Over the next couple of weeks we will be introducing the ten Poet Coaches of WORDCUP2014!

WORDCUP2014 is a celebratory spoken word project for young people aged 13-15. From April-July, teams selected from ten schools in East London are getting the exciting opportunity to work with top professional poets, to put pen to paper and create their own poetry and spoken word. Through workshops, the teams will polish and sharpen their poetic skills in time for the big WORDCUP2014 poetry slam on the 12th July.


With the help of Zia Ahmed, Adam will be coaching the hopefuls of Eastbury School in Dagenham towards the WORDCUP2014 slam final!

Big Pencil
                             Incorporating poetry, rap, theatre and comedy to push the boundaries of spoken word.

Adam Kammerling
cut his teeth at the open-mic cyphers and rap battles of the Brighton hip-hop scene. Since 2008 he has been performing spoken word across the UK and overseas.

Weaving numerous voices through his own, he incorporates elements of poetry, rap, theatre and comedy to create immersive, engaging works that poke at the boundaries of performance poetry, trying to annoy it. His work licks the finer and grimier sludge from the dinner plate of everyday life, celebrating the minutiae with an observant eye and a healthy dose of surreal humour.

is the Hammer And Tongue UK Slam Champion 2012, the Hackney Slam Champion 2011 and the Brighton Slam Champion 2010. He is also the newest member of the Chill Pill Poetry Collective.

He has performed at Glastonbury, Latitude, countless other festivals, and at the BBC. His poetry has taken him to Poland, Ireland and New York. He has dirtied theatres in Soho, Deptford and Bristol, and has performed all over the South of England with his collaborative musical projects.

ZIA AHMED – Shadow Poet

ZiaAhmedZia Ahmed is an emerging poet and performer. He has performed at Tongue Fu, Elephant in the Hub, and Bang Said the Gun. He is the 2011 Roundhouse Poetry Slam champion and a member of the Elephant Collective, a collective of writers and performers who have traveled the world, performing their work at festivals such as Bestival and Camp Festival. They have also featured on BBC radio and CNN.

Follow Adam and the rest of the coaches on Twitter as they prepare for #WORDCUP2014 |

WORDCUP2014 is part of SPOKE: Air, a wider programme of events to promote poetry and spoken word across East London.

SPOKE is a partnership project between A New Direction, Apples and Snakes, Spread the WordSWEP (Spoken Word Educators Programme), and Discover Children’s Story Centre. Commissioned by the London Legacy Development Corporation as part of their legacy activities in and around the newly reopened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

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Apples and Snakes’ Snakebaskets are monthly newsletters tailored for each region we work in. Here you will find lots of exciting spoken word stuff and more about what we are up to in your area. These are extracts – sign up here to receive the whole message! 

“just wanted to say thanks for one of the best poetry-info emails I’ve ever received. Hope to attend at least a couple of the events – brilliant!” London Snakebasket reader.


From London Coordinator Russell WORDCUP_BANNER_681X254

And the main news: no Jawdance at Rich Mix this month. If you do turn up on the fourth Wednesday, you will be treated to the poetry of Bosnia-Herzegovina v Iran on the big screen instead. We will, however, have a special one-off Jawdance in Barking on the 5th.  And there’s another extra open mic coming up very soon indeed: U Talk 2 Much on Sunday 1 June, up in sunny Holloway. Two sterling opportunities to take that mic.

On the 24th, we’re co-presenting Utter!‘s Spoken Word History show, headlined by Phill Jupitus of Bottom Knocker Street fame. And looking ahead, on the 2nd July, Clair Whitefield and Jess Holly Bates will be unveiling a double-bill of exciting new solo shows from both sides of the globe. Just after that, on the 4th July will see the next in our Queer’Say series of LGBT shows.

Speaking of which, we have a masterclass in Putting Together a Solo Show, courtesy of the winsome Mr Nick Field. That’s on the 16th, so reserve your place now. And there’s a masterclass in slam poetry with Peter Kahn a mere two days later.

Our touring exhibition Picture The Poet is currently on its Norwich leg, and that’ll be culminating in a performance on the 20th, if anyone fancies the trek to Alan Partridge Central.

