Poet Voice

Poet voice is loosely defined as when a poet adopts a lilting cadence, mostly end lines on down-notes and introduce pauses within sentences where they aren’t necessary. The affect is that, to listeners, the poet’s voice is flattened so listeners can’t use the poet’s rhythm and tone to identify the more dramatic parts of the poem and the poem loses its musicality. Frequently it turns audiences off because it makes the poems harder to hear.

How can poets avoid using poet voice?

  • Don’t copy other poets. Do go to readings for inspiration and to listen to how other poets deliver their poems, but think about what made a good reading, what made a boring reading and what elements are worth adapting for you.
  • Focus on each individual poem and what story it tells or what emotions it evokes or which images you particularly want to draw attention to. How will you convey this for each poem you read?
  • Select your poems carefully: if you use a humorous poem after a few serious ones, you will change the tone and rhythm of your reading. Intersperse some newer poems amongst a group of themed poems.
  • Don’t put up barriers between you and your audience. You may be up on stage, but your audience want to feel engaged rather than patronised. They want you to succeed by using your voice to invite them on stage with you (not literally, but by treating them as friends rather than patronising them).
  • Does it help you to think you are performing your poems or reading them? For some, adopting a persona and performing each poem helps when giving a poetry reading. For others, focusing on reading the poems and not trying to perform eases that self-conscious feeling when reading to a group. Know which works for you and make it work for your audience.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to or trying to sound like other poets. Your comparison should be the last reading you did and making improvements for the next. There’s little point in putting all that effort into creating a unique voice for your poem and then flattening it with poet voice.
  • Always rehearse before a reading, even if speaking aloud is part of your writing process. Rehearsals force you to think about the pace of the reading both for individual poems and as a whole, you have to think about where you’re going to pause to breathe and for effect and the order of the poems you’re reading. How are you going to hold your interest? If you can’t, your audience will get bored too.

Our City or An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Leicestershire.

Call for submissions in a book about Leicestershire

Editor: Jon Wilkins
Publishers: Dahlia
Deadline for abstracts: 31 January 2019

It’s so strange how words affect us. I was reading my favourite Francophile crime writer, Cara Black’s latest paperback, “Murder in Saint Germain”. Her hero Aimee Leduc scoots around Paris solving crimes. Paris is the key, the second most important character in her books, but I digress. As background in the story, Aimee’s partner Rene, mentioned Georges Perec and his writing. Apparently, Perec spent three days in St Sulphice, Paris, watching and recording. From that came “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris” which is an amazing piece of work. Which is where you come in I would like to invite Leicester related topics to appear in “Our City or An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Leicestershire” They can be pieces on:

* The City
* The County
* The People
* Places
* Ideas
* Past
* Future
* Fantasy
* Social history
* Sport
* Food

Or anything else you can think of. It can be a ghost story set in the city, a short story about your love of Leicester City FC, a poem about one of the green spaces, there are no hard and fast rules, but it must be PASSIONATE about Leicester or Leicestershire. It should show your LOVE of the city, so I invite submissions from writers in any of the following forms:

* Fiction 2,000-4,000 words
* Poetry 50 lines maximum
* Short Story 2,000-4,000 words
* Flash fiction 100-500 words
* Creative non-fiction 2,000-4,000 words
* Essay 2,000-4,000 words

Contributions in your native tongue are welcome alongside a translation.

* There is NO publication fee. Each contributor will be provided two complimentary copies of “Our City or An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Leicestershire” in 2019.
* You retain the copyright in your Contribution.
Please send completed submissions, along with a short bio-sketch to leicesterstories@btinternet.com You will be given the opportunity to read your work at the launch event in October 2019.

Deadline for abstracts: 31 January, 2019.

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Leicester/shire City and County of Literature II

This was the follow up event after the first event in December 2017. Co-host CivicLeicester stated, “The series brings together people from many different backgrounds for an evening of ideas, great literature and conversation. The series also invites people to look at literary work that is being done in Leicester and Leicestershire and see what can be done to raise the profile of the scene.” Co-host Everybody’s Reading stated, “Increasingly Leicester and Leicestershire are a hub of creativity in the arts. Our literary scene is enormously vibrant as shown by the breadth of talent that we have and by the range and scale of literary festivals we host in the city and county.”

The panel for this event was advertised as

  • Hugo Worthy – art curator The Gallery De Montfort University
  • Rod Duncan – writer
  • Corinne Fowler – Director for the Centre of New Writing Leicester University
  • Monodou Sallah – Global Hands Publishing
  • Lydia Towsey – poet, performer and literary activist
  • Debbie James – The Bookshop, Kibworth, Leicestershire
  • Katherine Oughton – Heritage Lottery Fund Development Officer for East Midlands

Corinne Fowler and Debbie James sent apologies. Lydia Towsey’s absence was not explained. On the night, Matthew Pegg of Mantle Lane Arts and Press joined the somewhat depleted panel.

