craic

festival time

The day is almost upon us. From Friday, I’ll be in Edinburgh. Saturday is the first date in a one-week run of ‘Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists’ the spoken-word-show-piece-of-theatre type thingummy I’ve been rehearsing with Dave Pitt and Emma Purshouse. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it’s been working with this pair of reprobates – because it absolutely has – but if you come along to the show I’m sure you’ll see exactly what I mean.
There’s still so much to do before I leave tomorrow morning. And yes, the eagle-eyed among you are right: that does mean I’m taking two days to get to Edinburgh. I’ve copies of the ‘punk in Walsall’ newspaper to drop off at Rebellion Festival in Blackpool tomorrow lunchtime, and a gig in Appleby in Cumbria that evening. But first I need to get the van back from the garage – the small matter of getting brakes and steering fixed before I set off – pack everything I need for a week at the Fringe, wash, shop, and fit in one final rehearsal. 

Sometimes it’s exhausting just thinking about it. But it’s also wonderfully, madly, bounce-up-and-down-like-a-kid-on-his-way-to-the-seaside exciting. It’s great to be taking part in the Fringe anyway, but to be doing it with two good mates, and with a piece of theatre I’m really proud to have played a part in helping create, well, that just takes the biscuit.
Watch this space for all the news of our adventure!

edinburgh

Sometimes, an idea blurted out on the spur of the moment in the course of a few drinks down the pub, a nothing, a casual aside you never really expect will go anywhere, well, it proves to be a moment of genius no-one ever expected.
That’s the nearest I can come to explaining the concept of ‘poets, prattlers, and pandemonialists’. An idea which first saw the light of day as myself, Dave Pitt, and Emma Purshouse wrapped ourselves round a fourth (or maybe fifth) pint during one of our regular meetings in a pub in Wolverhampton. We liked each other’s poetry, we got on, we had a laugh and took the mick out of each other like there was no tomorrow, so why not work together? What could possibly go wrong?
That was less than a year ago. Since then, we’ve run poetry slams, put on the premiere of our show ‘Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists’ in Wolverhampton, and set up an entirely new – and very successful – poetry and spoken word night in Walsall. We still like each other’s poetry, and we still have time to meet down the pub and take the mick out of each other.
edinburgh jpgFor our next venture, we’re taking the PPP show up to the Free Fringe in Edinburgh. Why not? It’ll be an adventure. We’re doing a cut-down version of the Wolverhampton show, so it fits into the 50-minute slot we’ve been given, and from August 5th to 11th we’ll be performing at BarBados on Cowgate each and every evening at 7.30pm. Like all the Free Fringe events, it’ll be free entry, and we’ll be passing the hat round at the end of each show to help keep the wolf from the door.
Courtesy of the very talented photographer, Matt Timbers, we’ve a fantastic image to promote our show – you’ll see a small version of it to the left of this sentence. If you’d like a copy for yourself, or to share with friends who live in Edinburgh, or who might be visiting the city in August, drop me a line at steve@stevepottinger.co.uk  Maybe we’ll see you there for a pint, too.
P.S. You can read more about when we first performed the show in Wolverhampton by clicking here.

books

In 2012, my book ‘Island Songs was published. It had been a good while since I’d dipped my toes into the world of performance poetry, and I ordered way more books than I was ever likely to sell. Ah well, nothing to do but roll up my sleeves, get out there gigging, and hope to find people who’d want them.
This last Monday – just before the evening rush hour – I hopped on the motorbike and rode out along motorways and A-roads for a gig in Welshpool. There, in the interval of a poetry event in the back room of a pub, I sold the last ever copy of ‘Island Songs’. It had come as something of a surprise when, a few weeks earlier, I’d found I had just ten copies left, and I decided that all the money from those last copies would go to a worthy cause, the charity Shelter, who do so much to help people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
My thanks to every single person who’s bought and enjoyed ‘Island Songs’ (there’s more of you than I would ever have dared to imagine). Two years ago I followed it up with ‘more bees bigger bonnets’ and this seems as good an opportunity as any to announce there’ll be a new book – my fifth – in the autumn. If you organise poetry events and are looking for a feature poet (or you know someone who does) or you’d simply like me to come to your town and read to you and your friends, get in touch.
I know not every gig will involve sitting outside a pub in the sunshine watching swifts and swallows and jackdaws, but I’ve a motorbike and a strong urge to travel, so let’s make it happen.
(This morning, Ignite Books made a donation of £40.00 to Shelter. If you want to support their work, you can do so here)