Meanwhile, our SPOKE project carries on at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Watch our website for news of residencies, community poems and our big big big Word Cup 2014 tournament. Also look out for news of our No Panic project in Sutton, too – proof that we’ve got the whole capital pretty much covered. AND Croydon Word Fest continues, with a series of workshops throughout June.

Lastly, we’d like to tell you about the #feelingnuts initiative, drawing attention to testicular cancer. If you’ve got a poem about feeling nuts (in any sense of the term), send it to – and also to #feelingnuts – and there’ll be a small poetry prize for the writer of the best one. Wahey!


HC_100x100From North East Coordinator Kirsten

June! Already? How did that happen?? Like the ineffable glory of each sunrise, the spoken word just keeps coming…

JibbaJabba on Thursday 26 June is a whopping double-header, featuring the fantastic Keith Jarrett (slam champion, described by Sabotage Reviews as “a bit of a dude”) AND Jess Holly Bates (over from New Zealand).

Scratch Tyne offers all you poets the chance to work on writing and performing in character, led by the immensely talented Mike Edwards on the 15th. Plus there is an extra, Apples-endorsed workshop coming your way – Moments of Epiphany on Saturday 7 June, courtesy of those most excellent poets and editors at Butcher’s Dog Magazine, followed by their issue 3 launch party. PLUS, why not try writing for kids? The awesome Polarbear is here on the 28th to show you how. Oh yeah, only bleedin’ POLARBEAR! (squeals like a groupie).

And throughout the month, why not tune into Home Cooking every Thursday at 5pm on This month we celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas with award-winning poet Mab Jones and a massive list of featured poets, including an interview with Benjamin Zephaniah.


175x200Spoke-n-Word-logo-TextureFrom South East Coordinator Pete


There’s exciting things afoot in the South East this month!

The Kent-wide bicycle-powered youth slam starts to take shape- Spoke ‘n’ Word (see what we did there?) begins to bear fruit at the first of three local youth slams, this one onboard art-ship LV21 in Gillingham as part of Fuse Festival Friday 13 – Sunday 15 June.

Young poets will be sharing their words as they vie for places in the regional grand final at Wise Words Festival, Canterbury in September. If you know anyone between the ages of 14 and 21 who’d like to take part in the Canterbury leg of the Spoke ’n’ Word project – check it out!

Meanwhile, in Southampton, we’re welcoming one of the tallest poets on the circuit, the aptly named Longfella, who, amongst other achievements, wrote the poem that accompanied the unveiling of the statue of Sir Alex Ferguson outside Old Trafford – but there’s much, much more to the big lad up front than football. Come along to 451 on the 16th and have a listen


From South West Coordinator GinaBabble idea 2 (1)

Jump into June with a jam packed first week of spoken word shenanigans!

This Sunday (1st June) join Spokes Amaze on location at Exeter Respect Festival, as we take to the Widsith & Deor Cabaret Tipi, 1-2.30pm. We have a super-sized Ready Steady Slam and some top notch regional artists lined up to entertain amongst the fields, mud and music. Check out the website here.

I am really excited to announce that from Monday 2 June BABBLE will be stampeding onto the Bike Shed Theatre stage for four whole nights! This is a night like no other, as the crème de la crème of local poetry teams fight it out for haiku supremacy, with Quizmaster Jack Dean holding the reigns. Come support this one off show and more importantly the talented local poets taking part, it’s going to be total lyrical lunacy and hilarity, well worth a naughty late night!

Later in the Month, be sure to head to Barnstable for the fabulous Fringe Theatrefest. This year there’s a plethora of impressive spoken word on the programme, including Apples and Snakes supported show: Quint-essentially Spectacular Vernacular! from the 19th-21st June.

Join our Facebook group to keep up to date with what’s going on between the baskets!


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In partnership with Apples and Snakes, SPOKE presents


WORDCUP2014 is a celebratory spoken word project for young people aged 13-15. From April-July, teams selected from 10 schools in East London get the exciting opportunity to work with top professional poets, to put pen to paper and create their own poetry and spoken word. Through workshops, the teams will polish and sharpen their poetic skills in time for the big WORDCUP2014 poetry slam on the 12th July.

