Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Women's Poetry Slam for International Women's Day

WOMEN’S POETRY SLAM at the Zodiac, Oxford, next Tuesday March 7th.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, this is a super-charged event based on the theme of ‘Women’s Voices', featuring a 'stupendous quadruple bill with special guest artists' according to the vast and complex Hammer & Tongue publicity machine (i.e. Steve Larkin) - and here they are -

Salena Saliva
who has not single-handedly, but almost, been responsible for making poetry popular on the London club scene, has been a guest vocalist with Ninja Tunes ColdCut and Alabama 3 and is as outrageous and funny a poetry performer as you’re ever likely to see

Jay Bernard
Winner of the Foyles Young Poet Award

and Rebecca Smart
Cheltenham All Stars Slam Champion 2005.

Finally, there's the Women's Open Poetry Slam, which is your chance to wow the judges inside three minutes and qualify for the final in May.

To recap, the Women's Poetry Slam will be held @ The Zodiac, Cowley, Oxford, this coming Tuesday 7th March, doors open and sign up 7pm, show 8-11.

Word in Leicester Wednesday 1st March

From 8pm onwards, on Wednesday 1st March, with entrance absolutely FREE for everyone, the monthly Leicester performance poetry and spoken word show will roll onto the stage once more at Bambu, 21 Welford Road (opposite council buildings).

As always, there will be Open Floor Spots available, which sounds unhealthy but actually just means you can step up to the mic yourself if so inclined. For more information on that, you can contact Steve Carroll on 07870 608875 or email him at steve@applesandsnakes.org

Word is Leicester's premier open floor spoken word event. It runs on the first Wednesday of each month at the Bambu café bar, and features a fantastic guest artist as well as open floor spots.

This month's special guest performer is none other than Kimberley Trusty.

Kimberly Trusty grew up in Canada and Jamaica and now resides in Birmingham.
She holds an MA in Colonial and Post-Colonial Literature from the University
of Warwick. Her first book of poetry, 'Darker Than Blue' was published in
2002 (McGilligan Books, Toronto). 'Modern Amazons', her first play, was at
The REP (Birmingham) in June 2005. She was one of the artists selected for
the Apples & Snakes national tour 'Temptations', which ran very successfully
last year.

To find out more about the people behind this event, feel free to click here for the Apples and Snakes website or the Complex Trout website.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Countdown begins to the Live Literature Arena, April 1st & 2nd

Hammer and Tongue presents The Live Literature Arena

Saturday, 1 April & Sunday, 2 April • 12 pm-10.30 pm • £8.00 • The Rotunda, Grove House, Iffley Turn, Iffley, Oxford

In case you haven't been reading the fliers or listening to the announcements at clued-up poetry events recently, Hammer and Tongue, the biggest promoters of poetry slams in the UK, are staging a special weekend of live acts at the end of the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival 2006. Specializing in literature that thrives in a live environment, this series of performance poetry and spoken word shows takes place in an eighteenth-century building once owned by Graham Greene and steeped in literary heritage; Grove House was frequented by Lewis Carroll and it's believed the character of The Mad Hatter was based on a former resident!

Featuring some of the best performance poets and spoken word artists that the UK has to offer, including: BBC and world slam champion, Kat Francois; Spoken Word Olympic international champion, Steve Larkin; Motormouth and stand- up poetry genius, Rob Gee; the Hammer and Tongue annual slam champion, A. F. Harrold; the 2005 Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival slam champion, Alan Buckley; and many others, too numerous for me to mention in this particular post ... except perhaps for my own local group of spoken word and stand-up poetry performers, Birmingham's finest New October Poets. What a weekend!

These shows are for children (some are PG or 15 rated) and adults: the full programme of events can be seen at www.hammerandtongue.org, by calling 01865 200550, or by emailing events@hammerandtongue.co.uk

Alternatively, you can wait another week or so until I've got my act together and return here to find a full listing of who's performing what & when.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Birmingham Library Theatre, Wednesday March 1st

If, like me, you're based in the Midlands, this Wednesday evening sees another meeting of poets and spoken word aficionados in the Birmingham Library Theatre.

A loose affiliation known as the New October Poets, we meet on the first Wednesday of every month under the guidance of Dreadlockalien, Birmingham's Poet Laureate, to try out new work, watch each other perform and just generally keep in contact with each other. A little bird told me yesterday that there might be a ska band playing this Wednesday as well, and I think auditions are continuing that night to find the last performers for this SIX OF THE BEST series across the West Midlands, so it looks like being an interesting and varied evening.

If you fancy coming along - to read or perform or listen and lend your support - it should kick off around 7.30pm at the Birmingham Library Theatre right at the heart of the city, near the Repertory Theatre.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Don't Miss the Sunday XPress in Birmingham!

It's the second ever Sunday XPress this weekend at the Market Tavern in Digbeth, Birmingham. Not a venue for the shy or retiring, this one delivers Music, Poetry, Stories and Comedy in a boisterous and rollicking mixture that takes place upstairs in a corner pub near enough to the Bullring for you to be able to slip out and go shopping between sets!

The afternoon kicks off at 2pm but most people seemed to arrive last time nearer the 3pm mark, which is sensible as it's quite a long haul through to 6pm when it finishes. There are free roast potatoes on offer - and they are delicious! - and a different Guest MC every month.