it’s a wrap

It’s a worrying moment. You’ve just about made it to the end of your poem, and you know you’ve nailed it. Tone of voice? Bang on. Body language? Perfect. You’ve even remembered all the words, and got them in the right order. You start the last line – and someone sends the cameraman a text.
He hasn’t got his phone on silent, which means the audio track picks up the ‘ping’ as the text arrives. On the one hand, this is hilarious – if you’d started the poem two seconds earlier, or whoever sent the text had pressed ‘send’ a fraction later, you’d have a perfect take in the bag – but behind the laughter there’s a nagging sense of doubt. What if that was the take for the day? What if you spend the next couple of hours stumbling over the words, forgetting your lines, and being interrupted by traffic and street noise from outside?
The pressure is on. Fortunately, the next take is fine (the cameraman has put his phone on silent, thankfully). You do another one – just for luck – and that runs without a hitch, too. Job done. As the cameraman packs his gear away, you laugh about the timing of that text, how it could have thrown the whole day into a spin. By evening, he’s sent the video over. A little later, you post it up online.
A new poem. A new, strong, stable poem. You hope it’ll make people smile.
(if you want to, you can view it here)

island of hope

Five years ago, when I first dipped my toes back into the world of performance poetry, I put together a volume of poems – some old, some new – called Island Songs. They went on sale via the Ignite Books website, and I took copies with me whenever I did a gig. Since then, I’ve also published more bees bigger bonnets which I’m immensely proud of, but Island Songs has continued to slip away into people’s pockets, copy by copy, to a point where I’m now down to the last ten copies.
It’s great to make some money out of my words, but life’s about more than that. I got caught – pleasantly – by surprise by how few copies of Island Songs are left, and it set me thinking. I decided that all of the sale price of each of those last ten copies is going to go to charity. Specifically to Shelter, who do so much to work with people who are homeless, or facing homelessness. If you’d like to buy one of those copies – and it won’t be getting re-printed, so it’s now or never –  then you can be sure all of the money is going to do something good.
If you want to, you can buy Island Songs here.
And you can find out more about Shelter here.

pandemonialists

Almost a year ago to the day, I sat down in a pub with poets Dave Pitt and Emma Purshouse and – over the course of a few pints – the three of us decided working together might be a lot of fun. We didn’t really know what it was we wanted to do (and for a while it looked as if it would mainly involve keeping our favourite Wolverhampton pubs healthily solvent) but we knew something would turn up.
And it did.
Last night, at the Arena Theatre in Wolves, we gave our first ever performance of ‘poets, prattlers, and pandemonialists’. It’s something we’ve poured our hearts and souls into, which we’ve drafted and edited and re-drafted and grafted at, and which has been a hell of a lot of fun to chisel into shape. But you don’t ever know if you’ve really created something that works till you put it in front of an audience, and last night – for the first time – we did.
Wow. It worked. Over one hundred people came along to watch it, and the feedback we got – both in applause and laughter at the time, and in texts, emails, and social media posts since – has been gobsmackingly positive. If I’m honest, it’s all slightly surreal and I’m still trying to get my head round it. I don’t know what more to say, other than to say thanks to everyone who helped us along the way. The Arena Theatre for finding us a date in their calendar, and giving us space to perform; poet Mark Niel for generously giving up an afternoon last week to watch what we’d done and offer suggestions as to how we could make it even better; and everyone who came along last might to clap, laugh, cheer, and tell us how much they loved it. Thank you all.
You’d expect me to blather on about how good the show was, I guess. So I’ll leave you with someone else’s take on the show. Reviews – especially from people who watch a lot of live performance – don’t come much better than this:
“Tonight I have seen something extraordinary. A night of poetry which was fiercely engaging, infinitely accessible, loud, proud and bold about where it came from, but most importantly framed in a manner which gave space for the work to shine but kept the audience on the edge of their seats throughout; this wasn’t just poetry, it was storytelling, and most importantly it was theatre. Glorious theatre. Dave, Steve, and Emma, you guys rock. Thank you for being awesome.”
From one happy, tired, and gobsmacked poet: thanks.

prattling on

Poetry, it has to be said, is a bit of a solo pursuit. Most of the time, you write and edit and practise alone. You share a stage with other poets, but you don’t often get to collaborate with them.
Right now, that’s all changed. For the past couple of months I’ve been working with poets Dave Pitt and Emma Purshouse on a three-handed play, all about what happens when three poets meet up in a pub to put on a show. How did we come up with that idea? Easy. The three of us met in a pub (more than once) had a few drinks (as you do), took the mick out of each other (repeatedly), and somewhere in the ensuing mayhem and pandemonium, the show took shape.
‘poets, prattlers, and pandemonialists’ has been a huge amount of fun to be involved with. It’s also been challenging, and demanding, and bloody hard work. It’s eaten up evening after evening in rehearsals as we improve, re-write, improvise, edit, add to, and change the script. And I’ve loved every minute.
Now we’re just ten days away from show time. April 21st, in the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton. It’s going to be theatre, and it’s going to be poetry and it’s going to be more banter than you can shake a stick at. It’ll be like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s going to be ace.
It’s also going to be the only performance of ‘poets, prattlers, and pandemonialists’ before we take it up north for a week’s run at a large arts festival in a certain scottish city. We think we should probably mention that. It’s quite exciting. Come and see what we’re making this song and dance about!
Ahem. If you haven’t got them already, you can buy your tickets here (or click on any of the highlighted text). Thanks.

