Virtual Edinburgh

Four years ago – god, how time flies – we took our spoken word theatre show ‘Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists’ up to the Edinburgh Free Fringe for a week. It was wonderful. We stood in the sunshine and handed out flyers to passers-by (some of them even came along to watch the show!), we chatted to other artists and joined their audience, we found time for a guest spot or two in other venues, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Fast forward to last Spring and the first lockdown, and we found ourselves with time on our hands. So we decided to reprise and update the show, setting it in the framework of a Zoom event. This new virtual show became part of last year’s Ludlow Fringe, and Morecambe Fringe, where it won an award for ‘best adapted show during a global pandemic’ which is something which makes us grin every time we think about it.

Now, the show is going back to the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh. It’ll be virtual, of course, as so much of the Fringe is this year, and you can enjoy it at 7.00pm each evening from 6th to 30th August. In true Fringe tradition, you can even throw some money in the virtual hat if you think it’s worth it (spoiler alert: it’s so worth it). You’ll find the info about our show here. Check out the other shows in the Fringe too. There’s always some wonderful pieces, just waiting to be discovered.

Shakespeare, poetry, and you

For the past several months, we’ve been busy co-ordinating the Poetry on the Shakespeare Line project, celebrating the fact that all eighteen stations on the route from Birmingham Moor Street to Stratford-upon-Avon are now being cared for by station adopter groups.

We designed the project to have three parts. In part one, Birmingham poet laureate Casey Bailey wrote and recorded a specially commissioned poem for the whole line, and we created a video to go with it. You can watch that here. In part two, we brought together eighteen of the Midlands’ finest poets, and asked each of them to write a piece for one of the stations, so that all the stops – and all the adopter groups – along the line have a poem commemorating their locality. The audio of these poems was uploaded to the Overhear app, and passengers travelling along the line can listen to them on their mobile phone as they pass through the stations. Watch out, too, for the poems appearing on posters at each station later this summer. (and in the meantime, you can read them all here, if you want to)

Part three of the Poetry on the Shakespeare Line project starts today. We believe passionately that poetry is for everyone. That whoever you are, you can enjoy poetry and – just as importantly – have fun writing it. We want your haiku about the Shakespeare Line. If you’re wondering what a haiku is, it’s a three-line, seventeen-syllable poem. A little snapshot of a moment. And it doesn’t even have to rhyme. We’ve explained all about it in this short video.

Have a go at creating a haiku while you’re gazing out of the carriage window. Or waiting for your train to arrive. Tell us about a past journey, or your hopes for a future one. Send your thoughts to us (in seventeen syllables) by sending them to @pandemonialists on Twitter, or emailing them to poetsprattlerspandemonialists@gmail.com and watch for us sharing them with the wider world.

bostin’ blather

We’re always up for a challenge. Very often, it’s one we’ve set ourselves – we come up with an idea, get all excited about it, and since no-one in PPP is the kind of person to put the brakes on it, it’s happening before we know it. Which explains how we came to spend Saturday running six – yes, six – online poetry workshops in one day.

They were run in conjunction with the Black Country Living Museum, as part of the F Words project, supported by Creative Black Country, and were a chance to celebrate our region. Participants had the opportunity to write poems exploring their memories of our part of the world, make use of our dialect in their work, and maybe invent new meanings for words like bibble or wammel. We also championed an entirely new poetic form: the Oy-Ku (a haiku written in Black Country dialect, with translations into Queen’s English for those who might need it, since you ask).

Oh, and to add to the challenge we decided we’d create a PDF booklet of all work written and submitted to us in the course of the day, and send it out to everyone who’d taken part before the end of the evening. Reader, we did. And there’s some bostin’ work in it, too.

Not bad going for a Saturday.

We had a day off on Sunday, mind.

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.