craic

introducing tim

Late last year, after reading one too many online diatribes from conspiracy theorists who think M&S have put 5G in their underwear, and wondering how to best reply to such nonsense, I sat down and started writing.

What I ended up with was the first in a series of pieces which take the form of conversations between myself and my neighbour, Tim. It’s fair to say that he and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, and that his enthusiasm for life – not to mention his cast iron conviction he’s right about everything – isn’t always matched by his ability to navigate a route through it.

I posted Tim’s story on Facebook. A lot of people enjoyed it. Then Yorkshire Bylines got in touch, asking if they could share Tim’s tales on their website. And now they are. Click here to enjoy Tim’s take on last week’s storming of the US Capitol. Or click here to read all four of Tim’s adventures to date.

Episode five will be with us soon.


trumpet blowing alert

This blog is, first and foremost, a reminder for me. It’s reminder for those future days when the old imposter syndrome sides up and whispers nonsense in my ear, it’s a reminder for the days to come when finding any joy in the world is more of a struggle than I can deal with, it’s a reminder for the days – and yes, they happen – when hope is a stranger and the future uncertain. It’s a reminder, at the end of a spectacularly difficult year, of what I’ve managed to do over these twelve months. Scroll on by if this isn’t for you….

I released my sixth book of poems.
I’m very thankful to everyone who’s bought it.
I’ve had pieces included in three different anthologies.
I’ve written over twenty poems for Poetry on Loan.
I’ve done a dozen Zoom gigs. Who said old dogs couldn’t learn new tricks?
I did some ‘real’ gigs back in March.
I’ve done one ‘real’ gig since. Thanks, Ironbridge Festival of the Imagination.
I’ve run over sixty workshops.
I’ve had more fun working with the pandemonialists than is probably legal.
I’ve written twelve commissioned pieces.
I was lucky enough to have my poem Fatima set to music by An Croenen.
And turned into a video by Patrick Dunn.

Above all, I’ve been lucky. This blog is to remind me of that, as well. I hope you’ve been lucky, too, and that we all are in 2021.


responding to sculpture

Earlier this autumn, I was asked by Mid Wales Art Centre to be one of six poets commissioned to write pieces in response to sculptures they had on show. To add to the challenge, as Wales was under lockdown at the time, it wouldn’t be possible to visit them on location and we’d all need to work from photos.

The work I was asked to write about is by sculptor Alison Lochhead. And – now that I’ve been able to travel to the Centre and see the piece, set in the soft rolling grandeur of the Welsh countryside – I can confirm that the statue’s incredibly evocative, in a way I hope I’ve managed to capture in my poem.

All six poems were made possible by funding from Arts Council Wales, and on November 10th (the day after Wales came out of lockdown) we each travelled to Caersws so we could be filmed – socially distanced, of course – reading our work by the sculptures we’d written about. The completed video, filmed and edited by Matt Cook, was released yesterday. He’s done a phenomenal job: an artist filming artists responding to the work of artists.

It’s been a wonderful project to be part of, and my sincere thanks go out to everyone involved in making this commission possible. Pat and Cathy at Mid Wales Arts, Arts Council Wales, Matt Cook, and – first and foremost – the sculptors whose work inspired these six specially commissioned poems. You can see all of them in the video, here.


commissions

Commissioned poems. The very thought of them used to put the fear of god into me. I suspect a large part of that came down to imposter syndrome – the sneaking suspicion that as soon as someone asked me to step outside my comfort zone of only writing about what I wanted, to a timetable of my own making, I’d fall flat on my face.

Maybe, one day, I will. But – in a year when so many other areas of life have been curtailed – it’s been a godsend to be given the opportunity to work on commissioned pieces. To my great surprise, I’ve found myself loving it. It feels like a kind of poetry yoga – and if that phrase has conjured up some disturbing image of me doing downward dog in a shocking pink leotard, I can only apologise. Let’s all move on by watching this video, of a piece written for a National Lottery project at Boundary Way allotments in Wolverhampton, to put the leotard incident clean out of our minds. And let’s never speak of it again.

note: the video was filmed by the very talented Rachel Gillies, who also created short films for other commissioned poems by Emma Purshouse and Dave Pitt as part of the same project. Click on their names to view those, too.


one ring online

The ‘One Ring To Bind Them’ project is drawing to a close. It’s been quite a year to run a project, and it’ll probably come as no surprise to hear that the arrival of a global pandemic took my eye off the ball a little in late Spring. But we got it back on track, and I’m pleased to say it’s been really successful, and met all of the goals we hoped it would when we first set out. Which is some kind of minor miracle, all things considered.

