Ben Norris: Joint winner of LitroTV’s transgression competition
Litro had such a hard time choosing the winners of LitroTV’s competition that we awarded the prize to two, very different, but equally talented poets. Here is our first winning entry, Ben Norris’s ‘Dismembered Voices,’ with an introduction for LitroTV viewers by the poet himself.
Ben Norris is an actor, a writer, and a spoken-word artist. He was born and grew up in Nottingham, but is now based in Birmingham where he is studying English with Creative Writing.
Norris’s work explores the theatrical potential of poetry and the poetic elements of theatre, while ensuring words remain at the heart of what he does. Occasionally, however, he simply rants about the concept of being charged to use the toilet at most major British railway stations.
His career began on Birmingham’s open-mic circuit before expanding to take in regional and national poetry slams, including the inaugural UK Team Poetry Slam, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Bristol Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Literary Festival, Bang Said The Gun, and University Poetry Slams against Edinburgh and Cambridge respectively. Following his success in the world of slam poetry, Norris now plays gigs up and down the country, and is currently working on his first one-man show.
He is also the Literary Events Officer for Writers’ Bloc, the University of Birmingham’s Creative Writing Society, and runs and hosts two spoken-word nights in the city: Scribble Kicks, a night of page poetry and prose readings, and Grizzly Pear, a raucous performance poetry extravaganza. In addition to these, Ben organises less regular but no less spectacular inter-University poetry slams.
Alongside writing and performing poetry individually, Ben collaborates with guitarist James Grady in a music and spoken-word band. He also writes for the stage, and has had his plays staged at Leicester Curve and Theatre503.
“performs his sharply crafted poems with breathtaking verve and expertise” Cheltenham Poetry Festival
“infallible and energetic” UoB Blogfest
“both harrowing and hilarious…impressive as always” Redbrick Newspaper
“had the gathering instantly hooked” thespeakerscorner.co.uk
LitroTV: Seth Clabough On His Debut Novel All Things Await
LitroTV caught up with past contributor Seth Clabough to discuss his debut novel, All Things Await: his writing process, the art of writing the short story and the dangers encountered in Costa Rica while finishing his novel.
Seth Clabough is a professor, fiction writer, poet, and scholar. His work appears in places like Sixers Review, Aesthetica: the Arts & Culture Magazine, Citron Review, Fjord’s Review, Magma Poetry Quarterly, The Chaffey Review, New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, Women’s Studies and other places.
In The Bedroom: Introducing Our Resident Poet Sally Jenkinson
This week LitroTV is thrilled to announce our new slot In the Bedroom with our resident poet, Sally Jenkinson. In the Bedroom will feature Sally fortnightly, offering viewers an exciting mix of original performances, updates of latest gigs, festivals and open mics and reviewing and showcasing whatever takes her fancy. Sally’s first slot will kick off our next issue Poland with a special themed piece.
To get to know her better, LitroTV talks to her about what poetry means to her, what is says on her tax return and mining…….
Tell us about your collaboration with LitroTV and how excited you are.
I’m going to be presenting poetry videos, new work and original recordings, and maybe some reviews, regularly to LitroTV as their poet in residence. I’m really excited because Litro provides such a brilliant platform for all kinds of literature, so I’m proud to be representing poetry, and specifically live poetry, in such an exciting literary environment.
Tell us something about yourself that we won’t find on the internet.
I am currently working on a poem about superheroes, as requested by my friend (and excellent poet) Wilf Merttens. We give each other homework sometimes.
When you were first starting out, was promoting yourself and your work as important to you as creating it?
No. It never occurred to me for ages. I was just writing things and enjoying telling them out loud. Self-promotion is this weird pathogen that creeps in as you spend more time performing. Then suddenly its part of your job and it is terrifying! It doesn’t come naturally to me. My publisher literally had to sit me down in a café, buy me breakfast and walk me through building my website step by step. I’m very grateful that he did though, I’m getting to grips with it now!
How much is storytelling a part of your work?
Because I perform a lot, and because I’m a gobshite, there tends to be a lot of chatter in between poems. It’s not story-telling exactly, in the same way as professional story-tellers do it. It’s more a kind of coat, gloves and hat for the poem before you send it off into the outside world. As much as poems should obviously stand alone as pieces of work, in performance I relish spinning yarns around them- for context, for embellishment, to put listeners at ease or to invite them into the poems. Not all the stories I tell around the poems are true. I don’t think they have to be, but they will compliment and support (or counterpoint) the poem in a way that I hope helps people to enjoy it.
Poetry, as an oral tradition, has always been a way of telling stories, sharing commonalities between human and chewing over our differences in a communal setting. I find it very comforting.