Coinciding with the football World Cup, the project is inspired by teams coming together to celebrate a particular passion – for the World Cup it’s football, for WORDCUP it’s words!

Coming soon…look out for the announcement of our highly anticipated WORDCUP2014 judges, along with our exciting special feature acts! #WORDCUP2014

Meet the teams of professional poets and shadow poets working across our 10 East London schools:

Adam Kammerling with Zia Ahmed at Eastbury School in Barking and Dagenham
Laurie Bolger with Kes Gill-Martin at Eastlea Comprehensive School in Newham
Malika Booker with Cecilia Knapp at Bethnal Green Academy in Tower Hamlets
Joelle Taylor with Will Tyas at St Paul’s Academy in Greenwich
Raymond Antrobus with Rachel Long at Cardinal Pole in Hackney
Pete Bearder with Lewis Buxton at Holy Family Catholic School in Waltham Forest
Catherine Brogan with Sophie Hickson at Lammas School in Waltham Forest
Indigo Williams with Antosh Wojak at St Gabriel’s College in Lambeth
Keith Jarrett with Maria Ferguson at Clapton Girls’ Academy in Hackney
Dean Atta with Sophie Fenella Robinski at Buxton School in Waltham Forest

WORDCUP2014 is part of SPOKE: Air, a wider programme of events to promote poetry and spoken word across East London.SPOKE-3-E.SIG

SPOKE is a partnership project between A New Direction, Apples and Snakes, Spread the Word, SWEP (Spoken Word Educators Programme), and Discover Children’s Story Centre. Commissioned by the London Legacy Development Corporation as part of their legacy activities in and around the newly reopened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

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Anastasia Prempeh shares her experiences of The Writing Room – Season Two

I first heard about The Writing Room just after finishing college while I was looking for poetry events to attend. Even though it seemed interesting, I was still on the fence about it until I coincidentally met Carmina Masoliver (, a poet from the first season, at the first open mic event I went to. I had always admired the way spoken word artists could get up on stage and convey such truth and emotion to the audience, and although I had already been writing for a few years, I considered performing my poems a kind of pipe dream. After watching all the poets perform and hearing all the wonderful things Carmina told me about The Writing Room, I finally decided to just go for it.

Unfortunately the first season was already coming to a close and it was too late to join but Daisy, the project coordinator, assured me I could join the next season. Even though I was initially gutted that I would have to wait, in hindsight I’m glad it worked out that way as by joining at the start of a new season I was able to have the full experience with all of the facilitators. Also, some of the issues from the first season, such as inconsistency with those attending, had been eliminated by season two. Even from this first encounter, Daisy continually showed what an amazing project coordinator she is, in a way that can only be achieved by being a genuine and caring person. She always made us feel welcome and we could always come to her with any issues or queries and she would try her best to help. She kept us up to date and informed about, not only The Writing Room, but also any other similar events and opportunities that she thought we may be interested in. Honestly, the success of The Writing Room is in no small part a reflection of the hard work she puts in. DSC_2415crop

The opportunity to work with such amazing and accomplished facilitators was an invaluable experience. They gave us tips and advice and showed us different ways to approach our writing, different techniques to get over writer’s block, write our poems and edit them, amongst a whole heap of other things that will stay with me. In addition to all of this, they were all so friendly and down to earth and never failed to encourage us in our abilities. I also enjoyed the fact that each session had a different facilitator as we were able to learn different things from each person. From session to session I felt like my writing was improving and I now had a whole arsenal of things I had learned, which meant that the decisions I made in regards to my poems were more conscious and deliberate. I was growing as an artist in a way that I don’t think would have been possible to achieve on my own.

Before The Writing Room I had never written a collaborative poem, and it was something I had always imagined would be extremely hard, yet from the very first session we were writing short pieces together and it was so much easier than I had imagined. All of the other artists are such lovely, friendly people and it was great to be able to discuss and share ideas and poems together, as well as constructive criticism. As the sessions went on we became familiar with each other, not only as people, but also as poets, and noticing everyone’s different writing styles helped me realise my own.