If you’re wondering what it was all about… the ‘One Ring’ exhibition featured interviews with, and portrait photos of, professional wrestlers in Walsall, and has been shown at three different locations across the Black Country – the third and final exhibition took place at the Creative Factory community centre in Walsall from late September through till late October. All the photos and interviews are now available in an online archive on the Creative Factory website, and if you’ve ten minutes spare (and who hasn’t during lockdown?) you can have gander at them here.

I’m now busy writing up the evaluation and collating the paperwork to send to National Lottery Heritage Fund, who so generously supported the project. Which means it’s time for a short list of ‘thank yous’: to Creative Factory for all their assistance in making the project a success; to Nicole Lovell for some truly wonderful photography; to Mad Dog Maxx for his help in setting up the interviews and for sharing his encyclopaedia-like knowledge of the history of wrestling; to Wolverhampton Central Library and Darlaston Town Hall; to all the wrestlers who took part and the wrestling fans whose passion is so important to the sport. It’s been a privilege to meet you all.

edit: On November 19th, 2020, the sad news that Walsall wrestler Cam Wellington (seen in this photo climbing out of the ring) died in hospital after contracting Covid-19. He was just nineteen years old. RIP.


the kindness of strangers

They’d have you believe it’s a dog-eat-dog world, where everyone’s out for themselves, and only the strong survive. One look at our supposedly glorious leaders (there where they are because of the good fortune of birth rather than any appreciable talent) shows exactly why they’d like to believe it.

Look around you, and life isn’t as they claim. It’s full of small kindnesses, people who volunteer in their communities, run foodbanks, care for others, and look out for those who need help. Folk who create art and understand how it can lift our spirits and put joy in our hearts.

This week, I’ve been especially touched by the generosity of talented artists who’ve asked to put their own spin on my poem ‘Fatima’. It’s been put to music, quite wonderfully, and now there’s a video of it, too. My thanks and deep gratitude to Patrick Dunn for taking the audio of me reading the poem and creating this brilliant video from it. It’s an incredible piece of art.

If you’d like to share it with family and friends, please do. It might just put a smile on their faces too. #SaveTheArts


fatima

Yesterday lunchtime, in response to seeing this government ad, I wrote a poem. By teatime, it had gone viral. By the end of the evening, it had been shared over 1000 times. I woke this morning to discover it had been turned into a meme and was making its way through the world under its own steam, while the number of shares on Facebook topped 1500 and kept on climbing. This afternoon someone has set it – incredibly beautifully – to music, several other folk are threatening the same, and another person’s promised to create a video celebrating Fatima and what she can achieve.

Nothing like this has quite happened to me since the Caffè Nero letter back in 2014. Thank you to everyone who’s shared the poem (or the meme), or got in touch to say it’s been a shot in the arm in difficult times. Watching this government flail around from one bungling catastrophe to the next – while failing to look after the people it’s supposed to serve – it can be easy to feel isolated, despairing. I believe that art, satire, humour, and righteous rage can do a lot to lift that gloom. It seems a lot of other people feel the same. And that will always give me hope.

You can read my poem ‘Fatima’ here, on the Culture Matters website. If you like what they do, and you can afford to lob a few quid their way, I know they’d appreciate it.

Meanwhile, if you’re new to my work and would like to read more of my poetry, you’ll find plenty of it here for free. I hope you enjoy it. I’ve a Youtube channel, too, if you’ve an urge to hear my dulcet tones. And because times are hard, and spare cash is at a premium for a lot of people (in my industry and many others), I’m cutting the price of my book thirty-one small acts of love and resistance to just £5 plus p&p from now till midnight Sunday.