Entry is free, the beer isn't, but there's plenty of parking; the Market Tavern is located in a sort of semi-industrial area and the streets are quite empty there, it being a Sunday afternoon. Though last time I did notice a guy in a garage opposite offering a reasonably priced car-washing service by hand. So you could feasibly get your car washed while you perform!

If you want to know more, you can contact Lizzie on 0121 4713445, or just turn up on Sunday 26th February, clutching some poems or other offerings in your sweaty palm. The Market Tavern is on the corner of Birchall & Moseley Street, Digbeth. The next few dates are 30th April and 28th May. There may be an event in March, but I don't have a firm date for it yet.

Niall O'Sullivan in the Cellar, plus John Hegley

It's an exciting few days ahead at the Poetry Cafe in London (22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden) so without further ado let me tell you that you will find the following poets down in The Cellar this Saturday evening - Thad Rutkowski, Inua Ellams, Nandhita Ghose, hosted by Niall O'Sullivan.

That is followed on Monday evening by the fabulous and world-renowned poet and performer John Hegley (if I could make this one, I most certainly would, but alas, it's impossible for me to be in two places at once) delighting the punters in one of the most intimate and well-known performance venues in London.

And just when you thought the fun was all over and you could stop listening and/or performing and start actually writing, there's still the regular Tuesday night Open Mic slot downstairs with ... yes, it's him again, the ubiquitous Niall O'Sullivan, rounding off the month of February in superb style! It makes great listening if you like your poetry live instead of bottled, but don't forget, you must arrive between 6-7 pm if you want to brave the floor yourself.

25 8.00 £5/3
The Cellar with Thad Rutkowski, Inua Ellams, Nandhita Ghose. Hosted by Niall O’Sullivan

27 6.00
John Hegley in performance at the Poetry Cafe

28 7.30 £3.50/
2.50 Poetry Unplugged – Open Mic with Niall O’Sullivan

For more details on these and future Poetry Cafe events, or to check times etc are correct before setting out, email poetrycafe@poetrysociety.org.uk

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Farrago Poetry SLAM! Thursday 2nd March

(London) Farrago Poetry Presents: The UK SLAM! Championships Showcase & Celebration

Celebrating 12 years of Farrago Poetry running the UK’s only open to any poet National SLAM, this exciting event takes place on Thursday, 2nd March, at 7:30pm in the
RADA Foyer Bar, Malet St, LONDON, WC1. (Tube:Goodge St) You should be able to find the place by clicking the multi-map link here.

Featuring: Peter Donnelly, (the Racker), the new UK SLAM! Champion 2005/06, as well as Fran Landesman, award winning poet & jazz lyrist legend, Niall Spooner-Harvey, the 2004/05 UK SLAM! Champion, Aoife Mannix, former London SLAM! Champion, Niall O’Sullivan, Cellar supremo, Other Theresa, Joseph Coelho & New York Poet Ainsley Burrows. Plus other special guests tbc.

Emcee: John Paul O’Neill. Tickets: £6/£4
Information: 07905078376. farragopoetry@yahoo.co.uk. http://london.e-poets.net

Bill Griffiths, Jeremy Hardingham and Lucy Sheerman in Cambridge tonight

It's that time of the week again and the CAMBRIDGE SERIES POETRY READINGS are on tonight. I would post the details up sooner but since I nearly always receive them on the day itself ... Well, better late than never.

Thursday February 23rd
Bill Griffiths / Jeremy Hardingham / Lucy Sheerman

New Music Room, First Court
St John's College
Cambridge, UK
£3/2 donations hoped for.
Wine will be served


see www.cambridgepoetry.org for further details
or email contact@cambridgepoetry.org to be sent them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mouthtrap Cabaret in Reading & The Nail poetry magazine

For those in the vicinity, the fair town of Reading plays host on the first Wednesday of every month to Mouthtrap Cabaret, an evening of poetry organised and compered by experienced poet and performer AF Harrold.

In the most recent issue of THE NAIL, a poetry magazine with a charmingly retro look published by Hammer & Tongue, they advertise this event as taking place on the first Monday of every month, then list the forthcoming dates as March 1st, April 5th, and May 3rd. By careful deduction and the use of a calendar, I have concluded that this is a mistake. Unless the dates themselves are wrong.

More details can apparently be found at this website; I advise a brief visit. I would check it out myself but I've nearly finished an entire bottle of wine and the prospect of surfing the net for another half hour is less appealing than that of sinking slowly beneath my desk at the end of this post.

So, on Wednesday March 1st, the guest performers at this intriguing affair will be none other than Rob Gee, Steve Larkin and Helen Thomas, and it will all take place at The South Street Arts Centre, 21 South Street, Reading. Doors open at 8 for an 8.30 start. No clues as to entrance fee or lack of it, I'm afraid. But perhaps the website for this - and other Reading-based events such as Bohemian Night and the Poets' Cafe - will reveal all!

