4 Dec 2011

Wild Words - creative writing & poetry

Details of my course run via the Workers Educational Association, in Ashburton, Devon


We will be working on

fiction writing
- plot, characterisation, storylines, tension, voice
plays - introduction to script writing, devising, 5-minute dramas
poetry - contemporary verse, poetry forms, rhythm and flow, haiku, Beat poetry

and a range of creative learning methods, resources, discussions - and a deliciously creative appreciation of words and language.

Details on the link.

1 Dec 2011

Why We Must Invest More In The Arts

Because every day and night, there is music.

Because everyone has heard of Beethoven, Van Gogh, the Beatles.

Because small children practising dance routines, need a stage.

Because we are not machines,

and because kids who spit rhymes like a laureate's kiss deserve opportunities not to be missed

and because every day is a blank canvas, a masterpiece,

and life paints our stories in countless phenomenal colours.

Because of circuses, spectacles, blockbusters, rock festivals,

and because prisoners can learn to write memories for the people they could have been,

and because we are a nation of carnival queens

and salsa and samba and tango entangle us into expressing our reasons for being.

Because of seamstresses sequins, and scenery painters' brushes,

the Foley artist's portfolio of auditory scenarios,

and Romeo and Juliet, and for genius plays not written yet,

and white-faced mimes and pantomime again and again and again.

For the steady chip, chip of the chisel shaping an icon from Dorset stone.

For prima donna ballerinas, for instruments bowed and beaten or blown

and the opening night of every packed-out show,

for the old soldier making us weep with his poems,

because culture is capital and nobody knows where the economy is going.

For the canvases hanging on Museum walls, for museums without any walls at all,

for the pictures that speak a thousand multicultural tongues

for the lyrical languages spoken and sung

and because 'everybody loves a parade'

because how many dreams can come true on a stage?

And for every Grand Finale.

21 Nov 2011

Shake the Dust

I am thrilled to have been selected to work in a new post - as a Poet Coach for Shake The Dust 'an exciting new nationwide poetry slam project'.

Shake the Dust

I am just one of five poets chosen to each work in a schools or with a youth group in Plymouth, to teach and develop skills in writing and performing poetry, with a team of talented young people.

Each of us also have a 'shadow' (trainee/assistant) coach to work with us - mine is the very talented Rebecca Tantony from Bristol. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp2H7k3_mak

The project is taking place in five regions of the UK; each region will compete to produce a winning team, and then these teams will compete in a national poetry slam in London in July 2012.

...Do follow us and the trail of dust we will be shaking with these future slam-champions in the making...updates, insights, interviews and sneak previews yet to be posted on this blog...

12 Nov 2011

New Website

So at last, the new website.

After all that webhost/server/computer incompatibility chaos, all those banging-head-on-wall moments trying to work out what DNS and IPS are and twiddling bits of text and uploading photos and...techno-angst...but in the end it was all worth it! (ahhh!)


Go on, have a look.

6 Sep 2011

100 Thousand Poets for Change

This is a phenomenal event, located all over the globe on 24th September 2011.

100 Thousand Poets for Change

Founded by poet and editor Michael Rothenberg: to date there are 95 countries and hundreds of cities, villages, and community circles taking part across the planet, in a demonstration/celebration of poetry to promote serious social, environmental, and political change.

Here in Devon, there are 2 fund-raising performances that I know of:

The Great Hall,Dartington, Totnes; 3.30 4.15 pm with Inua Ellams, Ben Mellor, Jackie Juno & Lucy Lepchani.This is an additional event for the 'Interrogate' Festivalof Social Justice

and the other at Epicentre Book Cafe;7.30 to 10.30; special guests Ben Mellor & Matt Harvey, and also with Alasdair Paterson, Kenny Knight, Jackie Juno,Simon Williams, Susan Talor,Jade Moon, Graham Burchell, Ellie Davies, Katie Moudry, Bryce Dumont,The Freakboi, S.V.Wolfland and myself, and others...

please attend! Only £1 on the door to cover costs + a donation to charity

Our chosen charity is MAG - Mines Advisory Group

Links about global 100 Thousand Poets for change events can be seen on their website (link above) and on Youtube.