By the time April rolled around and the showcase was approaching, I no longer found the stage so daunting and was actuallyGREEDS excited to perform. Sharing and working on our poems and performances together in the run up to the showcase made my first experience performing poetry so relaxed and enjoyable. The network of support and encouragement we had all formed as friends made me feel like I was ready and we were all doing this together. This was clear on the night and between the brilliant hosting by GREEdS, the phenomenal performances by all the writers, and the opportunity to socialise and network afterwards, the evening was truly memorable. Overall, The Writing Room surpassed my expectations and provided me with so much more than I had anticipated.

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Patience Agbabi’s new poetry collection Telling Tales remixes all the stories of Chaucer’s masterwork and presents an array of 21st-century characters. Here Patience Agbabi speaks to Renaissance One about the collection.

What 3 words would you say best describe you?
Imaginative, impatient, impassioned.

Tell us a little about your new book Telling Tales?
It’s a modern version of The Canterbury Tales, each story told by a unique character from ladette to ‘ladies man’.

You’ll also be touring Telling Tales, what kinds of events are you going to do and what do you enjoy most about spoken word?
I’ll be doing two kinds of events: arts centres with blatant sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and cathedrals, with covert sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.  Spoken word can connect on lots of different levels, much more than a traditional reading. The words fly straight from the mouth to the heart of the audience with no page in between. That’s the beauty of spoken word.

Which artists have influenced you the most and why?
George Szirtes, Michael Donaghy and Paul Muldoon for form; Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage for half-rhymes and accessibility; Jackie Kay for monologues and Black British perspective; Pascale Petite for imagery; Sharon Olds for honesty and reinventing the poetic line…and that’s just the living poets. To answer this question in 20 words is impossible. There are times when form really does over-constrict a writer.

What’s an important piece of insider knowledge you have as a creator and performer?
If it works on the page, it will work on the stage. If I believe in the writing it fuels the performance.

What are you most passionate about? (doing/achieving/working)
Inspiring young people and enabling women to reach their full potential through my writing.

Where would you say your style of performing comes from?
It comes directly from the poem, knowing it off by heart and performing straight from the heart.

What creative masterpiece do you wish you had written? and why?
I’ve just written it.

Does current affairs or popular culture influence your writing and performing, and if so, in what way/s?
The recession has permeated my recent work; and a huge range of music, film and visual art. It makes the writing richer, multidimensional.

Tell us about an upcoming project that excites you, and how we can find out more about it.
I’m working with The Full English on a Chaucer Teaching Pack, to enable The Canterbury Tales to feature more widely on the curriculum. I got properly into writing poetry studying The General Prologue and the Pardoner’s Tale for A’ Level. I’ve always enjoyed narrative poetry headed by a strong character.

What has your experience been of making inroads in the spoken word and/or music industry?
Living in a large city helps!  Pre-internet, when I was starting out, I attended loads of live events in London because it was exciting and I wanted a context for my own work. Even now, you can’t beat networking face to face.

Book now to experience Patience Agbabi’s Telling Tales in an exciting one-off staged slam event | Wednesday 21 May, 8pm | The Albany, London | more info

Follow the pilgrimage via twitter #funkychaucer

TellingTales Event & FB cover photo 41KB-copy

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Dan Simpson talks to Apples and Snakes about the benefits of attending last year’s Live Literature Symposium

Last year I attended Do We Need To Talk About This?, a live literature symposium hosted by Writers’ Centre Norwich and Apples and Snakes. Like many of the delegates, I was one of many ‘straddlers’ – a word that was quickly applied to anyone working for a literature organisation whilst doing their own creative projects independently. A year later and I’m less straddling, more balancing on one leg on the creative side of things, having left my job as Digital & Marketing Officer at Apples and Snakes and going for the spoken word thing as a full-time freelancer.

dinosaur nachos

This is a metaphor.

Last year’s extremely open discussion – using Open Source Technology and expertly facilitated by former live literature producer Sarah Ellis – took in a whole heap of diverse hot topics, like some sort of incredibly eloquent dinosaur eating literature nachos. By which I mean it was awesome, full of well-informed, thoughtful people from practitioners to producers, arts administrators to funders – talking about an artform they so clearly love.

