Forthcoming Literature and Spoken Word Events in Leicester

Some events take a break over the summer months, but Leicester’s as busy as ever. Here’s a list of events I know about taking place during August and September:

Jazz-inspired poetry at Leicester Central Library to celebrate what would have been Ella Fitzgeralds 100th birthday

 

1 August – deadline for letting me know if you’d like to take part in the Ella @ 100 Leicester Writers’ Showcase event at Central Library on 18 October 2017. If I don’t know you want to take part, you won’t get included in the programme (I don’t do telepathy). We’re looking for jazz-inspired poetry and spoken word which doesn’t have to be exclusively about Ella Fitzgerald.

 

 

 

 

 

1 August
8pm Word! Y Theatre, 7 East Street, Leicester LE1 6EY £4/7
Featuring Kayo Chingonyi with support from The Bradgate Writers. If you wish to put your name down for the open mic sessions, arrive at 7pm.

3 August
7pm Leicester Writers’ Club Summer Open Evening, Phoenix Square, 4 Midland Street, Leicester LE1 1TG £3
Leicester Writers’ Club’s Summer Open Evenings offer guests a taster of how the Club works, chance to meet current Club members and decide whether the Club is right for you. The Club offers constructive and professional feedback on works-in-progress, opportunities to discuss markets, writing tips and news all with a friendly group of professional and semi-professional writers. More details on Leicester Writers’ Club’s Summer Open Evenings click here.

9 August
6.30pm Leicester Writers’ Showcase Central Library, Bishop Street, Leicester. Free Entry.

10 August
7pm Leicester Writers’ Club Summer Open Evening, Phoenix Square, 4 Midland Street, Leicester LE1 1TG £3

17 August
7pm Leicester Writers’ Club Summer Open Evening, Phoenix Square, 4 Midland Street, Leicester LE1 1TG £3

24 August
7pm Leicester Writers’ Club Summer Open Evening, Phoenix Square, 4 Midland Street, Leicester LE1 1TG £3

31 August
7pm Leicester Writers’ Club Summer Open Evening, Phoenix Square, 4 Midland Street, Leicester LE1 1TG £3 Last Summer Open Evening. Leicester Writers’ Club meetings in September are for members only.

[Both Leicester Writes and the South Leicestershire Poetry Stanza do take a break in August only].

5 September
10am Leicester Writes, Bru Cafe and Gelato, 24 Granby Street, Leicester
Friendly open meeting for writers to discuss work and share tips.

8pm Word! Y Theatre, 7 East Street, Leicester LE1 6EY
Featuring Caroline Bird with support from Cynthia Rodriguez. If you wish to put your name down for the open mic sessions, arrive at 7pm.

12 September
6.30pm Novel Exchanges, The Exchange, Rutland Street, Leicester
Hear readings and discuss works-in-progress.

16 September
2pm South Leicestershire Poetry Stanza, Old Grammar School, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
Informal poetry workshop – bring copies of a poem to discuss. Small charge to cover room hire.

20 September
6.30pm Leicester Writers’ Showcase, Central Library, Bishop Street, Leicester. Free Entry.

25 September
7.30pm Shindig! Western Pub, Western Road, Leicester LE3 0GA
Free entry. Perfomers tba. Open mic slots available – names taken on the night. Organisers Nine Arches Press and Leicester University’s Centre for New Writing/Crystal Clear Creators.

30 September – Start of the Everybody’s Reading Festival – look out for brochures for a week-long series of events celebrating and developing reading.

7pm Journeys in Translation African Caribbean Centre, Maidstone Road, Leicester LE2 0UA. Free Entry.
Journeys in Translation builds on the success of the Journeys Poem Pop-up Library held during 2016’s Everybody’s Reading. Thirteen poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) have been translated into twenty other languages, Arabic, Assamese, Bengali, British Sign Language (BSL), Chinese, Danish, Farsi, Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Shona, Spanish, Turkish, Welsh (each poem has been translated into at least one other language and most poems have been translated into more than one other language although not all poems have been translated into each of the 20 languages listed). Journeys in Translation will host readings of the original poems in English and in translations with displays of posters showing the original poems alongside translations and will be held on International Translation Day.


Institute of Physics Flash Fiction and Poetry Competitions

If you can write a piece of flash fiction and/or a poem of up to 500 words about physics or featuring a physicist by 31 October, have a go a these free to enter competitions.

You can enter 1 piece of flash fiction and/or 1 poem but you cannot enter either competition more than once. Cash prizes of £100, £75 and £50 for each competition.

