eighteen poems

This morning, our ‘Poetry on the Shakespeare Line’ project took a huge leap forward with the release of eighteen poems – one for each station along the line from Birmingham Moor Street to Stratford-upon-Avon – specially written for the stations and their surroundings. They’ve been created by eighteen of the West Midlands’ finest poets, with five former Birmingham poet laureates and several award-winning poets involved, and the range of voices represents the diversity and vibrancy of our region.

From now until the end of October, passengers on the Shakespeare Line (or folk simply visiting the stations) can listen to and download audio of the poems by using the Overhear app on their mobile phones. Whatever your taste in poetry – even if you think you don’t like it at all – there will be something for you. There are poems of wit and humour, history and hope, the role of spirit-lifting green spaces along the route and the importance of the Shakespeare Line in connecting people and communities.

Our thanks to all the poets involved for bringing their skill and their craft to this project. From Moor Street to Stratford, they are: Joe Cook, Nafeesa Hamid, Kurly McGeachie, Jasmine Gardosi, Hannah Swingler, Kibriya Mehrban, Spoz, Dreadlock Alien, Dave Pitt, Emma Purshouse, Roz Goddard, Steve Pottinger, Nellie Cole, Matt Black, Julie Boden, Jane Commane, Matt Windle, and Stanley Iyanu.

Thanks, too, to Fay Easton and her colleagues at West Midlands Railway for making this project possible, and to all the station adopter groups along the line who supplied the fascinating local knowledge which helped flavour the poems. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Later this year, the poems will be installed on noticeboards at each station, together with the ‘Pride of Place’ poem which thanks all of the volunteers and communities for their ongoing support for the railways, and Casey Bailey’s poem for the whole Shakespeare Line which kick-started this project on The Bard’s birthday (April 23rd, if you didn’t know). You can watch the video of that poem here, and it’s well worth five minutes (two minutes fifty-five seconds actually) of your time.

Expect to hear us talking about this on BBC Radio WM and BBC Radio CWR over the weekend, too…

Loff Out Loud

On Saturday May 29th, in conjunction with the Black Country Living Museum, and as part of their ‘Loff Out Loud’ festival, we’re running six online poetry workshops. These workshops are part of Creative Black Country’s ‘F Words’ project, working with people across communities to focus on fun, fabulous, feel-good ideas that bring people together. Find out more at creativeblackcountry.co.uk 

If you fancy having a go at writing poetry which celebrates our region, our dialect, and our heritage, and you’ve 45 minutes – or an hour and a half for the longer ones – spare at some point during the day, come and join us. You can book in for one workshop, or choose to come to more. It’s up to you.

We’ll also be creating a PDF booklet of all the work produced on the day, so everyone who takes part will have the chance to see their work in a digital collection – hopefully emailed to them by the end of the day. It’s going to be a lot of fun. There’ll be plenty of poetry. Oh, and it’s entirely free. What’s not to like?

Spaces are limited, so get in quick! You can book your place here, and we’ll see you on Saturday!

happy birthday!

In June this year, our night Yes We Cant celebrates its fourth birthday! We started back in the Pretty Bricks in Walsall in June 2017 – with Jonny Fluffypunk headlining our inaugural event – and we’ve not looked back since. Apart from taking August off each year, with the vague plan of making it up to the Edinburgh Fringe (note: we managed it two years in a row) we’ve not missed a month. Yes We Cant has continued to run, even though the pandemic has meant we’ve now migrated onto Zoom.

It’s been an incredible success we don’t make anything like enough noise about. We’re proud as punch to have brought one outstanding headliner after another to our night in the West Midlands, and over all four years we can’t think of a single one who hasn’t delivered. Jonny got us off to the best of all possible starts, and Yes We Cant kicked on from there. Among the poetry stars who’ve stepped up to the mic and entertained us with their words are folk like Elvis McGonagall, Joelle Taylor, Liz Berry, Gerry Potter, Antipoet, Malaika Kegode, Luke Wright, Casey Bailey, and – most recently – Liv Torc, whose performance last month was off the scale wonderful.

But Yes We Cant isn’t just about the headliners. Each month we’ve had a reading from our ’Alf Ender, a poet who’s got a book or pamphlet of their work for sale, and we’ve also given local poets the opportunity to share their work in the open mic, which is a hugely important part of what PPP are about. Since we set Yes We Cant up, over 140 different open mic poets have performed at the night. That’s over 140 unique voices getting the opportunity to share what they have to say. We’ve watched them grow in confidence, learn to craft their work, and spread their wings. It’s been great.

And we’ve done all of this without any funding. Not because we’ve anything against funding of course – far from it – but because, well, because Yes We Cant is up and running and thriving on its own. It’s always been a pay-as-you-feel event (because we’re absolutely adamant that being skint shouldn’t stop you having the opportunity to enjoy a good night out) and we’ve always been able to pay our acts for what they do. It’s a success, and next month it’s going to be four years old. That’s going it some, in the poetry world. Huge thanks from us to everyone who’s helped make it happen.

