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’.

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.