Alphabet Spaghetti (the book, not the theatre) . . . Review

At Babble Gum this month (the music/poetry/comedy night I co-run in Newcastle), we were lucky enough to bring up Nottingham-based poet Stephen Thomas, who brought his new book Alphabet Spaghetti.

I loved it.

Ian Dury off of the Blockheads once sang ‘I could be a poet, I wouldn’t have to worry.’

If he had been, he’d have been proud of many of these playful poems.

Mixing cheeky English wit with occasionally cutting political satire, the book is mature and fantastically immature all at once. It’s careful, considered, necessarily economical with language and wonderfully silly.

The concept is a book of 26 poems, one for each letter of the Alphabet (a poem for A, a poem for B, etc), in which each poem only uses words which begin with the corresponding letter.

Subjects range from the dangers of utopia to the fantastic hairdos of the keepers of Hell, to xenophobic, X-Men hating xylophones.

As Stephen had come up to perform, I was lucky enough to hear some of the poems in live performance, where they stand up excellently as well.

I just read the whole book on my lunch break and laughed out loud loads of times. It’s mint. In a culture of self-searching, it’s a well-worked antidote, a timely injection of daftness, with its tongue in its cheek and its feet planted firmly on the floor. Totally recommended. And it’s got some lovely illustrations to boot.

 

 

Stephen’s website is here. Give him a shout if you fancy a read of it yourself!

The book was published by Big White Shed in Nottingham – check them out here.

‘Five Years’ with Neal Pike

New project seems to be taking off! Namely ‘Five Years’ – a show I’ve started making with Nottingham-based poet and now theatre maker Neal Pike, who I met through the Mouthy Poets a few years ago.

Neal and I spent a year or so exchanging emails about the idea, with Neal sending me bits of writing. Then this March we managed to get in a rehearsal space together at Space Six in Newcastle to see if there was scope for a theatre piece in the writing – and it seems there is! We got some great material from the week, so applied for some residencies.

Amazingly, we got accepted for a scratch night at Square Chapel in Halifax, as well as Playground Festival at Nottingham Playhouse in October, and we’ve also been chosen for a residency with the North East Artist Development Network (NEADn)!

Having worked in a writer/director duo while making Sticking as a writer and performer, it’s exciting to now be putting lessons learned from that into practice in a director/dramaturg role in another co-created project. There’ll be a good long road ahead with this piece I think, and it feels fantastic to get such a head start on it!

Here’s some feedback from the scratch at Square Chapel:

·         Lots of impact, vivid, we began to inhabit the performer’s biography & world. Good physical use of the stage – the performer’s movement between the pages on the floor helped the monologue be dynamic.

·         Powerful, brave, thought-provoking

·         Brave performance!

·         Really enjoyed. Thank you.

 

Looking forward to the next stage x

Catch Up

So my mate Josh has got a blog going charting the course of his so far vastly successful mission to write 1,000 poems in a year. It’s well worth a read. I’m not doing anything nearly so courageous and was wondering what a blog was worth without something to frame it around. But what I like about Josh’s blog most is hearing about what he’s been up to and it has been an eventful couple of months, so I thought I might catch up on it.

First things first, I’m now a slam-winning poet! Having fallen in and out of love with slam a few times, I was down in Nottingham t’other month for the poetry festival there and made my way along to the Nottingham Poetry Society’s Slam at the Mechanics Institute. It’s a lovely pared-down event that I’ve performed at a couple of times before and I went along with Josh and my mate Neal (who I’m now making a new show with), and it was lush. Really nice event and felt like I put a lot into it – it made me nervous and after a few years performing it’s always great to do a gig where it feels like it matters enough that it might almost overwhelm me. Like riding the top of a wave of nerves. So the win was nice, particularly while surrounded by people whose work I love hearing.

I’m also just back from an adventure away – a week in Iceland with my sister visiting a friend, which was beautiful and interesting, followed by two weeks in Canada with another dear friend. Performed in Montréal at a night called Words and Music which was filled with effortlessly cool performers. I wasn’t so effortlessly cool at all, but it seemed to go well. I got given half an hour and it was the first gig I’ve done in a while where I felt properly out of my depth, which is a good feeling. I’m definitely liable to settle in comfort zone with performance a lot, and a buzz of uncertainty is always welcome from time to time. Canada is gorgeous, and now where I want to live.