Superstitious Doggerel

Don't walk under the ladder,
don't put new shoes on the table,
don't trust the tongue of an adder,
never let the cat near the baby's cradle,
if you spill some salt, then throw
some over your shoulder and wish,
kiss a chimney-sweep but don't get caught -
never smell of fish.

Don't put umbrellas up indoors,
never demand the impossible,
if you get run over wear clean drawers
for when you get taken to hospital.
Look out for a black cat crossing your path
don't wish for all that might have been,
dont listen to that ghostly laugh
that rings through the graveyard at Hallowe'en and

cross your fingers, cross your legs,
read the signs of the weather,
and I heard from a gypsy selling pegs
who gave me lucky heather,
that the seventh son of a seventh son
has stuck a silver pin in a figure made of wax,
and that you can't trust anyone
who's seen you through a wooden crack

but watch the cracks in paving stones
and watch out where you tread -
and whatever you do, or do not do:
you're going to end up dead.

30 Jul 2011

The Chimaera

My poem 'On Dreams' published in issue 8 of The Chimaera an 'online miscellany of poetry and prose' edited by Paul Stevens. It hails from the other side of the world to me: Australia... The Chimaera
...and for all the millions of poets that there are, what a small world and universe it is: several of the other poets selected are people I know or who have performed with, or who have in turn published my poems in their magazines.
This edition, whose theme is 'Life, the Universe, & Everything' especially features work by the Australian poet Les Murray.

The artork and layout of this edition is quite stunning. Do have a look.

12 Jul 2011

fridge magnet poetry

Symmetry Pebbles

Just a quick mention about Symmetry Pebbles - an excellent 'online poetry journal for new and exciting poets'.

It is edited by a friend, poet Richard Thomas, who has a keen eye and a great sense for selecting poetry that somehow 'hits the spot'. Great design and layout and easily readable.I sometimes struggle to read text on line - the sheer density of it- urgh! Symmetry Pebbles has grace and a sense of space. I read it every-so-often and enjoy the poems a lot - consistently fresh, quirky, moving, clever, delicious, provoking.

Symmetry Pebbles has been extremely succesful regarding responses and further contributions,from every sort of poet and from local to international - two of my poems have been selected for the September edition, (as well as several being published in a previous edition) I am most honoured.

www.symmetrypebbles.com Type name into search bar. Hooray! At last I'm new and exciting!

Gifted & Talented at Killerton

* photo: (c) National Trust.Courtesy of National Trust.

I occasionally work for an excellent project called 'South West Gifted and Talented'. It exists to offer extra-curricular experiences in a number of subjects, to young gifted and talented students. Teachers are chosen from those who are engaged with their art, science, or practical skill in the working world and who also have active involvement with education.
Last week I worked with two such groups, years 5 and 6, (ages 9 -11) at the wonderful venue of Killerton House in Exeter. The children came from all parts of Devon,Somerset and Cornwall, to do some creative writing.

Killerton is a National Trust property, given by former owner Richard Acland in 1942. Acland's generous gift of the Killerton Estate comprised a sumptuous house, hundreds of acres, cottage properties including tenancies of working farms, and land in other parts of the county, all of which hold a wide and sumptuous green belt between sprawling Exeter and other town developments.
The long history of the Acland family refelects generations of strong Liberal, and eventually Socialist views and actions, that have been part of shaping our most precious heritage: rights for women, rights in the workplace, the abolition of slavery, education for girls, and finally - wide public access to the former estate and grounds, and the environmental benefits of this being placed in the nation's trust.

The venue provides an excellent learning environment: a grand structure with furniture and musical intruments, pillars and stucco work, large paintings of the great and the good, and artefacts from those most privileged lives; a small museum of costume and jewellery; and this juxtaposed to the laundry room with the dreaded box-mangle that was known to crush fingers and cauldrons and weighty irons; and in the costume museum - vicious corsets, used to train the soft bones and internal organs of young girls into contortions for the rest of their lives. However, the ideals of this family and the way they lived sometimes reflects and sometimes challenges stereoptypical perceptions of 'how they lived'.

photo: (c) Paul Leitch

This stimulated some fascinating discussions about equality and privilege. To be part of that with young minds and fresh ideas is itself a privilege. National Trust guides and I provided some essential details and perspectives.