P.S. We’ll be celebrating Yes We Cant’s fourth birthday on Sunday June 6th, when our headliner is Sophie Sparham, and Holly Magill is our ‘Alf Ender. Come along. Join us. It’s going to be superb.

The Line

In the autumn of 2020, PPP ran a series of online poetry workshops for the Communication Workers Union. The aim was to encourage members of the CWU – who might never have thought about writing poetry – to give it a go, to find their voice, and to equip them with the confidence to share their work.

It was a lot of fun. The people who took part in the course produced some wonderful work. Funny, clever, incisive, descriptive, fresh, and engaging work. In it, they told us about their communities and their lives; the things they notice which others let slide by; their passions, and the things which drive them to distraction. It was a privilege to spend an evening a week working with them on Zoom.

The course ended, but the CWU writing group is still going strong. They’ve now produced this poetry anthology (beautiful cover design courtesy of Alex Vann, here in Wolverhampton) packed with their poems. It’s a thing of beauty. Hats off to them, and to the CWU for facilitating the workshops which brought this collection of poems into the world. We’re delighted to see these new voices in print, and we hope it inspires other people – members of the CWU or not – to pick up a pen, start writing, and find their voice too.

A birthday gift

Today, April 23rd, is Shakespeare’s birthday. That makes it the perfect date on which to launch the first poem in our ‘poetry for the Shakespeare Line’ project. And what a poem it is!

Earlier this year, we commissioned Birmingham poet laureate Casey Bailey to write a piece celebrating the railway line which runs from Birmingham Moor Street to Stratford-upon-Avon via Henley-in Arden, and he’s done us proud. Of course he has. We’ve then taken his words and created a video to accompany them, and you can watch and enjoy that here.

Our thanks to Casey for his work, to Michael Clemens for his generosity in allowing us to use the archive footage in the video, to Alex Vann for the subtitling, and to the local community groups along the Shakespeare Line who’ve adopted each of the eighteen stations on the route. Our project is intended to celebrate their work and encourage people to visit the hidden gems which are to be found along the line, and Casey’s poem is just the start. Next month, there’ll be more amazing poetry from some of the Midlands’ finest poets, but for now – please – savour and share Casey’s words in his poem ‘The Journey’. We think it’s ace.

Home & Away

In 2018, looking for a fresh way of presenting great poetry talent, and giddy with Wolves ascension into the Premier League, we hit upon the idea of a poetry event we called Home & Away. It would be a game of two halves, each of 45 minutes (see what we did there?) and feature two teams of poets. In the first half we’d have sets from three established Midlands poets, along with three cameo appearances from local rising stars. The second half would feature the ‘away’ team: three poets from another town or city, each doing fifteen-minute sets. The aim was to showcase what was happening elsewhere in the country, and have some fun doing so. And that’s exactly what we did, successfully bringing in teams from Derbyshire, Worcester, Stoke, Swindon, Milton Keynes, and Leeds before Covid put such things on hold.

It’s taken us a while, but we’re delighted to announce that we’re resurrecting Home & Away, and putting on an event on Tuesday 20th April. It’ll be on Zoom, of course, but we’re taking advantage of that to bring in a team of very talented poets all the way from Northern Ireland: Cat Brogan, Nathan Elout-Armstrong, and Michael Wilson, who’ve an array of awards and glowing CVs to their names.

Because we’re itching to do a gig ourselves, the three members of PPP will represent the Midlands: Our three rising stars – each of whom will bring their considerable talents to the night – are Priyanka Joshi, Sandra Robinson, and Gracey Bee. It’ll be a pay-as-you-feel event, and it’s going to be an absolute belter! Oh, and we absolutely and categorically promise that we will not be utilising VAR on the night. Or any other night, come to that. There’s no way we’re letting it ruin the free-flowing poetry entertainment we love so much.

Drop us a line if you’d like to be in the audience. We’ll send out the Zoom link on the morning of the event.

A platform for poetry

For the past few months we’ve been busy putting the groundwork in place for one of our latest projects. Now – finally – we can announce it.

We’re delighted to be working with West Midlands Railways to bring poetry and art to the Shakespeare Line, which runs from Birmingham Moor Street to Stratford-upon-Avon. We’ve recruited eighteen Midlands poets, each of whom will write a specially commissioned poem for one of the stations on the route, while Birmingham Poet Laureate Casey Bailey is creating a piece for the line as a whole.

People’s Poetry on the Shakespeare Line is one of twenty-one community projects across our region, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have this opportunity to bring fresh, contemporary poetry to the communities involved, and to showcase some of the incredible writing talent which exists in the Midlands. Our thanks to everyone at West Midlands Railways who was involved in helping us make this idea – which has been a good while in the planning – become a reality. We’re really looking forward to seeing it take shape.

The poems will start appearing from late April through May, and the project will run throughout the summer and into the autumn. It’s going to be something to savour, so keep your eyes peeled!

