3 Dec 2012

What storytelling does to our brains

A link to an excellent article, explaining how scientists have monitored brain activity in response to stories: sensory areas respond to sensory descriptions, motor areas to physical sense descriptions, and so on.

'Buffer' article here

 Which is why we can't not think of a lemon when asked to; and why the horn and woodwind sections of an orchestra will play out of tune if the audiences sucks lemons...

30 Nov 2012

The Wisdom of Bees on SOUNDART RADIO

This week - my first ever radio broadcast, and at the studios of the excellent Soundart Radio based in Dartington, Devon. More about Soundart Radio here.

It begins with a brief talk about the plight of honey bees and hives in relation to Colony Collapse Disorder, and recent scientific discoveries about neonicotinoid weedkillers. This is followed by a poem I wrote and recorded in 2006/2007.

Originally recorded for a CD of the same name by Arts Council England, it is an epic poem or story-in-rhyme,set in the near future, where a storyteller tells us how the people of the planet came together to save the bees... listen here:

6 Nov 2012

For Shame, and Against the Coastguard Cuts

When they drag those lifeless bodies from the water,
record statistics, choose to print on front or inside page;
it will be somebody’s mother, wife, or daughter,
or a father, husband, son of youthful age.

They have not drowned yet.
Not tumbled overboard by backwash of a wave,
have not surfed in hidden slipstreams just offshore.
Have not yet breathed the element becoming briny grave
nor beached where sudden tidal gullies pour.
They might be ourselves, or now live and breathe amongst us
they might be our neighbours, colleagues or our kin,
while the costs of coastguards services are measured
against the debts of bankers, fools and kings.

These are the facts.
The slashing of a budget for some saving
of something more important, it’s implied;
as future tragedies just leave them waving,
unsaved, too late, and so betrayed, to die.

This is the truth.
For seas are unpredictable and ruthless
and undercurrents complicate the risks,
and government statistics cruel and truthless
when their dry facts are compounded by sea mists,
and with look-out station windows shuttered, boarded,
several helicopters grounded, saving costs.
And how much money will lives have afforded?
And is the price worth all who will be lost?

No it is not.
Not one of us in folly or misfortune,
whilst in employment or in leisure and by fate
deserves to flounder while the coins of impunes
are recovered in some ledger of the State.

Our forebears lived and died so that the Coastguard
could save lives without favour, without preference or blame.
The arrogance of those who cut the Coastguard!
A curse is theirs. They choose it with this murder, with this shame.

1 Nov 2012


I have been in the most beautiful stalactite and stalagmite-hung caves at Kent's cavern in Torbay, reading a story about a visiting Pegaus. Voice projects down the mouth of the caves and towards its dark belly. A fifty thousand year old fossilised skull of a she-bear, is displayed nearby. The room is hushed.

 It was like being in a kind of cartoon fairyland, accompanied by the local literati and musicians, for the launch of the Wordquest Devon new writing anthology. I was invited to read from the Storytrail writings, which I helped to edit too.

Here's a link to that great project - here 

And well done Sarah Cobley, dynamic and competent project co-ordinator/ manager extraordinaire.

Afterwards, ah, the musicians played in the deep heart of labyrinth caverns. Ancestors stirred. I wandered in breathless awe, listening to the echoes of violin and psychedelic synth echoing to the timeless beat of falling drops onto the cavern floor...It was an epiphany. I want to go back.

But what spoils my troglodyte memories is now this photograph, above, as clad in this essentially many-pullovered form, reading-glasses and scowl, and victim of the cave lighting system, I am cast into what appears to be my grandmother. Or the prehistoric she-bear fossil. Sheesh. Poets can be so vain sometimes.

19 Sep 2012

Poetry at Festival No. 6, Portmeirion, Wales

Poetry performances, workshop, exhibition of participants poems and literary sharings & discussion hosted by me, in a lovely rhododendron thicket on the clifftops at Portmeirion, Wales.

This was part of the 'Don't Tell Stories' project envisioned and co-ordinated by Rachel Newsome

The Great British Bard-Off: The Kitchen Goddess Genesis

A link below, to my poem on this delicious website. Just one of many in an anthology feast.