When did you start considering poetry as your career and not a hobby?
It was very gradual. I’ve always had two, three, four jobs, ever since I was 16. Then over the last two years I had less and less ‘other’ work, and more writing, performing and workshops. It was a kind of an accident. And don’t get me wrong, even though it says ‘poet’ on my tax return, some months it’s all occasional bar shifts, a day of supply teaching, agency support work, stage managing, face-painting, house cleaning… whatever is temporary and provides ready cash and won’t interfere too much with writing! But there are chunks of time these days when I am not anything but a poet, and they are fun and gleeful and scary and surreal!
Is it important to you that people understand the meaning (if there is one) of your poems?
Yes. I want them to be really communicative. I want people to get something from them. I don’t think all poetry should have to be that way. I really relish poetry, or any art actually, that is difficult or obtuse or challenging or avant-garde. I think it’s essential that that stuff exists in order for progress to be able to happen. But I’m a sucker for a shared experience and I want to make people gasp and grin and squeeze their mates hand and maybe pop a little tear out.
Do you prefer writing or performing your poems?
Both, and they definitely inform each other. There’s something challenging about performing, because it means you have to think about a direct connection between you and the person / people listening. I’m not naturally gregarious in some ways. I’m terrified of eye contact. It’s good to challenge yourself. But it’s the writing bit that I look forward to the most. It’s like mining. You have to be really tough and dig around in loads of shit ideas until you find something good to say!
Gun to head -what is your favourite poem?
Eeeeep! Ok, ok. I’m having three…
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (for weighty, comforting, brilliant words)
Banana Milk by Caroline Bird (for the visceral relief when poetry articulates your own experiences)
Little Viennese Waltz by Federico Garcia Lorca / Take This Waltz by Leonard Cohen (for the gleeful, delicious possibility of words)
Sally Jenkinson: “However Big You Think You Are”
“Sensuous, surreal, bold and beautiful, Sally Jenkinson’s image-filled poems spill gloriously across the page. Often, a line will leap out and squeeze you by the throat. Poetry that sings from a poet whose song I’d like to hear more of.” – Kate Fox
This week LitroTV presents Sally Jenkinson reading her poem However Big You Think You Are. Summing up everything you need to know about her in one sentence, “I’m really good at going on holiday, I’m the world’s worst vegan,” Sally is probably one of the busiest poets on the scene.
Being busy has clearly paid off and 2012 was filled with particular career highs for her. Towards the end of the year, her debut collection of poems Sweat-borne Secrets was released by Burning Eye Books to critical acclaim and she also began touring the country with her own show, Folly. A spoken word piece that veers between a play and a miserable poetry musical, “grumpy girl drags broken heart around South-East Asia and wonders what the fuck everybody else is doing there” is accompanied by a guitar score by Nuala Honan.
Sally also lent her skills to Apples and Snakes for their inspiring Shake the Dust project when she agreed to coach to younger poets.
This year doesn’t look set to slow down for her either and, after leading workshops for an up-and-coming art project WORD/PLAY, Sally has now teamed up with us at LitroTV for an exciting on going collaboration. Look out for details of this next week when we get to know Sally better with a Q&A, and she talks about her forthcoming work with LitroTV.
If you are a budding performance poet and could do with a spot of advice, or a fan of Sally’s with a deep yearning to know what her favourite colour is; email your questions to [email protected] by 15th May to be included.
Spoken Word Band: Benin City
Named after a Nigerian capital, Benin City is a fused genre band fronted by Joshua Idehen (vocals), who has previously collaborated with Hyperdub’s LV, Theo Buckingham (drums) and Tom Leaper (tenor saxophone/synths/samples).
After a successful 2012 that included two single releases on indie label Audio Doughnuts and a six date support tour of Dan Le Sac (Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip) Benin City are back with a new single that bears the trademark of their distinctive blend of post-dubstep, electro and brass. Remixes from Spoek Mathambo’s Nicolaas Van Reenen, Dan le Sac and Paper Tiger are also available to stream on Soundcloud now.. LitroTV viewers can download My Love and its remixes here for free.
The outfit are set to release their debut albumFires In The Park in 2013, preceded by immersive single, My Love: a synth addled marching beat anthem produced by pop experimentalist Marc Pell (Micachu and the Shapes),with an unforgettable brass melody that unravels and soars, and an emotive Super 8-esque video directed by video artist Charlie Behrens (featured on It’s Nice That). The group are fans of the melodic assurance of Metronomy, the vastness of Cinematic Orchestra, the instrumental experimentation of outfits such as Beirut and the lyrical dexterity of Roots Manuva.