It was a chance to speak to people you usually only get to say ‘hello’ and then ‘goodbye’ to at gigs, or those who only have time for a quick email. I met people I’d only ever heard of, or been in touch with through email. It gave us time to explore and discuss issues; find common ground between cities and events; think about ways of doing things; and look at challenges we’ve overcome.

I’m hoping for more of the same this week as I go back to Norwich for more of this at Stop, Collaborate and Listen. See you there.

Dan Simpson is a spoken word poet and performer. He was Canterbury Laureate 2013-14, has been Poet in Residence at Waterloo Station, and his poetry has featured on the BBC and London Underground. He has performed at major festivals, events and venues around the UK, including: Glastonbury Festival, BBC Edinburgh Fringe Slam, and The National Theatre. He has worked on literary projects for Southbank Centre, Royal Academy of Arts, and the EC. His first collection, Applied Mathematics, is forthcoming from Burning Eye Books (Summer 2014).

Don’t miss Dan and his team of poets at Stand Up & Slam this Thursday at The Comedy Cafe | more info here.

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The Cool Hand and the Listening Ear: Rosemary Harris tells us about the writing process behind One Way Ticket…

On the LV21 photo by Gary Weston

On the LV21 photo by Gary Weston

In case you’ve missed previous blogs on the subject, One Way Ticket is a new polyvocal show written and performed by me with Justin Coe and Sophie Rose, based on the British child migrants’ scandal of the 1950s. Funded by ACE Grants for the Arts, and produced in partnership with Apples and Snakes and Half Moon Young People’s Theatre, it is about to open its London season at Half Moon after a tour of unusual venues in the South East. (2 ships and officially one of the world’s smallest theatres, if anyone’s asking…)

This piece however is not about the logistics of how and where or trying to flog you a ticket or persuade you to getyourself along – apart from anything it’s aimed primarily at that tricky 8 – 12 age group – who are unlikely to be reading this – although the adults who’ve been coming along insist that it’s for growns as much as youngers. So do feel free to join us.

The purpose of this piece is to write about the ways in which we use language that make this spoken word, or live literature, or even (shudder) poetry theatre. Actually, that’s what we’ve decided to market it as, which in itself doesn’t tick the usual boxes where ‘spoken word’ as a label avoids the P word altogether. Although there were some earlier discussions about sound effects, exciting lighting, backdrops etc etc we have eschewed all of that to simply have 3 writer/performers, some relevant costuming, and that’s it. What does all of the rest of the work is the language, and we have been mighty relieved and happy to find does the job. Even with ten year olds who’ve never been to theatre or spoken word before, whose Grans say to us afterwards ‘I’ve never seen her sit still and listen for so long.’ There are some interactive bits, but they have arisen organically, rather than being slapped on because we’re worried we won’t hold everyone’s attention.

Holding children’s attention is what we’ve spent over a year working on the text for. There are many issues that we have worked through. Firstly, with 3 performance poets contributing it’s an unusual starting point, and initially we each wrote bits for our own characters. Bringing them together, the challenge was to create something that doesn’t sound like the textual equivalent of a bad patchwork quilt. Sophie and Justin both often use quite long and relaxed lines in terms of meter, to great quirky and characterful effect. I on the other hand tend to be a scansion Nazi, and I love working within really strict form, although I don’t always write sestinas and sonnets (actually I’ve never really managed a successful sestina). The point being we had to find a way of keeping what was appropriate and rich about the character while providing some tighter formal structure around it to move the narrative forward in a very complex story. For the most part this was done by me as lead artist, (rather than by committee which would probably have taken us another year), pulling the overall piece together, with all of us in rehearsal then chipping in to write and rewrite bits. Eventually you would be hard pressed to say who wrote what. We certainly struggle to remember, which we think is a good thing.

We tried to score the piece as musicians would, changing rhythms throughout. Working in verse can easily become monotonous, as all of us tend to write in natural rhythms that we fall into. Audiences, especially children, aren’t always even aware of the rhythms they are hearing, just whether they continue to be engaged or not. Writing polyvocally also meant keeping an ear out for half rhymes, internal rhymes, rhythm patterns that can be repeated or varied, riffs that can be consolidated or subverted. It all takes time! and a pedantic nature helps: a fascination with the minutiae of it all. Also a very patient and creatively-open cast. All of which we had. Lucky.