Corinne Fowler did send an article in advance. She had been involved in a project called Moving Manchester which catalogued the city’s literary output since 1970. On moving to work in Leicester, she initiated a similar project for Leicester’s literary output since 1980, catalogued at Leicester University’s Grassroutes site. She found more titles in one year than she did for 3 years in Manchester. Leicester has an abundant literary community that should be celebrated.

Debbie James also sent an advance article. The Bookshop at Kibworth celebrates its 10th anniversary next year, has worked with over 20 schools, set up 8 local bookclubs and founded a book festival. The shop works closed with Kibworth Community Library to host author talks and has provided pop-up bookstalls at Curve, Y-Theatre, the Sue Townsend Theatre, Leicester University, De Montfort University, Phoenix Square, the LCB Depot, Loogabrooga Children’s Book festival, Leicester Writes, Cotesbach Educational Trust and Leicester Print Workshop and worked on events with libraries in Belgrave, Countesthorpe, Evington, Knighton, Loughborough, Oadby and Leicester’s Central Library. The Bookshop has been awarded Regional Independent Bookshop of the Year, Vintage Independent Bookshop of the Year and 3 James Patterson grants for its work in schools. Debbie James is ambassador to the Booksellers Association’s Bookseller Network and has judged the Independent Bookshop Week Award, East Midlands Book Award and the Leicester Short Story Award. A recent initiative is to get a copy of “The Lost Words” by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Kay into every primary school in Leicester and Leicestershire by the bookshop subsidising customer donations, a project that could be helped by the bookshop working with the city council and school academy trusts. Creating and sustaining connections is vital for a thriving literary scene.

Hugo Worthy, panel chair, introduced the event and said he was here to learn.

Rod Duncan said he’d returned to Leicester around 25 years ago when he also started writing seriously. He was surprised at how rich the ecosystem was, e.g. libraries, literature development officers, support from the universities, writers’ groups and festivals. He joined Leicester Writers’ Club and felt he learned most of what he knew about writing from Leicester Writers’ Club and gained successes through publication deals and being shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award. He was also surprised to learn not every city has Leicester’s great support networks or culture of celebrating the successes of other writers. Leicester is extraordinarily vibrant, e.g. Mahsuda Snaith’s debut novel made her one of The Observer’s ‘writers to watch’, Andrew Bannister’s science fiction trilogy snapped up by a major publisher and Jacob Ross’s Jhalak prize-winning “The Bone Reader”, although set in Grenada was written in Leicester and is now about to be re-issued by Little Brown after initial publication by Peepal Tree. Rod also teaches creative writing at De Montfort University and sees many works in the pipeline which gives him hope for the future. He felt nervous about Leicester applying for a UNESCO City of Literature Status as he was concerned for the impact on existing literary ecosystems and felt the key advantage of Nottingham’s UNESCO City of Literature status was a raised awareness of literature in Nottingham amongst the general public that Leicester lacks.

Katherine Oughton talked about the Heritage Lottery Fund and focus on projects with specific aims, a time frame for achievement and strong public engagement, particularly from hard-to-reach audiences. Heritage is not strictly defined and can include oral histories and people-based projects, not just buildings and artefacts. She mentioned Nottingham’s Bromley House Library’s online catalogue, which builds a picture of what people in Nottinghamshire have been reading for the last two centuries.

Matthew Pegg, who had not been expecting to speak but stepped in on the night, gave an update on what Mantle Lane Arts are doing. Mantle Lane Press has published two more novellas, an anthology of sea-related prose, including a piece by Joanna Harris who had spoken at the first Coalville Literary Festival. A second festival is planned for May 2019. Mantle Lane Press has also produced an anthology of plays written by children in years 7 and 8 from four schools in Leicestershire. The plays were also produced at Curve Theatre. A Wolves and Apples event for writers for children is planned for 29 September. He mentioned being based in the county with a declining bus service meant it was easy for county-based groups to feel isolated from city-based groups and events, but occasions like tonight helped build links.

Momodou Sallah started Global Hands Publishing around a day-job teaching at De Montfort University with aims of international development, public engagement and promoting voices on the margins, especially from Gambia. Global Hands Publishing has so far produced 12 books, some of which are used as textbooks in Gambian universities as well as being used in his own teaching, with worldwide sales. He sees himself as a scholar activist using literature to disrupt normality. Some of the writers he’d worked with didn’t perceive themselves as worthy of publication and needed confidence-building. Global Hands Publishing had been involved with festivals in Gambia and was looking to bringing something similar to Leicester.

Hugo Worthy started audience discussion by asking about other groups in Leicester/shire. The Speculators, Leicester Writes, Word! and Bradgate Writers were mentioned. It was suggested there were 150 poetry groups in Leicestershire. In response to a question about recruitment, Leicester Writers’ Club was used as an example whereby club members are also members of other groups and attend live literature events so effectively act as ambassadors for the Club. The Club also runs summer open evenings so non-members can attend as guests and get a feel for what the club does without committing to join. Leicester Writers’ Club is 60 years old, has 62 members, their ages range from 16-80+ and members include poets, novelists, scriptwriters, short story writers, non-fiction writers, bloggers and writers who are close to seeing their first publication.

