's telling. Discretion, valour, blah.
I've never been in the Houses of Parliament before. It was actually amazing to be surrounded by the concreteness of the historical evolutionary achievement of universal sufferage. To be in the structural embodiment of democratic process.
And my seven year old self geeked out at all the dinky statues of the Kings and Queens, dolled up in their different costumes and crowns, each displayed in individual cabinets on the marble walls.
And I marvelled at the blinged out story-telling of the national Saints George, Andrew, Patrick and David in the central lobby.
Also a moment of click - how a poem about disillusioned and angry students in Khartoum equally represents the attitude to democracy of young people in the UK.
I'm posting some of the KidsCompany poems below, with permission.
"We are the sons, daughters and descendents of fallen soldiers
Since birth we’ve felt trapped under infinite boulders
Children born into a wealthy country
But still were stuck being raised in poverty
We are the generation that will probably never own our own property
So paying extortionate rent is an inevitability
There’s a so-called housing crisis
Apparently there aren’t enough so the prices are sky high
But there are thousands of discarded houses
We are the victims of our own stereotypes
Not all of us are out on road trying to earn stripes
Neither are we all petty thieves stealing to buy commercialised footwear
We are the voices of the voiceless
Yeah a lot of us walk around staring people out so hard they think were soulless
You see since the starting ages of puberty we’ve been convinced were useless
And then you wonder why some of us go round leaving people toothless
We try to keep our heads up but everyone has a limit for how much their mental wellbeing can take
Like a machine, put too much pressure on a part it will break
We’re the new wave of life, that’ll eventually bring to light your foolish mistakes "
"We are bright like the glistening stars, although we lack the courage and confidence to speak up, we are like insects stuck in a cocoon, afraid to break out
We strive for perfection and want to right all the wrongs of the elder generation
We are excellent, unique and wonderful in so many ways, able to make the impossible possible
We are successful, if only we were all given the chance to show off our skills
We are not all useless, lazy, relying on others to find a means in life.
We are not stupid, we see what's going on in society and how a blind eye is sometimes seen as more attractive than finding a solution
We are not weak or scared to voice our opinions if given a chance
We possess unbelievable talents, beyond measure, which have note been acknowledged in society
We shall be victorious in years to come
"We are the future of today, we are the future of tomorrow, with all this sorrow scattered in the street, we’re still trying to achieve
With all the guns and crime, violence, pain and torture, we still hold our head up high
We are the youths who wear hoods to hide our fears.
The tears of our suffering
We are the young mums pushing prams, pregnancy spread like venom and is seen as the only way of to get a roof.
We are the students who work hard as the fees rise higher than the sky
We are not hooligans
We are mis-understood, confused and bruised. We are not fools, we know what’s going on.
What’s going on when there’s beggars on the street asking for a pound or two in a city of wealth,
What’s going on when we see adverts to send money to Africa
Yet We’d rather adopt a dog.
Black, white, we want equality
Brown and grey the colour of poverty.
Green and yellow prices should be cut down like the trees in the amazon.
We need a hand, we’re tired of getting pushed in the sand,
We need a home, we’re tired of being alone
We need our education, we need to be valued,
We need to achieve".
We are young, we learn
From the footsteps of our seniors
To guide us, to teach us, to condition our minds
And possibly one day to promote us to the next generation
As inspiring leaders, please don’t give up on us
Even though opportunities turn to rubble around us
Leaving us with life and little other options,
We shall adapt slowly to them, and form our own.
Each new generation brings a new set of uncontrollable talents
Being wasted like left over food.
Seems like many communities are destroyed every year
For new car parks
With nowhere to play, the young ones rush to the streets
Like a tidal wave to the cliff
Passing in and out of traffic
Like a thread threading to various fabrics
Give us back our communities, and together, we’ll all give birth to a seed called unity."
With a shout-out to Monique, whose poem isn't up here yet but was blazing brilliant so please send it and thanks to Leo and Amberley who run the Kids Company poetry collective, outside of funding, because they give a *u*k.