  • Entries should be sent as a Word or .pdf attachment with no identifying details (entries will be judged anonymously) to writingcompetition2017 [at] iop.org.
  • Please include your contact details and title of entry in the body of your email.
  • Please use the subject heading IOP Physics in Flash Fiction Competition 2017 or IOP Physics in Poetry Competition 2017 as appropriate.
  • Entries must be original, unpublished and should not be extracts from longer works.
  • Writers retain copyright and the Institute of Physics reserves the right to publish entries or extracts from entries for publicity purposes.
  • Entries are not restricted to Leicestershire residents.
  • Enquiries about the competition should be emailed to the address above.

 

“Holding Unfailing” Edward Ragg (Cinnamon Press) – poetry review

holding_unfailing“Holding Unfailing” is the second collection from Edward Ragg. Stylistically, it takes a similar approach to his first collection, “A Force that Takes”, in its use of short lines and stanzas, which leave space on the page for a reader to absorb and interpret what’s being said. An Englishman now settled in Beijing, it’s unsurprising that many poems explore travel and arrival. “From Our Own Correspondent” places itself “where light-skinned city folk// brush obliviously/ past dark-skinned arrivals”

“A new dance writes
its marks upon

the kaleidoscopic lights
of midnight floors

where youth moves
on bubbles and adrenalin.

The sleek high-speed train
touches 300 kilometres per hour

rushing obliviously
past channels of lore and algae.

That we may each move
upon the earth and leave

such marks with ease
and be forgotten.”

The repetition of “obliviously” acts as a reminder that life carries on despite us. Whether we are at the stage of being newly-arrived somewhere and wishing the pace of life would slow enough for us to adapt and catch up or at life’s end where others continue even though we’ve passed on. Similarly, the repetition of “marks” is also an echo. The marks of a current dance craze will give way to the next and the marks we make on life will also fade as “Ozymandias” did not take into consideration when he ordered his monument be built. Edward Ragg’s thoughtful, philosophical approach works well in “”The Human Chain”, a sequence, in memorial to Seamus Heaney

“IV

We breathe the same air and breathe
in the language across the waters
you made and made your own singing

the disinterred marvels of a planet
lit with the precision of cut turf
like sparks from the sharpened edge

of Beowulf’s steel. Each vowel seeping
from the peat-rich bog, each poem the miracle
of a sluice suddenly watering the earth.”

It’s a reminder that talent can overcome barriers and remind readers of their own humanity, a great poem can live on by speaking to a common identity or universal truth and voice can overcome the barriers of language. Seamus Heaney’s poems weren’t dressed with overly poetic language and were often rooted firmly in landscape but nonetheless, their truths and voice endure. That final image suggests the poems will continue to inspire and enable other poets to grow. Mortality also creeps into the sequence, “Arrival at Santiago,” that also marvels at Santiago’s wonders, but part VI acknowledges something more sinister,

“VI

But to speak differently in the shade of lemon trees:
in love I arrive, haunted by the news today
of a flight of limitless souls blown out
of existence over the Ukrainian fields.
Primary school kids running screaming
from a playground where death fell from the sky.

Not the earth’s end, but a preserved strip of it,
their echoes discord the songs of Santiago’s streets.
And, as we walk back past Cruchero Exeter,
low Andean foothill fog makes
of the late afternoon another sunrise.”

The narrator is right to acknowledge the act of terrorism and find delight in lemon trees and Santiago itself. It’s when fear governs us that terrorists have won. Although it’s difficult not to let that fear intrude. The section ends on “another sunrise”, a reminder of continuance and how little effect one individual may have.

Naturally, contemporary China is a big focus in the collection. In “Illuminations of Beijing”,

“I

The first light is the dullest light
reflecting the uncertain brightness

of a winter’s day. The first light
reveals buildings and trees

and the cracked earth
of winter fields.

The first light is suggestion,
conception, then realisation

or so it seems. For I can
never say precisely where

this city begins:
only that it ends

in these gently illuminated
calcareous hills.”

It catches someone very much aware of his place in a city where he knows the boundaries but not the full history, someone aware of their mortality.

Edward Ragg’s poems explore personal landscape through observation and memory, questioning how memories and personal response shape and project onto the landscape. However, the poet does not restrict the reader to considering only one view, there is space for interpretation and thought. The use of plain, precise vocabulary supports the poet’s desire to communicate and reach out to readers. “Holding Unfailing” consolidates and builds on the foundations of “A Force that Takes“.

“Holding Unfailing” is available from Cinnamon Press.

Does your poem end where it should?

I usually talk about titles because a good title will make a poem stand out in a list of contents and could be the difference between the reader choosing to read your poem or the one on the page after yours.