Back home for a week, feeling more settled. Today was the first day back at work, followed by the last ten minutes of Jeremy Corbyn’s rally in Gateshead. I always tend to go into such events with a certain level of cynicism – not deliberately . . . it’s possibly a defence mechanism, or a way of trying to ensure that my reactions are genuine. . . or something. But anyway, he was brilliant. Absolutely in his element. I came away feeling that there is something to build on in this country, regardless of which way Thursday goes. I feel often like I’ve not been blessed with growing up in one of the more exciting generations, but I got a real sense coming away from hearing him speak that this is a once in every three or four generation event. It’s galvanising. Roll on Thursday.

In other news, I’ve also had a poem I wrote recently accepted for Silkworm – the annual anthology by a group in America called The Florence Poets. So looking forward to seeing that in print. Having been involved in poetry for a while, I drift in and out of being able to really feel the point of it. Right now, I feel like I get it. I’m reading more and writing a little more, and sending stuff out . . . beginning to appreciate the feeling of sending and reading messages in bottles lapped up from other places. I’m still a sucker for instant gratification, but beginning to enjoy the delayed satisfaction of recognition from strangers on other continents as well.

This Wednesday I’m down in Halifax for a Scratch at Square Chapel with the new show I’m helping Neal Pike make (follow the link for event info (sadly/happily sold out) and a lovely pic of Neal in Nottingham’s Lee Rosy’s). We’ve had a week in a room together and sent off a few applications, so it’s great to get the ball rolling and, excitingly, we’ve got residencies in the pipeline in Gateshead and Nottingham to keep on making it.

Also putting plans in place to make another show with Peader Kirk, my collaborator on Sticking, which is exciting. After a slow start to the year, it feels like everything’s starting to build nicely towards getting back into rehearsal rooms and making stuff. Very looking forward x

Two days of good poetry stuff

I’ve had a couple of lovely poetry-oriented days. Last night was Babble Gum – The Seventh One – the poetry/music/comedy night that I co-run with Alix Alexandra and Marie Lightman. It was definitely one of the rowdier ones we’ve had, with stunning music from Wilf Stone, eclectic and entertaining poetry from David Roe and DrayZera and excellent comedy from Si Beckwith.

It feels like we’ve built a really nice night, and it’s great to have an event that is mixed-bill and right in the centre of town. If you’ve not been along, come down sometime. We’re at the Split Chimp third Tuesday of every month. We’ve had some fab acts so far and are set to continue a mix of local and national talent: DrayZera came up all the way from Bury St. Edmunds via a gig in Torquay last night (I realise that’s not on the way, but still); we’ve had Josh Judson from Londingham (London, but also Nottingham) and James McKay from even further south than that and all, and there’s more Nottingham talent on the way in the form of Stephen Thomas in June, who’ll be joined by Gevi Carver from Sheffield (I like her poem in the link lots 🙂 ). Eee, aren’t we eclectic!

Speaking of cities, I’ve been in Leeds today, helping out Leeds University Spoken Word Society ahead of their Slam of the North on Friday. What an amazing group! I’ve fallen in and out of love with slam poetry at times, (competitive poetry set to a 3-minute timer) but this group has fully restored my faith in it. They’re going to be performing two duets, a solo piece and a larger group piece, all of which are phenomenal bits of theatre in their own right; incredible what they manage to do in a three minutes.

If you’re in the area, get along to the event, it should be a barnstormer. And keep eyes peeled for more from Leeds Uni Spoken Word – they’re building a creative force to be reckoned with!

Conversation Cafe No.2!

Back in December, I carried out the first ever of my new Conversation Cafes in the bookshop of Old Alphabetti – initially designed as a wrap-around for my show Sticking, the event was a lovely, heart-warming and engaging sharing of stories over tea and cakes. You can read about that here.

I was keen to do another, and, fortunately, ARC Stockton were keen to get on board.