Because art is more effective when it’s shared.


by all means

Making a living as an artist isn’t always easy. At a time when the world is in flux, it’s even trickier. And it’s highly unlikely that any one of us has all the answers of how to get by, which is why I’m so pleased to be joining US photographer John Sevigny and US artist Teresa Parker this Saturday for an online discussion By All Means: a guide to surviving as an artist in the 21st century.

We work in different disciplines, but – as John pointed out in an email about the event – we face common challenges: creative block, getting work seen or read, and having enough money to survive (which isn’t the same as “making it”, and I’m sure we’ll be looking at that on Saturday too).

This isn’t going to be about the three of us handing down wisdom from the mountaintop. It is going to be the three of us sharing our expereiences, talking about the ways we’ve found to deal with/ resolve/ ignore/ bulldoze through the problems we’ve come across, and throwing open the discussion for other folk who are attending to throw their two penn’orth in as well.

It’ll be informative. It’ll be useful. It’ll be fun. It’ll be free. And it’ll be at 7pm UK time this Saturday. If you’d like to come along and spend an hour or two in our company, email John at the address on the poster. It’d be lovely to see you. And – by all means – if you think they’ll be interested, tell your friends.


riding a bike

Last Saturday, after six months where the only poetry gigs I’ve done have been online via Zoom, I got back up on a stage in front of an audience who were – unbelievably – in the same room. Dear reader, it was wonderful. And odd.

The gig was part of the Ironbridge Festival of the Imagination. Myself, fellow pandemonialists Dave Pitt and Emma Purshouse, and last year’s Ironbridge Slam winner Nick Degg, all performing on a stage in a courtyard on a late summer evening. Would we remember how to be performance poets, after all this time? Would the audience remember how to be an audience? Would it work?

It did. Yes, social distancing meant the front row of the audience was four metres away, and individual audience members were sat well away from each other, but it felt good to be back behind a mic. Good to hear applause, and laughter. Good to catch up with friends. Good to travel in anticipation. Good to drive home re-living the night.

Hopefully there’ll be more live gigs. But for now, it’s back to the world of Zoom. I’m taking part in the Quiet Compere event this evening, on Saturday afternoon I join John Sevigny and Teresa Paker for an online discussion about surviving as an artist, and on Sunday I’ll be talking about poetry, politics, and protest with the International Conference on Poetry Studies. Which means it’s time to draw this blog to a close and get those planned. Cyberworld is waiting. It’s just like riding a bike.


goodbye, farewell, adieu

In a year which is doing its level best to throw up one unexpected and bizarre story after another, news which would normally warrant the raising of an eyebrow or several no longer cuts the mustard, and is relegated to a few unwanted column inches at the bottom corner of a left-hand page.

So it is that the decision of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – a man who has spent way more time than is healthy persuading the embittered and gullible that their money is better off in his hands – to shift his sorry arse from our bewildered little island to Spain, well, it barely causes a ripple in the collective consciousness. Yes, there’s a delicious irony in the fact that a bloke who’s banged on about immigrants the moment someone (usually himself) starts filming him on their mobile phone, is now heading over to Europe to become an…er… immigrant, but other than that, has anything changed? A grifter’s gotta grift, wherever he is, and – even as I type – there’s doubtless some tearful appeal for financial support being made ready to share with those folk deluded enough to believe they’re helping kEep bRiTAiN fReE by giving him their dosh.

And here? Well, odds are some other fringe character will see the gap in the market left by Yax’s departure, and step in sharpish. There’s money to be made at grifting, see, and it disappears as fast – nose candy, a new set of teeth, or a wardrobe of sharp suits don’t come cheap – which is why the grift is endless.

And now I’ve got that off my chest, here’s a poem. I hope you enjoy it.

In a difficult year, an ode to the welcome news that Stephen Yaxley-Lennon
is leaving this island to live abroad.