To submit work to THE NAIL performance poetry magazine, email davetodd@hotmail.co.uk or post to Dave, Hammer & Tongue, 16b Cherwell Street, Oxford, OX4 1BG. The deadline for submissions to the next issue is April 1st 2006. Poems no longer than 150 lines (incl. spaces), articles under 1000 words. Cover price £2.50, plus an A5 size envelope - that's A4 folded for the uninitiated - with minimum 35p stamp for second class. If posting your work to them, I suggest an adequate s.a.e. for return might be wise (and polite).

Last Night at the QI Club, Oxford

It's been a long and rather disheartening wait, but after years spent shivering on the cold fringes of poetry, spoken word is becoming more acceptable as an art form. Unconvinced? Consider the Arts Foundation Award this year to Tim Turnbull of £10,000 to develop his work as a performance poet. So perhaps not only more acceptable but shifting rapidly upwards - a socially mobile leisure activity? - away from the spit 'n' sawdust Club & Slam scene of the 90s, into the more lucrative playground of professional middle Britain.

Last night I went to a new Hammer & Tongue poetry event right in the centre of Oxford, held at the rather swish QI Club in Turl Street on the third Tuesday of every month. The QI Club is a private members' club - yes, even they will have to ban smoking soon - with leather sofas, antique-look wooden floors, subdued lighting, and gourmet food on offer from handsome and rather engaging staff - one of whom, George, even managed to drum up some impressive poetry for us between orders.

Some poets arrived in suit trousers and jacket; one actually read at the mic from his laptop. In other words, not your average poetry venue.

But what is an average venue now? We seem to be doing it - if you'll pardon the expression - anywhere and everywhere these days. Libraries, bookstores, tea shops, foyers, outdoor public spaces, and now even a private members' club whose annual membership fees cost more than my car. OK, my car's falling apart and was minus an exhaust when I bought it, but you get the general idea. Spoken Word is on the up and up - and as the standard of venue rises, the standard of poetry appears to be rising with it, if last night's excellent line-up was any reflection of a national trend.

In performance here, Kat Francois was the dynamic feature act this month. Travelling up from London to appear at Hammer & Tongue, Kat is a consummate performer and was one of the nominees for this year's afore-mentioned £10,000 Arts Foundation Award for Performance Poetry. Soon to launch her ambitious one-woman show, of which she gave us a quick taster, Kat is gradually moving away from her roots as a dub poetry artist - combining heavily rhymed sung lyrics with spoken word - to a more complex, character-based approach. She also brought a CD of her work to sell rather than a paperback collection - something that's increasingly happening at live poetry events like this.

On the open mic, we had Peter Wyton's sharp tongue and even sharper eyes, a great observer of life's dark ironies. Alison Brumfitt from Didcot (pictured above) gave a superb account of herself at the mic, bristling with wit and energy. I can't wait to hear more from her at future events.

Steve Larkin (above) was our accomplished compere; those who have seen him in action will appreciate how slick and smart and funny he can be, those who haven't need to get themselves up or down or across to Oxfordshire to find out for themselves. There was a great lament with the refrain 'Old Stone' from Dave Todd. Plus many more names worthy of mention, and if I had remembered to write them all down, I'd be able to tell you what they were. Here be photos instead.

You can sample the delights of Hammer & Tongue at the QI Club yourself by turning up on the third Tuesday of the month at about 8pm; the club is above the QI Bookshop in Turl Street (the lane which runs between the High Street and Broad Street) directly opposite the cashtills - so no excuse for arriving without the £5 entry fee! Free to QI members. Come to listen, come to be entertained, come to drink each other under the table, but especially make sure you come with a poem or two for the open mic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

ShortFuse with Tim Wells, Thaddeus Rutkowski & Annie Freud

Clashing with Roddy Lumsden's Fourcast event below near Covent Garden is the Islington-based ShortFuse poetry & Spoken Word performance night, also on Thursday 23rd February. Click on the poster below to see a larger - and more legible! - version.

Poets on stage will be:

Tim Wells:
A feature length reading from the editor of the long running poetry
zine `Rising' and author of `Boys' Night Out In The Afternoon' – a
well crafted poetry collection which "displays the candour and
swagger of a barroom raconteur" (Donut Press) with an in-depth
knowledge of Carry On films, Roman literature and middle-class
girls. "Verse that excites, entertains, delights and jump-starts your
cerebral cortex like an Iggy Pop feeding you a Semtex aspirin" – Phil

Thaddeus Rutkowski:
A rare and long awaited reading from the New York author of the
acclaimed `Rough House' (Kaya Press) and `Tetched' (Behler
Publications) "…tough and funny and touching…" John Barth.

Annie Freud:
Intelligent poetry laden with a gentle wit and cutting humour that
effortlessly moves, amuses and astounds.

SHORTFUSE DETAILS: Every Thursday @ The Camden Head, Camden Walk, Islington, London, N1. Tube: Angel, Islington. Doors: 8.30pm. Admission: £5 waged / £3 concessions.

Some shows do sell out apparently. Email your full name, the number of tickets you require, and a contact telephone number to: tickets@shortfuse.co.uk. They will hold them for you on the date of the show; available for collection upon payment at the door between 8pm and 8.30pm. Some tickets available on the door.

