fresh PASTA

PASTA is a bit of a mouthful (see what we did there?) and an indication of just what happens when you let an audience pick the name for a night. The power goes straight to their heads, someone comes up with ‘Poets And Story Tellers Assemble’, and the rest of the blighters vote for it. Sigh.

It started life at Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre – and would very probably be happily living there still, if it weren’t for Covid-19 – and properly found its feet when we decided that each month the first half of the night would all feature work written on a particular theme, that theme being drawn at random from the suggestions made by audience members (do we never learn?) the previous month. From that moment on it’s been a runaway success. It’s quite wonderful, and unusual, to have the opportunity to listen to so much newly-written work all of which is responding to a single prompt.

With the Arena Theatre currently closed, we’ve been holding PASTA online in our Facebook group for the past few months, and it’s continued to flourish. Each month we receive a mixture of Youtube videos, Soundcloud files, and Word docs, all addressing the given theme, and we knit them together to create an engaging and enthralling event. We’re now faced with the delightful problem of having too many submissions each month, and – for everyone’s benefit – we’re making a couple of small tweaks to the event format, as follows….

From here on each PASTA event will have a maximum of twenty submissions. This will help us run the event to time (we aim to finish by 9.30pm) without rushing through the work we’ve been sent. Sometimes we’ve been posting a fresh piece of work every couple of minutes in order to get everything done, which doesn’t really allow anyone to focus properly on what’s been written before rushing along to the next post. It’s also a wee bit tricky to keep on top of.

Of these twenty submissions, a maximum of fourteen will be for the first half, responding to the chosen theme, while six will be reserved for a general open-mic in the second half. We also ask that no submission is longer than four minutes in length so that we can keep the night moving along. Our hope is that these adjustments will make PASTA an even tastier (yep, we did it there too) proposition than it is already.

And if all that has whetted your appetite (sorry!) the next helping of PASTA (no, we just can’t stop ourselves) will be on Tuesday 28th July at 7.30pm, and the theme for the first half is ‘childhood’. Submissions will need to be with us by midday on Sunday 26th, and we’ll do our best to ensure that folk who miss out one month get first dibs on the next. That all sound OK?

Oh, there’ll also be a special August PASTA. We’re discussing just what the format of that might be. So get ready to put penne to paper once we’ve worked it out.

Apologies for that last pun. We’ll get our coat.

up your end

As we feel our way through the response to Covid-19 all regular poetry events in the Black Country have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. We’re addressing that by running a series of online poetry activities across our region, commissioned by Creative Black Country.

‘Stay Up Your Own End’ is a series of six online events, each providing a platform for poets of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to share their work. They’re being held on Monday evenings on our Facebook page, and for each one we’re encouraging people to write about some aspect of life in their part of the Black Country. This blog entry will be updated each week to give the latest prompt (scroll to the end of the blog to find it).

The Walsall, Dudley, and Sandwell events have now taken place, Wolverhampton is this evening, and that means we’ve just one more evening – centred on Stourbridge – to come before our grand finale on 20th July. At each event a ‘judge’s favourite’ has been chosen and secured a £25 prize for the author, plus the opportunity to work with us on creating a video of their piece for our sixth and final event, which will feature the five winning poems as well as videos from each of our five judges.

Each week an established regional poet has provided a prompt for their part of the Black Country, and we’re grateful to Richard Archer, Rick Sanders, Roy McFarlane, Kuli Kohli, and Heather Wastie for working with us on the events for Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, and Stourbridge respectively.

Anyone can submit a poem. First-time writers, regular scribblers, and all those in between. Whether you’re a keen poet or just fancy dipping your toes in the poetry water, this is for you. And – of course – everyone’s welcome to take part in the events, either as contributors or audience. They’ll all be hosted on our Facebook page, which you will find here.

Heather’s prompt for the Stourbridge event is below. If you want to take part, email your finished poem to us at poetsprattlerspandemonialists@gmail.com by midday on Sunday July 5th for the chance to win a £25 prize. Our thanks to those people who’ve already sent their poems in – the rest of you, get yer skates on!