Tommeh’s done a runner
he’s left, he’s flit, he’s gone
Blighty’s getting brighter
now the grifter’s jogging on
he’s off to fair Espana
to get a tan and moan
about how England isn’t England now
and the Costa is his home
he’s an immigrant, a refugee
could the irony be deeper?
P.S. there’s no truth in nasty rumours
that he’s heard coke in Spain is cheaper.


in for a penny

It took a while, but I’ve finally plunged into the world of live online poetry gigs. After weeks of dithering about, last Sunday I did three – yes, three! – gigs via Zoom with fellow pandemonialist and Wolverhampton poet laureate Emma Purshouse. And I really enjoyed them. Seeing as all the evidence points to it being a good while before we go back to live poetry gigs in a pub/club/theatre, online events like these may end up playing an increasing role in keeping ‘live’ performance going. So, what did I learn from my gigs? And might any of it be useful to you?

Let’s find out….

In advance of the gig, check your image (by going into ‘settings’ in Zoom and clicking on ‘video’) so you know you’re central on the screen, that you haven’t got spinach caught in your teeth, or food spilled down your front, and that Michael Gove poster blu-tacked to your wall isn’t in shot.

Get the lighting right. A ceiling light behind you won’t illuminate your face. When you go to a gig, the lighting is key (unless you’re Henry Rollins). At the least, try for additional lighting from the side to help you stand out from what’s behind you. Experiment till you find what works best.

Know your material. Always.

During the gig, we used the ‘waiting room’ facility. This meant we could control when folk joining late (because there will always be folk joining late) were admitted to the gig. Letting them in between poems seemed the best approach.

The ‘mute all’ option was invaluable. This stopped the feedback loop we’ve heard at other gigs. And yes, we did explain to the audience that we were doing it, and why. OK, so it means performing to silence (here I’m avoiding the temptation to make a joke about poets being used to that) but you can see folk clapping, or encourage them to use the little applause icon, or post their appreciation in chat between poems. At the end of each set, we asked people to unmute themselves so we could hear the thunderous applause/ whoops and cheers/ polite ripple of appreciation/ muttered curses.

Leave a space between the poems. Don’t be tempted to rush into poem two because of the silence at the end of poem one. Allow a few seconds of empty air so your audience can absorb what they’ve heard, and get ready for the next one. Pace yourself. Not too fast, and not too slow. Like Goldilock’s porridge, if it was a poet on a Zoom gig.

Speaking as a performance poet, a Zoom gig is not the same as a live gig with the audience in the room. Rather than making eye contact with audience members, reading the room, and immersing myself in the moment, I was attempting to deliver my poems – with the same focus and intensity – to the camera in my laptop. That takes a certain amount of getting used to. Yes, many of the skills you’ve learned over the years are transferable, but there’s also a slightly different dynamic between performer and audience. Trust yourself.Performing to a screen is, possibly, more exhausting than a ‘real’ gig. The post-gig buzz is very much the same.

Will I do more Zoom gigs? Absolutely. Emma and I each did 20-minute sets, allowed time for a Q&A at the end of the show, and did completely different sets in each gig. For me, this meant digging out some poems which had once been a staple part of my set but hadn’t been read to an audience for years, trying out some new poems which had never been aired before, and putting favourite poems in a fresh context.

It was a blast. Watch this space for news of more.


devil finds work…

I’ve had time on my hands of late (who hasn’t, eh?) and that’s brought all sorts of unexpected adventures in its wake. The house is considerably tidier and cleaner than it was when lockdown started back in what feels like Spring 1983, for starters. More pertinently for the purposes of a poetry blog, it also means that Ignite Books have finally got round to creating digital editions of the three volumes of my poetry which are out of print. Yay!

You can now buy copies of Island Songs, more bees bigger bonnets, and a fine fine place for all digital platforms, whether you use Kindle or anything else (links below).We’ve also taken the decision that 50% of the income from these books will go to support the work of The Haven women’s refuge in Wolverhampton. You can read about their work (and make a donation) here.

Here’s those links for Kindle users… click on the title to open the relevant shop page on Amazon. Island Songs; more bees bigger bonnets; a fine fine place.

For other e-readers, you’ll find all three books on Smashwords. Again, click the titles. Island Songs; more bees bigger bonnets; a fine fine place.