However, a good ending will entice a reader to read and savour your poem again. A bad or underdeveloped ending will wreck the reader’s experience. What makes a good ending?

Have you wrapped up your poem like a ready-made kit?

If you’ve resolved every question, explained every image and tied up every loose end, your poem may feel complete but your reader will find it frustrating. What you’ve done is excluded the reader from interpreting your poem or failed to give them space to develop an emotional connection. Instead of giving your reader the kit and guide, you’ve already made-up the kit and left the reader thinking that was pretty but pointless.

Do you deliver the promise of your premise?

Poems have their own internal logic. If your poem is grounded in an urban landscape, suddenly veering off into fantasy for the final couplet will irritate. That doesn’t mean your urban landscape can’t have a surprising piece of architecture or that your poem can’t end with the narrator suddenly realising that s/he’s no longer on planet earth, but give your reader some clues earlier in the poem. Even in twist-in-the-tale stories, the clues to the twist were in the story if the reader was paying attention.

Have you over-explained?

If you cut the last two lines of your draft poem, does it still make sense? Trust the reader to understand your poem. If you feel the need to explain your ending, then your poem is not ready for publication. You can guide a reader towards the conclusion you’d like them to make, but you must allow for a reader to make a different interpretation.

Have you employed a Deus Ex Machina?

Readers feel cheated if the downtrodden hero/ine who never gambles discovers a winning lottery ticket or some wealthy relative (who hasn’t been mentioned in the story so far) turns up out of the blue or a fairy godmother waves a magic wand. Cinderella’s fairy godmother enabled her to go to the ball, but it was Cinderella herself who left her glass slipper behind so her prince could find her again.

In a poem, the narrator needs to resolve their own problem.

Is the form dictating your poem?

In an early draft, your poem might have looked like a sonnet but, if you’re struggling with the ending, it might be better to release it from a sonnet’s straitjacket.

“Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff” Jonathan Pinnock (Silhouette Press) – poetry review

The title suggests this is not a serious collection. It does, however, tackle serious subjects, e.g. “this Is just To be meta” could be filed under ‘love’ (complete poem):

“I have deleted
the William Carlos Williams parody
that was in
your Dropbox

and which
you were probably
saving
for somewhere literary

Forgive me
it was a bit crap
so hackneyed
and so cliched”

The irony is clearly intentional and the last stanza could apply to this poem as well as the deleted one. It has a satisfying completeness that is sometimes lacking in other humorous poems where the poet is so busy building towards the punchline that, once the reader’s got the joke, there’s no need to read the poem again. Like other initial poems, it plays on the limitations of poetic forms and those restrictions are as much part of the joke as the words employed.

Naturally the other big topic for poetry is ‘loss’, frequently through bereavement. “Imitation of a Suicide” relies on readers knowing that Millais’ painting “Ophelia” (from “Hamlet”) was based on model Lizzie Siddal lying in a bath. Millais wasn’t aware that the heating lamps had gone out and Lizzie suffered a bout of pneumonia as a result. Lizzie was Rosetti’s lover and, scandalously for the time, he refused to marry her. The poem begins,

“Lizzie floats in the freezing bath,
dreaming of slippery tadpoles,
carried home in a jar
to upset her little brothers.”

Tadpoles grow into frogs that Lizzie has to kiss to find her prince and the poem ends,

“Now she finds herself
in the midst of veritable royalty:
artists like this man Millais.
Such talent they all have,
such skill, such genius.

Such carelessness.

And too late she will realise,
like Ophelia herself,
that a prince can let you down
the same as any other man.”

So that’s ‘love’ and ‘loss’ covered. ‘Other important stuff’? How about Philosophy? In “The Orange Girl and the Philosopher,” the philosopher asks the girl what she does and she reels off a list: singer, model, perfumer, fashion designer, charity work, two children’s books, three autobiographies, working on a novel and thinking of scriptwriting while,

“The old man looked at her, marvelling at
her orange skin tones, and wondering what
you could fill three autobiographies with. Then
he tore a hunk of bread off his roll, and ate it
in silence.

‘So what do you do?’ she said, eventually.

‘I’m a philosopher,’ he said, in a tired, old voice.
‘I look at the world and try to understand how
it works, so we can use that information to lead
better lives.’

‘Oh,’ said the girl. ‘I did that once.

.                                                          Didn’t like it.'”

