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Posts Tagged ‘Miriam Nash’

I’m performing at London Literature Lounge @ the Poetry Cafe on Thursday 18th July. It’s a special evening for me, as it’s not only presented by Anjan Saha who hosted my book launch, but I’ll be reading alongside Sundra Lawrence, the poet who, many years ago, gave me my first taste of working in the ‘poetry world’.

London Literature Lounge: Covent Garden Nights

With Miriam Nash, Sundra Lawrence & Phil Lawder

Thursday 18th July 2013

Hosted by Anjan Saha and Jason Barnett

The Poetry Café (The Poetry Place) 8pm – 10pm

22 Betterton Street

London WC2H 9BX

Tel (venue): 020 7420 9888

W: www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/cafe/

£6/5

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Author bios:

Sundra’s poetry has been described as “warm, visceral and witty”. She is published in numerous anthologies and journals including the Los Angeles Review. Starchild was her first chapbook.  She has performed her work widely, including Soho Theatre, the Bristol Poetry Festival, BookSlam, De Paul University, Chicago, Jazz Café, Prague and also on television and radio. She has two young children and lives in North London.

Phil Lawder juggles and occasionally drops two careers, writing, performance poetry, a family and a cat. He is currently working on creating the 36 hour day. He has no ambition to write the great British novel but is part way through writing several average to fairly good ones. His work is a wry and often insulting commentary on what he sees around him, the stumbling relationships and hollow hopes of London and beyond.

… & me.

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My début pamphlet, Small Change, received a wonderful welcome into the world at Keats House on 18 January 2013.

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As Nii Parkes of flipped eye publishing put it, London laid on a beautiful snow tribute:

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Karen McCarthy Woolf took this Narnian picture

Anjan Saha opened the evening with a lovely poem invoking Keats, who I’m certain was listening from the back. Two of my favourite poets, Jacqueline Saphra and Kayo Chinonyi also read, and Jacob Sam-La Rose was the wonderful host he always is. So many family and friends ploughed through the snow to be there, that it was a full house and we sold out of books! Look how happy I am:

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Jacqueline Saphra reads

Jacqueline Saphra reads

Kayo Chingonyi reads

Kayo Chingonyi reads

Animated question answering...

Animated question answering…

Book signing

Book signing

My heartfelt thanks to Keats House, London Literature Lounge, Spread the Word and flipped eye publishing for such an auspicious beginning for Small Change.

Small Change can be ordered from flipped eye publishing at a special discount price. It will also soon be available from WH Smith and Amazon.

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Two momentous events of the past month cannot go unblogged, despite my being late in setting them down. One is the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey this weekend - the largest poetry event in North America, the ‘Woodstock’ of poetry, poetry Mecca. Patricia Smith, Terrance Hayes and Dorriane Laux are some of the poets who brought me to America, and some of the poets I saw and heard. But before I talk about this, I want to put these writers on the same stage as another group of poets I’ve been privileged to see since arriving – the Urban Word young poets, specifically those who shared their work at the Preemptive Education Conference at the end of September.

Urban Word’s Preemptive Education Conference

was a full weekend of workshops, performances and lectures for poets, teaching artists, school teachers, young people and academics, exploring ‘critical issues that affect today’s youth, while providing creative and practical resources to address them…using the power of spoken word poetry and hip-hop as the lens to explore language and privilege’ (UW).

Poet Darren Arthur opens the conference

The event I want to celebrate most was the opening evening, entitled ‘Poetry is Pedagogy’, in which acclaimed academics from the fields of education, social justice and the arts, responded to works written and performed by young poets. For me this embodied the power of the whole conference and its reason for being.

I’ve never seen this done before. What I mean is, I’ve never heard an academic scholar discuss, extol and explore the work of a young (17-21), ‘unpublished’ poet, with the attention, gravity and respect of one thinker/writer talking to (and about) another. What became clear was that the poets - Sabrina Ross, Danni Green and members of the 2012 Urban Word NYC slam team – were themselves engaging in the same active, intelligent criticism of the US education system (and the social system underpinning it) that the academics - Dr. Ernest Morrell, Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz and Dr. Kersha Smith - grapple with in their own work. Sabrina Ross performed a impassioned and carefully wrought poem on the silencing of young people in classrooms; Danni Green’s beautifully crafted work spoke of her own struggle to get to university and her refusal to accept the future laid out for her by the sense of failure hanging over her community - a future personified as ‘a husband I don’t love’.

The message of the evening was clear. Young poets, thinkers and activists such as these deserve the same stage and critical attention as so called ‘experienced’, published writers (the word ‘young’ is actually misleading as it suggests inexperience, in both writing and life). This is true because of the importance of what they have to say, as well as the form and language in which they say it. But the message was also that their work needs to actively inform the education system; that this level dialogue of poet-young adult-professor is essential to education.