Audience outreach and lack of general awareness of literary figures in Leicestershire was discussed as an issue. The Leicester Mercury do not support local writers. BBC Radio Leicester joined the national BBC’s bookclub but chose to support the national choices and ignore local writers. The monthly Leicester Writers’ Showcase event at Central Library would like to increase the audience who want to come along and meet, hear from and ask questions of local writers.

Discussion turned to the publishing industry. As the bigger publishing houses turned more commercial and sales-oriented, ditching mid-list authors who were selling enough to make a living but weren’t bestsellers, it opened a gap for self-publishing and ebook and print-on-demand technologies made it easier for niche publishers and authors to get into print. It’s becoming increasingly common to see hybrid authors who use both traditional and self/indie-publishing routes to readers. The power of traditional gatekeepers (agents/publishers) has been reduced. Momodou Sallah talked about literature being an act of resistance, a vehicle for countering the dominant cultural narrative, important to those excluded from mainstream cultures, and giving writers the confidence to challenge perceived cultural norms and stereotypes.

As with the December 2017 event, there was agreement that there is plenty of literary talent in Leicester and Leicestershire, a healthy literary ecosystem of groups, festivals, universities and support from writers for other writers. However, no real ideas for how to counter the silence from local media or increase the audiences for local literary events.

Addressing a Poetry Reading

A comment left on an earlier blog article asked about “addressing a poetry reading, the articulation, accessibility and where to stand as in the steps for how to engage with your notebooks or computer or paperfiles” so I’ve tried to cover these points here. (TL;DR: scroll to end)

Addressing a Poetry Reading

Introductions

 

Open Mic Spots

Some organisers introduce each poet in turn, some organisers expect the poets who know who they follow. There will be a time or poem limit so keep introductions short. Do mention your name either before you read or at the end of your slot. Don’t be tempted to promote you latest book or CD or next poetry reading unless you have agreed this with the organiser beforehand. Note, the time limit includes introductions, promotional plugs and your poems so don’t spend the five minute slot reading poems and then take over the next two slots plugging your latest pamphlet. You’ve just knocked two poets off the bill and won’t be invited back.

Reading with other poets

Check beforehand how the reading will be organised. Will someone introduce each poet in turn, or will all poets be introduced at the beginning of the evening or one poet introduce the next? If you have a say in how you are introduced, keep it brief. It makes life easier for the organiser and the audience aren’t there to listen to the organiser but the poets. It also gives you more opportunity to introduce yourself and make it more relevant to the poems you are reading.

Solo Readings

Think about whether you are happy to introduce yourself or whether you’d prefer someone else to. If your event is being organised by someone else, e.g. you are reading at a hosted night, the organisers generally have someone who will welcome the audience before the event is underway and introducing the poet briefly can be done as part of that. If your publisher is present, they may be happy to introduce you and remind the audience there is a bookstall.

If you are introducing yourself, remember the audience are there to hear your poems. You don’t need to run through your entire publishing career or list every reading you’ve ever done. Focus on a few key points and move on to the poems.

Introducing the poems

Your audience don’t need to know you’re reading a sonnet or that you’ve invented a complex rhyme scheme. Generally they’re not reading poems from the page as you read them. They don’t need to know when you wrote the poem or how long it took you either. Introduce a theme, “This one’s about…” or mention the location if it offers your audience insight into your poem and keep it short, preferrably shorter than the poem.

If you can, avoid mentioning the title of your poem before or during your introduction and only read the title as you are about to read the poem. There’s a risk that your audience may assume your introduction is part of your poem if you do this.

Pause slightly at the end of each poem. Some audiences like to applaud each poem, other audiences wait until the end of a reading. A pause helps indicate to the audience you’ve reached the end of your poem and gives them chance to absorb it before you move onto the next poem.

Engaging your Audience

Before you introduce yourself or your first poem, look at your audience. Even if you’re not feeling it, try to appear relaxed. Audiences generally mirror the performer, so if you look tense and nervous, your audience may start feeling nervous. If you’re concerned someone may put you off reading, focus on a point located within the audience.

Check you have your audience’s attention before you begin. That might mean waiting for a conversation to finish or attracting their attention (“Hello!” usually works).

Once you have your audience’s attention, ask for mobile phones to be turned off or to silent and let them know the format and approximate timings for your reading, e.g. “I’m going to read for around half an hour, there will be a twenty minute interval, and then a question and answer session or further reading.” Then your audience know what to expect and when their next comfort break is. If you do have an interval, remind your audience there is more to come in the second half – even if you say so at the beginning, some audience members may leave during the interval thinking the event has finished.

If you’ve brought books to read or arranged with a publisher/bookshop to have a stall, mention it in your introduction and just before the interval if you’ve having an interval.

You may not be able to look at your audience whilst reading your poems, but do remember to look at them while you’re introducing the next poem or at the pause at the end of a poem.

If there is a disruption, e.g. a late-comer or someone decides they have to get up and open a window, stop reading and let the late-comer find a seat, the window-opener open their window before continuing.

