Saturday, 25 March 2017

Amanda Owen - the Yorkshire Shepherdess

Mark Connors at The Chemic

Partnership event with Word Club

Mark Connors
The Chemic Tavern was heaving more than usual for the Word Club Special where Mark Connors launched his first full length poetry collection Nothing is Meant to be Broken. People (most of them poets of one stripe or another) stood shoulder to shoulder at the back in support, while others crammed on to chairs behind tables papered with poetry print-outs and green brochures advertising Headingley LitFest, which has only a couple of events left now. It's a good thing there's no smoking nowadays in back rooms like this.

Gill Lambert

Poet Gill Lambert, who was the amiable and efficient compere for the evening, mentioned smoking: she said she imagined, at one time, that poets were private, meditative characters who lived in small, book-lined rooms and puffed on pipes. Some of them no doubt did that, but they were not in evidence at this event.

The first and third sections were for open mic performers to strut their stuff, and Mark Connors had the middle - the jam in the sandwich as it were. He usually gives his work some exposure in the course of a session, delivered from the heart and well-rehearsed, but on this occasion he gave himself the airing he deserves, with a series of poems from the new book, to rich effect. The themes included love, sex and mental health - and there can be no instant, detailed scrutiny on a blog like this. Look elsewhere for that. It's enough to say that the audience loved it. He sang as well, and it is obvious that he should do more of that in future.

Mark Connors is a widely published poet who won the Ilkley Literature Festival Open Mic Competition in both 2014 and 2015. His debut pamphlet, Life is a Long Song (OWF Press, 2015) and debut novel, Stickleback (Armley Press, 2016) are both now in their second editions. 


Friday, 24 March 2017

Poetry at Lawnswood School - with Khadijah Ibrahim

Gail Alvarez writes:
We Are Poets – They Are Poets
Khadijah Ibrahim    Photos Richard Wilcocks
A jazz cafe somewhere in north Leeds.  Background music, a medley of Steph's mood music, greets the patrons who have come to have a serious word.  With dramatic intent.  Yes, it's the annual poetry event at Lawnswood School, held in the Drama Studio made over with low lighting and high ideals to form an intimate venue for poetry performance.

Lawnswood's Year 9 poets perform their own words, written in classroom workshops with Khadijah Ibrahim over the past two months.  Khadijah founded the Leeds Young Authors in 2003; you may have seen the film We Are Poets when it was screened in Leeds a couple of years ago – it was based on the work she initiated with local young poets who went to America to perform their work. Widely published, Khadijah both writes and coaches with amazing style and encouragement. 

Some well-know poetry by luminaries such as Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath showed the sort of material that the youngsters had worked with to get them in creative mode.  And then they took it and ran with it.  Powerful, original, thought-provoking, building on observation, feeling and teenage dreams.

A monologue on Petit Pois by drama teacher Kate Mitchell dwelt on the petty life of a disappointed wife whose dreams of a firepit, eating quinoa and going on a road trip to Memphis had dwindled to a dull life with Derek. He likes the TV quiet; she turns its commentators' voices up loud as Derek's is stilled by inhaling peas. Macabre but compelling.

An interval challenged the audience to a haiku competition – 17 syllables arranged in 5,7,5 formation – and was spiced up by Basil and his card tricks.  Sleight of hand led to sleight of words as the youngsters performed more of their own work.  Envy, childhood, war, name games, carnival – it was all here and beautifully performed with barely a note needed as these poets knew their words, inhabited their poems, spoke with such confidence.

Khadijah performed some of her own original writing too: work commissioned for the Leeds Film Festival, ghosts in Jamaica and some reminiscing about school in the 1980s.  Games, lessons, music, sweets, friends – so evocative of a past these young poets were living in the present.

Thanks to Richard Wilcocks of the LitFest who worked with Khadijah and the young poets and their class for a couple of months to put the evening together.  Thanks to the staff who supported their hard work.  And thanks too to the young poets themselves: alphabetically, Amelia, Christabel, Isra, Lara, Martha, Nell and Raul.