The Dodge Poetry Festival

Now I come back to the other stage, and to the incredible poets I saw this weekend. What was striking (though it should really be obvious) is how many of these giants of American poetry are engaged in the same struggle as the Urban Word poets – struggle against injustice through language (in both senses), struggle with language itself. To sit in a room with Amiri Baraka and historian Clement Price as they spoke about Baraka’s experience of the 1967 Newark Uprising and the founding of the Black Arts Movement was to recognise art as a truly transformative, social force.

Patricia Smith performed a sequence from Blood Dazzler, her collection of poems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, accompanied by The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra String Quartet. Smith’s work embodies the hurricane through so many voices, including Katrina’s own, with such compassion towards the people she is imagining and reporting on, that there is no presumption in her personas.

As Smith read, the vast, Prudential Hall audience included pockets of students who had been visited by the poets the previous day. The Dodge Festival was remarkable not just for calibre of poets it assembled, but for the way it put them to work, in full recognition of the role poetry needs to play in contemporary education.

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This crowd surely belongs to the start of an album, not to me, swaying on the grass at Afropunk Fest this weekend to Erykah Badu, who I usually associate with arriving at the Albany for work, where she’s a regular on the cafe sound system.

 

But that’s one of the beautiful things about being here. I felt both at home and entirely foreign. Next to us in the crowd, we met people from Brixton and Goldsmiths. But then there was also the brilliant moment when Mos Def came on stage, unannounced, and we were the only people who didn’t immediately realise who he was. There was the impassioned speech by a local councillor, “this isn’t about race, this isn’t about age, this is about Afropunk”. Something I cannot imagine a Lewisham councillor pulling off unscathed, right before the headliner. All this was part of the beauty of the evening. Rolling Stone has written a good article here which takes in Afropunk’s reason for being and how this has changed over the festival’s eight years.

It’s definitely interesting being a foreigner in the audience. On Sunday I went to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre for a free comedy improv show. It was a bit like being invited to someone else’s family dinner, where you can enter only partially into the jokes, some of which were universal (meerkats), some local and some totally baffling to me. One sketch involved somebody’s English cousin arriving in New York, and the disappointment and confusion from both sides about un-met (and met) stereotypes. We’ll see whether that turns out to be the case.

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One of my poems is featured at SYNÆSTHESIA: Drawing Words, Reading Pictures, alongside the work of Singaporean artist-designer Lau Shu Hui. The exhibition, curated by Ceriph, is currently showing at the Substation. Visit www.projectsynaesthesia.com for more.

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I’m featured today on 938LIVE Radio today, talking about performance poetry, the Singapore Writers’ Festival Schools Week and reading a poem. It’s a short interview with Felicia Nah on ‘They’re Making A Difference’, a programme about people in Singapore who are, well, making one. I hope I sometimes fit into that category.

If you’re in Singapore, you can listen at 10.45am, 1.45pm or 8.15pm on 938LIVE. If you’re elsewhere, or radio-less, you can listen online by clicking HERE. Enjoy!

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Over the past few months, I’ve been part of a team at the British Council Singapore, scheming, building, writing, testing, re-testing and clocking up screen-time to create Writing the City, an online community for new, emerging and established writers from Singapore and beyond.

It’s an exciting project for me. Writing Communities are very important to me – I’ve been part of the Vineyard - an international community for poets run by Jacob Sam-La Rose - for several years, and it’s absolutely essential to my writing process. The encouragement from other poets, the honest and thoughtfully given feedback and the sharing between emerging and more experienced writers are things I couldn’t do without. Writing the City is much bigger in scope and encompasses all genres of creative writing, but I hope that its members will be able to feel the benefits I have from being part of a writing community. I’ve written a little about this on Birkbeck’s Writers’ Hub.

One of the best things about Writing the City is the panel of experienced writers from Singapore and the UK that supports it. These include Singapore Literature Prize-winner Suchen Christine Lim, UK novelist Jeremy Sheldon, poet/playwright Ng Yi-Sheng and Julia Bell, author of the Creative Writing Coursebook. Lim & Sheldon have created a series of six short films on ways to begin ‘writing the city’, with their own reflections on writing, excerpts from stories by themselves and others and creative challenges to the audience. A new film will be featured on the site each month from March. There are also articles, interviews, writing tips and educational materials to look forward to.

Writing the City launches today and anyone can sign up: civiclife.sg/writingthecity. For Valentine’s Day, we’re running a one day writing competition, City Loves, for the most creative four-line love poem or 140 character love story. To enter, click here. You can also visit the Civic Life blog, where I blog about goings on at Writing the City.