still more bees

Two years ago, I got to see the first copies of my book ‘more bees bigger bonnets’. Two days ago, a van courier delivered the latest print run. The third one. My thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy of ‘more bees…’ and enjoyed it, to all the poetry nights that have given me a gig, and the festivals who’ve put me on the bill. Books don’t sell themselves – there’s a lot of hard graft involved – but I’ve loved sharing my words with people. Every train journey, every drive home in the rain, every new audience has been a joy. 


I’m a lucky man. I know it. Over the next few months I’ll be out and about, getting up behind a microphone wherever people will have me (next week, that’s Guildford; after that, it’s Wigan) sharing my words and listening to the words of others. Making connections and revelling in it, having a chat over a coffee or a pint. It’s a good life.
You can – of course – buy my books at my gigs. Alternatively, they’re on sale here, and to celebrate the third print run of ‘more bees…’ there’s currently a special offer. It ends this Sunday, so – if you don’t want to miss out – get your skates on, eh?

buzzing about

Everyone needs something in their life they’re passionate about. I don’t suppose it matters too much what it is – whether it’s football or painting or fishing or dancing – just as long as it’s there, as long as you’ve that special something to give focus to your life and brighten up your days.
For me (and there’s no surprise here) it’s poetry. Which is to say, the sense of communication that comes with and through poetry. I get an absolute buzz out of meeting people and having a blather which is every bit as important as the act of getting up behind the mic and sharing my words. That’s usually why I’m there in the first place, but listening to and savouring all the different interpretations of the world and takes on life which I get to hear while I’m at a gig, well, that’s the icing on a particularly tasty cake.
So a huge thanks to all those people in London and StAnza, and Ludlow, and Galway who’ve shared their take on the world from behind the mic or over the top of a pint or two. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to hear you. I hope you found something in my words that you enjoyed in turn.
If any of you are still wondering exactly what it is I do, you can get an idea from this review of StAnza festival. It’s all worth reading (you should definitely listen to Kevin McLean) and – when you get to it – you’ll see why I’m so chuffed about it.
I’ll treasure that while I get on with the rehearsals for Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists. It’s going to be something really special, and I’ll be jabbering on about that very soon.
whispers: but if you can’t wait, you can get tickets for the premiere here.

long march

It’s gone five thirty in the evening as I write this, and it’s still light outside. Spring is coming, and it seems only right for me to celebrate these ever longer days by getting out and about. So I am.

This weekend, I’m going to be at the StAnza international poetry festival in St Andrews, for what is only my second ever gig in Scotland. If you’re in the area and fancy coming along, or have friends in the area and fancy badgering them about this feast of poetry, the details are here.

I hotfoot it back down south in time to read at The Poetry Lounge in Ludlow on March 7th, and then I’m having another bash at reading in Galway. Last time I tried to do this – in early February – my plans were well and truly scuppered by a missing ferry, so I spent a couple of hours in Holyhead port and went home. I like to think the ship in question was still up on a ramp with a bloke in overalls looking at it, shaking his head, and muttering something about the ball joint being knackered and the big end past its best and it’s how long since you last checked the oil?

Anyway, I’m assured the ferry has passed its MOT and got a new set of tyres, and is now happily chugging back and forth between Holyhead and Dublin, and I got a refund on my February ticket, so there’s every chance I will manage to get to Galway in time to join a host of wordsmiths at The Museum in the Spanish Arch on March 10th.

Pop by and say hi. Or stare at the empty space where I should have been and know that the ferry is parked up on the hard shoulder with its hazards on and steam billowing from under the bonnet, and I’m wailing and gnashing in Holyhead once more.