The humour throughout is underpinned by an intelligent playfulness reminiscent of Tom Lehrer’s songs which also played with forms of expression and common phrases. Like those songs, Jonathan Pinnock’s poems allow readers to laugh along or recognise the underlying serious point being made. That’s the strength of these poems: they have something to say which gives them a depth beyond simply making the audience laugh.

“Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff” by Jonathan Pinnock is published by Silhouette Press.

How Not to Organise a Book Launch

Close and Lock the Venue

Nothing says “Go Away!” more than a venue that’s not only closed (lights off, no signs of movement inside) but locked shut, unless you also:

Fail to Display Posters

Not only is the venue closed and locked shut but there’s no poster or sign on the door that the event is going ahead. In fact, the whole set-up screams “Cancelled!”

Even if warm and dry, it’s not a good idea to leave your audience hanging around outside, especially if there’s nowhere to sit because some people can’t stand for long.

Don’t tell the Audience which Entrance will be Open

For security or logistics, it might be that only one entrance will be used for the event. However, if the audience is used to all entrances being open or regularly use one of the entrances which will be shut on the night, a poster/sign would help.

It shouldn’t be left to audience members to suggest/tell event coordinators to check that no one’s been left standing outside a closed entrance either.

Don’t let the Audience know the Event’s Format

Will there be a reading? A speech? Or is the audience just supposed to stand around, mingle and hopefully buy a few books? Most of us don’t do telepathy and no one likes to be made to feel stupid and have to ask.

Assume the Audience are Alcoholic

Some of them will be designated drivers, some don’t like wine, may be recovering alcoholics or simply not feel like drinking. When alcohol drinkers have choice, but the non-drinkers are offered that one jug of warm water that only fills four wine glasses, it’s a good way of making them feel alien.

Only Allow the Audience to Buy Copies of One Book

Book launch audiences tend to be avid readers and book buyers. Why would anyone want to limit their choice to only buying copies of the book being launched, particularly when the launch is happening in a book store? A click or two on a smartphone app, they’ve bought those books from an online retailer, most likely while standing in the store (so they don’t forget which books caught their eye when they get home), and those sales are lost.

The actual book launch was brilliant. The venue… well I won’t be encouraged to hold a launch there.

Posted in books. Tags: . 2 Comments »

“Elsewhere” Jack Little (Eyewear) – poetry review

Jack Little Elsewhere book coverJack Little left England in 2010 to live in Mexico City. He arrived speaking little Spanish and little knowledge of the country he is now a citizen of, having made it his home. His Spanish is now fluent. “Elsewhere” explores some of that transition from England to Mexico: the title poem starts “Searching his pockets/ he left and learnt new languages/ in a city with a name he could/ not pronounce” and ends,

“and when purple night sank her boats
and the lights went out with rain,
he withdrew himself from the magic of elsewhere
and rejoined the boys of home –
the language of his father crisp and warm,

but of another time.”

It captures that limbo state of still being an outsider in his new home, but still having links to family in England with regular Skyped conversations. The shortened vowels in the first three lines give way to the longer vowels in the last three with “elsewhere” effectively acting as a pivot, signaling the change in rhythm. “Magic” suggests enchantment and a sense of welcome in this new land whilst “of another time” suggests a loosening of family ties which could be as much to do with growing up as geographical distance. “Night Sky” explores his associations with his new land, rooted his desire to travel and explore in childhood,

“my mind awaits them all, the visits of feather capped
gods of heavy ancientness, the smell of other
worlds that cling to my bedclothes: the heat of night
and journeys to far away temples of unknown sun people….

.                I await Bogotá
.                I await Lima
.                Barranquilla, Brasilia, Managua, Burcaramanga….

Asunción… and on and on – all memories learnt
from news stories, a crack of light breaking the sky
and reminding me of the classroom globes of childhood.”

Not all the poems are about an Englishman abroad. “Russian Doll Falling” (complete poem),

A Russian doll is an easy metaphor,
.             in its death dance
spinning on cold wooden edges
.             ’til tipping point

Until you break, until you crack in twos, fours…
.             smooth and lipstick red, matryoshka doll:
coffee cool wooden carvings on the inside
.             a chrysalis, a surprise of nesting air.”

The cool, carefully kept exterior breaks into emptiness underneath. In “The Last Train to London” two people are waiting on the platform and indulging in the English custom of avoiding eye contact,

“I am an extra in the movie of his life, a biopic of one
of the greats, and I play ‘man on platform’.

I count grey floor tiles to make up seconds
until the final scene when the fat fall moon
will reflect from the gentleman’s lenses
and he will glance at me before checking his watch

and I will be validated.”