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Letterbox in Melaka, Malaysia

For the past year, poet Karen McCarthy Woolf and I have shared a ‘creative correspondence’, writing letters to each other which inspire and feed into our writing processes. Our letters have flown between different locations, crossing London, Europe and now Asia. Later this year they’ll be flying to Egypt, where Karen has a residency coming up. During the year, we also blogged about our letters on Karen’s experimental website Open Notebooks, sharing images, poems and insights into how letter writing influences our creative writing. The blogging took a rest for a while, but our letters continued. Now, we’re back to the online side of an equally offline project. Read the most recent post at www.opennotebooks.co.uk

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Back in August, I stepped on a plane to Singapore. I had no idea what I’d find or whether it was the right thing to do. I’ve been here three months now and the idea that I might never have come is almost unimaginable. I’ve discovered so much – poets, artists, friends, jazz, festivals, schools, cafes, karaoke (!), what mangos really taste like, that umbrellas are actually meant for the sun… and food. A lot of food. And yes, I’ve neglected to blog. I’ve been so immersed in the offline world of streets and people that I’m only just coming back online. Here are some of the things I’ve been up to…

Performing at Singapore’s Esplanade during Y-Fest, a festival of youth arts. I was invited by Word Forward as a guest performer and judge for their youth poetry SLAM. Word Forward is a poetry & creative writing organisation run by Chris Mooney Singh, specialising in SLAM. They’ve given me a warm welcome to the Singapore poetry scene and I’m very lucky to work with them.

Singapore Shophouse Salon

Recently, I performed at subTEXT at The Arts House, a literary evening presented by the wonderful poet Yong Shu Hoong, and at Blu Jaz (Singapore’s jazz cafe and one of the best venues I’ve discovered) at a Word Forward SLAM that threatened to blow the roof off. I also co-hosted an evening of spontaneous performance at Singapore Shophouse Salon, a jazz-poetry-dance party thrown by Laura Freedman at her beautiful shophouse. Laura is an MBA admissions consultant who happens to know a whole load of artists and truly knows how to throw a party. Just one of the many inspiring people I’ve met here.

Leading Workshops at the United World College South East Asia. United World Colleges are an international group of schools where students from all over the world come together to learn, volunteer and live together, most of them on scholarships. I went to UWC Atlantic College in Wales before university, so it was interesting to re-visit a similar place as a workshop leader. I was working with International Baccalaureate students as well as grade 8s – performing my poems, answering some searching and brilliant questions about poetry (do I mind how people interpret my poems?), taking them through writing exercises and looking at how to approach critical commentary writing in a creative way. I hope the students learnt as much as I did. I also led a special workshop on ‘Landscape Poetry’ – exploring different ways to write about place, for a group of students who were about to visit the UK on a literature trip.

Recently I led a series of poetry SLAM workshops in a local school with Word Forward. Class sizes here are bigger than in the UK – 40 students to a regular class. The students were hard to keep in their seats, but once their energy was channelled into poetry, they produced some impressive results. One group wrote and performed a beautiful poem on love – ‘love tastes sweet like palm sugar,  bitter like antibiotics’. Mmmm. By our final workshop, even the shyest students got up and performed in front of the class, which was a real achievement. The students judged each other in a class slam and selected one group to represent them in an inter-class slam. By this time they were taking the whole thing much more seriously, asking questions like ‘what do you do when you’re nervous before going on stage?’ It was wonderful to experience a change like that in just four days.

Kite-flying at East Coast Park

I’ve also been Writing. I’m currently working on my pamphlet, which is due out next year with flipped eye, and also on new poems. As long as you remember to bring a cardigan (outside may be tropical, but inside can have glacial air-con), there are plenty of good places to write. My favourite is 15 minutes at Lasalle College of the Arts.

I’ve found a strong writing community here and there’s a sense that it’s growing and that things are happening. In September I attended the launch of Ceriph – a magazine of creative writing by new Singaporean writers, in its second issue. Books Actually, an independent bookshop to die for, publishes Ceriph through Maths Paper Press. They’re also collecting submissions for Coast - an anthology featuring new writing of that title by writers resident in Singapore.

Project-wise, I’m plotting a number of things for next year with some exciting people and organisations. These past few months have been a time to explore and find my bearings. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. Expect to hear more…

 

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It’s been a while. I’m still here,  I’ve just moved continents. August brought me to Singapore, where I hope to be based for the next year or so, continuing my writing, teaching and poetry projects. Long overdue updates to follow on that soon.

This week I’m at Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali, where I’m a festival blogger and events volunteer. Surrounded by palms, rice padis and the sound of motorbikes, I’m taking in the delights of the festival, listening to and meeting writers from across Indonesia, Asia and the globe. Take a read here: http://ubudwritersfestival.com/blog

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