The second ever Conversation Café happened there last week, on Friday March 17th, with myself and six others in attendance. Again, it was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours with some wonderful, chatty people. Conversation focused a lot on gender and identity politics and expression, and branched out into the various topics of cycling, naturism, writing, Barcelona, lying and character creation.

In each of the café’s so far, there seems to have come a point where the structure becomes less necessary – a tipping point where conversation carries on its own wind. This time, that seemed to happen more or less immediately. Having set up a get-to-know-each-other intros exercise in which people told each other about themselves for a couple of minutes, the chatting carried on for a good twenty. I was sat next to a wonderful woman called Ellie and we talked in depth about gender constructions, Christianity and helping people.

This felt like a good thing, and is, I think, where I want these events to move on to; a chance to chat, with as much structure as is needed to facilitate that and as little as to not get in the way. I was very conscious of holding back from ploughing on with planned exercises once conversation had begun to flow.

We didn’t even get on to using the new writing prompts I’d written! Here they are anyway, if you fancy a look:
A moment of questioning

A time you felt protective

A time of celebration

A time you felt connected to someone new

A time when you felt like you were on the edge of something

A time when you felt present in your own life

A time when you wanted something else

A time you questioned your decisions

 

I did read the section of Sticking that I’d brought along, and explained the writing style and the choice to show, rather than tell, emotional content. This seemed to go down well with the group, and I’m glad I resisted the urge to leave out my own performance from the session.

This did, in many ways, feel like an intermediary session into what might come. In fact, we even ended up talking about what the event might move on to become in the future. The consensus so far seems to be the idea to set up a regular monthly event in which everyone chips in some cakes and tea, someone brings a starting topic to work from, and we go from there.

This, I suppose, reduces the writing-workshop elements and the focus on personal narratives that were part of the original concept, but I’m not so sure this is a bad thing.

Conversations are underway to get this event rolling regularly, so watch this space! I really can’t recommend enough spending two hours of an afternoon getting to know some new people. I came away with the warm, furry fuzz of new connections, heart and brain opened just a little.

So who fancies coming and having a chat?

Plans abound . . .

Comfort in Maps

I went to bed late last night, or rather early this morning, at about 4, falling asleep eventually after a brief but potent bought of anxious near panic, and with a conviction that I’ve ruined my life. It felt explicable at the time. . .

So I was expecting this morning to be a bit shit first thing – I tend to wake up in a dialled down version of the mood I went to bed with.

But I’ve been rescued, not for the first time, by an unlikely source.

Before it sadly closed its basement doors, I bought a book from the Alphabetti Theatre bookshop in Newcastle where I live – a hefty and imposing book called ‘THE TIMES Atlas of WORLD HISTORY’ – (that’s how they write it on the cover). It was published in 1984 and it’s the size of an elephant’s foot and it’s full of maps and bits of history and that.

I swear to Moses, nothing has ever calmed me down better.

Here’s a picture.

History Atlas.jpg

And this morning, rather than get sucked into it for three hours like I have done before, I’ve written a poem about it; writing early in the day as well as reading tends to help.

I hear a lot of my friends on social media talking about struggles with anxiety, depression, seeking ways to get out of bed in the morning when you don’t absolutely have to, how to keep the black dog in its kennel. And honestly, this might just work for me, but if you’re the type, like me, who find themselves waking on a day of various-vaguely-defined-things-that-need-to-be-done and hit with an immediate and increasing wave of terror and ultimate uselessness in the universe, buy yourself a nice big atlas. Or something else similarly simultaneously mundane, ongoing and quietly fascinating – some sort of almanac perhaps – and give yourself ten, twenty minutes in the morning to get sucked in. It’s like Tetris effect for me; it gives my mind time and space to think about nothing for a bit, or rather one very specific thing outside of itself (this morning it was plate tectonics, an interest in which I have my dad to thank for) before coming back round to thinking of something nice (in this morning’s case, the fact that it’s sunny outside and my room’s unusually tidy – I really don’t notice those things straight away when I’m down or worried.)

If it works, post a reply and let me know. It’d be interesting, apart from anything else, to see if it’s just me.

I’ll post the poem that came out this morning on my ‘Things to Read’ page. For now I’m gonna call it ‘Tectonics’.

xx