Audience Comments
The evening was very good, the acts were very well thought out.  The setting was one of my favourites about the night.

The night was great.  We all had an opportunity to show off our talents.

How lovely to see young people performing their own work with such confidence and style.  Well done Khadijah.

What a lovely evening.  A real mix of styles and performers

The room setting was warm, welcoming, cosy – and a brilliant young person playing the keyboard as we came in.  The young people had worked with Khadijah Ibrahim and very confidently spoke about the inspiration for their poems which they then performed with a professional flair.   Audience participation was great and a monologue inspired by Alan Bennett was amazing.  Khadijah was brilliant, showed her creative talent and encouraged and inspired the young poets. An excellent event.

Beautifully hosted event.  Great to see the fruition of sessions building towards a performance.  Some beautiful poems.  Great event to build confidence with the children presenting their own poems.


Very good poems by the pupils and teachers at the school.  This was the first time I had been to the school to see the students perform and I was quite impressed.  I particularly thought it was nice that there was a magician going round at the interval.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Creative Edge

Sally Bavage writes:
Two local WEA creative writing groups joined forces to present their work around this year's LitFest theme of 'Edge' at the Heart Centre in Headingley.  We were delighted that the WEA sponsored the venue, and LitFest volunteers cooked up a storm of cakes. Food for the body sorted, we were then treated to food for the soul with collections of work by local writers.

First up were the Headingey group, tutored by Alison Taft, most recently the chair of the judges for last Saturday's LitFest event 'Pitch and Pen' as well as LitFest's last Writer in Residence.  A collection entitled Voices from the Edge included poems (prose and rhyming), tales,stories, extracts and enticing snippets that covered many topics. Some were mournful, some elegiac, some witty, some sad.  And saddest of all was the poem 'Tribute to Michael' who passed away this year and who has written for the LitFest every year since our first event in 2011.  Michael was always entertaining – he rocked a mean Hawaiian shirt covered in red chillies the year we explored Food - thoughtful and helpful to the end. 
Headingley Creative Writing Group    Photos Richard Wilcocks

The out-of-town bookshop customer reading with his coffee – 'Postcards from the Edge' of course.  The young woman on the edge of getting married – or was she?  Homeless, alien, alienating.  The short but sadly not sweet tale of a hedgehog at the roadside. A library as refuge for someone without roots for whom it is a good place to write poetry, because “poems make you exist again.”  A sci-fi dystopia where a treasured memory of 'dancefloor dirty' shoes will be a reminder of loss.  The tale of the snail and the caterpillar was not for children, but a moral tale for our times, involving a faithless wife who ran off (very, very slowly) and short-term temporary housing plans by a cocooned caterpillar. Families, those on the edge of dementia or insanity (monkeys of madness chattering in the jungle of my mind), Delhi inhabitants who literally live on the pavement's edge. Poems so imaginative you could see daybreak in Dingle, a town on the 'lip of the land'. We could feel the ruffled feathers of  the golden eagle soaring over a war zone. You could hear the 'silence that is overwhelming' in the Lake District. The despair of the abuse victim was palpable. Strong stuff, edgy in every way.  Something to remain in your dreams.

Osmondthorpe Hub Creative Writers

Replete with cake and coffee, back for the first of two groups of the Omondthorpe Hub creative writers.  Tutored by Maria Stephenson, they have been working on their pieces for some time. The nerves, pleasure and anticipation were all they gave us a selection of poems that reflected their studies of Shakespeare, a poet and playwright who they felt definitely had an Edge in his writings and his colourful life.  “He was a Romeo of his time and liked a drink or five”.  Married at 18, dead by 53, but ”he would make  a huge difference in the future.”  Quite.

Time is measuring moments, it is precious. Though perhaps less so to our William, who “lived it so carefree”. He wrote many comedies – and his words still speak to us today as “his humour never ends”.  Tragedies too, sonnets and histories too.  And a history of the life of one of our poets encompassed all these.  Other spoke of love and the universal longing for it, of history and its affect on the future, or the language that WS created that still lives on in puking, rant and savagery – Headingley on a weekend night!  A present plea to “Remember the spirit of who I am and drink to the memory of the man” conjures up the past too.  We were reminded that Shakespeare says “You must seize the day”, a good ending to the first section.