Oh, and my latest volume of poems ‘thirty-one small acts…’ is featured publication of the month over on Atrium Poetry. They’ve been very kind about it. You can read what they said here. If you enjoy the poems they share in the article, and want to read more, why not treat yourself to a copy of the book? After all, it’s cheaper and safer than going down the pub. Probably.


masquerades and new tricks

It’s been an interesting few days. On Friday I did my first ever ‘live’ online poetry gig – yes, I know, I’m late to the party – and found that while it’s not really quite the same as standing up behind a mic in front of an audience who are in the room with you, it’s still good fun. And possibly the best option available, for the next few months at least, to those of us who enjoy performing our work.

What I’m saying is… yes, I’m up for more of that. So if you’ve room for a feature poet at an online event you’re organising, well, just drop me a line. Thanks!

And in other news… yesterday, at the International Conference on European Studies (presumably also held online) an academic presented a paper called “The Fist That Masquerades As Bumbling…: On England, Englishness and Brexit in Steve Pottinger’s A Fine Fine Place (2017)”. I don’t know* that my work has ever been the subject of an academic paper before, and I’m simultaneously surprised, delighted, and deeply curious about what they had to say.

2020. It’s a funny old year. I wonder what’s coming next.

*I’m fairly bloody certain it hasn’t. lol.


dreamtime

The sun’s shining, the resident blackbird is singing away, and I’m delighted to say that my poem ‘dreamtime’ has been included in Carol Ann Duffy’s #WWWAN project alongside some cracking pieces of work, all of which are responses – one way or another – to the new normal of Covid-19 and lockdown.

If the fancy takes you, you can browse any or all of them at the Manchester Metropolitan University’s website, here.


good things come…

Last Sunday, I finally held the launch for ‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’. Yes, it was online in mid-May rather than in a pub in Wolverhampton in March, but that’s part and parcel of adapting to the new normal, isn’t it? In preparation for the event, we filmed several videos of pieces in the book (unpack that statement about how much technology has changed our lives at your leisure) as well as video contributions from my fellow pandemonialists Dave Pitt and Emma Purshouse.

We stocked up on bottles of real ale, and crisps, waited till seven pm, and posted the videos one after the other on Facebook. The hope was to make it as much like a ‘real’ launch as possible (which explains the beer and crisps) and I’m hugely grateful to all the people who turned up to watch, listen, and contribute. My thanks, too, to everyone who chose to buy a copy of the book during or after the event – I know these aren’t easy times for any of us, and spending money on poetry isn’t really top of the list of priorities right now.

If you missed the launch, but would like to see what I’m talking about, you can watch my videos on my Youtube channel, here. If, after watching, you’re persuaded to buy a copy of ‘thirty-one small acts…’ then you’ll find those on sale here. Take care, stay safe, and don’t drive all the way to Durham to sing ABBA, then get your mates to lie about it. It’s not a good look.

Thanks, and best wishes. Steve


stay safe

Hi folks. I hope you and those you care about are all well, and keeping a safe distance from Covid-19. These are strange times we’re living in, and I’ve been doing my best to make sense of it (and keep myself relatively sane) by writing. What else would I do, after all? This meant that when Poetry on Loan commissioned me to write and film a poem about life under lockdown, I jumped at it. I apologise in advance for the film quality (I was holding my iPhone while trying to read the words on my laptop) the state of my hair (it’s been a while since I left the house) and the raggedy agedness of my t-shirt (see house excuse above). 

You can watch the film on Youtube here.

And the text of the poem is on the Poetry on Loan website, here.

If it strikes a chord and you want to share it, please do. Looking forward to catching up with you all whenever it’s safe for us to meet up once more.

Stay safe.


swings, roundabouts, and swings again.

Life is currently a series of small steps forward and knockbacks, but then isn’t it always? Like millions of other self-employed people I’ve seen my income dry up at a stroke as the coronavirus lockdown began, although bits and pieces of new work have now started coming in. Then my ego was delightfully massaged when – of the three poems I entered in the Plough competition – one was shortlisted and another highly commended, after which I was brought back down to earth a few days later when four poems I’d entered in another competition – and which I had relatively high hopes for – got absolutely nowhere. A timely reminder to an over-excitable poet that you need to take the rough with the smooth, and the chances are you’re neither as brilliant nor as dreadful as you sometimes tell yourself.

