Posts Tagged 'Action Transport Theatre'

Pride comes before… ouch!

A heap of sleepy chums

And why wouldn’t I be? If you didn’t notice that it was National Poetry Day (NPD) on Thursday…. then go and watch this film to make up for it. Or this one. Since my day job is to run NPD, this is the biggest event of my year – so forgive me a long blog. This time I was in That London, and it was truly cockle-warming to see the scale and variety of things going on. The evening before, I was at the Forward Prizes ceremony – gutted that Famous Seamus was not there to collect his award, but delighted to discover the wry poetry of Hilary Menos, and more delighted still to stay with dear friends including Iggy of the Unbelievable Lashes.

National Poetry Day started ridiculously early at Poet in the City‘s breakfast event with Jo Shapcott. Afterwards I spent a happy hour in a cafe, secreting Poetry Found booklets for later discovery (eg by this lady, below) and setting up the new NPD blog.


Poetry Found!


Please sign up to the new blog and help to make it a success: it needs to be a reliable source of poetry information, year-round, for all of us. Onwards, to the Southbank Centre for an afternoon of brilliant readings – Simon Armitage,


Daljit Nagra


Lemn Sissay, Jo Shapcott again, our poet in residence Daljit Nagra and another favourite of mine, Ian Duhig (who- stop press – will be poet in residence for Ledbury Poetry Festival 2011). All over the UK, poetry events were lighting up the map. One of my favourites was this (mostly) Scottish Patchwork Poem from North Carr Light; but there were open mic nights in Caerphilly, a Poetry Booth on the high street in Gateshead – literally hundreds of poetry activists across the UK, bringing poetry to tens of thousands of slightly bewildered people. Bless’em all…. including the Foyle Young Poets who made it through 20,000 entries to win prizes, and enjoyed rearranging the coins on the magnetic sculpture outside the Southbank Centre.

Blessings too upon the writers who took part in our Bugged project this summer. After the mass overhearings of July 1st, and the mass panic that followed as everyone wrote and submitted their work, the mass marketing begins. The Bugged book is here – and it’s beautiful, at least in the special edition that you can buy at our launches (or from me afterwards). Thursday will see the first launch at Manchester Literature Festival, and next week brings a second launch at Birmingham Book festival. Please join us or send this Bugged launch invitation to anyone else who might come along.

Bear with me, while I squeeze in a bit more pride and happiness. This weekend my short play First Person opens in Ellesmere Port. Next weekend it shows at the Chester Literature Festival. First Person tells the story of Edwardian explorer and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, who was frightened of nothing – except sex. Mine is one of four short plays showing in a single event called Four for the Port. These are your only chances to see it for the foreseeable future, so catch the plays while you can in this production by Action Transport Theatre.

And finally…. I’m delighted to find that this blog is shortlisted for the Manchester Blog awards. It would be a really marvellous thing to win, so if you’d like to vote for me please go to the website here and vote for The Bell Jar in the ‘personal’ category – but check out the other blogs while you’re there!

All of these proud-and-happy things are projects which I’ve had a hand in, but which depend on others for their success. To the production team and actors in my play – to the readers of this blog – to the many writers who contributed to Bugged, whether they made it into the book or not – and above all, to the thousands who took part in National Poetry Day simply for the love of poetry – to all of you I say thank you, from the heart of my poetic bottom. Now go and read some poetry….

The nights are drawing in…

…and at Shambala, where flowers grow large and fine poets thrive, my festival season drew to a close. The poets

See those legs? Hilarious

included the tireless Dreadlockalien, topical Pete the Temp, regal Jean Binta Breeze and… er… me. Here are my legs, appearing (with me) on the Compass of Lunacy stage before an audience of chortling punters. If the audience is smiling, it must be because I’ve just announced that Tony Walsh is coming on next.

Sometimes my work gives me a chance to shine a light on wonderful contemporary poetry that others may not have encountered. I just edited the latest Poetry in the Waiting Room leaflet for the Royal Derby Hospital,

Hanging up our cans? Not yet

which will bring to a particularly receptive audience some beautiful poems by Jim Caruth, Gill McEvoy and CJ Allen. I won’t bore you at length with my Bugged project because there is another blog to do that: but David Calcutt and I have selected the material for the book, and it is a joy to be getting ‘thank you’ messages from those who are in it – as well as gracious mails from some who aren’t. As the book and its twin launch events come together, we are getting a sense of the strong writerly community we’ve created.

Rehearsals at Action Transport Theatre

After the summer break, rehearsals started again for my short play about Gertrude Bell (tragically no longer called Aching for Dick but First Person, more appropriate in every sense). Above all, I’ve been working hard on National Poetry Day which is now barely a month away… aaaaaargh.

Lud's Church. Pretty green, eh?