My Love is a testament to the band’s maverick nature with its repetitive rhythms, cascading over each other. A dark, playful call to arms is enacted through a regal sounding horn pattern that keeps increasing in volume. My Love is more a truthful manifesto on love than ode: “it’s nasty, it’s fiesty, it’s vicious, it’s conniving, it’s crazy, it’s petty, it’s callous, it’s cunning…it’s warm.” The synths interact with the horns to create a sound that is hard and bright; the traditional instrument being made to sound more metallic, more befitting of the urban sprawl Benin City’s tales are set.
Upcoming album Fires In The Park was produced by Marc Pell (Micachu and the Shapes). Josh formed a close relationship with Marc two years ago through mutual friends. The band were originally meant to work on 3 songs with him but after seeing how naturally Marc understood their eclectic vision, they ended up working on the entire album together over the space of 18 months. My Love will be released via Audio Doughnuts in the wake of extensive support across BBC Radio 2, Xfm, and BBC 6 Music for their previous two singles via DJs such as John Kennedy, Tom Robinson, Huey Morgan, Mark Lamarr and Craig Charles.
“Subtlety soaked in that modern trifecta of electronic, bass and soul” – Pinboard blog
4 Minute Hangout With: Stuart Evers
You might not know anything about Walthamstow other than that it’s the end of the Victoria Line and spawned ’90s boy band East 17. But its diversity and “unpretentious” nature has been inspiring writer and journalist Stuart Evers for the last few years. Currently he is working on a novel set in Walthamstow based around a family over several generations, somehow managing to juggle the writing with an expanding family of his own, having recently had his first child.
Stuart’s first published short story Some Great Project appeared in Litro magazine and went on to be included in his debut short story collection Ten Stories About Smoking, published last year by Picador. His debut novel If This Is Homequestioned the what the concept of home means, so LitroTV decided to catch up with Stuart in his local to see what Wathamstow has meant to him and to his writing.
Check out what Stuart’s been up to on his Twitter.
4 Minute Hangout With: Dean Atta
Dubbed “the Gil Scott Heron of his generation” by Charlie Dark, London-born-and-bred spoken word artist Dean Atta has been making waves ever since his poem “I Am Nobody’s Nigger” went viral last January. The poem, which took 30 minutes to write and received thousands of views, likes and shares in a matter of days, was inspired by the killing of Stephen Lawrence and the use of the N-word in rap. It became the title of Dean’s debut poetry collection, which was published in February by The Westbourne Press.
If you are familiar with the London spoken word circuit, no doubt you will be familiar with Dean. The 27 year-old has been writing and performing poems for over 10 years, running workshops with schools and poetry nights all over the capital. His focus is on using writing and spoken word to break down barriers and discuss difficult issues within race, gender and sexuality.
LitroTV manages to grab four minutes with him on the Docklands Light Railway to discuss how London has inspired his work and what’s next for this very busy, 21st century poet.
You can order Dean debut collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger, here.
4 Minute Hangout With: Evie Wyld
At the heart of Bellendon Road, at the artsier end of Peckham, is a lovely little bookshop crammed with interesting finds. This is Review, a bookshop and literary hub run by novelist Evie Wyld.
Having won several awards for her 2009 debut, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, Evie was recently one of the 20 writers to feature on Granta Magazine’s prestigious list of young British talent. The list is like the Mercury Music Prize of the book world, often elevating relatively unknown authors into the spotlight. Previous writers to appear on the once-a-decade list include Will Self, Zadie Smith (now appearing for the second time), Ben Okri, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Jeanette Winterson, among many other household names.
Evie’s second novel, All the Birds, Singing, which tells the story of a female sheepherder on an unamed British Island whose flock is ravaged nightly by a mysterious beast, is out in June, published by Jonathan Cape. In this video for Litro TV, she reads us an exclusive extract from the novel and tells us a bit about what inspired the eerie setting and what projects she’s got lined up, including getting married.
You can pre-order Evie’s new novel, All the Birds, Singing, here.
Amy McCallum: Joint winner of LitroTV’s transgression competition
Litro had such a hard time choosing the winners of LitroTV’s competition that we awarded the prize to two, very different, but equally talented poets. Here is our second winning entry, Amy McCallum’s ‘The Basis of Something That’s A Bit More Than Nothing.’
