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’.

Shrewsbury Literature Festival

As it becomes ever clearer that we’ve got to adapt to the impact of Covid on our lives – at least till the promised vaccine is rolled out – more and more events are making the decision to keep going by setting themselves up to have a digital presence and livestream their programme. We’re very happy that Shrewsbury Literature Festival is joining in and ensuring it continues to provide top-quality arts and entertainment for folk in Shropshire (and beyond). Festivals like Shrewsbury are generally run on the hard work and goodwill of a small band of volunteers, and if you can support them in any way, please do. They’ve some great events in their line up and you can find them all here.

We’ll be running the poetry slam once more, on Saturday 28th November at 4.30pm. The line-up of fifteen poets is currently busy with intensive training so they’re in peak condition as they compete for your applause, appreciation, and a paid gig at next year’s festival. Meanwhile, our MC Dave Pitt is busy cleansing his chakras. Apparently that involves a lot of PS5.

Maybe you know a poet who’s taking part? Perhaps you’ve never seen a slam and want to see what the fuss is about? Or it could be that you’re at a loose end next Saturday, and want to support a small festival who are doing their best to bring the arts to their part of Shropshire. Whatever your reasons, we can promise you the slam will be fast-moving entertainment with all the usual pandemonialist fun and games, and some excellent poetry. Tickets are on sale here. Come and join us.

Wolves Lit Fest

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of Wolves Lit Fest over the past few years. It’s been a joy to watch it grow from an idea on the back of the metaphorical fag packet to a weekend of events which bring the best in world literature to our city. And we’re delighted that – even in these difficult times – it’s going ahead in 2021. We reckon that reminding ourselves of the wonderful things people can do is more important now than ever.

So, put the weekend of 12-14 February 2021 in your diaries, and check out the Wolves Lit Fest website in a few weeks for details of events. Some will be entirely online, others will have a small, socially-distanced audience and be live-streamed. All of them will be good. We’ll be bringing our renowned poetry slam to the festival once more, along with a virtual edition of the festival Fringe Room, a top-notch headline poet, and an evening celebrating the wealth of local talent on our poetry scene.

We’re also hoping to build on the success of the festival’s poetry competition, which has attracted entries from all over the country (and the world!) over the past three years. This year’s theme is ‘aspects of love’, and the winning poems will be selected by award-winning Black Country poet, Liz Berry. You’ll find all the details of how to enter – and a message from Liz about what she’s looking for in a poem – here. Happy writing, and good luck!

zoom, zoom, zoom

In the summer of 2017, determined to bring top-notch poetry to our part of the Black Country, we put on the first ever Yes We Cant – ‘cant’ as in ‘natter’, to rhyme with ‘ant’; not can’t rhyming with aunt, for those of you desperately seeking the apostrophe – upstairs at the Pretty Bricks. And we’ve kept it going ever since. Month after month, we’ve featured outstanding headliners, excellent ‘Alf Enders, and startlingly good poets in the open mic slots.

To keep YWC going through the pandemic, we moved from the Pretty Bricks onto Facebook, and found our audience came with us, mostly. Folk from other parts of the country, and other parts of the world, joined in. People from closer to home who’d been unable to make it to Walsall on a Sunday night for one reason or another popped by too. And the poems and video links from an event stayed up for a week or so, which meant anyone could drop in and enjoy them later. It was great.

But… we still missed the thrill of a live gig, of being gathered together in one place at one time to immerse ourselves in poetry. So last Sunday we moved Yes We Cant onto Zoom for the first time. Our headliner? Rising star Casey Bailey (who’d been announced as poet laureate of Birmingham just a few days before). Poet Kevin Reid stepped forward as ‘Alf Ender, and the open mic spots were taken up by a glorious mix of new faces and old favourites.

All we needed was an audience. And by god, we got one. A typically warm, appreciative, and generous audience who enjoyed a night of truly stellar poetry for whatever they chose (and were able) to throw in our virtual hat. We were able to pay Casey and Kevin for their craft, set some money aside for our chosen charity this year, and get that special buzz that comes when the three of us work together on making our night the best it can possibly be.

It doesn’t get much better than that. Our thanks to everyone who came along and made it such a special night, whether as performer or audience. We really couldn’t do it without you.

The next Yes We Cant? Sunday November 1st. 7.30pm. when our headliner will be Cathi Rae, and the ‘Alf Ender slot will be taken by John Mills, who’ll be reading from his brand-new collection No Guiding Light. Put it in your diary. We’ll see you there.

slam dunk

Last Saturday we ran our first ever online poetry slam, for Ironbridge Festival of the Imagination. Last year (those innocent pre-Covid days, remember them?) we held it in a surprisingly capacious and comfortable yurt by the River Severn. This year, we were sitting in front of a laptop with a pair of curtains as a backdrop, and running the whole thing via Zoom, but them’s the breaks.

Both years, we were lucky enough to be presiding over a slam packed to the gills with excellent poets. This year they were also sitting in front of their laptop/tablet/mobile phone, waiting to share their work, while our judges got ready to give their scores, and an audience of over sixty people munched on their popcorn and waited to see what would happen.