No, that's not me abseiling

But there has been time to visit two atmospheric places which are literally the stuff of legend. That’s ‘literally’ as in ‘literally’, not as Radio 4 guests like to use it – ‘I was literally bowled over by his statement, Evan’. The first was Lud’s Church, supposed site of the Green Knight’s chapel from Gawain and the Green Knight. It’s quiet and mystical, properly awe-inspiring – even when full of Bank Holiday walkers. The second, equally other-worldly, was the Alderley Edge copper mine complex which inspired some of Alan Garner‘s weird and wonderful books. Bronze Age smelters got their copper here. In the tighter squeezes it brought back panicky memories of underground cities of Cappadocia, where I worked in my archaeology years.

Another week, another set of deadlines: and the nights really are drawing in. But sod it, life has its consolations. Here’s one of them – a new resident here at the Macclesfield Home for the Unusual. Colin the Cormorant is not only elegant and attractive, but he has another great virtue – he really pisses the anglers off. Tra la la… and finally, have a look here to see a word cloud based on this blog. It’s like looking inside my own head. Who knew I used the word ‘elephants’ so much?

Swing votes and swingers

And botheration. Repeat until next election

I start with a chocolatey reflection on this week’s events. Let us speak no more of it until the end of this blog. Meanwhile, I had a weekend off, haring up the M1 to my old haunts in Newcastle, and back again via Hadrian’s Wall and the Lakes.

There may come a time in my life when I feel the need to visit a B&B dedicated to swingers, but it hasn’t come yet. So

Revisiting my former life

when we innocently wandered into such an establishment, we quickly legged it for more wholesome surroundings. At Vindolanda we found some archaeologists, scraping a living in my old profession. The moment of nostalgia passed with the first loaded wheelbarrow. I have served my time on Roman forts.

I’ve been in Derby this week to continue my residency at the uber-hospital there, and also back at Action Transport Theatre for another continuing project – a read-through of Aching for Dick (now seeking a more respectable title) with some of the young actors who will perform it at the Chester Literature Festival in October. They work so hard, without complaint, and their patience and maturity amazes me every time I work with them.

How can we work with this script?

This is where my 20-minute play really starts to come alive and become a properly collaborative art form; something far more than my script could achieve on its own. Speaking of which, I’ve been reading the blog of Sarah Hymas (‘poet, sailor and anti-hoovering campaigner’) which is much better than this one. Go and have a look – but promise you’ll come back.

Why, thank you. Yes I am.

Still here? Good – here’s a reward. Cast your eyes upon this beautiful object. This is my Companion Stone, one of twelve which were made under the direction of artist Charles Monkhouse. Mine, designed by Kate Genever, carries a tiny poem by me based on sheepdog commands. From late July it will stand inside the gates of the Longshaw estate in the Peak District, where they hold working dog trials each year. From late May, however, you can see it and its eleven companions at the Moorlands Centre in Edale.

Now. Let us contemplate that election result, such as it is. Economic and social hardship always breeds cultural richness: so let us look on the bright side. The coming months will be very rich times indeed. This week, for obvious reasons, your writing exercise is to write about mistakes. Let’s hear about those innocent or serious mistakes – made by you, made by the electorate, made by the captain of the Titanic. For example. Post them on Comments so that we can share them. In the meantime – there is always beer.

They can't take that away from me...

Jobbing poets

John Siddique: smiling because he got the job

I’ve been up against John Siddique twice this week, and that’s not as much fun as it sounds. The best-dressed poet in the North West (not much competition, admittedly) kept bumping into me in Manchester, as we went to interview for the same jobs.  We called a truce and had lunch at the Cornerhouse.

The Poorly Bears: no-one suggest Pooh, please

The Illuminate festival kicked off this week with a ‘Floratorio’ at the Derby Theatre. We Living Derby folk were there with the Poorly Bears, waiting to be named by small children (the bears, not us).

Dan Boys of Audio Trails looks like a small child, but is apparently old enough to meet me for a pint at the Old Poet’s Corner (no, really) in Ashover and to discuss recorded poetry trails. My mum lives  just around the corner, not that there is anything so urban as a corner in that part of Derbyshire, so I spent a day working from the ancestral home. I gazed out of the window at my mum battling heroically with things in the garden, in hopes that I have inherited her bottom. Alas, I think a bottom such as that has to be earned by a lot of hard gardening and marathon-running.


Speaking of bottoms, Smily Man is having his blacked this week. As I slaved over a hot keyboard he was at the tiller, stoically boating through the bright sunshine to get to the dry dock in Stone. I’m profoundly jealous that his boat is moving while Tinker remains static… but I will roll up my sleeves to help with the bottom-blacking. If past experience is anything to go by I will end up coated in a fine mottle of pitch, with globs of it in my hair and up my nose.