Unlike with more naturalistic dialogue, there isn’t much in the way of subtext. Meaningful pauses don’t really work much – it’s the lines that do the job, not what’s between or under them. Of huge help in this, as in much of my previous work, has been the lessons learned from an old drama school book, Playing Shakespeare, by John Barton (former RSC director). It really should be compulsory for all performance poets because of what it teaches about the phenomenal complexity of language structures within the plays. How old Will used rhythm and rhyme and prose and all of the devices as stage directions, as emotional signifiers, as text, subtext and the whole shebang. I recommend it.

A simple example. Monosyllabic words in poetry often carry great weight and portent. Towards the dramatic highpoint of our show, Justin wrote and performs one of the most moving pieces -

Dear Mum,
It’s your loving son.
I know that you’ve gone
and you’ve done no wrong…

You did your best for us.
You needed a rest from us. ’

Almost all in monosyllables, which gives it a measured, almost incantatory feel.

And of course the rhythm helps. The form, the rhythm, is the cool hand that holds the heat of the heightened emotion. Our show packs an emotional punch, about the true stories of British children forced into migration to Australia in the 1950s, away from their families, often for ever. The story and the feelings it evokes could be unbearable. The poetry, the heightened language, both elevates the narrative and makes it feel contained, manageable; something we can bear to be near without losing ourselves. Because always, on some deep level, our brains register the formality of the language and that artifice gives us reassurance, gives us something to hold onto. Children’s audiences need to know there is hope and light and uplift.

In the final section of the show we move to the present day, the language reflecting our own version of contemporary performance poetry, from the point of view of two siblings vying to strut their poetic stuff. Still carrying the story forward, out of the 1950s and into the now, not primarily through the costume changes but through the language, the text, that gives us all we need to tell our story.

Rosemary Harris

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Review: 451 – Shane Koyczan
Saturday 19 April 2014
By Mark Badbelly Lang

Mar Kel the Badbelly: Wishing Upon A Star.

I’m a lucky b*****d.

‘@Koyczan made me laugh AND cry’

You know when you have a favourite artist and you just know you’re never going to have a chance to see them perform live? Well, I had two. The first was Shawn Smith, who I’d followed for 15 years and resigned myself to the fact I would never see him sing. Then by pure chance I checked his homepage and he was touring the UK and was playing Bristol. It was an electric summer’s evening, only helped by the intense heat and the thunder storm outside. Just Shawn, a piano, and around 50 people – for me, a dream come true.

Shane Koyczan-clearThe next was Shane Koyczan, and last night I saw him live. Like many of us, I only discovered Shane when his work went viral but from that moment I was hooked. His words and stories just grabbed my mind and heart and with every poem I was in his hands. At least once a week I’d watch his performance of ‘The Crickets Have Arthritis’ and I’d cry every time. I wanted to cry; I wanted to be there in that hospital ward, sitting on a bed sharing those moments with that boy, and I could through Shane’s words.

Once again I watched ‘The Crickets Have Arthritis’, and again I cried. I thought to myself “I’m never going to see Shane live, he’ll just tour the USA.” And then an event appeared on my Facebook – I mean right then! Shane was going to be in the UK, Shane was going to be at a 451 event, Shane was coming to Southampton!

There are 3 things you need to know:
1. 451 events always have an open mic at the start.
2. They say I’m a poet but I don’t write poetry.
3. I get really nervous when I perform in front of poets.

I’d only been to 451 once before and for me I messed my performance at the open mic, so I was unsure if I would sign up for a slot this time. I wanted the evening to be perfect so I was in 2 minds: do I risk p*****g myself off by screwing up again, or do I just sit and enjoy the show. Well I got there early enough to sign up and as I constantly set myself challenges I said my usual “f**k it” and signed up.