The final poem, “Swimming Lessons” looks at the contrasts of England and Mexico and ends,

“and what if the rooftop was not not keep
rain out? But to be bathed on, sum bathed
washed in light, watch the ants float by
I swear this is an ocean and I am learning to swim.”

The different purposes of rooftops might have been a more interesting title but would miss the key point of the poem, that “learning to swim”. Swimming isn’t just about the coordination of limbs and the mechanics of strokes, but also being able to read the water and trust that the water will support the swimming. It’s an apt metaphor. You can live in a country by learning its language, but to really immerse yourself in it enough to want to make it a home, you have to learn its cultures, customs and routines. Jack Little’s immersion in Mexico has strengthened his poems.

“Elsewhere” is available from Eyewear.


Jazz-inspired poetry at Leicester Central Library to celebrate what would have been Ella Fitzgeralds 100th birthday

Writing Genres – an indicator of Writing Talent?

Genres are useful to readers. A reader interested in thrillers is likely to be delighted in finding new thriller writers. A reader that likes experimental poetry is unlikely to be interested in an anthology of poems about nature inspired by Wordsworth. A reader that likes poet A may like poet B who writes in a similar style or on similar topics. A reader who likes a poetry book from a certain publisher would do well to explore the either books from that publisher since poetry publishers are either sole proprietors or a small team of editors with similar tastes. That won’t hold true for someone buying a novel from Penguin Random House. Categorising writing by genre is a useful signpost for readers who want to browse a book shop without checking every book on the (virtual) shelves.

Genres work less well when the categorisation is done by the writer, not the writing. A reader interested in one women writer won’t necessarily like all women writers. A reader interested in books set in South Africa won’t want to restrict themselves to reading only books set in South Africa written by South African writers since that would exclude books by writers set in South Africa who don’t identify as South African but may be living there and/or writing from extensive knowledge and research.

It can also trap writers into writing what’s expected of them or feeling straitjacketed into a specific genre. Some writers don’t want to experiment with genre, just like a pop princess isn’t going to write a death metal classic. But others do and it isn’t always sensible or practical to invent another identity just because book 2 is in a different genre to book 1. Sometimes what initially looked like a great idea for a romance turns into a psychological thriller on execution. It’s not a failure to admit your latest sonnet actually works better as a sestina or that your habit of writing free verse occasionally gets interrupted by a villanelle.

Genres stop being useful when they stop guiding readers to books they will enjoy and become a way of restricting writers. It’s even less useful to pretend there is a hierarchy of genres, as if writing in one genre is more difficult to achieve than writing in another or one genre is superior to another. This pretence of superiority allows writers to be sidelined because writers whose books are not considered literary fiction are assumed to be inferior. It allows poets to be asked when they are going to write a “proper book”, i.e. a novel. This hierarchy dismisses readers who don’t want their next choice of a book to be a challenging read but want to be entertained, terrified, swept away, taken to new worlds or discover a great new poet from the safety of their beach holiday.

What makes writing talent is a combination of two things: gift and craft. An innate love of words and desire to communicate stories will get you started but will only get you so far. A writer needs to learn their craft: how to shape a story or poem and how to develop their writing skills. A singer may have perfect pitch but they still need to learn the lyrics, how to regulate their breathing so they don’t run out of breath mid-way through a song and project their voice. The gift needs to be supported by technical ability. Craft is about cutting superfluity, honing the story or poem back to its essentials, allowing poem or story to find its form, creating fully dimensional characters and keeping a reader hooked. It is possible to write a technically perfect poem or story that’s boring to read because it’s too predictable or it tells us what we already know. A person who wants to write can learn the mechanics of writing but without the talent to explore divergent ways of thinking will fail to give their writing the spark to hook and keep a reader’s interest. Just as the best figure skaters combine artistic impression and technical merit, the best writers combine talent and craft.

No one genre is superior to another. Different genres have different purposes and place different demands on writers, but readers don’t read books for the same reason. Some want the writer to focus on the story and don’t care too much about the elegance of the prose. Some want the writer to focus on the scientific details and don’t care too much about the characters. Some want elegant, experimental prose and don’t care too much about the story. Some only want to see poems written in traditional forms and will reject anything that doesn’t rhyme.

Dismissing one genre as inferior to another is like dismissing someone else’s choice of an apple instead of an orange. Maybe they don’t like oranges. Maybe they’ll choose an orange tomorrow. If you plant an orange seed alongside an apple seed outdoors in the English climate, only one will grow. That doesn’t mean the orange seed lacked the potential to grow. It means that the conditions weren’t right for the orange seed. The conditions of a genre may suit one writer but not another, that does not indicate a lack of talent.