The Great British Bard-Off: The Kitchen Goddess Genesis by Lucy Lepchani:
On the first day She said: Let them be very, very light! And lo! She created the recipes.
On the Second day She brought forth ingredients...

27 Jun 2012

Shake The Dust Stars

My work with the Shake The Dust Poetry Slam, working as a Poet Coach with a group of young poets from Sir John Hunt Community College, ended in the limelight of the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth stage on Saturday June 15th.

Live on stage, one of the Sir John Hunt  Poetry Slam team members

After several months of attending the school with my Shadow Coach Rebecca Tantony, the Slam final was a full-on day of workshops, voice-work, and group games with the other competing schools and their coaches.

Mark Laville leading an exercise with all the poets and coaches, Barbican Theatre Plymouth

Our team engaged with every challenge thrown their way and achieved so much, and enjoyed the day immensely.

It has been a thoroughly rewarding process to meet the 8 young people - selected from an initial group of 20 - who we worked closely with. Some were recommended by their teacher to be 'strong' writers, and others came to be selected after Rebecca and I read work they created in response to a number of class exercises.
It is a privilege to work this way - setting exercises that suit the interests of the wider group and that might (or might not) be useful for an entirely creative outcome; then working to develop skills with a focus on an unknown collective potential, and the needs and abilities of each individual. No OfSted boxes to tick, no stakeholder interests in anything except the empowering process of enabling young people's words and voices, and their taking part in a multi-school celebration of that. Oh, and deadlines. Always the deadlines!

 Rebecca and some group members, playing

the team hard at work

Inevitably, when people are given opportunities to write and speak about their own culture, issues, hopes, and concerns, the potential for any work that might be created is powerful, in that it stands in its own truth and relevance. It also provides an opportunity to discuss or simply express the meaningful, sometimes painful or formerly unknown issues in their lives.
The poems that we worked on reflect brave, funny, insightful, tender, furious content; the form and structure of the poems reflects a fully creative process, including the building and developing of collaborative, creative relationships with each other.

  editing session

 Poets editing

As educators, Rebecca and I had time - though it often felt like not enough of it - to engage our learners in a process that offered skills in confidence building, self expression, dealing with fear, understanding personal boundaries, and group relationships.

 Having time for developing these essential skills is crucially important to me as an educator - which is why I would not consider being a regular teacher. With too many children's needs to consider, in the cramped hours of the school day, stressed by excessive record-keeping and with agendas set by as many numbskull politicians as knowing ones, creativity is not at the core of teaching philosophy today - even thought this is advocated by many of the World's best renowned educators.

The teachers we worked directly with during Shake The Dust, Sophie Lovett (Head of English) and Natasha Eveleigh (drama teacher) were hugely supportive to our methods, through encouragement, practical support and by their absolute belief and enthusiasm in their students, and in believing that a poetry slam was a process as well as a wonderful outcome.

Throughout the day our team demonstrated their abilities, their good natures, courage in the face of huge personal and public challenges, dignity, an abundance of humour and their warm hearts.

At the end of the day they won the trophy for Most Courageous Writing.

Rebecca and I are already missing our regular visits to the school and wish everyone we worked with, much happiness, and a life full of performance poetry challenges, experiences, and joy.

19 Mar 2012


Just a wee boasting and a bragging for this blog. And a picture of cakes.

I just had my routine OTL (Observation of Teaching and Learning) for the internal standards review at the WEA (Workers Educational Association) where I teach creative writing and poetry.

I scored Grade 1, outstanding. I worked hard preparing for it and enjoyed gliding serenely through the OTL process.

The following photo has nothing to with anything except happiness. And I really did make them all myself, although not to celebrate this particular occasion.

15 Mar 2012

In Memory

(The following is a poem written in memory of my lovely friend Catherine Pink (nee Rogers) and whom I first met when we were 10 years old. I read it at her funeral recently.)

For Catherine - and for all of us

Just because your best friend’s gone

it doesn’t mean she’s really, really, gone.

It’s just like when, the first time you hear a new song

and it’s something great -

it resonates, switches awake, vibrates,

tunes in to your own soul,

leaps up a dance to your inner base beat,

sweetens the air that you breathe, reaching soul deep:

and something, in you, changes.