Monday, February 20, 2006

More Poetry 'FourCast' for this Thursday evening

Thursday 23rd February
at THE POETRY CAFE, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden
8pm sharp - £5/4

FourCast presents:

Suzanne Andrade
Charles Bennett
Stuart Duncan
Valerie Josephs

hosted, as always, by the excellent Roddy Lumsden.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Next Worcester Speakeasy - March 27th

January's WorcesterSpeakeasy by RACHEL CLUTTERBUCK

The inaugural WorcesterSpeakEasy was held at the 'Firefly' in Lowesmoor on Monday January 30th and proved a spectacular success. The concept behind this innovative bi-monthly event is simple; WorcesterSpeakEasy aims to provide a vibrant new platform for performers and audiences to share and enjoy the spoken word in all of its guises and anyone with a love of language can get involved.

On opening night an audience of over 100 turned up to lend their support and were treated to three hours of electrifying invention from a diverse range of voices from around the West Midlands. Poetry, prose and lyric were all well represented.

If you would like to have your say at the next WorcesterSpeakEasy, on March 27th, please contact Rachel Clutterbuck or James Smith at Worcesterspeakeasy @ yahoo.co.uk or you can sign up on the night. March’s SpeakEasy will also incorporate SeeEasy, where alongside spoken word performances we will be showcasing work by sculptors and artists from around the Midlands. If you are interested in exhibiting it is essential that you contact us well in advance via e-mail.

WorcesterSpeakEasy is held on the last Monday of every other month at the Firefly in Worcester. Entrance is free and everyone is welcome.

Please note that all material should be original and performances are limited to ten minutes. Artists to arrive by 7.30pm, event begins at 8pm. We look forward to hearing from you.

Kat Francois headlining at the QI Club, Oxford

Coming up once again this Tuesday 21st of February: 'Quiet It's ... Hammer and Tongue' at the QI Club, Turl Street, Oxford.

This month's event will involve an Open Mic, workshop and a stunning guest poet, this time none other than Kat Francois, World Slam Champion & BBC Slam Champion!

The main action will be preceded by a workshop with experienced poet-performer Steve Larkin 5:30 - 7pm, with the Open Mic and guest poet following at 8 - 10.30pm. £5/free to QI members. And apparently there will be 'smoking and non-smoking sessions' - whatever that means!

Talking of smoking, it certainly looks as though the New Labour fascists have won the day, with a total ban on smoking even for private clubs coming into force next year. I gave up smoking quite a while ago now - yes, yes, those who know me of old may gasp in awed disbelief, Jane without a fag in her mouth, incroyable! - but I still defend the right of those who wish to fill the room with smoke. The disgusting smell reminds me why I gave up and it also means I get a bit of 'passive' without having to re-mortgage the shed to buy my own packet. OK, rant over.

Anyway, go and check out Kat Francois in Oxford next week if you haven't already seen her in action. She was recently nominated for a massive £10,000 Arts Foundation award for performance poetry - scooped by Tim Turnbull - and has won more Slams than I've filled ashtrays. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but I'm sure she's very good. Go see. I may try to get down there myself, husband willing.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Special Report on Hammer & Tongue

Alan Buckley on the 'Hammer & Tongue' Intercity Slam! - bravura performances & breakneck Mancunian psychobabble gutter poets

Hammer and Tongue, which began life in Oxford in 2003, has also been running in Brighton since April 2005. To mark a highly successful first year of gigs in Brighton, H&T co-founder Steve Larkin and Brighton promoters Sam and Jacob Berkson arranged an intercity slam contest – the top four placed poets from May’s Oxford Final (Lizzie McHale, Claire Fauset and Sophia Blackwell, captained by 2005 H&T Champion AF Harrold) headed down to Brighton on January 31st to take on the top four poets from December’s Brighton final (Elemental, M&Emmylou, Chris P and captain Jimmy McGee), with a return leg the following week in Oxford.

I wasn’t able to go down for the Brighton leg, but Sophia reported that Polar Central was packed for the event, with a typical Brighton crowd – very noisy, very young and very hip, with much dreadlocked hair and heavy-duty smoking in evidence. Although the first round was closely fought, a lively performance from Elemental just before the break edged Brighton into the lead. There was then a break, and poems from Steve Larkin, Oxford’s George Roberts and Brighton’s intriguingly named John Anarcho Pink Fluffy Bunny. Fortunately for Oxford, the Brighton team’s poorer slam discipline meant that they entered round two in a severely inebriated state. Elemental started (but failed to finish) three poems, while both he and Chris P incurred time penalties for overrunning. A bravura performance by AF Harrold ensured that Oxford swept to victory.

The following week, Sam Berkson compered the return leg at Oxford’s Zodiac club, where a much less boisterous audience proved hard to win over. We were under pressure when Sophia Blackwell had to drop out through illness and I was brought in off the subs bench – I don't write as much (or as good) slam-friendly poetry as she does, and the Brighton team chose to stay moderately sober this time round. At the break, Oxford were trailing by three points. However, full-on performances from myself, Lizzie and Claire in round two were capped by Ashley pulling a poetic rabbit from a hat – a stack of randomly harvested film quotations shaped into a surreal verbal collage, which earned two perfect 10s. Victory again, by a whisker.