If there is a heckler, ask them to save their comments until the end/the interval. If they are persistent, ask them to leave. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from the organiser or the rest of the audience. It is not just your reading that the disrupter is interrupting, but also the audience’s ability to listen to and enjoy your reading. Don’t let the fear of hecklers put you off reading. Audiences come to readings to hear you read and want you to succeed in your reading.

Accessibility and Where to stand (or sit)

Venue accessibility is not your issue unless you are also the event organiser so I’m not going to cover it here.

Some venues will have an obvious stage area. If the stage is raised area and not accessible to you, use an area in front of the stage because the audience will expecting to look in the direction of the stage.

In less formal settings, pick a spot where all the audience can see you and no audience member is behind you. Some theatres or conference venues organise the audience in a horse-shoe shape around a performance area. In this case, mentally draw a line between the two open ends of the shape and stand along that line. If you try to stand in the middle, some audience members will be behind you and won’t hear you.

If pillars or bookshelves block an audience’s view, you may to ask some members of the audience to move.

If you use a table or lectern, ensure the top level is below your mouth otherwise your voice will hit the table or lectern and bounce back to you rather than out to your audience. This is particularly important if you sit down to read.

If there is a microphone, adjust it to suit you, even if you are only reading one poem. There will be an impact on your ability to read if you’re cramped over or stretching up to reach the microphone.

If there is no microphone, pick a spot on the back wall or at the back of the venue and project your voice to reach it. If there’s opportunity, practice projecting your voice before the audience arrive so you know how loud you need to be.

Where possible, ensure your mouth can be seen. You won’t know if some of the audience need to lip read and if the audience can see your mouth, they can generally hear you.

Engaging with Notebooks, Computer or Paper Files

Reading from a printed page or electronic device is a matter of preference and there’s no right or wrong. What’s key is rehearsing with your preferred set up and ensuring that you can move smoothly from poem to poem. Ask the organiser in advance if they provide any stand or lectern if you want or need somewhere to put papers or a device whilst reading. It is possible to get portable lecterns or use a music stand that you can bring yourself if that benefits you and the venue doesn’t provide one.

If reading from memory, it helps to put your audience at ease if you also have a printed or electronic copy of what you are reading, even if these are put on a table, lectern or stand near you.

If using printed pages, make sure the font is large enough for you to read easily and that the font is printed in a sufficient contrast for you to read in a dimly-lit venue – black on white is fine but if you prefer to read from a coloured background, check the contrast with the text colour.

If you’re reading from a bound book, use bookmarks or sticky notes to easily find the poems you want to read. You can’t look up at an audience, read a table of contents and flick through a book to the right page at the same time.

If reading from loose printed pages, use a pin or treasury tag to keep the pages together and practice reading with them beforehand so you know you can turn to the next poem without dropping all the pages on the floor. Fan through your papers before the reading so there’s less chance of pages sticking together.

If you use wallets or files to keep loose pages together, choose ones with a matt surface so you’re not struggling with glare from overhead lamps on a gloss cover.

Sticky notes are great for making bullet points on to use as prompts for introducing poems.

If using a phone, tablet or computer, ensure the font is large enough, the screen is sufficiently backlit and you can scroll through as you read. Ensure any device is fully charged and think about having a back-up in case of electronic failures on the night.

Reading

  • Try to read at a slightly slower pace than you would normally.
  • If you rehearse beforehand, you’ll be practised at pacing your reading to fit the time allocated and will gain a feel for how long it takes to read each poem.
  • Don’t try to act out your poems, the words of your poems will speak for themselves.
    Let your tone rise and fall as it would in a general conversation with a friend or neighbour. Don’t try to affect a voice that’s not natural to you.
  • Now is not the time to try and lose an accent in favour of received pronunciation or develop Poetic Voice (where a poet reads slowly, enunciates each word, favours a monotone and dramatic pauses (unless the poem actually calls for a dramatic pause) and the result is the reading feels unnatural and uncomfortable for the listeners).

TL;DR

Focus on what you can control:

  • Your choice of poems, whether you read from pages, books or an electronic device (check it’s fully charged beforehand). Rehearse so you can read fluently without awkward pauses while you look for the next poem or juggle between a notebook and book.
  • Reduce barriers between you and the audience – I often stand in front of lecterns and tables because I’m not tall – and don’t cover your mouth when you read.
  • Look at your audience periodically to remind them you know they’re there and help them engage.
  • When it comes to introductions, less is more.
  • Try to appear relaxed and comfortable, even if you’re not, because your audience will generally mirror you.
  • Have a plan to deal with your equipment or memory failure (if reading from memory) but don’t stress about the venue’s equipment failures (e.g. microphone not working). You’re not responsible for the latter. If you can, get to the venue early so you can check what equipment’s provided and whether there are any potential problems such as lighting being too dim.
  • Remember to sell books, pamphlets etc if you’ve brought them to sell.

Poetanoster

Something strange happened at Leicester University in 2017. Attenborough Tower became quiet. The pasternoster that had been hosting LiftLit, writing from MA students, broke down. Spare parts could not be sourced but had to be built from scratch so the decision was taken to remove it.