Amy is a London based actress and poet and has recently graduated from the Drama Centre London. Previous to this she studied English Literature and Drama at the University of East Anglia wishing mostly to be training at a drama school. With retrospect she now says that ‘it is the challenges and discomforts (however minor) in life that we seem to learn the most from’ and that all those hours spent escaping the place by going off into the realms of creative writing (if you could call it that then…it was unfathomable!) were as valuable as ever. She has only just begun performing her poetry this year.
Performance Poetry: Anna Freeman
For Litro’s transgression theme, this week’s LitroTV performance is brought to you by multi-slam winning poet Anna Freeman, with an introduction filmed for LitroTV viewers from the poet herself.
As someone whose poetry ‘‘has been known to leave a greasy after-taste of lingering wrongness. Like a kebab”, her work illustrates perfectly how transgression and comedy go hand in hand. Done badly, transgressive comedy can feel like a relentless pursuit of offensive one-upmanship but done well, it looks something like this.
Anna’s first foray into the spoken word scene came whilst she was studying for her BA at University and was required to go to an open mic night as part of her performance poetry module. She has since performed at Latitude, The Eden Project Festival, Shambala, Cheltenham Poetry Festival and Bristol Poetry Festival. She has more recently been involved with Tongue Fu, a brilliantly innovative spoken word event held regularly which experiments with live literature, music, film and improvisation. Spoken word is the only element that is crafted before the show and the performers only have a few seconds on stage to suggest to the band behind them the style of music which best suits their poem. Which is why in her video you can hear Anna mentioning a tune “something like Saving Private Ryan?”
Anna’s first poetry collection Gingering the World from the Inside will be released by Burning Eye Books in May and is available to pre-order now.
The Winners: LitroTV’s Transgression Competition
LitroTV had a fantastic response to its first competition, which asked for performance poets to send us an original spoken word piece based on our April theme of transgression.
Big and broad in its potential meanings, the possibilities were endless and and we loved watching each poets interpretation of the theme. But we finally came to the decision of awarding two winners who submitted two very different but equally brilliant submissions.
Our first winner is Ben Norris with his piece Dismembered Voices. As soon as the camera starts to roll, Ben sprints into his cautionary tale about moral transgression with an energy that demanded our attention.
Our second winner is Amy McCallum with her piece The Basis Of Something That’s A Bit More Than Nothing. With an emphasis on her words through her simplicity of style, Amy’s take on relational transgression caught our eye early on.
We will be showcasing the winning videos, along with more information about the poets, as part of our transgression issue later this month.
LitroTV meets: Adam Kammerling
Describing himself as a “poet, rapper and general miscreant,” Adam Kammerling is certainly an exciting and entertaining member of the contemporary spoken word scene. Hailing from Brighton, where he, “cut his teeth on the open-mic cyphers and rap battles on the local hip-hop scene”, he has travelled around the UK and abroad leaving a trail of expertly interwoven words in his wake.
Winner of the Brighton Hammer and Tongue Slam Champion 2010, the Hackney Slam Champion 2011 and the UK Slam Champion 2012, he has performed at Glastonbury, Latitude and Big Chill festivals, done theatre shows in Soho and Bristol Old Vic, as well as numerous collaborative projects with bands and charities, such as the Cambodian break dancing NGO Tiny Toones, promoting rap and spoken word as healthy forms of self-expression.
We talked to him after his performance at Hammer and Tongue Hackney about the projects he’s working on at the moment and what’s next in the pipeline. “The main thing is writing,” he says. “You get caught up in everything else and just don’t have the time to write. April is going to be a writing month – so expect new material.”
Adam is currently touring, running workshops and working with a band – but he’s keeping schtum about that. Instead, he recommends we “keep our ears peeled” for updates.
It’s not often that you witness someone telling a short story with as much rhythm and passion as a poem. But we couldn’t take our eyes of flash fiction writer and performer Femi Martin at spoken word event Hammer & Tongue in Hackney recently. She captivated the audience with her compelling lyrical compositions and energetic, honest storytelling.
Telling intimate stories about love and relationships, Femi’s narratives take you into private worlds that ache with tragedy and beam with humor and sensitivity, while feeling oddly familiar. We all know what it feels like when another school kid steals your chocolate bar out of your coat pocket, or what someone special really means by what they’re not saying, or “the under-word”, as Femi recounts in her story “Dig“. She delivers these tales with such ease and fluidity, that it is impossible not to listen, laugh, and feel.
Recently she has been working on new pieces of flash fiction, scripts, running workshops and developing a one woman show called All the Men I thought I Loved, which she performed a scratch of last year at Theatre503 in Clapham.
Check out what Femi is up to at the moment over at her website
LitroTV meets: Kate Tempest
As her name suggests, Kate Tempest is a veritable storm of talent and energy. 10 years ago she was rapping at strangers on night buses; now she is a multi-award-winning poet, published playwright and respected recording artist.