The night was also a tribute to the late and great performance poet Hovis Presley. In the break between rounds, Steve Larkin introduced Hovis’s work to the audience and then invited Paul Blackburn and Julian Jordan from Bolton's Write Out Loud to the stage to read from Hovis's book, Poetic Off-Licence. They were followed by Thick Richard, who are breakneck Mancunian psychobabble gutter poets born from an unholy drug-fuelled orgy involving a Satan worshiping jackal in the toilets of an unfashionable post-punk club (according to their publicity material). All round, another excellent night of verbal dexterity and poetic sparring – here’s to this becoming an annual fixture.

Alan Buckley has had poems published in a number of magazines, and performs regularly in Oxford, Reading and London. He won the 2005 Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival Slam.

N.B. The pictures in this report were not taken at the Intercity Slams! but are from the Hammer & Tongue website.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Speed Poetry at Short-Fuse tomorrow

This Thursday 16th February, Short-Fuse in London presents the world's first Speed Poetry event. What they say is: 'Think Speed Dating but with literary chat-up lines, intelligence, wit, and an opportunity to meet some of London's finest poetry and spokenword performers face-to-face.'

Each poet will spend 8 minutes per table and let their personality and poetry do the talking. The performers include: Niall O'Sullivan, Heather Taylor, Paul Lyalls, Rhian Edwards, Dean Wilson, Sally Smithson and Tim Wells.

Short-Fuse says: 'Speed Poetry could be your perfect introduction to a new relationship with literature. Couples, singles, and groups of any number welcome. Who you wake up with in the morning is your own business.'

Tickets for this event are limited so booking is recommended. Doors: 8.30pm. Admission: £5 waged / £3 concessions. Tube: Angel, Islington.

Well ... quick-fire speed poetry from the hip at the ever-innovative Short-Fuse. Whatever turns you on. Short-Fuse is based at The Camden Head, Camden Walk, Islington, London, N1. For more details and to check times, venue location etc - always recommended on this site before making a special trip - you can find them online at Short Fuse.

The Week Ahead at the Poetry Cafe, London

Please find below a quick look at the week ahead for the Poetry Cafe in London, always a hive of poetic activity, but with more on offer this month than usual.For further details of these events, you can email the Poetry Society at this address: poetrycafe@poetrysociety.org.uk

The Poetry Cafe is situated at 22 Betterton Street, London (nearest tube Covent Garden). It’s fully licensed and serves great food too. (Food has become a major preoccupation with me since giving up the demon weed, so poetry venues that feed the body as well as the soul always get my approval!)

In particular, don't miss the legendary John Hegley on the 20th, though I think there may be another chance this month to catch him at the Poetry Cafe.

If you’re a poet looking for places to perform, I can thoroughly recommend the Poetry Unplugged open mic event with Niall O’Sullivan. It happens every Tuesday as far as I know and is a small intimate space with a welcoming crowd for newcomers. A good place to network, make friends and talk about poetry if you’re looking for new contacts in the poetry world. I’ve read there myself and would certainly go more often if I lived nearer.


16 8.00 £4/3
Lost Legends of the British Underground - songs and spoken word with Steve Lake, Joseph Porter and Mark Astronaut.

18 8.00 £5/4
The Cellar with Baden Prince Junior, Salena Saliva Godden, S.P. Howarth. Hosted by Niall O'Sullivan.

20 6.00
John Hegley in performance

21 7.30 £3.50/2.50
Poetry Unplugged – Open Mic with Niall O’Sullivan
Arrive between 6-7 pm if you want to read

22 8.00 free
Tall Lighthouse pamphlet Launch Pierre Ringwald with Heather Taylor, Tom Chivers, & special guest Todd Swift.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

'Poet's Letter' Performance at the Poetry Cafe, London

The Poet's Letter Poetry Performance, with live music, will take place at the Poetry Cafe tomorrow evening. That's Monday, 13th February, for those who - like myself - regularly lose track of time. The nearest tube is Covent Garden and the address is 22 Betterton Street.

If you've never been to the Poetry Cafe and have an opportunity to do so, I can heartily recommend a visit. The food's a little on the expensive side, but good and about par for the course in that area of London, plus you can browse poetry magazines for free, go downstairs to listen to performances and other poetry-related events, and they used to offer internet access too, though you would need to check if that's still available.

Poets reading at this month's Poet's Letter event include Carole Baldock, Munayem Mayenin, Roisin Tierney and Katy Evans Bush and - with his legendary music - Johnny Vallon. There's apparently a strong line-up in the Open Mic session as well, with many new and up-coming voices attending.

For more information, send the Poet's Letter an email: Performances@poetsletter.com or call 07931 357 109

The Catweazle Club, Thursdays in Oxford

The Catweazle Club is run and compered by Matt Sage. It's a popular Open Mic event now in its twelfth year, held every Thursday at the East Oxford Community Centre on the corner of Princes Street and Cowley Road, East Oxford.

Doors 8pm, performance 9 to 11, bar open until 11.30. Performers need to arrive before 8.30 to check in (though it's very popular, so can sometimes get full well before this).

Alan Buckley, one of the poets involved in the Catweazle Club, describes it as having a 'very bohemian / hippie vibe, but in a good way - a very accepting, respectful and all-round supportive space for people to get up and try out their thing. When I started writing poetry committedly about two years back it was in conjunction with regular performing at Catweazle, and I still go down there to road test new poems.'