I used the theme of 'status' in the workshop which was titled as 'Upstairs, Downstairs'.We looked at status as a device in writing: shifting this in relation to each character as a way to shape the plot and to create and hold interest in dialogue. We also considered status in relation to working on characterisation prior to writing narrative.

The children all seemed to enjoy their day immensely, responded with great skill to the theme and the exercises, and those pieces of work that were read out were skilful and moving.

Any learning environment contributes to the learning experience. With thanks to the Acland heritage and the National Trust, and to Christine Mitchell and Phil Creek of South-West Gifted and Talented, last week's workshops were a huge success and enjoyable, influential experience for many.

2 Jul 2011

The Importance of being a Dole Scrounger

Ernie’s got an attitude – he’s long term unemployed,
they’re going to cut the benefits they say he has enjoyed
for too long - and has scrounged from those who pay their taxes,
so Ernie’s income’s going to fall to governmental axes.

But Ernie’s got an attitude, and no qualifications -
school was dull and disengaging and he didn’t have the patience
to dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘t’ s and sit all day and listen
while football pitch was wide and green, and fish in rivers glisten,
and nuts and berries grew on trees, and roads led far away,
to fantasies of azure seas far brighter than our British grey.

So Ernie learned his attitude - and that’s a disadvantage,
his intellect is razor sharp his wits pit with advantage,
but he sees through suspect spectacle, and hegemonic farce,
saw all through school, divide and rule constructing class in every class,
he sees the masters and the slaves, perceives the state machine
that mashes minds to sausage meat and souls to might-have-been -

so Ernie values attitude - he does not want to fit
into a cog just like a cog – will not be part of it,
but nuts and berries, fish and seas, cannot sustain or be obtained,
he has to find a way to play the system at its game,
for Ernie’s education taught him how not to belong
(and blind to their own blind spots, systems never learn where they go wrong).

So Ernie says his health is poor, his back is dodgy, racked with pain
he’s got depression and represses tendencies to go insane
he cannot sleep, eats poorly, has schizoid-disordered quirks,
ironically – this will be true – if they send Ernie out to work;
and they’re going to legislate a way to take away his choice,
but Ernie’s got an attitude, and insight, and he’s got a voice.

So now you’ll hear him on the lines when flying pickets join the shout,
you’ll hear him at a demo when they’re trying to get the Tories out,
you’ll see him, just one in the crowds when many march for peace,
you’ll find him starting new campaigns – his wonders never cease -
he is an artist, and a poet, a philosopher, he writes a blog
he’s a busker and a hustler trying to find the clear point in the fog,
you’ll see him on the forums knocking down the racist, sexist trolls -
it’s time this nation valued all the work done by some on the dole:

for every culture needs its speakers, shamans and creators,
the avant garde and visionaries, movers and our shakers,
freelance pickets and resisters and our raging rebel-rousers,
we need our ragged rebels and their philanthropic trousers
in a world more stick than carrot, and a gap between the rich and poor
that’s gaping like precipice and gripping with its ugly claw -
we need our Situationists, our scoundrels and our knaves:
this is a fact of life as long as masters need their slaves.

So stand up for those with attitude, respect those wise and crazy schemes.
This system is a nightmare: please, do not step on our dreams.

27 Jun 2011

Gecko Workshop

TR2's studio 3. Photo courtesy Hugh Pearman, www.hughpearman.com

Theare Royal Plymouth's education programme takes care of its practioners too - freelancers included. (see previous blogs)

Last week, in the spacious and sprung-floor luxury or the TR2 building, I took part in four half-day training sessions. These were exactly what I needed to make physical & social connections to creative writing. Even though I use drama games and methods when working with groups devising/scriptwriting, my craft is one spent largely in solitude and whilst sitting down.

The opportunity to transfer the creative process into a physical context was rejuvenating, most effectively for me through Gecko Theatre Company's physical theatre workshop facilitated by Amit Lahav, the Company's creative director. Worked to almost-exhaustion whilst sharpening the response of senses and emotions is one of the best things I ever do...is it too late to change creative paths...?

Working alongside other practitioners from drama, puppetry, clowning, directing, writing, and other practices,ensured a group absolutely committed to the process in every fine moment.