‘Never was there ever a more beautiful night of words. Thank you to Hit the Ode and a humongous thank you to Shane @Koyczan I LOVE POETRY’

As ever I was in great company and surrounded by friends, both in the open mic and in the crowd. Each of the poets had 4 minutes so it all too quickly came around to my turn. Even as I walked to the stage, which was about 5 steps, I still hadn’t decided what I was going to perform – was it going to be my real poem ‘Docks and the Pirate of Hearts’, or my latest Rap song ‘A.R.TMark Badbelly Lang-clear.B.O.Y’ done as a spoken word poem? I approached the mic and thought “calm down fatty. Just be you, you’ve nothing to prove”.

I introduced ‘A.R.T.B.O.Y’ by explaining it was written for an elderly couple I saw on a bus complaining about the noise from people’s headphones and how everyone was on their phones reading Facebook. “What happened, how did they forget” I then started to perform the piece but not as a poet, but as me and how I perform.

I left the stage happy – albeit blinded by the spot light – phew!

Afterwards, people were kind enough to say they enjoyed my set and wanted to hear more. One lady said, “Don’t tell the others but I didn’t feel like I wanted to fall asleep during yours.” I didn’t tell them… until now.

Jodi Ann BickleyAfter the open mic came Jodi Ann Bickley. I’d seen her once before, but this time her poems didn’t just pluck my heart strings they played a beautiful arrangement of love. Each poem was centred on relationships. Having come out of the worst side of a relationship and recently found another loving one, I was hanginAngela Chicken-clearg on her every word. Her delivery was heartfelt, as if she was reliving the relationship and its issues right there  before us. All I could do was simply melt away in my chair.

Next up, my mate Angela Chicken. This woman is amazing. Look up strong, loving, kind, intelligent, respectful, and graceful in a dictionary and Angela Chicken is in each definition. What’s more, she has the words to reinforce the fact all you women are. Excellent as always.

And now the moment we’d all been waiting for – Shane Koyczan.

After the applause, total silence. No one wanted to miss a single word that this man was going to say.

I’d met Shane before the show as I simply had to have my fan boy moment and have a photo taken with him. I rarely do that with anyone but, like I said, this was something I thought would never happened. I told him I thought I’d never get a chance to see him perform live but one day wished I could, only to see he was performing here a short time after that wish. He said, “You best keep wishing for more if it worked this time.” And as I write that, my mind goes back to my “f**k it” attitude for the open mic sign up and how it worked out well in the end. Always wish for the best but do everything you can to make it come true.

‘Cheers @applesandsnakes for bringing us Shane Koyczan last night : ) what a night! Loved every minute’

All-clearShane’s performance was everything I’d hoped for. In fact, it was a lot more. It gave me a greater insight into the man’s life and story, and elaborated on how and why he was raised by his grandparents. His explanation and poems about his childhood assured his growing up was not all doom and gloom and went on to make him the man he is today – I very much related to that. What blew me away the most was how each poem, although performed a 1000 times before, brought out a truly emotional reaction in the man himself, or was it a performer at the peak of his art and it was an act? Any doubt it was an act was blown away at the very end of his set when we asked him to perform ‘The Crickets Have Arthritis’. He explained that it’s a very hard piece and he wouldn’t be able to do it. This wasn’t because he couldn’t remember the words, lord this man recites 10 minute poems from his mind with zero notes. It was because that poem takes him back to that hospital ward with that boy every time he performs it, just as it does me every time I watch him. This man not only holds our hearts in his hands with his poems, he holds his own.

Mark Badbelly Lang

Photography by David White

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Carmina Masoliver on Niall O’Sullivan & The Poetry Potting Shed

Day 3

TPPS-1Sunday: my final day of shadowing at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Luckily it was a sunny day and by 11am we already had little children peering into the shed. We repeated the ‘Magic Plant Pot’ poem throughout the day, which allowed me to get more comfortable working with the children on my own. By the end of the day I felt like a pro’.

Some of the children were as young as three and had just started writing. Instead of scribing for them, most of the parents congratulated them as they scrawled something that resembled the word ‘flowers’. It was vastly different from working with secondary school students. That said, I was impressed by the imagination and creativity of all those who stepped in to pot their poems. Even a couple of teenage late-comers who seemed more interested in the prospect of stealing flowers for mother’s day ended up impressing us. Aside from the mass of three-year-olds, most of the children were between ages seven and eleven.