This is what the Catweazle Club says about itself: 'An intimate and magical space for musicians, singers, poets, storytellers and performance artists of every imaginable hue, who grace the stage every Thursday night. A chance to sit, to listen, to connect, to inspire and to be inspired …'

To find out more information, visit the Catweazle Club website.

POSTSCRIPT: Whenever I try visiting Matt Sage's site, I just get a blue screen. If anyone else has better luck or knows what the problem is, do leave a comment below!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Spoken Word at the Arvon Foundation 2006

This year, for the very first time as far as I'm aware, there will be a specialised Spoken Word course on offer at the Arvon Foundation. The Arvon Foundation has several centres about the UK where writers can gather together under one roof to write, make friends, and exchange knowledge and information on a five day course tutored by experts in their chosen genre or field of writing. Poetry and novel-writing have long been staple ingredients on the Arvon diet but the growing popularity of Spoken Word and Performance Poetry in this country has obviously encouraged the centre directors at Lumb Bank to incorporate them into their course regimen.

On the Spoken Word course, to be held in November, students will apparently 'learn a variety of techniques geared towards performance, writing and performing monologues, improvisation, using rhythm, breathing techniques, space and stage craft, drama exercises.' Students will also be encouraged to discover and develop their own approaches to spoken word.

The 2006 course start date for Spoken Word is Monday, November 20th, finishing on Saturday, November 25th. The course itself will be tutored by:
Jess Cook
COOK 'n' KITCH or Jess Cook, has performed in Mexico, New York and London, as well as Australia. She wrote and recorded an album of poetry and beats as a resident artist at the Frequency Lab

and Anthony Joseph
Anthony Joseph is a poet and novelist. Born in Trinidad, he is the author of Desafinado and Teragaton and a spoken word CD Liquid Textology: Readings From The African Origins of UFOs (all Poison Engine Press)

with their Course Guest on Wednesday night, Rommi Smith

Rommi Smith works with her band to create a synthesis of lyrical spoken and sung word. She is currently Poet in Residence at BBC Radio 3.

Lumb Bank - The Ted Hughes Arvon Centre.
Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge
West Yorkshire
 Tel: 01422 843714
Fax: 01422 843714

E-Mail: l-bank@arvonfoundation.org

To find out more about Arvon Foundation centres, courses and fees, click here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Five Ways To Improve Performance Skills

1. Time Yourself

If you know there’s a time limit - typically five minutes at an Open Mic night, sometimes more if you’re lucky or someone’s actually paying you to read! - then you should practise your set beforehand to check for time. This is particularly important if it’s live radio or you’re being recorded.

Decide what sort of introduction each poem should have, if any, and time that as well. Be strict with yourself, and remember, things always seem to take longer live. So if you get carried away with one introduction, cut the next one to keep within the time limit. This is not simply about good manners, though it never hurts to be polite to fellow performers. Organisers tend to look more favourably on those who observe their rules and stick to the time limit; if you work hard at being professional, they’ll start to see you as professional and may ask you back as a feature act.

2. Know Your Material Well

If you can’t or won’t memorise your poems, at least try to be as familiar with them as possible. That way, you’re less likely to lose momentum when you glance up from the sheet and down again, and should be able to find your place again without stumbling. It’s surprising how even a minor hiccup in the rhythm can throw the rest of the reading.

Be particularly aware of words on the ends of lines and how they connect to the word at the beginning of the next. Practising aloud will help you remember the ‘shape’ of the poem in performance, which is often different from its shape on the page.

But the best results come from knowing your work off by heart. There's simply no substitute for knowing them back to front and upside-down. Under pressure, your memory is often the first thing to go. So go through your pieces without the paper to hand as often as possible ... in the bathroom, in the garden, in the car.

To check your facial reactions, practise in front of a mirror, or - if that turns out to be too horrifying! - try to practise in front of a window, where you can at least catch your own ghostly reflection from time to time. This gives you a sense of the way you're moving and could help sharpen your performance.

3. Project Your Voice

You may think you don’t need a strong voice if there’s a mic available but this is a common mistake. The better the voice, the better the performance, microphone or no microphone.

You don’t need to be formally trained to improve your voice projection but you do need to take yourself seriously as a performer. That means changing the way you hold yourself at the mic, or at the front of the room if there’s no mic, so that your voice can emerge more cleanly. Slumping is not useful, nor is hunching your shoulders, keeping a fag in your mouth while you read, staring at the floor, mumbling into the sheet or book rather than over the top of it, and generally wishing you were somewhere else.

To improve voice projection in ten seconds, stand up tall out of your pelvis, take your hands out of your pockets - see, mum was right! - balance yourself with your feet square on the floor a little more than hip distance apart, and remember to sway on the balls of your feet rather than digging in your heels, which keeps you flexible and poised. Then pick a spot on the wall at the far end of the room - or focus on somebody’s face on the back row - breathe in easily through your nose and project your voice to that spot, bringing the sound up from as low down in your body as you can, without straining for volume. Try to imagine it rising up from your feet and resonating around the room.

