In the last couple of months I’ve had a fair few commissions to write. Writing commissions is great fun and really excellent for your writing skills. It’s great to work to a specific subject, it can really help you train yourself, to write about things that you wouldn’t normally.
My first commission was for BBC Arts. My brief was to write a poem exploring why the Tate Modern is a cultural hub for young people. The poem had to focus specifically on the Switch House, the new Tate modern extension and was to appear on the BBC 2 as part of The New Tate Modern: Switched on, which you can watch here. It’s a really interesting show and I suggest you watch all of it. If you just want to watch my bit, though, skip to 53: 40 and hear Andrew Marr saying my name too!
I was also asked by some friends to write a poem inspired by Bob Dylan, now this was much easier ground for me as a) I write a lot of poetry inspired by music and musicians and b) as anyone who knows me will know, I love Bob Dylan. I decided to write a poem for him from the point of view of a teenage me.
I’ve had the The Times they are a Changin’ poster above my bed in every bedroom I’ve ever had since I was about thirteen. Partly because it’s a great album, he’s a fantastic lyricist, he inspired me, sure, sure. But also because, as I’m sure you’ll agree, he looks absolutely smoking in it. I’ve uploaded the poem to Soundcloud so that you can listen to it here if you so wish.
Then came the hardest commission of all…the amazing organisation Index on Censorship asked me to write and perform a poem for the launch of their 250th issue. They asked some of their contributors to provide me with an article or an issue of the magazine that they thought was particularly important in the magazine’s history. My task was to write a poem that celebrated Index’s work and some key moments from the magazine’s history.
So I found myself trying to tie in diverse themes and stories into one piece; from Ken Saro Wiwa’s struggle against Shell to Ariel Dorfman‘s amazing play Death and the Maiden, which was first published in English by Index on Censorship in 1991. I highly recommend you read it, you can do so here – it’s powerful stuff. The night was a great success and I performed the piece to a really appreciative audience. Before the party started we filmed the poem in the park, you can watch it here. I think it was truly the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write. But all excellent practice and development! Moddi, a Norwegian singer-songwriter, also performed at the event, he’s a great artist about to release an album of 12 banned songs from 12 different countries. He’s well worth checking out.
Latitude Festival! My third year running! I was originally booked for Melody (which I performed on the poetry stage) but then the amazing Nabokov Theatre asked me to write a poem for a project they were doing called Reformation Nation which would combine raving and activism. The brief was to write a poem on a political issue of our choice that we’d perform over a set by the wonderful DJ Sweat Pea.
I decided to write a poem inspired by the book I was reading at the time, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. For any of you who’ve read it, you’ll know it’s a bit of a tome! Far-reaching and wonderful and horrifying, so I’d really set myself a challenge. By the way, I borrowed that life-changing book from my local library which thankfully hasn’t shut down. As soon as I got up on the stage (at 2am on the Saturday morning of the festival) I realised that it was all a bit wordy and heavy to speak over Drum and Bass so I sort of improvised and sang parts of it and it was really, really fun. I was shit-scared but I surprised myself by managing fine! I’m not going to put the poem up but if you’re in London on 6th August then Reformation Nation will be repeated on the National Theatre River Stage at 7:10pm
In and around all of this I was really happy to be performing Melody three times in the space of four days. As part of Luke Wright’s Stand up poetry club in Diss, at the amazing Pumphouse in Aldeburgh as part of the music festival there: the Pumphouse run an alternative fringe festival and the line-up was incredible, I very much hope to go back next year. and as part of the brand new OffBeat Festival in Oxford also with a great programme which I hope to rejoin next year.
I had really amazing experiences in all of these places but I particularly enjoyed my time in Aldeburgh, the venue was magic, I’d never been to the beautiful town before and, despite it being really quite nippy, I ate delicious smoked prawns on the beach! I also spotted Melody cottage!
These intense few days of touring the show solo were really lovely, they made me feel independent and it struck me how great it is to have something you can tour around to show people, all on your own, self-reliant on your own two feet.
I also went to Glastonbury Festival for the first time in my life, to say it was incredible would be an understatement. I utterly loved it! I would say Glastonbury’s worth visiting if only for the incredible amount of time, money and artistry that goes into the set. They create these truly wonderful worlds which you can get completely lost in. It was, however, a pretty strange time to be there. The Brexit vote cast a bit of a sour mood to begin with but we all still managed to come together and have a good old party… (it was also my 27th Birthday!)
I realise I’ve not talked about what I’ve been reading at all recently and I’ve been reading some absolute corkers. I’ve read some really great fiction, non-fiction and poetry by women (and a couple of blokes snuck in there too) The next blog post will be dedicated to that! Next week I reckon.