Wobbly Birmingham

Meanwhile, I’ve been in glorious Birmingham to run another Writing Squad with Leila Rasheed; back in Derby for

Young actors at ATT

a reading with Derby Poetry Society; and at Ellesmere Port’s Action Transport Theatre for an instructive day of read-throughs for my short play. I marvel at the young actors there, who offer such generous and mature critiquing of a script – always sensitive to the writer’s fragile ego, but always spot-on with their comments and observations. Kevin Dyer, too, who will direct the play at Chester Literature Festival, brought new angles to it and we began to see how it might work on stage.

So – it’s been a week of varied but pleasurable effort. With all these kinds of graft in mind, this week’s prompt for you to write about is work. Give us a poem, ideally about your own workplace and what you do in it. Show us your work environment, the characters or landmarks of the place, the things that infuriate or uplift you. Just make it about work and post it here in Comments before next Sunday…. meanwhile, I will go and have a look at my estate….

The billowing plains of my estate

Motherhood and Robin Hood

Fab spoken word - FREE on March 25th

My former mentee (left) casts me aside like a sloughed snakeskin on March 25th. Charlie Jordan’s showcase performance at the Library Theatre, Birmingham will include poems of football, cake and shagging. You won’t often get free entry to a line-up including Charlie, Byron Vincent, Matt Man Windle and… er… me. Have a look here for more information.

To the still-leafless woodland of Sherwood Forest on Wednesday, for a Natural England conference with me as poet in residence. Robin Hood made an appearance (no, really); overcome, I headed home for work on other projects.

Action Transport Theatre: the team

On Friday night, Joy Winkler and did a reading in Chester on the theme of mothers and daughters: we call it Never Throw Stones at Your Mother. On Saturday, more motherhood at Action Transport Theatre where I saw My Mother Told Me Not to Stare, joined a workshop with director Nina Hajiyianni and had a brief editorial meeting with Kevin Dyer, Associate Writer at ATT. We’ve been exchanging mammoth emails on the subject of Aching for Dick, and it seems that the next draft will be much changed from the last. We shall see….

You get the idea...

This new-look blog  has changing links to pages you might like, and I’m setting a theme or exercise each week to write about. Thanks so much to all of you who got this going with poems about your mothers last week – all women, is that mere coincidence or do men write about fathers and women about mothers?

This week someone else has done the work for me. I’m sending you to have a look at  this site and this one too – your mission is to write a newspaper poem. The concept is self-explanatory (and pleasingly quick) but you might like to look first at the wonderful ongoing work of art which is A Humument to see where it started from. So your mission is this: buy a newspaper and a marker pen, have a bash at a newspaper poem and post it here in Comments, for all to see – before Sunday 21st! If technology allows, you could even post a picture of it – or send it to me on my Facebook page (I’m the Jo Bell who looks like a cartoon pirate).

Holiday? I need a rest

Snowy stuff

Remember that Gary Larson cartoon where the schoolboy puts up his hand and says ‘Please sir…. my brain is full’? I

Little corners...

know how he felt. Last week was taken up with the writers’ retreat that I’ve waited for all my writing life. If you were planning the perfect retreat it would look like this: eight or nine writers (poets, novelists, playwrights), working hard, in a big cheap house with little corners for everyone to write in.

Inspiring attractions... (Stokesay Castle)

It would be in a landscape with hills and a river, but not so beautiful that you want to go out walking every day. There might be attractions nearby that serve to inspire new writing: but when you get stir crazy and are really tempted to go outside, the weather should turn nasty so that you get back to writing.

The sign was the best bit

There should be shops nearby so that you can get supplies, but nothing interesting enough to keep you away from the computer for long. Perhaps a good friend would live nearby so that you can visit her one evening. The eight or nine

Grate poetry

writers should take their work seriously, but still be up for a good laugh and possibly some dancing in the kitchen. The kitchen, by the way, should be the locus for some friendly, equitable and bicker-free communal cooking, which should magically sort itself out so that no-one does it more than once, and everyone eats well.

Festive dinner at Poetry Towers


The writers would do some workshopping every afternoon, some reading round in the evening, and should critique each other’s work in a constructive and non-hurtful manner. And they should all come home again happy, full of good food and feeling that they have achieved something. In a completely perfect world, of course, no-one would leave their favourite jeans behind and have to ask for them to be posted on, but we can’t have everything and this is what I do wherever I go.

That’s what it was like, and we can only thank the magnificent Ann Atkinson for organising it (even if she did escape at 4am one morning, in a mercy dash to the birth of her grandson). For me, discovering the poetry of Jim Caruth (right) was a particular pleasure.

We exist!

And then… back to earth, and to other work. A 1am writing session to complete a commission, then a very full-on day at Action Transport Theatre as part of Four for the Port. We did read-rounds, discussions and exercises to find the strengths and weaknesses of  our mini-plays. I  had no idea how much work was needed on my draft of Aching for Dick but the young actors were so articulate, mature and generous that they gave me a huge boost and great ideas for how to take the play forward. Mind you, now that there are actual posters, it all seems disturbingly real…

Writers' debrief - now breeeeathe....

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