Here’s Heather”s prompt. We’re sure it’ll inspire you to write something about your part of Stourbridge…

“Stourbridge’s suburbs have some interesting places names. Have you ambled in Amblecote without a coat? Did you once tell a lie in Lye? What is there to write home about in Wordsley?  I’ve driven through Norton, Oldswinford, and Pedmore, shopped in Wollaston, wondered (not wandered) about Wollescote and got somewhat stressed trying to find my way into Stourbridge town centre…

Do you have childhood memories of Mary Stevens Park? What’s it like inside the Red House Glass Cone? Have you walked along the Stourbridge Canal? Please choose a location in Stourbridge – large or small, outdoor or indoor, noisy or intimate – somewhere you can remember vividly, or somewhere on your doorstep you can easily visit, and take the reader there in your poem. “

We hope that inspires you. Get writing, folks!

success

With everything else that’s going on in the world, it’s hardly a surprise that the end of the financial year slipped by more or less unnoticed. Even in normal times, it’s rarely something which sets the pulse racing (although filling in a self-assessment tax form can certainly raise the blood pressure, but that’s another matter entirely). This year, though, it was a little bit special for PPP.

You see, last year we decided to set up The Hundred Club, publishing local poets whose work we felt deserved putting together in a pamphlet. We’d have just 100 copies of each pamphlet for sale, and they wouldn’t be re-printed, making them a limited edition worth getting your mitts on. The first member of The Hundred Club was Wolverhampton poet Jane James, and – once we knew we had a model that worked – we followed her pamphlet up with one from rising star Michael Southan.

It was, and is, important to us to get unpublished and overlooked voices into print and give them a chance to share their work. And we’ve done that. It’s also very important to us that poets make money from their writing, and we’re very happy to say that when the financial year drew to a close and we did the sums, we were able to ensure that happened too.

Under normal circumstances, we’d be working on the next pamphlet in our series, but with live events currently on hold we’re hanging back on that for now. We’re also aware that both Jane and Michael sell most of their pamphlets at poetry nights, which isn’t possible right now, so we’re offering to post them out to anyone who’d like one. The pamphlets are £5.00 each, and whether you buy just one, or decide you’d like a copy of both, p+p is an extra £1.00.

If you’re interested, get in touch. We are, as always, at poetsprattlerspandemonialists@gmail.com

Take care, and stay safe, and we hope to see you all soon.

Thank You poem

Last week we posted a blog about the ‘thank you’ poem we were commissioned to write for transport workers. You can read that blog here. Transport Focus produced a video featuring Emma Purshouse reading part of the poem, and they’ve now given us permission to post the full poem on our website. You can read it below.

Thank You.

To the ordinary folk out there doing jobs
in uniform, hi-vis, and suit
in comfortable shoes or in trainers
or wearing a steel toe-capped boot
wielding a spade or a shovel
holding a clipboard or pen
bent over laptop or spreadsheet
here’s to you women and men
the crucial cogs in a network
getting people and goods to their goal
everyday heroes and heroines
with a vital and critical role
truckers delivering medicine and food
day after day after day
warehouse staff picking and packing all night
seeing everything’s sent on its way
workers on buses, on railways, on trams,
or down underground on the Tube
wherever you are within transport
this is a message to you.

Thank you.

To the mechanics and fitters
the guards and the drivers
the staff at our stations
the workers and strivers
who ensure the freight trains are running
the signals are green
who graft in the background
unknown and unseen
checking points, tamping ballast
repairing the track
so the train which takes folk off to work
brings them back
from their shift at the hospital
or their job stacking shelves
because none of us do what we do
by ourselves
we rely on each other
to help us get through
and now – more than ever –
we’re indebted to you
who get up early each morning
to drive the first tram
fuel up fleets of buses
plot routes for a thousand delivery vans
who get supplies where they’re needed
with minimum fuss
while we’re at home under lockdown
you’re out there, working, for all of us.

Thank you.

To the control staff who watch
where the traffic is going
warn of pinch points and hold ups
keep everything flowing
so the nurse on the bus
gets to work when she ought to
and the team that she’s part of
with cleaners and porters
reassures, offers comfort,
sees life end, and begin
holds our hands when we leave this world…
cradles us gently when we come in.
You’re our friends, and our neighbours
our dads and our sons
our mothers and daughters
and you are the ones
who graft in the background
unnoticed, unnamed
who deserve so much more than a poem…
Blue plaques. Headlines. Fame.
Rounds of drinks bought in pubs
when pubs open once more
applause from every last one of us
as you walk home past our doors

you’re critical workers, we know this is true.
and this is us saying thanks, as a nation, to you.

For everyday heroes

At the end of last week, the good folk at Transport Focus contacted us and asked if we could write a poem honouring the work being done by staff across the transport network – road, rail, bus, and tram – during the coronavirus lockdown. Oh, and they wanted it as soon as possible.