Once your voice has improved, remember to work on your mic technique - don’t eat it and don’t hold it gingerly at arms’ length like a poisonous snake. Be warned, not all mics are the same; try not to go up first at a new venue, so you can see how the height of the mic stand is adjusted - particularly important if you’re either very tall or very short like me! - and get a feel for the sound system. Most importantly, watch how others use the mic and copy the best ones - practice makes perfect.

And don't think you can skip voice projection and get away with it. Not all venues have a microphone.

4. Stay Relaxed

Performing makes most people nervous. There’s nothing unusual or intrinsically bad about that; indeed, the adrenalin that accompanies stage fright is just what most performers need to kickstart their set. But while nerves can sharpen the senses, they can also make you forget vital things like how many poems you intend to read, what introductions or linking pieces you’ve prepared, and even how to breathe! Fear tightens your muscles, including your diaphragm - which you need in a relaxed state to keep your breathing deep, smooth and efficient.

Some people like to find somewhere private before a performance - the toilets are usually your best option at most venues! - and work on some relaxation methods. If your body is feeling tight, try 5 - 10 jumping-jacks or a minute of running hard on the spot. If your voice feels thin, drink some water - not too cold - and loosen your neck, shoulders and jaw muscles with some slow and gentle rolling exercises. Yoga is great for this, especially for the facial muscles. Try humming low down in your chest and belly, then expand the sound outwards in a sing-song note for as long as possible.

When you finally get to the microphone, start off with a light joke or some casual banter, remembering that it’s intended to relax you as much as the audience!

5. Use Visualisation Techniques

Successful sportspeople often use a technique called ‘visualisation’ to achieve previously unreached goals; they visualise the desired end result, then picture themselves achieving it. This can help performers as well, especially newcomers who are trying to build a reputation from scratch. Sometimes it can help to think of a performer whose work you admire, though without directly emulating their work or delivery, and ‘be’ that person while on stage. Basically, you think of their confidence and ease at the mic, and then try to reproduce it in your own delivery. This is often only needed at the beginning of a career and can be abandoned as soon as you feel comfortable behind a microphone.

Equally, it sometimes helps to develop a special ‘persona’, as many successful stand-up comics have done. That can help to relax people who feel embarrassed at the microphone and would prefer acting out a role. If this is the case, work out well in advance what sort of ‘persona’ would suit you. Try out appropriate outfits, voices, ways of moving and standing, and test out your new style of delivery, if possible, by performing to ‘safe’ audiences of friends and family, or at small club and pub gigs. Not everybody will need these techniques but they have a long and respectable history in stand-up and can be useful for putting novice performers at their ease.

A combination of these two methods sometimes works best, not going so far as to create a special persona but developing the ‘you’ that feels most confident on stage - which is not always the ‘you’ that walked in the door, but an enhanced version, ‘you’ as performer.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Notley, Barnett and Hawkins read in Cambridge this Thursday

Another in the Cambridge Series Poetry Readings is due to take place this Thursday, February 9th. Poets featured this week will be Alice Notley, Anthony Barnett and Ralph Hawkins.

The reading will begin at 8pm, the venue being the New Music Room, First Court, St John's College, Cambridge. Donations of £2 or £3 are hoped for in lieu of a ticket price. And since wine will be served, this seems remarkably generous to me.

For those unfamiliar with the Cambridge Series Readings, the New Music Room is in First Court, St John's College. Entrance to the college will probably be through the forecourt entrance, past the porters lodge, turn left and move into Second court, turn left and move into First court. The first court entrance may be open - in which case turn immediately right and it’s in the corner.

For more information on these readings, please visit Cambridge Poetry or email contact@cambridgepoetry.org

Allen Fisher and John Hall reading at Dartington

If you’re in the South West area, Writing at Dartington are hosting a reading of poetry by Allen Fisher and John Hall this Thursday, February 9th. It will take place at Studio 3, Lower Close, Dartington College of Arts at 6.30pm. All are welcome and admission is free.

Allen Fisher has been involved in performance and writing poetry since 1962, so is well worth a special visit to Dartington if you’re not local. A poet, painter, publisher, editor and art historian, he has produced over one hundred and twenty chapbooks and books of poetry, graphics and art documentation and exhibited paintings in many shows. Examples of his work are in the Tate Gallery collection and the Living Museum, Iceland. Allen Fisher works with extended projects. Three recent publications are Gravity (Salt Publishing, 2004), Entanglement (The Gig, 2005) and Place (various books 1974-81 republished in collected form by Reality Street in 2005). Allen Fisher is currently Professor of Poetry and Art at Manchester Metropolitan University.

John Hall is a poet, teacher and essayist, whose first poems were published in 1966, so again, well worth a special trip. His selected poems came out from Etruscan Books in 1999 under the title of Else Here. Much of his recent writing has taken the form of visual poems and his first exhibition of visual poems, called Loose-idity, was shown in the Dartington Gallery in February 2002. He is Associate Director of Research and Lecturer in Performance Writing at Dartington College.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Intercity Team Poetry Slam at the Zodiac, Oxford

Hammer & Tongue is at it again in Oxford. This Tuesday 7th February at the Zodiac (190 Cowley Road, Oxford), you will find the Intercity Team Poetry Slam taking place, plus a tribute to the poet and performer Hovis Presley.