hairstyle, and mop

Sitting down to write this blog, I realise I’m starting 2017 on a bit of a roll. It’s a while since I’ve been on a bit of a roll, and I’m remembering how much I like it. I’m currently high on enthusiasm, stuffed to bursting with dreams. Given that the sun has shone on the West Midlands for precisely no hours whatsoever in the past week – thanks, weather gods – that’s nothing short of incredible, but to date this burst of creativity has survived the murk and gloom. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess.
To date, I’ve let the punk in Walsall exhibition loose on Birmingham, which I’m really proud of. You’ll find it in the Parkside Gallery at Birmingham City Uni for the next three weeks. Entry is free, and if you want a copy of the free newspaper that goes with the exhibition, you can pick one of those up too.
I’ve finished drafting a play I’ve been working on with two other poets – watch out for more about that later in the year – and discovered how joyous it can be to spend a week on holiday (it claimed to be a writing retreat, but I wasn’t fooled) in North Wales in early January. I’ve even been inspired to get back to working on the book I laid to one side when 2016 got shitty.
And yesterday, I fulfilled a life-long ambition by spending the morning in the toilets in Walsall Art Gallery with Reuben from Trapeze Films and a mop. We were putting together a video for one of my poems, rushed out to celebrate – no, that’s not the right word – rushed out to commemorate… no, that won’t do either…. rushed out to mark, yes, to mark the occasion of the most embarrassing car-crash of a toe-curling disaster of a party in Washington DC tomorrow, after which the term damp squib may well need to be redefined.
If you enjoy subtle, sophisticated poetry, it’s fair to say this offering may not be for you. It was filmed in a toilets, after all. If a broadside aimed at our new unclothed emperor is more your bag, you may be in luck. Decide for yourself. You can watch it here.
If it makes you chuckle, please share it with your friends. And now I’m back off to mine that burst of creativity for everything it’s got. See ya later.



post-punk

Last weekend, I learned that putting on an exhibition is a lot of work. A lot of work. It’s also a huge amount of fun.
The work comes first. More of it than you’d imagined there would be. Emails, meetings, interviews, hours of editing, more hours of formatting, days locating a venue to show it. Then negotiations, spreadsheets, endless administration. Amendments. Appointments. The all-important press release. Then the song and dance on social media. On and on and on.*
By the time we’d got it all set up, I’d spent so long working on the exhibition that I no longer had any idea whether it was good, bad, brilliant, dull, or misguided. I couldn’t tell whether people would walk in and love what they saw, or go Is that it? and walk back out again.
Finally, we opened. Well, I told myself, it’s a Saturday morning in Walsall. No-one will turn up for an hour or two. I’ll have time to catch my breath. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The gallery opened at 10am. At 10.01, the first person came in. Then another. And another. Punks came in with their parents, parents came in without their punks. They looked at the images, they read the text, they stayed and chatted. Punks everyone had talked about, punks I hadn’t been able to find, walked in, introduced themselves, and told me hilarious and outrageous stories from back in the day. (Can you fit a stolen beer keg into a motorbike sidecar? Yes, you can. Can you ride through Walsall with a mate sitting astride it, take it to someone’s house, and break your way in with a chisel and a hammer? Absolutely. Can you drink all the 56 pints of beer? Not a problem. And does it still make you laugh when you talk about it all these years on? Of course it does.)
Old friends met up for the first time in years. On the Saturday afternoon, local band Not Quite Dead Yet filled the art gallery foyer with the noise of ukulele covers of punk classics. Gallery staff clapped along, something which still makes me smile. Copies of our free newspaper were snapped up in dozens. By the time we shut the doors at the end of Sunday, I was happy, exhausted, and beaming. It had all gone well.
So well, in fact, that we’ll be doing it all again early next year. There’ll be more news about that soon after Xmas.
I can’t wait.
*I didn’t do it all on my own, of course. The wonderful images were taken by Sophie Pitchford, and I’m profoundly grateful to Creative Factory (and Deb Slade in particular) for guiding me through the funding application and all their help along the way.



punk

This website has always been the place where I post about my poetry, my gigs, and my writing. But this blog is about something I’ve put together which is a little bit different….
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that 2016 is the 40th anniversary of punk. There have been exhibitions in London, articles in newspaper and radio, and on TV, and Malcolm McLaren’s son has shown how truly devoid of ideas he is by making a song and dance of burning punk memorabilia (yawn, mate, it’s been done before).
I’ve always felt that the most interesting thing about punk is the impact it had on people in towns up and down the country. So, in between writing poems and doing gigs, I’ve spent a lot of the year working on putting together an exhibition about punks from my hometown, Walsall. It’s been a lot of work, and a lot of fun, and it’s showing at the New Art Gallery in Walsall over the weekend of 3rd and 4th December.
If you’re in the area, I’d love you to come along. You’ll find images and interviews. You can read punks from Walsall saying – in their own words – what punk meant and means to them. Come along on the Saturday afternoon, and you can listen to classic punk songs played on ukuleles. What more could you possibly want? OK, how about a free newspaper you can take home with you, packed with all the pictures and words? We’ve got that, too.
It’s going to be fantastic. Drop by, it’ll be good to see you! Oh, and if you do these things, we’ve a Twitter account @walsallpunx40 where we’ll be posting all our news.