P.S. Ideally, we’d have got this blog written yesterday – International Happiness Day – but we’re poets, and Saturdays are set aside for scribbling furiously in notebooks with a quill and a fevered imagination, so we’re doing it today instead.

Wolves Lit Fest triumphs!

It’s always a joy – an inspirational, exciting, exhausting joy – to be involved in Wolves Lit Fest, and play our part in bringing great events to our city. Normally, we spend the weekend scurrying between various city centre venues, hunkering down in the Fringe Room on Saturday between racing over to the Art Gallery to curate shows there, and enjoying a pint or two and a blether at the end of it all.

This year, for obvious reasons, was very different. The festival is in its fifth year now, but the organisers faced the considerable challenge of re-inventing it online. Reader, they smashed it! Once again, the programme brought in big names from the world of literature and music, while still finding room for local writers and creatives. Above all, they did it so well that the weekend seemed effortless and seamless, and their hard work utterly invisible (which is why we’re singing their praises now).

Our sincere thanks to them for all their graft and dedication. Yes, we all look forward to a world where the festival is back in the heart of the city again, but at a time when it couldn’t be, Wolverhampton proved it’s possible to put on a rich programme of events and run them flawlessly. A selection of them are now available on the festival’s ‘on demand’ channel, which you’ll find here.

In a time of darkness, let our city bring a little light.

Wolves Lit Fest poetry slam

We’ve always enjoyed putting on poetry slams. The pace, the different voices, the range of subject matter, the audience reaction, the mysterious criteria behind each judge’s scoring. All that, and more, makes for a great night’s entertainment. In previous years, the Wolverhampton Literature Festival poetry slam – held at the city’s Arena Theatre in front of a packed house – has also had the added lure of some quite incredible prizes for the three poets in the final. Will they choose Sharon Osbourne’s autobiography (purchased for £1 from a Willenhall charity shop)? Or Geri Halliwell’s (ditto)? And who will get lumbered with Gordon Ramsay? And on top of this – because we’re not total cheapskates – there’s always the prize of a paid gig at the festival the following year for the winner.

This year, for obvious reasons, the slam moved on to Zoom. While we missed bringing all the magic of our favourite slam to the Arena Theatre (almost as much as we missed Dave Pitt running up and down the venue stairs to collect scores from our judges) it’s fair to say that last night’s event was probably the best slam we’ve ever done. There’s some stiff competition for that accolade, too.

Fifteen poets took part, and there wasn’t one duff performance. Every single one of them played their part in a cracking evening of poetry, and the judges needed the wisdom of Solomon to choose who’d go through from any particular heat. So congratulations to to Morgan Birch, Al Barz, Jane James, Libby Doyle, Michael Southan, Gracey Bee, Isabel White, David Bowden, Leanne Cooper, James Purchase, Anne Babbs, Priyanka Joshi, Diary of a Poet, Eleonora Natilii, and Matt Humphries for treating us all to some top-notch work.

In a closely contested final, Jane James and James Purchase were pipped to the prize by a quite dazzling performance from David Bowden (Word Guerrilla) who netted himself the winner’s medal, an imaginary copy of Gary Barlow’s autobiography, and a gig at the 2022 festival. Which means there’s already something to look forward to next year.

See you in the Arena Theatre then, we hope. Pitt, get ready for those stairs!

The pick of Wolves Lit Fest

Wolverhampton Literature Festival is now in its fifth year! It’s grown from modest beginnings into a packed weekend of events featuring a host of names from the world of music and writing. This year, like so many other festivals, it’s having to embrace the challenge of moving entirely online as the pandemic means the normal practice of holding events in venues across the city is not currently viable. What this does mean is that you can enjoy world-class events from the comfort of your own sofa, wherever you are in the world, and we hope you’ll take the opportunity to join us at some point during the festival.

You’ll find all the events listed on the Wolverhampton Literature Festival website, and we’d suggest there’s something there for everyone. We’d particularly like to flag up events which members of PPP have got a role in. If any of these tickle your fancy – and we hope they will – just click on the event title to head through to the ticket link. Ready? Here we go…

Sat 6th February. Wolves Lit Fest poetry slam. By now, you know what our slams are like, right? Fast-moving, entertaining, and packed with top-quality poetry. A prize of a paid gig at next year’s festival awaits the winner!

Thurs 11th February. Tongue & Talk. Emma Purshouse introduces some of the people involved in Radio 4’s programme about the dialect poets of the Black Country. A must-see event!!

Fri 12th February. Stay Up Your Own End. We’ll talk about this project, which was supported by Creative Black Country, and you can enjoy short sets by each of the five winning poets.

Sat 13th February. Joelle Taylor and Ben Davies. Our astounding headline poet for the festival, Joelle is a phenomenon. Supported by Ben, who won last year’s slam, and is very very funny.

Sun 14th February. Wolves Lit Fest Fringe Room. Five superb Fringe shows for your delectation and delight!!

Sun 14th February. In Conversation With Emma Purshouse. Who will be chatting about, launching, and reading from her debut novel, ‘Dogged’.