All home-made

The second group from Osmondthorpe gave us a short play, a modern version of Romeo and Juliet,but with a twist.  Written with a nod to the Shakespearian form: “I hear that the Capulet girl is a fair maiden”, it updates both the language and the social customs: “But I don't want a husband – I don't want to spend my life picking up some man's smelly hose.”  There is a Newsreader and a Narrator too, as well as your traditional characters.  And a Happy Ending.  Cheers and applause all round.  Funny, fast-paced, entertaining – just as Shakespeare would have wanted. 

As Hamlet said, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be”

True of our writers too, whose writing gets stronger every year as they find their voices. Now that really is Edgy.

Sue Heath writes:
Thanks to all the Headingley writers whose words we savoured: Cate Anderson, Howard Benn, Karen Byrne, Janet Fawdington, Nuala |Fernand, Liam Fitzsimmons, Alan Harding, Malcolm Henshall, Humaira Khan, Dru Long, Myrna Moore, Rutta Ozols-Riding and Marie-Paule Sheard.

Thanks, too, to all the Osmondthorpe writers whose work we enjoyed: Group 1: Gaynor Chilvers, Lisa Daniel, Carl Flynn, Mandy Hudson, Paul Jeffrey, Jenny Ruddock and Robert Thorpe
Group 2: l  Malcolm Banks, Paul Bugler, Julie Conroy, Julie Fisher, Sue Heath, Jane Moody, Pam Robinson, Lee Rowley and Winston Whiteley.

Finally, huge thanks to the staff from Osmondthorpe who give over and above to help make the event so successful: David Fletcher, Gavin Johnson, Anita and Claire.  Thanks too to Hazel Kilner, who was unable to be with us at the event but who put in so much hard work behind the scenes. 

Audience Comments
Very thought-provoking performances, particularly the readings about homelessness.  Topical and all indicative of the times we live in.  Thankfully, as far as I could tell, no mention of Trump or Brexit!
Excellent.  Very enjoyable and moving.

Interesting points of view, varied.  Always a pleasure.

Very creative excellent performances by all – well read by all.  Brilliant work by Osmondthorpe group – performers and staff.  
What a fantastic event.  The work of the Headingley group was excellent but the Osmondthorpe group took it to another level.  Brilliant work by the Osmondthorpe staff!

Very good music to entertain people as they were coming in and at the interval.  Very good entertainment by both groups as usual but I particularly like the performance by the Osmondthorpe Hub group.

Wonderful opening – funny and engaging. 'Dancefloor dirty' – what an enchanting phrase.  Impressive range of writing styles , moving and evocative.  Fantastic performances and pieces of work from Osmondthorpe.  Highlight of the Festival.

I found the event quite one of inspiration, both from the content and the obvious amount of work that had been put into its preparation.  The obvious enjoyment and fulfilment of the particpants also shows the trouble and thought put in to it.

It was great, truly inspirational.  Cakes very scrumptious too.  Writing could be larger on screen for those (like me) whose sight is not so good.

A wide range of work.  Everything went really well.  Great to be involved and wonderful to share work.   

A most enjoyable event – a big thank you to everyone involved.  Will look forward to future such events.

Always a great pleasure and inspiration.  Long may it continue.

All the pieces of work excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Many heartfelt poems.  Gets you to think about your own life from different perspectives.  Makes me thankful too.  Some pieces with such intensity!

Very enjoyable – especially enjoyed the snail poem.  Very suitable venue.  Great to see what Jenny and Julie do at Osmondthorpe.

Pre-performance music was excellent.  An amazing array of talent in one room.  A really enjoyable couple of hours.

Very creative and enjoyable – diverse, excellent readings.  Both groups were inspiring.

Found the event imspiring with na lot of variations on the readings.  Think it might be the design of the room but was noisy at the beginning without consideration for the reader.