“I’m taking a bit of a breather from gigging to just get my head down and do some writing – which has been amazing,” Kate tells LitroTV at spoken word and flash fiction event Hammer & Tongue Hackney.
Kate has been present on the London spoken word scene since she was a 16 year-old, pestering MCs to let her on the mic at raves. You can feel her energy and musicality with words as they trip off her tongue and into the audience. Hammer & Tongue runs nights in London, Bristol, Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge, showcasing some of the country’s most innovative and exciting slam poets, spoken word artists and story tellers.
What’s next for Kate? “I’m working on an album with a music producer and a novel that goes along side it,” she says. “So yeah – loads of writing.”
For more information on Kate’s work, visit her website.
‘‘Talk about current affairs whilst I counted your eyelashes. 93 over 90. I hoped you’d lost the last 3 on wishes about me.’’ – Jodi Ann Bickley, Drive Home
This week LitroTV brings you two poems by Jodi Ann Bickley that explore what is surely the greatest mystery of all – love.
It’s a theme which features heavily throughout the 25 year old poets work and she tackles it with the perfect mix of witty observation and whimsical rhymes. “Drive Home” and “I’m a dickhead but I love you!” were filmed at a London Writers Block event and are also the poet’s personal favourites.
After winning the 2009 Roundhouse poetry slam, Jodi gained considerable exposure and went on to perform at Glastonbury, Bestival, Camp Bestival and Shambala. She also took part in one of the most exciting poetry movements to happen in the last couple of years, where spoken word and electronica music joined forces, something critics named poetronica. Teaming up with dubstep heavyweight Skream, Jodi describes the collaboration as incorporating a “classic minimal dubstep beat” to aid her narrative. “A beat has to do whatever suits the poet. I aim towards proper storytelling with a beginning, middle and end, so it has to be minimal. Dubstep beats give me a blank canvas; they aren’t too overpowering and can be calm if I need them to be. Dubstep can create a sense of place just like poetry can.”
Of late it has been her personal life that has received the larger amount of attention, after she was bitten by a tick at a festival and contracted encephalitis. A stroke robbed her of her ability to walk and write and she successfully taught herself to do both all over again. Endearingly honest about her experiences on her blog, her ability to find new ways of telling stories make her one of the most talented and inspirational poets on the scene at the moment.
Performance Poetry:A Footballer’s Life For Me by Rob Auton
The Internet can turn into a sour pastime fairly rapidly. Suddenly you’ve lost two hours you should have spent doing something else, and you’re left feeling empty and vaguely embarrassed. But just occasionally, random searching can uncover online gold. We recently discovered the website of York-born performance poet Rob Auton, full of weird and wonderful videos showcasing his talent for the spoken word (including a 20 minute poem about the colour yellow).
We invited Rob to be the first guest poet on our new slot, Litro TV, where over the coming months we’ll be showcasing performance poetry and other visual arts. Litro had a hard time picking a favourite of Rob’s poems, but “A Footballer’s Life For Me” came out top, featuring Rob in his job at an art shop, cheered on by an ever-present football crowd as he stacks shelves and flattens cardboard boxes.
Rob says, “I worked in an art supplies shop in London and kept reading stories about footballers getting paid lots of money. I wondered what it would be like if I had the perks of a professional footballer’s job in the art shop.”
On his journey into performance poetry, Rob says “In 2008 I started saying things out loud to people without wanting them to respond verbally.” Since then he has performed at Latitude festival, Glastonbury, Tate Britain and the Edinburgh Fringe festival three times.
In 2012, Channel 4 televised five short films made by London poetry extravaganza Bang Said the Gun and the Mob Film Company. One of the five was a silent film version of “A Footballer’s Life For Me”.
The Bard of Salford was on good form, despite the temperature. Now in his 60s, he still has the style of Bob Dylan, mixed with the dead-pan delivery of Alan Bennett and just the right sprinkle of Bernard Manning. He delivered a stream of curiously old-fashioned stand-up, interspersed with his own brand of rapid-fire performance poetry. His disjointed jokes and puns revelled in an infectious love of language, perfect for a literary festival.
You can read the whole review by Emily Cleaver here.
Litro is keen to support performance poetry and the spoken word. Our Litro Live! events aim to bring you the latest talent, as well as great music. This year, we want to take this further.
Last month we launched LitroTV on YouTube. To celebrate, we want readers to send us video performances of their readings. The winners will be featured on the YouTube channel. Videos should be no more than five minutes in length. Please send them to [email protected].