And the song ends but its influence remains,

and we are never the same again.

Just because your sister has gone,

it doesn’t mean she won’t still there in a long walk over

the moor, or the seashore, and that still lights memories inner eye

with sunrise - sunset - sunshine – skylines,

shaping the soulscape of who we have each become

in her fine company: and with whom we could so easily belong.

Just because your ally, your pal, your wife, your chum,

your beloved-companion-confidante, your daughter, your mum

my schoolfriend - the one who listened as deeply as she spoke,

and who broke our hearts with her parting -

has gone -

it doesn’t mean that the spark of her wit,

not one wicked guffaw

not one belly deep bellow of it

will ever leave us -

nor the wise advice that she spoke to the rise of a slowly boiling kettle.

Nor the mettle of her! Nor her easy propensity to bliss.

Nor her ease with the abstract, or ridiculousness,

nor the sense of her own sense of justice

has gone -

because – just because –

Catherine knew how to live her life in tune

with those who loved her.

And somewhere in the shape of the ache for her,

her song plays, still resonates,

and we are never without her music -

no: never. We are never, the same again.

Catherine Pink, 1962 - 2012

7 Feb 2012


>Transformation - review of a novel by Rab Swannock Fulton

I’m hard to please when it comes to novels. As a poet and short story writer I find so many of them too long, over-written, suited to publishers’ required word-counts rather than resonating harmoniously, vividly, with their own inner dynamics.

So when Rab’s book arrived in the post I already loved it on two counts. One: it is a neatly but simply bound, slender volume in a butter yellow cover. And two: the last book Rab sent was witty and engaging enough to make me very happy; so here was more of that.

But Transformation is far more than a good storytellers yarn. It had the ability to get me hooked and keep me there, suspended, in every sentence. Rab Swannock Fulton is a writer who can craft a story; can weave together the disparate threads of plot, setting, characters, voice, etcetera, so as to slowly reveal dimensions far greater than the sum of their parts.

I wonder how much the years of performing stories to live audiences, has been part of developing this writer’s essential voice: that way a storyteller can draw the audience beyond the room, past the realms of fireside or candlelight, beyond the ‘fourth wall’ of limitations – to where story, time, and imagination merge. This takes place here in print, bringing that rare sense of the Presence of Actual Magic.

But let me clarify: Transformation has no juvenile echo of Narnian realms, no yawn-inducing Middle-Earth dimensions. Its realms are archetypal, archaic; projecting shadows onto the psyche in a way that might concern Professors Jung and Freud enough to rise from wherever it is they now lurk, and discuss the relevance of the Irish Pooka and the symbolism that belies its goaty myth.

The story begins on the most ordinary of days, and in contemporary Galway. Donnacha is a young man who works as a restaurant dish-washer, wondering at his chances with the girl who draws his attention. The characters that move around this busy scene are as real and as ordinary as any of us. Or are they?

Before too long, Donnacha is out of the kitchen and enjoying Life’s flavours in the wider world, and he is in love. It is a spiritual, yet earthy love that is consummated in one of the most exquisitely written chapters in the book; authentic to Donnacha’s first-person, youthful, erotic perspective.
So many reasonable or even good stories are ruined by a really naff erotic scene, in the sense that it is difficult to write about the most specific, corporeal, erotic sensations and for these fictitious events to be entirely convincing from the point of view and voice of that fictitious character. Here, it is done with acute awareness and sensitivity

From the chapter entitled ‘The River’:

“As our bodies moved and our limbs repositioned themselves to bring us closer and ever closer all my senses became acutely focused. I could smell every grain of rock dust, every drip of sweat; hear the boom of hair flapping against skin and the screams of birds getting louder and louder in my skull. My eyes flashed open to see a giant ant’s head the size of a football staring at me, eyes as big as tennis balls and its antennae twitching like broken radio aerials. With a blink my eyes refocused and the ant was just an ant scarcely two millimetres long grasping a stalk of grass that shook in the grunt and the bite and the pant and the grip of our bodies filling the sky and the river and the trees and everything that moved within them”

And the scene continues and increasingly delights…but that same heavenly day also unleashes a terrible force that follows the lovers through their tale like the metaphor of the river that gushes beside them. The undercurrents of water gather; the forces and the weather of it flow and deepen as does the plot; and meeting drama as it wends, and moods, and terrible fates, to eventually culminate in the most elemental of transformations.

is a force to relish and to wonder at, to be intrigued by and to be in the grip of. And us readers need Rab Swannock Fulton to be signed up immediately by any agent or publisher worth their position, so that this sharp talent might be further encouraged to write us some more.