The launch for my new book was cancelled, of course, and while the feedback from folk who’ve read ’thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ has been wonderful, the absence of gigs means it’s that bit harder to promote it as I’d like to. So, swings and roundabouts.

Thankfully, the sun is shining, which is always a definite plus in my book. Touch wood, I’ve got my health, as I hope you have too, and I imagine now more than ever we’re all being reminded how important that is. Hopefully, we’ll all be able to meet up as and when life returns to some kind of normality, share a pint, and catch up.

For now, take care of yourselves and stay safe. Oh, and if you’d like to read the poem which got highly commended in the Plough, you can do that here. And if you’ve an inkling to get yourself a copy of ‘thirty-one small acts…’ to help you through social isolation, that’s on sale here.

cheers.


best laid plans

In those heady, innocent days before pandemics and lockdowns were a thing, and we each had all the toilet roll we wanted, I’d got today down in my diary for the launch of my latest book. And it was going to be in a pub, too (remember those?) which meant the afternoon was going to get ever more delightfully messy and celebratory, and Monday morning was very likely to be correspondingly groggy and hungover.

Ah well. Best-laid plans and all that. There are more important things taking up our time and our attention now. Hopefully, though, hopefully we’ll reschedule the launch for some point in the future when we can meet up safely, when pubs are open once more and we’re all trying to remember how to hold a conversation and how to order at the bar.

You’ll all be invited, of course. It’ll be lovely to see you. 😊 In the meantime, if you feel you can’t possibly wait three weeks/months/years (delete as appropriate) you can always get your mitts on ‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ here. Thanks.


number six

You’d think by now I’d have got the hang of the old self-promotion lark, wouldn’t you? But the truth is that it makes my bloody toes curl. I love writing, love the process of creating a story or a poem and surprising myself when I find what my own imagination comes up with, and I hope I always will. Old dog, new tricks, and all that.

I love performing, too. Engaging an audience. Entertaining them. Making them laugh, maybe, or bringing a tear to their eye. That’s all good. But promotion? I feel about that the way cats feel about a hot tin roof. It’s just not my natural territory, and – try as I might – I don’t really know how to get past that. Which is, it has to be said, less than ideal.

So all I can say is that I’ve a new book coming out. It’s officially published on May 1st, but I’m hoping the printers will be true to their word and deliver the copies on Monday. If any poets out there have suggestions about where I should send a copy for review, I’m all ears (this is hot tin roof territory again) and I’m always up for gigs.

All that’s left to do is tell you the book is on sale here. Oh, and it looks a lot like this. As my books do. And now it’s time for me to sidle off somewhere less tinny, less hot, less like a roof. The cat knows somewhere it swears is the absolute dog’s. I’m off to check it out.


thanks

Yesterday I took the ‘One Ring To Bind Them’ exhibition to Darlaston Town Hall and threw open the doors. Thanks to everyone who came along to have a gander, and stayed to enjoy the wrestling showcases throughout the afternoon. You made all the hard work worthwhile!

This special one-day showing of the exhibition followed on from its three-week residence in Wolverhampton Central Library. In that time, several hundred people have viewed it, and over 2000 copies of the free newspaper have been read in pubs, libraries, and cafes across Walsall and Wolverhampton, with more being distributed this week.

It’s time to take a breather, and to say thanks to all the people who helped make this possible. The National Lottery Heritage Fund for backing it; Walsall Creative Factory for all their support (and the fantastic cake); Nicole Lovell for her superb photos; Wolverhampton Libraries and Darlaston Town Hall for providing venues where we could show the exhibition; the wrestling fans who explained why they love the sport. Above all, my thanks to all the wrestlers – veterans and youngsters – who were so generous with their time and their stories, and who allowed me the opportunity to present this fascinating part of our heritage to a wider audience.

I’ll be creating an online archive of all the interviews and photos over the next few weeks, so that the stories this project captured will be freely accessible for years to come. For now, though, I’ll leave you with a picture of the wonderful cake made by Creative Factory for yesterday’s event, because it’s a little belter. Cheers.

best cake ever


one ring

If you find yourself wandering through Wolverhampton over the next couple of weeks, and have ten minutes to spare, nip into the Central Library, head upstairs, and take a look at the ‘One Ring to Bind Them’ exhibition. It’s a series of iconic portrait photographs and interviews with wrestlers – veterans who’ve been at it for decades and youngsters who are still learning the art – who have spent their lives entertaining audiences in venues across Walsall.