Like we say, our first online slam. There’s definitely a learning curve involved, and it’s somehow a lot more tiring running a slam online than in real life – although Dave Pitt, who didn’t have to run around collecting scores from judges, but had them pinged direct to him via WhatsApp, might disagree. Our poets were superb. Our judges, faultless. Our half-time ferrets, irresistible. And the slam itself?

Well, it was a rip-roaring success from start to finish. We were never able to tell which poets would come out victorious from their heat, and you can’t ask for more than that from a slam. When it came to the semi-finals and the final, we felt that any of the six poets involved were in with an excellent shout. Who’d be a judge, eh?

In the end, our winner – after a final packed with more drama than a box set of Eastenders – was poet Hannah Brockley, who bagged herself a paid gig at the Ironbridge Festival of the Imagination 2021. Our congratulations to her, and to Clive Oseman (2nd) and Colin Wells (3rd) for helping make the slam final such a close-run thing. Thanks to all the poets who took part, our judges for their sterling work, and Jon and Jodie from Telford and Wrekin Council for their support in putting the slam together.

We had an absolute blast. Here’s to more of the same.

Lights, camera, action!

Whatever else you had planned for Sunday 6th September, lay it to one side. Clear your diary. Switch off your mobile phone. Hang a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. This is going to be a day for treating yourself to a wealth of top-class poetry in the comfort of your own home. Something to treasure in a difficult year.

In the evening, over on that there Facebook, it’s our monthly poetry night Yes We Cant. We’ve been running it online ever since lockdown started back in March, and you can join us by signing up to the Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists group here. Our headline guest this month is the phenomenal Joelle Taylor, and we’re overjoyed that she’s bringing her incredible skills to our night. If you’ve never heard Joelle’s work, we can assure you you’re in for an absolute treat. The night kicks off at 7.30pm, by the way. We’ll be there just beforehand, setting out virtual chairs, sweeping the floor, and making sure NOFB Pitt has put his trousers on the right way round. Or indeed at all. Our ‘Alf Ender is the delightful Matt Black. All ten open-mic spots are now taken.

An outstanding evening of poetry is guaranteed. And whetting your appetite for that is a very special, one-off, not-to-be-missed, you’ll-kick-yourself-if-you-do, half-hour of poetry on Radio 4. The programme – part of the Tongue & Talk series – has been written and narrated by our very own Emma Purshouse, and looks at poetry and dialect in the Black Country. One look through the line-up of poets involved is enough to give an indication of just how much talent is packed into this region at the heart of the UK.

There’s Brendan Hawthorne (winner at the national dialect conference two years running); Liz Berry (Forward Prize for first collection); Roy McFarlane (whose second collection was recommended by the Poetry Book Society); Kuli Kohli (founder of Punjabi Women Poets, whose story on the BBC website has had more than one million hits); Rob Francis (lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton); the legendary and sadly missed Dave Reeves; Heather Wastie (former Worcestershire poet laureate, and Nationwide poet); Wolverhampton poet laureate Emma Purshouse, of course, and her fellow pandemonialists. Is that a cracking line-up, or what?

All of this, wrapped up in a wealth of words, dialect, and laughter. At 4.30pm on Sunday. Put yer feet up and ‘ave a listen. It’s bostin’, honest.

And the winner is….

Like a lot of other performers, we spent the early part of the year looking at our diaries, planning gigs, and contacting fringe events. Right now, under normal circumstances, we’d very possibly be up in Edinburgh with a gazillion other hopefuls, handing out flyers, putting on a show at the Fringe, and burning the candle every which way possible.

Then Covid changed everything. Live entertainment stopped, and a lot of us found ourselves wondering how we’d make a living in this new world, and what we could do. People in the performing arts have been learning to adapt, sharing ideas for ways forward, giving new technology a go. Who’d heard of a Zoom poetry event six months ago? Who’d dreamed of online Fringe festivals? Yet here we are.

Earlier this summer we put our heads together, revamped our show, filmed it on Zoom, and sent it off to the fringe festivals we knew had moved online. Last month it was shown at Morecambe Fringe, where poet Matt Panesh does so much great work bringing top-quality art to his part of Lancashire. And it only went and won an award!

Yes, folks, we now have an award-winning show. Don’t get us wrong, we’d rather be living in a world without a pandemic. At the same time, we’re very grateful to have our work recognised, and this award has properly made us chuckle, which is more welcome than ever in these difficult times.

In the finest traditions of entertainment, we’d like to offer our tearful, heartfelt, and possibly slightly inebriated thanks to our friends, our family, and everyone who’s ever helped and supported us; to Dave Pitt’s stylist, Emma Purshouse’s personal assistant, and Steve’s live-in carer; to the Black Country, to battered chips, and – above all – to you. Sob.

Oh, and the next outing for the show is as part of Ludlow Fringe’s online event, August 15-31. Just so you know. See you there!