PaternosterA Paternoster lift is a chain of open compartments that constantly run in a steady loop allowing people to step on and off at will. Generally passengers are discouraged from travelling over the top or under the bottom of each loop, but, have you tried to tell students not to do something?

Corinne Fowler, Associate Professor for the university’s Centre of New Writing, put a call out for poems about the paternoster that had been in the Attenborough Tower. Poems were written by academic and professional services staff, alumni, students and poets. Some were collated in “Poetanoster”, a souvenir pamphlet published to coincide with an event in the Digital Reading Room at the David Wilson Library on the university campus. It took place on the university’s open day for both prospective students and alumni. I dare say that some of the audience were there for the novelty of the event, but left with a pamphlet.

Poetanoster poetry pamphletAfter an introduction based on the pamphlet’s introduction, Mike Simpson read his poem, “In memory of the Attenborough Tower Paternoster (1970-2017)”, which he explained was more of an email subject line than a title. The poem is a farewell with fondness.

Colin Hyde and Corinne Fowler co-wrote a play on the word “paternoster”. Corinne couldn’t be there on the day, but Colin was on hand to read “Things to do in a Paternoster” with suggestions including, “Poetanoster – write poems/ Pondernoster – plan seminars/ Porternoster – drink dark beer, also consult a porter/ Portillonoster – transport envy/ Imposternoster – lift posing as paternoster/ Poseanoster – Byronic comportment”.

Scott Freer’s “My Paternoster” takes inspiration from “The Waste Land” and looks over Leicester as he rides, “And HMP Leicester meets my eyes on the twelfth./ When I get to the top, I start all over again”.

Rod Duncan had in mind the Fall from Grace and how leaving home as a student could be seen that way. The paternoster “That clanking ride of no stops/ felt like a kind of trespassing/ but was, I suppose/ our smallest sin that year.”

Mike, Colin and Corinne all work or have worked at Leicester University and Scott and Rod were alumni. I have no connection, other than attending literary events and reading poems at a previous International Women’s Day event. There is a balance between genders in the pamphlet but I was the only women’s voice on the day. Therefore I didn’t feel greedy reading two poems, particularly as time permitted. My first, “Echoes of Journeys” finishes on the image that each paternoster journey has elements that are both unique and universal, just as the transition from teenager to adult does.

Passenger in paternosterMy second, “Wishing Not to be Stalled”, is more topical and finishes, “…I might be alone in this/ paternoster but it’s not the same aloneness/ as when I was threatened, dodged gropes,/ told, whilst wearing school uniform, I could earn/ extra in my lunch break in the red light district,/ when I was the only woman in a venue watching/ a band I had to review. #MeToo. I stand/ in this compartment, dare myself to go over the top/ and pray the momentum continues the revolution.”

The introduction states, “Poetanoster is a reminder of poetry’s power for the collective, for community, for everyday life. The paternoster broke just as MA students’ writing began to appear on the Attenborough Tower lift, an initiative called LiftLit. During International Women’s Day 2018, we placed poems all over campus. This leaflet joins these other initiatives in the hope that poetry might one day become a permanent feature of campus life: Leicester’s landmark literature.” I hope it does.


LWC_Logo

 

Leicester Writers’ Club hosts Carys Davies, short story writer and novelist from 7-9pm on Thursday 21 June 2018 at Phoenix Square 4 Midland Street Leicester LE1 1TG. £5 on the door for non-members. More details at Leicester Writers’ Club hosts Carys Davies.

 

 


 

Literary events in Leicestershire for June 2018

June’s a busy month in Leicestershire:

7 June 1pm Loughborough University Arts Festival Dr Kerry Featherstone in Conversation with Kate Rhodes

7 June 5.30-7pm Mahsuda Snaith and Rob Palk read from and talk about their first novels at Room 0.01 Clephan Building De Montfort University. Free entry.

9 June 10.30am Poetanoster, Digital Reading Room David Wilson Library Leicester University. Free entry and free souvenier pamphlet of poems inspired by the former paternoster lifts in the Attenborough Tower read at the event.

11 June 6pm The Art of the Poem with Pam Thompson and Simon Perril Room 0.01 Clephan Building De Montfort University. Free entry.

12 June 1pm Poetry workshop at Loughborough University with Shruti Chauhan

12 June 6.30pm Carol Leeming and Richard Byrt Needle and Pin, The Rushes Loughborough. Open mic slots available – sign up on the night.

12 June 6.30pm Leicester Book Prize Readings at the Exchange Bar, Rutland Street, Leicester – part of the Leicester Writes Festival.

16 June 2pm South Leicestershire Poetry Stanza, Leicester Language Academy, New Walk, Leicester. Poetry workshop.

19 June 7.30pm Big Bookshop Bash, Kibworth Cricket Club New Ground. Quiz and supper hosted by the Bookshop as part of Feminist Book Fortnight.