Occasionally, a novel will take even those of us who are difficult to please, to the edges that we long for. Transformation is absolutely that.

The Pooka - cover image of Transformation by Rab Swannock Fulton


More work by, and news about Rab can be read here :
Marcus Marcus and the Hurting Heart

26 Jan 2012

summer writing workshops in Devon 2012

Some lovely courses I am running this summer, at The Husbandry School, in Devon


A place in the landscape

Saturday May 12th 2012, 10am - 4.30pm
Price: £50
For aged 16 and over

Write in response to the land and landscape around this stunning venue, and to your own senses and identity.

As human culture has shaped the landscape over millennia and to this present day, so it has shaped our lifestyles, our societies, our psyches.
Immersed in the vastness and the detail of nature at this burgeoning time of year, how does it shape our poetry or prose?
The workshop will include:
• Stream of consciousness writing
• Looking at other writers styles and responses to this subject
• Practising poetry form, language work, & other creative exercises
• Group work
• Time spent alone or on the land (or in a cosy yurt)

Elements and Boundaries

Wednesday July 11th 2012, 10am - 4.30pm

Price: £50
For aged 16 and over

Close to nature, being grounded, the lay of the land; these analogies and others represent ways in which language and nature are fundamental to our attitudes or perspectives.

When elements are stable, and boundaries hold us safely, the world is good. In intensity or conflict, we must confront change.
In this beautiful place, as all nature responds to summer, whatrumours can be gleaned from the elements? What wisdom awaits beyond the latched gate?

This workshop is an opportunity to allow the subconscious to speak through poetry or prose, and to make conscious connections between nature, language, and your own life.
The workshop will include:
• Discussing boundaries and elements, and their metaphors
• Stream of consciousness writing
• Creative group work – listening and looking at form.
• Looking at other writer’s responses to landscape
• Language work, editing, and other creative exercises
• Time spent writing alone, and on the land (or in a cosy yurt)

10 people max. for both workshops.

10 Jan 2012

A pre-epitaph for Margaret Thatcher

There's a Hollywood film star on the radio, talking about her! There's a new film about her, and a lot of talk by press and politicians, about that. There's lot of talk in the media and social media, about whether she should have a state funeral or not. There's a lot of talk about what she deserves. Talking about her like she's dead already!
So I have joined in, with this pre-epitaph:

Hers is the ongoing shove in the gutter
by the silk-gloved hand.
Hers are trades laid waste and traditions forbidden:
summer solstice truncheoned
and the blunt end of policies bludgeoning
multi-cultures into monochrome.

She is the ghost of Christmas Sparse;
of State parsimonious, with a piss-up for the rich,
who have pocketed railways and utilities,
Champagne Charlies stacking up shares
and coked-up stockbrokers who stoked up fares.

She is the stroker of big erect missiles
tossed off for a profit and Falkland spoils,
for a special relationship with oil,
blazed then paved the road to Basra
with chemical-charcoaled remnants of the dead.

She is the Class-thug, a struggle-monger,
the rot in the heartwood of nation’s oak,
who choked the life-blood of industry,
a kiss-arse collaborator with poverty,
a cutter-up of communities,
unpicker of Unions’ unity, scab by scab by scab.

She is an aborter of level playing fields,
a Gollum of unborn chances
who danced with Fascist petty-princes,
thankless for values once hard-won in trenches,
or Humanity’s respect for itself.

And Mammon’s mama still feeds Babylon’s bankers,
spreads the legacy of her milky snatch
through apologist policies
and a heritage of Frankenstein sons.
And a nation debates when her death will come –
and how to dispose of the corpse.