in memoriam

When my grandfather moved down from Scotland to the Midlands in the ’30s, he was one of the only GPs who would offer treatment to the gypsies and travellers who still passed through the area, camping on pit bonk or unclaimed land. As far as he was concerned, travellers had as much of a right to health as the next man. The first rule of medicine was that everyone should be treated the same. Unsurprisingly, word of this soon travelled. Gypsies needing a doctor would come from miles around, draw up their horse-drawn caravans along the street outside his house, and wait to see him.
By the time my father joined the practice in the ’60s, the horse-drawn caravans were gone. Some of the gypsies were settled in council sites, and those still on the move would park up on the little open land that remained in their vans and trucks and caravans, their lifestyle less and less welcome in an increasingly built-up world. They knew of the doctor who would come to visit their sick children, even if they didn’t know who he was, and they kept his number on slips of paper, and found a pay phone whenever the need arose.
I knew all this, of course. When my mom died, and I learned how quickly the tales you promised yourself you’d listen to one day became locked-up secrets no-one could ever tell, I made a point of spending time sitting with my dad and asking him about his life. I’d listen to what he told me, commit it to memory, and write it up on my computer.
What I didn’t know, till this week, was that the gypsies and the travellers would pay my father, press notes into his hand just as they’d done with his father before him. It didn’t matter that he explained there was a National Health Service now, that he was already being paid for visiting them and treating them, and they didn’t need to do this. Their code of honour meant they wouldn’t take treatment for free. My father’s code of honour meant he wouldn’t keep the money, so – although he wasn’t a religious man – on his way home he would pop into the church where my mother went to mass, and stuff the money into the box for collections for the poor.
Some things you only learn when the person is gone. I’d thought I couldn’t be any more proud of my dad and what he did. It turns out I was wrong.
I can.



anthologies

Every poet has quiet times. Or do they? I don’t know. I do, I’m sure of that. Times where life is so busy I can’t find time to collect my thoughts, or the news so depressing I can’t find the strength. Times where your conviction in your ability takes a bit of a kicking and you wonder if you’ll ever pick up a pen in anger again. You tell yourself this will pass, but a small voice whispers that you’re kidding yourself when you do.
It’s been a bit like that recently. So this week – when I’ve had poems published in two very different anthologies – is a much-needed shot in the arm. First, my poem Stabberjocky was included in the collection ‘Poems for Jeremy Corbyn’. Published by Shoestring Press, and with a fairly obvious theme, it’s on sale here and has poems from fifty poets. Twelve of us will be reading at the launch night on October 14th in Housman’s Bookshop in London. Entry is free, and there’ll be a collection for the Ritzy Cinema strike fund. Come along. And if you can’t come along, please spread the word.
Then, this morning, my copy of Half Moon dropped onto the doormat. An anthology of poems about pubs, published by Otley Word Feast Press. One of my poems appears there, and on the accompanying beermats. I’ve never had a poem on a beermat before. I quite like it, just as I quite like the idea that someone may be having a pint in a pub and end up reading my poem. After all, poetry belongs in pubs as much as it does on the page.
Two anthologies in a week. Am I blowing my own trumpet? Yes, a little. But – mainly – I’m writing this blog to remind myself of one thing I’d begun to wonder if I’d forgotten. That every poet has quiet times, but they pass.
They pass.


 


evidently

It’s great being a poet. But without the hard work of people who organise and put on poetry and spoken word nights, and who put in all the hours of graft to make sure they get bums on seats, we’ve nowhere to perform, and no audience to perform to.
The best ones make it look easy, even effortless. And Evidently, in the Eagle Inn in the bustling metropolis of the city of Salford (just north of the unremarkable village of Manchester) does it better than most.
Hats off to Kieren King and Ella Gainsborough and their team. They’ve woven together something magical. The Eagle is a great little venue, there’s a wonderful atmosphere, quality headline acts, and – from what I saw and heard last night – some excellent poets stepping up to take part in the open-mic. It’s their third birthday next month, and if you’re in the area, you should make a point of getting along.
You won’t regret it.



stuff and nonsense

As I take five minutes to scribble this blog down and piece something coherent together, it looks as though a piece of my work is going viral. For the second time.
Last time round, it was the letter to Caffè Nero, written when I discovered that they were making millions in profit while paying next to nothing in corporate tax. You can read about that here if you want to know more about what happened.
This time, two years on, it’s a poem.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched the Westminster soap-opera – the endless labyrinthine machinations and skulduggery and resignations and recriminations – with a sense of increasing disbelief. I wanted to say something about it. But how on earth do you find a way to write a poem about the car-crash of betrayal and ambition in which some of our representatives seem to specialise??
Lewis Carroll provided the answer. 150 years ago he wrote a wonderful nonsense poem, which included the words ‘slithy toves’ in the first line. What a gift for a 21st century poet on a small furious island on the edge of Europe. If ever we needed Jabberwocky, if ever it had something pertinent to say about the nonsense politics of Westminster village, the time is now, I thought. So last weekend I sat down with a pad, a pen, and an overheated imagination, and had a stab at re-writing it. ‘toves’ became ‘Gove’ and Stabberjocky was the result. Seeing as it’s currently been shared nearly 1000 times on social media, it would seem that it struck a chord with others, too.
You can read Stabberjocky on this website, here. And on Facebook, here.
If you enjoy it, and you want to share it with your friends, please do. The genius in this work is Carroll’s. Weak points are mine alone.