20 June 12 noon De Montfort University hosts readings for Refugee Week in the DSU Atrium.

20 June 7pm Central Library, Bishop Street Leicester, LE1 6AA Leicester Writers’ Showcase features David Wilkinson launching his second science fiction novel set in the Anjelican series featuring Jaq Pilakin.

20 June 7-9pm Soundswrite Press and ArtBeat at Friends Meeting House, Queens Road, Leicester. The event is free and open to all women with an interest in reading and discussing poetry. You are welcome to bring along copies of poems to share or just turn up and enjoy.

21 June 7-9pm Carys Davies is at Leicester Writers’ Club, Phoenix Square, 4 Midland Street, Leicester, LE1 1TG. Talk, reading and question and answer sessions with award-winning short story writer now promoting her debut novel.

26 June 6.30pm The Hybrid Author – join The Writers’ Shed at the Exchange Bar, Rutland Street, Leicester for a discussion on hybrid publishing and how writers can benefit from both traditional and independent publishing. Part of the Leicester Writes festival.

28 June WORD! Attenborough Arts, Lancaster Street, Leicester moved from the first Tuesday of each month to the last Thursday clashing with both Leicester Writers’ Club and Soundswrite.

30 June from 10.30am Leicester Writes Short Story Festival at LCB Depot

In addition Soundswrite are looking for poetry submissions for their Take Three initiative. More details from Soundswrite Press.

Leicester Writers’ Showcase: Leicester and Leicestershire: City and County of Literature 13 December 2017

Michaela Butter (Attenborough Arts) chaired the panel and invited them to “Raise the roof on Leicester’s writers.”

Bobba Cass spoke about how poetry and rhymes had been important to him growing up in Seattle with an English father and American mother. He came to the UK via Nigeria, carrying those poems with him. He felt it important to honour the moment of discovering creativity. He spoke about how inspirational he felt some people in Leicester were which had inspired him to set up PInng…k!, now in its seventh year. He mentioned Carol Leeming, Word!, Lydia Towsey and Tim Sayers’ work at Bradgate Hospital, Michaela Butter, Corinne Fowler, Magnus who ran Galleri Gastur, Alison Dunne, Keith Allott, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Liz Grey, Marcus Joseph, Vijay Mistry (2Funky Arts), Rob Gee, Louise Katerega, Mellow Baku, Peter Buckley, Richard Byrt, Kishan Anand (Anerki) and Dave Donnau.

Emma Lee introduced Leicester Writers’ Club who meet every Thursday at Phoenix Square in Leicester’s cultural quarter. Leicester Writers’ Club’s core business is feedback on works in progress and sharing publishing and marketing tips. The latter becoming more important as publishers are expecting writers to do a lot more marketing – gone are the days of long lunches and publishers putting together marketing plans. The Club also offers advanced masterclasses, talks from industry speakers such as literary agents, social events and a writers’ retreat. Members are novelists, poets, short story writers, scriptwriters and spoken word artists who are widely published in the UK, Europe, North and South America, Africa and New Zealand. Members have been shortlisted for the Carnegie Prize and Philip K Dick awards and prize-winners in, e.g. Writing East Midlands Aurora and Leicester Writes competitions. Members have also judged short story and poetry competitions.

Leicester Writers’ Club Is not insular. The Club itself has held events for Everybody’s Reading, Leicester Writes and takes a stall at States of Independence. Members have performed at most of Leicester’s spoken word nights including Shindig, Word!, Anerki; Novel Exchanges, Cultural Exchanges, The Journeys Festival and supported Refugee Week programmes. Members teach at Writing School East Midlands, lecture in Creative Writing at De Montfort University and two members have set up a writers’ development service to help writers achieve their goals, The Writers’ Shed.

Two Club members have supported Leicester Writers’ Showcase from its inception and all 12 events have featured at least one Club member.

Despite all this the Club and its members feel overlooked and invisible.

Farhana Shaikh of Dahlia Publishing, Leicester Writes and The Asian Writer, spoke of the incredible talent and humility in Leicester. She tries to harness a community where anyone can join in. Dahlia Publishing has provided opportunities, e.g. “Welcome to Leicester” poetry anthology and “Lost and Found: stories of home from Leicestershire writers” short story anthology. Writers should be celebrated a lot more. Leicester Writes monthly meet-up at Bru started in May 2013 and provides an informal space for moral support and to share news. Novel Exchanges, which meets quarterly, features established writers alongside local writers to create a nurturing environment. Leicester achieves a lot despite lack of funding and support. She created a writer’s residency at Bru to disrupt normal writing commissions which focus on history or cultural traditions to try to break down barriers to getting people involved.

The Leicester Writes Short Story competition was set up with support from BBC Radio Leicester and the Bristol Short Story prize. It had a Leicester launch and, of 102 entries, 50% were from within Leicestershire. Local talent stood up in comparison with national talent. Leicester can acknowledge that Leicester writers are talented. Initiatives like Leicester Writes Short Story Competition enables Leicester’s talent to see how it is doing and shows there is talent here. Leicester Writes Festival was set up to celebrate that talent and offer workshops for local writers. It also brought meet the publisher/pitch your novel events to Leicester by inviting London-based publishers and agents.

