Archive for March, 2010

It’s always lovely to be asked back to an event. This time last year I performed a short set at The Shuffle, an acclaimed night at the Poetry Cafe, run by one of my favourite poets, Jacqueline Saphra and others. This Saturday I’m one of their featured poets, along with John Citizen and Rachel Smith. If you feel like a bit of poetry of a Saturday night, it’s a good place to be.

The Shuffle starts at 7.30pm on Saturday 27 March at The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9BX. Tickets cost £5/£3.

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I had a very unusual Saturday. Together with Dzifa Benson, Jacqueline Saphra and Dominic O’Rourke, I took part in a poetry performance at Tate Britain as part of the Tate’s Going Public event series. Our piece, In The Undergrowth, was a response to David Hockney’s Bigger Trees Near Warter. We performed in front of the artwork itself – or rather, inside the artwork. The whole piece is a room hosting three images of the same enormous painting: a copse of sycamores in rural Yorkshire.

As we performed our poems, the paintings became backdrops and we became characters: experiencing, creating and interpreting the trees in our different ways. The audience responded brilliantly – some reading along with the In The Undergrowth pamphlet we published, which features ten poets from The Vineyard poetry collective.

It was wonderful to perform together in such an evocative setting. I particularly loved watching the children who came to the performance. Because I work mainly in secondary schools, I rarely get to perform for younger children, so seeing their mesmerized faces throughout the day will stick in my mind. It was also an exercise in stamina – we performed six times during the afternoon, and had to give everything of ourselves to keep the energy high. But that was what made it work so well. Each performance was different and by the end of it, I felt I’d learnt so much about performing, about the artworks themselves and about communicating with an audience in a dynamic setting.

I would love to see more work like this being commissioned. A gallery can make a powerful performance space. One of the best comments I heard from the audience was that our performance brought life to the paintings, and that as we spoke they perceived more and more layers to the images. A creative way to engage with and respond to art – well beyond the confines of the gallery lecture!

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One of my poems appears in the new edition of Magma. I’ll be reading at the magazine launch on Monday 8 March at The Troubadour in Old Brompton Road.

The theme for this issue is ‘Hunger’. Although it often means more work, I like submitting to magazines with a theme. Rather than trying to guess what an editor will like, based on previous issues, you can spend your time experimenting, trying to cook up an original approach to the topic – more thinking, playing and writing and less banging your head on the desk (potentially). I also think having a theme creates a more varied selection of poetry that hangs together as a whole. I’ve definitely found that in previous issues of Magma. As well as pieces written to theme, they accept poems on any topic, but a common thread runs through each magazine, making it interesting to read.

My poem, ‘Love Poem to Hunger’, is inspired by Catherine Pierce’s series of ‘love poems’ to objects, emotions and experiences in her chapbook, Animals of Habit. If you’d like to hear it, you can come to the launch, or alternatively, pick up a copy of Magma for yourself 🙂

The Magma Launch starts at 8pm on Monday 8 March at The Troubadour, Old Brompton Road, SW5 9JA. Penelope Shuffle and Anne-Marie Fyfe will be featured, as well as other poets published in the magazine.

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