whizz bang

There’s always a risk for poets in writing about current affairs. All too quickly, today’s burning issue becomes tomorrow’s chip paper, and all that hard work you put into knocking rhythm and rhyme together counts for nothing. And who wants that?
But there’s always been a role for broadside balladeering, and sometimes – when there’s an issue which has a direct impact on people but seems terminally dull when you try to explain it – a poem can make a point, and get read, where a column in a broadsheet can’t. It’s not an either/or. Both have their place. Yes, we need sober and detailed analysis, but why not engage people emotionally and make them laugh, too? Corporate tax avoidance gets my goat, but it was only when I managed to write a poem about it – no-one likes an angry poet imagined me visiting a tax-dodging coffee shop chain – that I found a way to articulate my anger, and that of others.
Currently, the BBC seem to be choosing to ignore a massive political story: Tory general election fraud in marginal constituencies. You can read the facts about that story here. You won’t hear much about it on the BBC, however, so I wrote this poem – shell-like – to try and bring the issue home.
If it ends up wrapping tomorrow’s cyber-chips, so be it. It was a lot of fun to do. And you should never discount the importance of fun.



unclothing the emperor

There are always people out there who make a life and a career out of winding up liberals, portraying themselves as daring renegades who dare to stand up against the tyranny of political correctness. They say something callous about the story of the moment – calling drowning migrants cockroaches, for example – and then sit back and revel in their notoriety as the storm of condemnation grows.  
It’s a simple formula, and no less effective for that. Ignore them, and they go unchallenged; respond, and you’ve given them the attention that they crave, you’ve swallowed the clickbait. The game has been carefully rigged, and – whichever response you choose – it seems they win, you lose.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and it’s a valid lifestyle choice, if that’s what tickles your fancy, and may be all any of us can afford before too long –  you’ll know that the most striking example of this is playing itself out in North America, where Donald J Trump is making the running in the race to be Republican candidate for president of the USA.
Is the idea that a billionaire businessman can claim to be an outsider utterly laughable? Yes. Is he playing the tired old card of blaming all life’s problems on immigrants and minorities? Yes. Does it seem to be working? Quite probably. I don’t know about you, but in the face of all that I need a bit of a shot in the arm, a little morale-booster, a flight of fancy which imagines a better world, and cuts bullies and renegades back down to size.*
So I did what I do, and wrote a poem. Then I made a video of it. You can watch that video here. Watch it once. Watch it as often as you like. Share it with strangers, share it with friends. In the politics of the playground (which is what we seem to have right now) a little mockery can go a long, long way.
*No, I don’t for a moment believe a little poem written by a gobby bloke in the West Mids will derail the Trump bandwagon. But I do believe in the subversiveness of laughter. And right now, that’ll do.



crazy

We live in a crazy world. Doubt it? Here’s an example.
This weekend the news has been full of stories from the ‘snowmageddon’ on the east coast of the USA (because just calling it ‘very heavy snowfall’ isn’t anything like as exciting, right?). Two feet of snow falling in just a few hours, closing airports and freeways and causing state governors to declare a state of emergency while making one Washington panda very very happy. You can see how much I’ve picked up, and I wasn’t particularly paying attention…
A couple of hours in, and the rolling news was – naturally – looking for a fresh angle on the story, some new titbit for the viewers at home to savour from the comfort of their living rooms. So they found a woman in Baltimore who works with homeless people, and asked her how her charity was coping with this extreme weather – I don’t think any of us were surprised to learn it added to their workload, but this wasn’t meant to be cutting-edge investigative journalism, it was just five minutes of filler on TV. And at some point the charity worker was asked how many people her charity helped. 2,600 she replied. There were families, there were old people, there were kids. 2,600 of them. And the conversation moved on.
But let’s just rewind a minute, forget about the snow, and look at what wasn’t considered worthy of headlines. What didn’t even raise a flicker of concern. Which is that every day, in just one city in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, there are 2,600 homeless people reliant on charity just to get by. Come rain, come shine, come two feet of snow. Families, old people, kids. With nowhere to live, and in need of soup kitchens and shelters to make it from one day to the next, in a society awash with money, which positively worships wealth.
There’s something profoundly wrong with this picture. But then it’s a crazy world.
Imagine a world which wasn’t.
Imagine a world where a person of wealth and substance, a modern-day Croesus, a – for the sake of argument, let’s say a Donald Trump – halted his campaign for power and glory, and his gospel of hatred and fear, and declared he’d thought about those homeless people, and how just a fraction of his $4.5billion fortune could help them.* Imagine a world where it occurred to him that this might be a noble and worthwhile use of his money, one which would – arguably – provide him with a greater legacy than building yet another exclusive golf course no-one will ever see. Imagine a world where he got up behind the podium at one of his rallies and announced to his supporters he was going to use his wealth to help the poorest in his country…. Go on, give it a go.
Not easy, is it? Now tell me it isn’t a crazy world.
* If Trump did this, even I might be tempted to vote for him. Although, in honesty, it’s not that likely.