Dahlia Publishing champions regional and diverse voices. She concluded, “It’s a shame to feel invisible.”

Matthew Pegg of Mantle Lane Arts and Mantle Lane Press based in Coalville talked about how they had started as a group who organised festivals, went into schools, libraries and worked with community groups but felt they’d become too diverse and lacked identity. After Matthew had completed a Creative Writing MA at Nottingham Trent University so felt writing would be a good focus. Set up the Red Lighthouse project offering writer support and development, creative writing community projects and a small press publisher aimed at children’s and Young Adult writers. Created two writing for children events, Wolves and Apples including readings and masterclasses. The third Wolves and Apples event will be on 17 March 2018 with Celia Rees and Linda Newbery at Ramada Encore in Leicester aimed at beginners. Also looking to set up a training course for writers in participatory work, e.g. going into schools, libraries, etc. Started a songwriting project for people with dementia which will lead to a CD. Undertakes playwriting in schools with Curve and assistance from Rob Gee which will end in a showcase event at Curve. Mantle Lane Arts is also setting up a literary festival in Coalville with Joanne Harris as the main guest. Mantle Lane Press started with an oral history and branched out into small format books, a good size for poetry pamphlets and novellas, and anthologies. A third anthology and two further small format books are planned so far. The press was an interesting learning curve, especially on marketing. Non-fiction books are easier to market based on the topic. Fiction and poetry heavily rely on author involvement. Mantle Lane has supported the recent exhibition in Coalville about the first 50 volunteers who signed up to join the First World War and is undertaking a project with the National Trust based in the West Midlands.

Michaela Butter liked Bobba Cass’s idea of not being tied to the page, that the Leicester Writers’ Club were not insular, Leicester Writes’ creating space for anyone, disrupting models through commissions and inviting national organisations to come to Leicester, and Mantle Lane Arts reaching out to children.

Discussion from the floor talked about the cross-over between literary arts and other arts such as visual arts and music and recognising those talents in writers. Leicester was felt to be vibrant but lacked local support, e.g. it was easier to get a book reviewed in the Washington Post than in the Leicester Mercury. There was a mention of paying artists properly; there was a heavy reliance on voluntary work to organise events which meant performers weren’t always paid. Leicester has an eco-system of beginners to professionals. Farhana Shaikh talked about how she’d got funding to do a series of workshops in a local library because travel costs can deter people taking part in central events. Emma Lee said that if writers approached Leicester Writers’ Club and it was clear they didn’t have the experience to join, the Club pointed them in the direction of other, more relevant groups and Writing School East Midlands. Matthew Vaughan of Leicester Libraries talked about the libraries having an intern and one of the intern’s jobs would be to create a directory of writers’ organisations in Leicester/shire.

After an interval, during which a significant number of the audience left because it had begun snowing, the panel reconvened.

Henderson Mullin, CEO Writing East Midlands talked about WEM and its role as a catalytic organisation which worked to help writers help themselves. There were limitations due to funding and WEM having the equivalent of 3.5 full time staff. WEM offers writers one to one advice, mentoring, critical reads, Writing School East Midlands, writers’ conference and residencies. He briefly discussed the literary scenes in Norwich which highlights internationalism supported by UEA and its UNESCO City of Literature Status. Edinburgh is focused around its festival. Manchester is lively and recently won UNESCO City of Literature status. Birmingham’s scene was growing stronger, especially in Moseley. Nottingham was coalescing around its UNESCO City of Literature status. Derby had a book festival and was developing their spoken word scene through a couple of collaborative and motivated individuals. The common thread in all these successes was a sense of identity and strong theme. There were questions: did these initiatives benefit everybody, who gets prioritised, who controls  projects, how these effect diversity and multiplicity and whether literature can become part of the city’s culture, e.g. involve universities and local authorities?

James Urquhart Relationship Manager Arts Council England (ACE), talked about the richness and diversity of the scene in Leicester. ACE’s mission was achieving art for everyone and he was positive about the role of volunteers. He asked how writers can reach out to new audiences and felt raising the profile of writers relied on developing and sharing audiences and sharing and promoting each other. He cited the example of a project done by Maria Taylor where three “page poets” and three “stage poets” were invited to share a stage. He mentioned looking at creating partnerships and looking at non-arts organisations and potential funders, reaching out to Leicester’s twin cities and investigate touring and/or inviting festivals to Leicester. ACE were not there to tell artists what to do, it was down to artists to approach with ideas. He finished by asking, “Who are you invisible to?”

This last point provoked a discussion about organisations such as ACE reaching out to artists who might feel they couldn’t initiate contact either because they didn’t know what the organisations could do or felt jargon was a barrier. James Urquhart responded that, like WEM, he had a large area to cover and didn’t have the resources to do outreach as well. The point about funding bodies not being directional was mentioned. James was asked why ACE didn’t recognise stand-up comedy as an art, a question he couldn’t answer.