Their stories are fascinating, and the portraits – by Wolverhampton photographer Nicole Lovell – are breathtakingly beautiful. The whole project was made possible through support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed putting the whole thing together. It’s been an absolute privilege to talk to the wrestlers involved, and learn a little more about the world of British wrestling.

The exhibition is on show at the Central Library until February 22nd. It then moves to Darlaston Town Hall for a special one-day event on Sunday 23rd, when wrestling fans are invited to bring any old programmes, posters, or mementoes they have of wrestling in Walsall over the decades. We’ll be photographing these and including them in an online archive. There’ll be exhibition wrestling on the day, too.

If you can’t make it to either venue, you can still pick up copies of the free newspaper which accompanies this project in pubs, shops, and libraries across Wolverhampton and Walsall. So even if you can’t find time to have a gander at the exhibition you can still take one home. It beats reading the Metro, after all.


shoulders, wheels, grindstone.

It’s been a busy old start to 2020. January was traditionally – for me, anyway – a month where nothing much happened and I lived as frugally as possible while waiting for the work to come in.

Not now, I don’t.

There’s Wolves Lit Fest, for starters, which takes place at the end of January and has been growing steadily over the last few years. The pandemonialists run a poetry slam, and a Fringe Room, and are heavily involved in several other events (you can find out more about all of them here).

This year, I was also lucky enough to be one of ten poets commissioned to write a poem for Overhear (it’s available via their app as an audio recording when you visit the location it’s set in) and I’ve also been putting the finishing touches to a Heritage Fund supported project about British wrestling in Walsall – I collected the exhibition boards on Friday and three thousand copies of the free newspaper arrived this morning – which will be in Wolverhampton Central Library from Monday 3rd February.

Throw in a trip down to London for work, and another to Leeds to give a talk to students, and there was barely time to squeeze in a poetry gig up in Harrogate last week, but it was worth it. I sold the last copy of a fine fine place, which is now officially out of print. And that surely means it’s time to crack on with book number six. All I need first is some sleep….


hope

It had been a good few months since I found time to write a poem – lots of reasons for that, too long-winded to go into on a Sunday morning – but as I tried to make sense of the disappointment of this week’s election result I reached for the pen and paper and scribbled one down. It made me feel better. Less defeated. Less alone.

I decided to share it on Facebook, in among the slew of posts from friends who were also grieving about what had happened. I hoped it might resonate with them, too.

To date, Enough has had over 600 likes and been shared over 380 times. It’s also been published on the Culture Matters website. Thank you to everyone who’s got in touch to say it summed up their own feelings of loss and defiance. I’ve been genuinely touched by the scale of the response.

You reminded me we’ve got each other, and so we’ve always got hope. That’s not a bad place to start. So on we go.


138

Sometimes – when you’re juggling the work/life balance, chasing commissions, hunting for gigs, and trying to stay on top of admin on the one hand and mushrooming slatternliness on the other – sometimes actual writing, the very thing you’re passionate about, gets pushed to the sidelines. One day you realise you haven’t put pen to paper in anger for months, and you wonder if you still know how to do it.

So I’m very grateful to James Josiah and his 138 project for nudging me into writing once more. He’s collecting and publishing 138 pieces, each 138 words long and about anything at all, for no good reason other than that it pleases him. My piece, published today, is number 60 in that collection (which means there’s still time for you to submit a piece to him yourself).

I wrote this piece after the initial findings of the Grenfell inquiry pointed the finger of blame at the London Fire Brigade. I’m sharing it today hours after the execrable Jacob Rees-Mogg chose to suggest those who died at Grenfell ‘lacked common sense’ because they stayed in their flats as advised. People like him are why I haven’t got less angry as I got old.

You can read the piece here, if you so desire, and you’ll also find details of how to submit your own offering to James’ project. Go on. Have your say. You might find you enjoy it.