On Monday morning, we submitted a poem to them, expressing our thanks for the invaluable (and often unrecognised) work these men and women are doing in such difficult times. Transport Focus have now added images, and today it’s gone out on social media. You can listen to Wolverhampton poet laureate Emma Purshouse reading a section of the poem here: https://t.co/Stlt5qNVzG

Please feel free to share it if you wish. And show your appreciation for transport workers when you get the chance.

Online Yes We Cant

None of us want to be under lockdown, of course (pubs, remember them?) and we’re really missing our regular poetry events (that’s pubs again, if you weren’t sure) but if there is one delightful glimmer of light in the coronavirus darkness, it’s the advent of the online poetry shindig. What a revelation!

Maybe such things existed before, we don’t know. And why would we have cared when we were knee-deep in real-life poetry events, with real people there in the same room, probably in a pub, in a world where social distancing was nothing more than a measure of how un/comfortable you got round others (not unknown at poetry events).

Needs must, however. And, it would appear, needs sometimes come up trumps. With both PASTA and Yes We Cant kicked into the long grass until who knows when, we decided to hold online editions, held – on our group page on Facebook – at the very time the actual event would have taken place, and invited people along.

It worked. Boy, it worked. Last night’s Yes We Cant – Clive Birnie as ‘Alf Ender, Hannah Swingler headlining – had a full house of open-mikers, and over seventy people joining in by commenting on or reacting to the poems. Over seventy people!! From all over the UK!! We had poets from Belfast, Swindon, West Yorkshire, the Potteries, and Worcester, as well as our Black Country regulars, and that made for an electrifying mix.

If you run a regular poetry night and haven’t given this a go, we recommend you try it. Yes, the cool kids are using Zoom, but if you haven’t got broadband or you don’t quite feel up to the challenge of having a bunch of folk stare at you from your computer screen, the Facebook option is worth exploring (get in touch if you want to know more). We’ll definitely keep doing this, and learning more as we go along, no doubt.

Who knows, we may even keep it as a thing once the pubs have re-opened…

and breathe…..

One week on from Wolves Lit Fest, and we’ve just about caught up on our sleep. What a weekend! Our thanks to everyone who came along to the poetry slam (see previous blog) and kicked off the festival in grand style! Thanks, too, to the folk who filled the Fringe Room at the Lych Gate, and packed out Yes We Cant at the Lighthouse, where Wolverhampton poet Michael Southan joined our 100 club as we launched his pamphlet into the world, and John Berkavitch wowed us with his headline set.

We love what we do, but we’re also enjoying taking it a little bit easy for a few weeks. Our next event will be Yes We Cant on March 1st, when we return to the Pretty Bricks in Walsall. Manjit Sahota headlines, while Welsh poet Pat Edwards travels in – aptly, on St David’s Day – from Welshpool to take the ‘Alf Ender slot. All that and our usual open mic spots, too. We can’t wait!

Oh, our fund-raising rabbit (who offers a home for your loose change) will be collecting for a new charity this year. Partly in response to BBC Radio DJ Liz Kershaw’s ill-considered comments about period poverty, our rabbit will be raising funds to help supply sanitary products to women in need. Read about that here.

Who knows, we might just drop Liz a line and see if she fancies contributing to the cause herself.

back of the net

This photo is of a fully sold-out Arena Theatre. A photo of 150 people waiting expectantly for the start of the Wolverhampton Literature Festival poetry slam last Saturday.

feel the excitement….

That’s 150 people. For poetry. In Wolverhampton. On a mizzly Saturday evening in January. Not bad going, eh? When poetry has a great night like that it’s only right to make a song and dance about it, so yes, we are blowing our own trumpet, just a little. Because – from start to finish – we’re chuffed to bits with how the night went.

Any one of the fifteen poets could have won it, and there was some truly excellent work for the audience to savour. And some truly difficult decisions for our judges to make. And some truly heroic galumphing round the theatre by NOFB Pitt as he collected the scores. Sterling work, that man. He deserved that mid-show pint.

Our thanks to everyone who came along to cheer and applaud the poets who took part, to our judges for their vital contribution to the evening, and to the Arena Theatre for being a perfect venue. Scores were close all the way through, with just a point or two separating poets who went through to the next round from those who didn’t. Our final was a contest between Ben Davis, Clive Oseman, and Colin Wells, with Ben’s hilarious poem just pipping the other two to the winner’s podium.