It was felt Leicester needed more confidence in what it was doing to create a joined-up picture and perhaps this event could create that forum. At this point the meeting was wound up – it was 9.30pm and the snow was getting worse.

There will be follow up meetings likely to take place in July and December 2018.

 

David Olusoga Literary Leicester 18 November 2017

David OlusogaDavid Olusoga has fond memories of Leicester after studying for his masters degree at the university, but, to start his talk, he went further back to studying history at school. He remembered history being chopped up and divided commonly into British History or European History, so history felt incomplete and Black history fell between the gaps. Both common divisions ignored non-white people. Yet history is full of non-white people and Britain’s history is interwoven with Africa. This is shown by relics in street and place names plus financial history. The history of slavery became a specialist subject so was dropped from mainstream syllabi and was given euphemisms like ‘West India trade’ or, the one I remember from school days, ‘the Spice Trade’. It is easy for historians and teachers of history to play down or skip over what was happening outside Britain.

Yet Black British History is often hidden in plain sight. For example, Nelson’s Column in London has four bas-reliefs near its base and one of them, by John Edward Carew is called ‘The Death of Nelson’ and features an African, one of 18 men enlisted from Africa. Of course the Victorians who build the column didn’t care for tokenism or political correctness. The man is there because he was there.

The current trend for tracing family trees, which David Olusoga supports because it keeps records open for access, has seen some discover that there were Africans or slave owners in their history too.

David Olusoga asked the audience to consider the origins of the word ‘guinea’. The common association is with the 1000 and 2000 guinea stakes at Newmarket race course. At one point, business and services, such as legal, often used guineas on their price lists to confer a higher status on their goods and services. The guinea coin was produced from the Guinea coast and minted by the Royal African Company. The Royal African Company were also the largest slave trader, up to 150000 slaves, who were branded with ‘RAC’ or ‘DY’ on their chests. ‘DY’ was representative of James, Duke of York, whom New York is named after. The Royal African Company had a Royal Charter so could call on the British Royal Navy to protect its ships and fortresses. Without that context, guinea has just become a word or the name of a horse race.

Another example of how origins have been obscured is in the War of Jenkins’ Ear. In 1738 Britain was at war with Spain. The excuse for going to war with Spain took place in Cuba where the British ship Rebecca was intercepted by the Spanish ship La Isabela. The captain of the latter assumed British captain wasn’t taking the situation seriously enough so the Spaniard cut the British Captain’s ear off. Spaniards know the war as The Guerra del Asiento, a war over the treaty where Britain had a right to supply an unlimited number of slaves to Spanish colonies. But refering to this as the War of Jenkins’ Ear means the origins are obscured.

The UCL’s Legacy of Slave Ownership project has revealed that slavery contributed 9-10% to Britain’s ecomony at its height, roughly equivalent to the contribution made by the City of London today. The South Sea Bubble is often told as an economic story that overlooks the part that the slave trade played in the bursting of that bubble.

When growing up, David Olusoga felt he wasn’t being told his own history. Lessons focused on the Industrial Revolution and he was taken on visits to cotton mills, mines and factories but never told where the cotton came from. The roots of current management culture are actually in Caribbean plantations, not the cotton mills of Lancashire. His comment, “There’s a point at which omission begins to look a lot like a lie.”

In a recent You Gov poll, 59% thought the British Empire was something to be proud of. In the 1920s, 1 in 4 people were British subjects. Britain was the first superpower. Yet the British are good at overlooking the sources of what are consider national products. For example, tea: grown in India, taken with milk from Dutch cows and sugar from the Caribbean. There was much media fuss when it was claimed that chicken tikka masla had overtaken fish ‘n’ chips as the national dish. But Walter Raleigh introduced the potato from South America and battered fish is a recipe from Portuguese Jewish refugees.

With some laughter and a lot of applause, David Olusoga prepared to take questions. The first asked his thoughts on Germans making learning about the Holocaust compulsory. David Olusoga responded that Holocaust teachings overlooked the holocaust in Northern Africa but teaching history has always been political. His priority is not to have special classes on Black History but integrate Black History into mainstream classes. David Olusoga supports the Black Cultural Archives and hopes this will provide a model for others. However, the Black Cultural Archives have to suceed because, if it fails, it provides an excuse not to bother creating others.

He said he was surprised when others bristled at discovering there were blacks in Britain before slavery – the Romans had used North African slaves to build Hadrian’s Walls and paintings of Georgian country houses sometimes showed blacks. He couldn’t understand why this could be seen as a threat to national identity. But he suspected the answer lay in the way history was taught and that its current insular, islanded approach enabled people to ignore the bits they found uncomfortable.

The final question was about Banjo TV, his production company. David Olusoga explained that teenagers can spot hypocrisy a mile off and when he visited a school and quoted the statistic about British Blacks being less likely to set up their own businesses, he felt he ought to lead by example. At this point, he had to leave to catch a train.

David Olusoga entertained and informed without being accusatory or making people uncomfortable. He made an excellent case for expanding history to include where cotton came from, how sugar got to the UK and Britain’s economic history without omission.