And he’d still have to do something about the hair.

 



the importance of art

It’s become increasingly fashionable to sneer at art. Philistines on the right dismiss it as not being a proper job, while their counterparts on the left say how it fails to liberate the masses, and virtually all of us roll our eyes when we’re faced with art which wraps itself in impenetrable terminology – blah blah juxtaposition blah deconstructing blah prevailing orthodoxy blah blah blah – and still leaves you wanting to poke your own eyes out with a fork. But the truth is that art does matter to people. Or rather, art which speaks to us, helps us make sense of our lives, and allows us to feel part of something bigger than our individual selves, matters to us. If you ever doubt that, you simply need to take the most cursory of glances at the outpouring of grief this month to the deaths of two very different musicians.
The reaction to their deaths shows the importance of art in our lives.
Even if Motörhead meant nothing to you, you’ll know someone for whom their music was the soundtrack to their life, and for whom Lemmy was a hero. Even if you haven’t a single Bowie track in your music collection, you’ll like as not have friends for whom his dress sense, his songwriting, and his sexual ambiguity showed them there was a world which existed outside the narrow confines of the norm. In their own ways, each of them blazed a trail, and you’d need to have a heart of stone not to be moved when you read how much they meant to so many people. The music they created changed people’s lives, and whether you wanted a place for your energy and anger, your sense of difference, your joy of dressing-up, or just some bloody good tunes to get drunk and dance to, you got it. This was art being important, and art being unpretentious. It was art being part of everyday life. It was art mattering.
This isn’t some fuzzy it’s-all-coming-up-roses world view, either. It’s entirely possible to believe in the necessity of art and still be cynical about the attempts of politicians to garner credibility by making sure they clamber on board the bandwagon of grief. And to recognise that for the part of the world’s population which worries about getting enough to eat, or making it through the day without being killed, a discussion about the role of art in our lives is hardly a priority. But art, and human creativity, gives us the tools to help map a route through our existence, and without it our world would be a colder, darker place.
Make time in your life – today, tomorrow, whenever you can – to find the songs which put a smile on your face or a lump in your throat, the books which transport you away from everyday drudgery, the paintings and photos which open up new vistas, and the sculptures which fill you with wonder. And treasure them.
Treasure them always.



taste of honey

The ghost of the Xmas turkey* is already dead and gone, and the horror of the New Year hangover is still just a twinkle in an ill-judged cocktail’s eye, so what better time to let my fingers do the walking and type out one last blog for the year?
It’s been an eventful twelve months. In Spring, my book more bees bigger bonnets was published. It got some great reviews then – Joelle Taylor called it a tower block of a book, Boff Whalley said it was shot through with unforgettable stories – and it ended the year being chosen by economist Richard Murphy as one of his two books of the year. Here’s the link.
My thanks and best wishes go out to all those poets I’ve shared a stage with this year, and to the organisers of poetry and spoken word nights – and promoters of festivals – who’ve given me a chance to put my work in front of a new audience, or bring it back to an audience who’ve heard my work before. Thanks, above all, to everyone who’s come along to my gigs, bought my books, and supported my work. The power of poetry is its potential to build connections, to put into words the things we sometimes struggle to find the words to say, to use the rhythm and musicality of language so our hopes and dreams can sing. If what I’ve written has in any way helped toward that, I’m a happy man.
My hopes for 2016? Global justice, wealth re-distribution, and Moseley taking the rugby world by storm. Or any two of the three. Failing that, a collective shot at getting our heads round the fact that judging people on the basis of their religion, nationality, or skin colour is never a good idea and doesn’t end well. And if that’s too much to ask for, then some decent music, a couple of good beers, and cheering Katie Hopkins, Donald Trump, and Anjem Choudary on their way as the rocket leaves for Mars.
Whatever happens, I intend to be out there gigging. Richard Murphy said my work builds hope and that’ll do for me. If you want me to come to where you live, drop me a line. If I’m coming to your town already, pop by and say Hi. I wish you all the best for 2016. May it be filled with love and laughter and dreaming.
*no turkeys, geese, or nut roasts were harmed in the making of this blog