Other excellent workshops were hosted by Graeae Theatre, TR2 associate Kevin Johnson, and puppeteers Stuff and Nonsense.

I am motivated to engage in more physical creative processes, though I suspect my change of direction will eventually be in the writing. Watch this space.

20 May 2011

Bawdy Bardism

Invited to be guest poet at the Bardic Finals at the Annual Gorsedd in Glastonbury, yesterday: (19th May 2011)

Gorsedd (ˈɡɔːsɛð)

— n
(in Wales) the bardic institution associated with the eisteddfod, esp a meeting of bards and druids held daily before the eisteddfod
[from Welsh, literally: throne]

I am not a member of this traditional path, but they are a peace and poetry and nature loving lot so I was honoured to be invited to attend. The event was held at Glastonbury's Assembly Rooms, a community owned building, with a history and reputation for hosting many things 'alternative'.

My set seemed to go down very well - but the highlight for me was watching and listening to the contenders for the position of 'Bard of Glastonbury' and gaping at some of my old friends who have changed so much (or so little) since I once lived in this town until about 18 years ago. How the years have shaped us all - some for the better, some for the worse. Are we really that old now?
Contenders each presented their performing and literary skills to varying degrees of ability, to cover the topic 'The Glastonbury Zodiac'. The alleged Zodiac refers to land formations in the landscape. Kali Roberts' clarity of verse and voice and Wes White's erudite wit offered recitals least cluttered by esoteric references and 'insider' perspectives, far more acessible to non-Bardic, non Glastonian audience members like myself.

Outgoing Bard Tony Atkinson, kept the event focused superbly throughout. The wider Bardic group(what is the collective term for Bards? A Grove?)also brought a sense of Bardism's deeper significances, amidst a properly glitter-edged, white-robed, floaty-dresses, silver-branch jangling pageant - and not without its wonderfully spontaneous bawdy moments. The drunken dancing on stage during one musician's set, was a refreshing antidote to an overdose of deities, dragons, ley-lines and such. The range and number of people in the audience was impressive - demonstrating the popularity of the Bardic Path and the community's respect for its poets, and for the competition. How would I describe it in a nutshell? Cosmic slam poetry in a peculiar hat.

Many thanks to Tony Atkinson for the invitation to be guest poet, and congrats to Kali Roberts, the new Bard of Glastonbury.

I pondered whether this event was typical of our ancient British heritage, or was just something completely...other. A unique synthesis perhaps, between heartfelt ceremony and bawdy revels, the respected Oral Tradition and post-modern Mummery, ancient rites and avant-garde interpretations of them.

Only Glastonbury could put on a night out like this. I recommend it as entertainment for next and for future years. And the cafe is Licenced to sell alcohol.

6 May 2011

Selected Poems

Two of my poems have been selected for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology Moor Poets volume 3. More about this when the book comes out in a few weeks/months

Also awaiting some photographs of a creativity talk and workshop I ran this week. Blog to follow soon.

Meanwhile I've joined Twitter with view to networking with other writers and poets but have been sidetracked, of course.
There are just so many witty posts and links, bright political edges, humanitarian campaigns, windows into worlds of art and performance, and wonderful geeky things like Staffordshire Bull Terrier facts, cup-cake trends and global seismic reports.

Fact: this is our family Staffordshire Bull terrier, Milo, who we rescued last year.

29 Apr 2011

UK women poets website directory

Just added myself to this.
(Glad I had my technician daughter Natasha age 12, to help me with all the techie stuff.)

What a good idea A-Gender is. It says this on the home page:

"A-Gender was formed in 2010, initially as a Google discussion group, as a result of perceived gender bias on the UK literature scene, by a group of female poets. It was observed that significantly more women than men attend creative writing classes, and are published in ‘starting out’ publications such as The New Writer, but that the higher up one travels into the upper echelons of literature – the prize short lists, and the publications with the highest kudos (the LRB, the TLS), the less women are apparent. "