Initially I was a bit scared of the shadowing experience. I know that sounds silly – what’s so scary about children? Well, I was scared to work with teenagers first, and when I got used to that, I wondered if it would be difficult to work with younger children. I think it’s important to do things that scare us, and it turned out to be a great privilege.

Niall O’Sullivan was a pleasure to work with; not only was he clearly very good at his job, but he embraced me as a shadow. He pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me feel able to talk to him openly. I even had a go at the old ‘Magic Plan Pot’ poem with some Year 9 students. One of them asked if they could write about ‘what’s happening now, and it being the most boring-est day ever’. The short answer is that I told him he could, but that the people reading his book might get a bit offended.Shed 13

I loved all the poems that came out when we sprinkled a bit of magic on them. Not only was I able to confidently talk children through the structure, I also came out with my own poem, which is hanging in the shed by a heart-shaped peg. I was sad to have my last day at the Poetry Potting Shed. It was over much too quickly, and it made me wish I could do it every day.

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Carmina Masoliver on Niall O’Sullivan & The Poetry Potting Shed

Day 2

shed 3I officially met Niall O’Sullivan on my second day of shadowing, though I also reminded him of the time I had put my camping stuff on his seat on the way to Latitude one year as he came on looking for his reservation. I had thought it was him (he was reading poetry, which was an extra clue) but I was too scared to say anything in case I was wrong. I kicked myself a bit when later I saw him on stage.

Niall was really down to earth and I felt at ease talking to him about my poetry insecurities and worries, as well as my accomplishments. I wanted this day to be one that pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit, and Niall helped me do that.

I had an overview of the workshop that Niall planned and I got involved with the games as a demonstration for the school children. As always, the students were adorable and soaked up the activities like sponges, then squirted and blurted out bizarre and wonderful words that made you wish you had their imagination.

I wrote my own ‘Magic Plant Pot Poem’ which I then used in the next two workshops:

I will put in my plant pot
my first pair of shoes – red, with a buckle;
school reports that don’t say I’m shy2014-03-30 15.37.16
and a photograph from my parents’ wedding.

I will put in my plant pot
the sound of sea waves,
the tune of the ice cream van
and music from when I was seventeen.

I will put in my plant pot
the time the scab on my knee kept bleeding but eventually healed,
the time I did a cartwheel at my friend’s family celebrations
and all the times I’ve got the giggles so much I’ve had to leave the room.

My plant pot is made of a rainbow slinky.
The soil shall be fizzy sherbet.
I shall water it with Ribena.
From my plant pot shall grow a future unknown.

We repeated the same activities – something I’m used to doing with my day job as a Learning Mentor and don’t really get bored with as the children always bring something new to each repetition. This also provided the perfect learning opportunity for me! Niall was keen to get me more involved, so with the second group from Vicarage School I was given one of the games to take them through.

This built me up to going through the other two games in the workshop with Grangewood School. These students were wildly enthusiastic and it was a joy to see their arms stretching high up in order to guess ‘worms!’ in Niall’s poem, followed by a succession of insect names, and one student’s realisation at the ‘banquet of bugs’ that all these things could be summarised with one word.

Shed 20It might not seem like much to those experienced in workshops, but talking those students through these games was a challenge for me, and I felt pleased that I had done it. I couldn’t quite push myself to having Niall’s authoritative voice to get them to stop talking though. There were around nineteen of them in the last group and they were very noisy. Despite being complimented on my strong voice by Kat Francois in a workshop recently, I am quite softly spoken. I have only shouted at someone once in my day job – a boy in Year 11 who was sliding down the chair in a classroom, trying to escape my English Language mentoring lesson. I can usually only shout when really angry, so I had to take a big deep breath when I did that. I think I might have to use some sort of bell or cymbals to get attention in future.

Again, the day ended with some mentoring from Niall, sharing his experiences and giving me advice. We parted on the Central Line and we’ll be eager to meet some of the public for the Poetry Potting drop-ins on Sunday 30th March!


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