By winning, Ben has bagged himself a paid gig at the 2021 Wolves Lit Fest. This Friday, Nick Lovell – who won the slam last year – will be taking up his paid gig by supporting the sublime nonsense of The Antipoet at Wolves Art Gallery. Those of you who’ve seen them before will know you’re in for a treat. As for those of you who haven’t seen them… trust us, you should. You really, really should. Tickets are on sale here. Get ‘em while you can!

You did good

In the two and a half years since we set up Yes We Cant in the upstairs room of a backstreet pub in Walsall, we’ve had some sparkling nights of poetry. We’ve been entertained by Elvis McGonagall, Roy McFarlane, Nafeesa Hamid, and Johnny Fluffypunk among others, and every single event has been something we’re proud to say has brought top-notch poets to our part of the West Midlands.

Last night was something else again.

Yes, we had the usual mix of experienced open-mic poets and folk who were reading at Yes We Cant for the first time (all of whom were greeted by the Poetry Mexican Wave™ as devised by Dave NOFB Pitt) and we had our usual ‘Alf Ender slot, filled this month by Nick Pearson who’d travelled in from Shropshire. And we had a packed house. So far, so normal.

What made last night extraordinary was the set from our headline poet, Liz Berry, whose reading was never anything less than spellbinding, and whose work is utterly compelling in its beauty and its craft. We’re well aware how very lucky we were to be able to bring her to Walsall.

Liz had asked that all the money collected in the hat at the end of the night should go to support the work of Black Country Women’s Aid. Last night we collected a remarkable £280.66. Added to this are the donations made to our fundraising rabbit (who collects spare change and shrapnel) through the autumn, which amount to a further £44.92, giving a grand total of £325.58. We will be paying this over to BCWA in the next few days.

Our heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your generosity. In a world which seems to be falling apart, it’s wonderful to be reminded that poetry can be a force for good.

P.S. If you’d like to give but haven’t yet, the donation page for BCWA is here.

Liz Berry at Yes We Cant.

Finding Our Funny Roots

Brendan Hawthorne (Centre) demonstrates his “sot nev”. Watched by, from left to right, Steve Pottinger, Dave Pitt, Emma Purshouse and Alex Vann. Photo by Gary O’Dowd.

Since March volunteers have been poring over archives and interviewing people for the Finding Our Funny Roots project. . The Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists were also running around finding things out, shooting vlogs and wondering what the shows would consist of.

During September Emma Purshouse locked herself away with all the research and produced an excellent script. Dave Pitt then burnt out a laptop or three making the videos and audio transcriptions make sense. Steve Pottinger kept us all together. Balancing everything like a plate spinning diva. We brought along to the party Dr. Brian Dakin for his insights into Black Country dialect and his very close friendship to Billy Spakemon. We brought in Brendan Hawthorne for his skits, comedic timing and loafers. We brought in Josianne and Paul from the University of Wolverhampton for their academia. We, of course, brought in Alex Vann because Alex Vann can do everything. He can communicate in sign language, play a guitar, write songs and help caption videos.

We emerged in the middle of October with something which made sense. We had a hectic day of rehearsals in the University powered on hope, coffee and a desire to share the work.

On the 17th October Creative Black Country and the hard working volunteers (and a few special guests) got to see a preview of the show. Would Pitt’s laptop survive the tech onslaught? Would Alex’s guitar stay in tune? Would Brendan’s loafers become self aware?

The show was a success. When the audience should have laughed, they laughed. When they should have listened, they listened. At the end of the preview people didn’t want to leave. They wanted to stay and discuss the show.

That is always a good sign.

On the 26th October, we performed the show again as part of the Funny Things Festival programme. Guitars stayed in tune, laptops survived and loafers stayed non-sentient. There were more big laughs, lots of entertainment and a warm, appreciative audience. And it was a sell out. It all came together wonderfully.

Yet we didn’t end there. Now the show has been reworked for other audiences and venues. The tech has had to be cut down because not every venue can project video; this also gives Pitt’s laptop and much needed rest.

On Thursday December 12th the show was performed for people at Verona Court in Wolverhampton. It was a splendid afternoon. We had heckling, we had folks beating us to the punchline, we had singing and percussion. After the show we stuck around and had a natter to residents and visitors about their memories of Black Country Comedy. One lady had been a singer and toured with a comedian, another recalled comedy monologues her mother had performed in church. The afternoon was fun and festive, giving an extra seasonal oomph to the Black Country version of the nativity that features in the performance. There were mince pies too!