swarms

Many years ago, back when life was stretching out before me like an endless adventure, I hitched back down from Leeds to Walsall for a party. My best friend in the world was turning eighteen, and her mom and stepdad had hired the function room in a pub, and on top of that they’d ordered a buffet. There were crisps, sandwiches, and chunks of pineapple and cheese on cocktail sticks. There was even hot food. And – seeing as they were pushing the boat out for the evening – there was a cover band, too.
I was pretty certain the younger ones amongst us would have been happier in the bar in t-shirts and ripped jeans, drinking pints and to hell with good behaviour, but this was an evening as much for my friend’s mom and stepdad and her aunts and uncles as it was for us. The cover band stood on the low stage in the corner of the room wearing frilly purple shirts and black slacks, and played barely adequate versions of old rock’n’roll numbers while we sniggered and ignored them.
Then the music stopped, and the singer – all comb-over and Black Country accent – started telling jokes. Irish ‘jokes’. Irish ‘jokes’ where thick Paddy did this, or stupid Paddy did the other. Maybe he thought this added to the sophistication of the evening, I don’t know. But my mom was Irish, and what I heard were the same sad, tired, offensive ‘jokes’ I’d heard all my life, told in the same breath as jokes about ‘pakis‘ and ‘niggers’ and ‘wogs’. The language of bigotry and ignorance which had always made my blood boil, and which always will.
Sitting in that function room, my blood boiled once again. But I knew I couldn’t spoil my friend’s big night by causing a scene, so I sat on my hands and bit my tongue, and told myself to let it lie. Then I heard a lad at the next table mutter and curse under his breath. Something wrong? I asked him. Oh yes, he said, was there ever something wrong. While the singer droned on in the background the two of us chatted about our shared experience of growing up Irish, about identity and discrimination, and how – tonight, especially tonight – we’d really had it up to here with the stupid Irish jokes. By the time the singer announced he was taking a break for ten minutes and the band would be back with more music soon, we knew exactly what we were going to do.
We cornered him on his way to the toilet, and asked if we could have a word. I think he expected praise, a slap on the back and the offer of a pint, and his face froze in shock when we told him his jokes weren’t funny, and his patter sucked. Then came the bluster. It was all just a laugh, wasn’t it? We were taking it way too seriously, weren’t we? We needed to lighten up a bit, and have a pint and a giggle. They were only jokes. Calmly and patiently, we pointed to our history, explained about the discrimination our parents had faced, reminded him how recent it was the signs read No Irish, No Blacks, And No Dogs, but in truth we might as well have been talking to the wall.
He simply couldn’t understand what was happening. Two lads from the Black Country were taking him to task, and he just couldn’t get his head round it at all. We looked and sounded for all the world like we were part of his target audience, one which he assumed would join in laughing and pointing the finger at the immigrant, the foreigner, or the stupid Paddy, and here we were having a go at him. In his world, it just didn’t make sense. But when he went back on stage that night he didn’t tell any more jokes.
Since then, the years have slipped away, one after another, but some things haven’t changed. My friend is still as beautiful and wonderful as ever, and still my best friend. Life is still an adventure. And people still use the language of hate and expect me to fall in line and sing along. But I won’t hate migrants or Muslims or refugees, and politicians who talk of swarms and hordes and threats to our way of life should remember that they have as little credibility as a pot-bellied bloke wearing slacks and singing someone else’s songs in the back room of a pub thirty years ago.
And only Jimi Hendrix ever looked good in a frilly purple shirt.



resistance

Summer. In the UK. Now the cynics amongst you might argue this just gives us more hours of daylight to watch the rain fall, but this year even the most hard-bitten of you would have to admit it’s also offering us more hours of daylight to watch our government set about dismantling the welfare state, appeal to the basest elements of human motivation, and drive us further still to being a pale wet imitation of the USA.
Not the best of times for those of us who think that’s wrong, muddle-headed, and driven more by ideology and greed than anything else.
Which is why it becomes more important than ever to celebrate and champion the good things people do, the alternative narratives, the resistance to this headlong plunge to a new feudalism. Because there’s more going on than you might think.
If you’re thinking to yourself ‘This is all well and good, Steve, but it’s got precious little to do with poetry…’ then you’ve got a point. I hold my hands up on that one. But equally, if you’ve read any of my poetry – and I’m guessing you have, since you’re reading this blog – you’ll know that politics is part of the warp and weft of what I write, so me getting on my soapbox about what’s going on is hardly a surprise. And sometimes I need a break from pushing and promoting my poetry just as much as you do.
So this newsletter is to celebrate the good stuff. The people who put in long hours and hard work to bring art and music to their communities. Volunteers running foodbanks. The work of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. This speech by Mhairi Black. There’s more, of course. Much more. But this is just off the top of my head at nine in the morning when I’m trying to get this finished and posted before I leave the house. (you can always add your own in the ‘comments’ to this blog – I’d love to hear them)
I remain optimistic. I look at people and their capacity for compassion and solidarity and I continue to see hope. This August you’ll find me clambering onto a stage at Green Gathering, Beautiful Days, and Shambala to share that. To take the piss out of the status quo. To remind us we know how we can do better. Come and say ‘Hi’. Let’s share our stories of the good things that are going on, the resistance that is happening, and our plans for where we go from here.
And bring your wellies. It’s summer in the UK, after all.