Take a look here:http://a-gender.org/poets/lucy-lepchani

28 Apr 2011

The World is our Own Back Yard

If I stop throwing snails into my neighbour's garden
and she stops her cats from crapping in mine
and the kids accross the road stop dissing each other
stop spitting, stop hissing between their teeth -
start telling the little kids that their cycle helmets are cool

and people in their 4 by 4s stop driving past old folk at bus-stops
start giving them lifts all the way to the shops
then maybe they will buy apples for beggars
give smiles to stressed parents in supermarket queues,whose
snot-nosed kids squirm, screaming

then maybe all those parents would phone up their own and say: thank you -
thank you - and I love you,

then maybe all those loved-up mothers and good loving fathers
might contact their MPs and say: from now we will only vote for policies
that promise more love
and more love
and more

well then arms dealers will have to stay home, play golf
and peace will grow deep roots

and the people in my town will skip through the streets
and my neighbour will spay her six damn cats

oh if only, if only
I would stop throwing snails into my neigbour's garden.

From 'The Beckoning Wild' my pamphlet published by Acumen
Email me for details or see my earlier blog for Paypal link: £3.50

14 Apr 2011

Tagore Festival

Satish Kumar,editor of Resurgence magazine, has initiated the Tagore Festival at Dartington's beatiful Estate, from Sunday 1st to Saturday 7th of May.
Celebrating the life of India's Nobel poet, first avant-garde artist,and political activist, acts have been drawn from all over the world and include names such as Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva, Deepak Chopra, Michael Morpurgo, and dozens of others. Activists, writers, dancers, musicians, and poets have been invited.

Thursday's event 'Gitanjali' is named after Tagore's esteemed poetry book,and takes place at nearby Sharpham House,. Its poets include Simon Armitage, Zena Edwards, Benjamin Zephaniah, Malika Booker, Brian Patten, Matt Harvey and others, as well local (Devon) poets, are taking part.

I'm running an event comprising a short talk and workshop called 'Divergent Fire - Tagore and Creativity' on Monday 2nd May at midday,and am also hosting one of a series of The Culture Cafe,on Wednesday 4th May at 5.30, doing a few poems including new ones. I'm looking forward to introducing some new and emerging poetry and spoken-word artists who are former students from my WEA classes. Both events at Dartington.

Details of all events: http://www.dartington.org/tagore

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17 Mar 2011

Miriam's Otter Book

I haven't collaborated with poet Miriam Darlington in our 'Honey Tongues' poetry duo since last October when we shared the stage at a packed out venue: the Royal Castle Hotel, Dartmouth. The trip there combined driving, ferry-crossings and sightings of seals in the Dart(for us) and Torbay Poetry Festival attendees devouring cream teas with scones the size of babies heads and strawberry jam and with clotted cream as yellow as sunshine.
Our replete audience then savoured our poems of a local and elemental nature. A memorable day, organised by Patricia Oxley, (editor of Acumen Poetry) as a finale of this established local festival. No scone pictures, unfortunately. They all got devoured.

Mim (Miriam)is now heads down, reaching a deadline for her otter book which is due to be published next year. Very exciting - having spent time with Mim over a few years and seen this project in process from time to time - I am looking forward to seeing the full extent of her adventures in print. More details soon.

She is going to be reading her poems - some of which are otter inhabited - on a poetry walk entitled 'In This Garden' at The Tagore Festival, Dartington at 2.30 pm Saturday 7th May.

Sugar and Spice and Big Girl's Blouse

First gig of the year - Sugar and Spice Cabaret at the Barrel House in Totnes on March the 8th, for International Women's Day - 100 year celebration. The venue was packed predominantly but not exclusively with women, the line-up rocked, and we raised £333 for charity

This event - and another on Friday 11th March Big Girls Blouse, were organised by the multi-talented Jackie Juno - poet, comedienne, singer, current co-Bard of Exeter - and many other wonderful things. http://www.brianabbott.info/jackie_juno.htm
The venue was at my house and next-door-neighbour Clare's house - both dwellings packed with lovely women who paid to see Jackie's one-woman show and a few poems by me, win things in the raffle, and to eat cake, drink wine and participate in a clothes-swap. New outfits for all.

Two hundred and something pounds (I have forgotten exact amount) raised for Womankind Worldwide in our living rooms, means that the innovations of Ms Juno and our particularly wonderful audiences raised nearly £600 for charity during this week.