This particular Hammer & Tongue event is being advertised as 'The best of Hammer and Tongue Brighton 2005 take on the best of Hammer and Tongue Oxford 2005'. Teams to be captained by AF Harrold and Jimmy McGee, with comperes Sam and Jacob Berkson. There will also be a tribute to Hovis Presley 1960-2005 during the evening. Hovis was a poet and comic of remarkable talent who died last June; this event presents an opportunity to buy his relaunched book Poetic Off Licence, the proceeds of which will be going to charity.

Doors open at 7.30pm, the show runs from 8 - 11pm. Entrance is £6 or £4 concessions.

Weekly Oxford Events:
If you're based in or around the Oxford area, you might be interested in a few other open mic spots in the city. Every Thursday, there is an open mic event called Sparky's Flying Circus at The Half Moon pub, St Clements. More I do not know, though if you have been to the event and can give us more details - what time it starts, for instance - do please drop me an email (see column opposite) or post a comment below.

There's another regular Thursday event in Oxford that's come to my attention recently; it's called The Catweazle Club and is held at the East Oxford Community Centre. The Catweazle Club features poetry, storytelling and song in an open mic format. Times for that event are not available either, I'm afraid. Again, do contact POETS ON FIRE if you can help with any of those details.

Night Blue Fruit at the Tin Angel, Coventry

For those in the Midlands who love their poetry raw, or who just enjoy the sound of their own voice, NIGHT BLUE FRUIT is an absolute must. It was absent in January - presumably to allow the venue to recover after their New Year celebrations - but is on again this Tuesday 7th February at the Tin Angel bar in Coventry - an eclectic open mic event for performers of poetry and the spoken word.

Entrance is free, though the beer isn't. To get your name on the list to read in the first half, try to make sure you're there for about 8pm. The open mic usually kicks off by 8.30pm and the official part of the evening should finish by 11pm. I suspect drinking may go on a little longer than that, especially with these new licensing laws, but I've never stayed around long enough to find out.

NIGHT BLUE FRUIT takes place on the first Tuesday of every month at the wonderfully intimate Tin Angel bar in Medieval Spon Street, Coventry. You can find the Tin Angel website by clicking here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Farrago Love SLAM! in London tomorrow

This Friday, February 3rd, sees the Farrago Love SLAM! & Annual Love Words Top 10 happening at the RADA Foyer Bar, Malet Street, London, WC1 - Goodge Street tube station is nearest. The event is due to kick off at 7.30pm and looks like being a good one if SLAM! is your thang. Here's what the organisers say:

Got a broken heart? Need a spare? Come along and win a new one tonight! Open to ANY poet SLAM! Poems with a loving theme score double! The downright sleazy zero! Every poet wins a new heart!

Features: Dorna Aslanzadeh, Dan Cockerill, the new London SLAM! Champion, Rhian Edwards, Abraham Gibson, Niall Spooner-Harvey & a special appearance by the reigning Love SLAM! Champion – Gina Pisapia. And your Love Words Top Ten, Marvell to Marvin Gaye, suggest and vote for your favourites at farragopoetry@yahoo.co.uk

Emcee: John Paul O’Neill. Tickets for the evening are priced at £6 or £4 for concessions.

Further information on this event - and others like it in the future - can be found either by telephoning 07905 078376, emailing farragopoetry@yahoo.co.uk or clicking here for the London e-poets website.

The Farrago Love SLAM! event is supported by Forward Press.

Brighton Festival Fringe - registration closing soon

There are only a few days left before registration closes for this year's Brighton Festival Fringe, so if you have your heart set on treading the Brighton boards this spring with your very own act - the 2006 Fringe runs from May 6-28 - it’s almost too late to get your venue sorted out and your entry in. However, there are still a few venues with dates available for live poetry acts, including Brazil Nut & Garter and Concorde 2.

To register online, click here or phone Kata on 01273 260832 (Tues & Thurs) or visit in person at 12a Pavilion Buildings, Castle Square, Brighton BN1 3EE.

All venue contact details are available from the Festival Fringe website, by clicking here or you can email the Fringe on info@brightonfestivalfringe.org.uk

Please note, registration for this year's Fringe closes at 6pm on Tuesday 7th February ... so hurry, hurry!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

WORD is back in Leicester, 8pm tonight

Tonight - Wednesday 1st February - at 8pm, you can perform at the WORD open mic in Leicester, held every first Wednesday of the month at the Bambu Bar, 21 Welford Road (opposite the council buildings). Entrance is absolutely free.

Yes, back from its Christmas break, Leicester's premier open floor spoken word night will be returning tonight to the fantastic Bambu Bar. Headlining this month is:

A slam champion, a rapper, a poet and hot property on the UK spoken word scene, shortMAN merges rhythms and rhymes in an eloquent examination of black history, justice and equality.

Open Mic
Make your voice heard at the WORD open mic. All spoken word welcome. Talk to Steve on the night or contact him in advance (details below)

WORD is presented by Apples & Snakes, Complex Trout Productions, Bambu and Phoenix Arts.

For more details you can contact Steve Carroll on 07870 608875 or email steve@applesandsnakes.org