Friday, 22 March 2019

Winter without pictures

The New Year began at breakneck speed, as I started 2019 by co-judging the inaugural East Ridings Poetry Competition, with James Nash and Wendy Pratt, which had the theme ‘My Story’. There were entries from people of all backgrounds, categories included primary- and secondary-school age, entries from prisons and a general category for anyone over 18. There were some really accomplished poems submitted (some of which made me quite jealous!), and it was lovely to see that so many people are interested in poetry. The winners were officially announced at a special ceremony in Bridlington on January 26th.

   On Tuesday February 19th I delivered three workshops for children at Leeds City Museum that tied in with their Michael Morpurgo exhibition. It was a lovely event focusing on the idea of a human taking on the traits of an animal, or “becoming the beast”. I used animals synonymous with Otley, such as the weasel, owl and kingfisher, as examples which seemed to go down well. Again, it was inspiring to see such poets writing really interesting verse – especially during the holidays!

   Some of you may recall, and contributed to, the Otley VoiceBox project, which was nearly two years ago. ‘VoiceBoxes’ (contributions boxes) were placed at certain venues around the town with a view to create a communal poem. There were some magnificent turns of phrase submitted and it took a while to bring everything together. There is a possibility that the poem will become the lyrics to a song, but I thought it only fair that contributors get to see their words put into verse after such a long time.

A heart beats in the market square,

the bells ring in the church

there's a welcome in your pintpot

enough to quench your thirst.

We're honest and historical;

a gateway to the Dales.

Born and bred, and chosen home

Otley welcomes everyone.

You can see along the riverbank

a child become a fish

she leaps just like a salmon

with otter and screaming swift.

There's slang, laughter, love and mud

in our kind and cosy town - 

space to share, space out there

a gem in the Leeds crown.

Bird, beer and cobbles,

a wonderful conundrum

by the river, never still,

under the ever-changing hill.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Autumn in eight sentences

Yes, I realise it is now winter and I'm only just summarising the previous season, so I will be a brief as I can...

Aside from the engagements I mentioned in my previous post, autumn brought three surprise in terms of my activities as Otley Town Poet. The first was a supporting slot at (the fabulous) Tom Weir's book launch on November 18th - if you haven't read his latest collection, 'Ruin', yet, I strongly recommend you get a copy from Templar press. The second was having two poems accepted by Strix magazine, which is a beautifully produced periodical featuring poetry and prose, and I read at the launch in the Victoria Hotel in Leeds on November 20th - again, I urge everyone to buy copies or subscribe. And the final surprise was being asked to return to Nostell Priory on December 7th for one more Chippendale-themed reading, this time featuring customised Christmas crackers loaded with a poem, a terrible joke and a piece of miniature furniture. Here are some photos from James Nash's launch on October 1st and my reading at the Purple Room in Ben Rhydding on November 22nd - which is a fantastic event and everyone should attend in the New Year!

There will be more readings for me in 2019 as well as a children's workshop in February, but I'll offer an update towards the end of winter... I promise. Until then, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018


I think I’ve made a habit of reaching the back-end of the season before putting a blogpost together. Although the summer hasn’t involved many public readings, things have been bubbling away behind the scenes. The interactive poetry-play, ‘Carried on a Cloud of Sawdust’ at Nostell Priory on July 13th was well received and I was thrilled that all the characters were taken on by audience members over two performances. I was also able to see the incredibly versatile and very talented poet, Zodwa Nyoni perform her poem, ‘Mahogany’, at the same event. The National Trust have very kindly asked me to return to Nostell for one more performance of my Chippendale play on September 28th, if anyone is able to make it, it’d be great to see you there.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on a project with Forward Prize-winning poet Vahni Capildeo, who is exploring the theme of journeys and Windrush at Dewsbury Road Community Hub. I helped Vahni deliver a workshop on August 14th and the work produced by the writers attending the workshops will feature in a text exhibition in the building next year. This is part of a larger project called Collections in Verse taking place across Leeds.

Next up I’ll be part of the judging panel at Otley’s first-ever Town Crier Competition on Sunday September 23rd. On September 30th I will appear at The Bridge Church to read a commissioned poem celebrating their stained-glass window which commemorates the end of the First World War. This is followed by a performance at Ilkley Literature Festival with the Courthouse Writers who have devised a piece entitled ‘No Cold Callers’ with fellow poet and friend James Nash on October 1st at Ilkley Playhouse. Then I will join Otley Poets to celebrate National Poetry Day on Oct 4th and support James for the launch of his new book ‘A Bench for Billie Holiday’ at The Leeds Library on October 16th alongside Di Slaney. I will return to Chesterfield Labour Club on October 27th. And I will be appearing at The Purple Room in Ben Rhydding on November 22nd. I’ve most likely missed something out, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead and try to be more organised when compiling autumn’s blogpost.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Spring (only just)

It's fair to say that Thomas Chippendale has been my main focus this season... and rightly so!
My poem, 'Thomas Carved Our Town', commissioned by Otley Town Council celebrating Otley's most famous son's 300th birthday, has appeared on many platforms. The most high profile has to be BBC Radio 4's Front Row programme on April 24th, featuring myself, competition-winning bellman Terry Ford, and Visit Otley chairman Laurence Ross. Reading the poem and discussing poetry and carpentry for the show was a highlight of my career and great promotion for the town. In addition to this, I have appeared on BBC Radio Leeds twice throughout the spring, again reading the poem and explaining the duties of being the UK's only official Town Poet. Also, both the Yorkshire Reporter and Wharfedale Observer newspapers published 'Thomas Carved Our Town', which I was extremely pleased about because one of my aims as a poet is to engage readers that might not normally seek out poetry.

Lastly, the National Trust's Nostell Priory has kindly asked me to take part in two of their Nostell Nights events. The first was May 4th and was, undoubtedly, one of the grandest venues I've ever read at. I read two sets of poems on two themes (Otley, and Poetry Vs Carpentry) over four readings. The feedback was amazing and most of the people in attendance were inspired to visit Otley to check validity of my verse! My next visit to Nostell is July 13th where I will perform an interactive poetry-play based on the Chippendale pieces at the Priory, specifically commissioned by the National Trust.

A few other engagements, closer to home, have included the Otley Town AGM on May 14th - this time I didn't subject the attendees to a game of 'poetry bingo', Otley's Great Get Together on June 17th, where I created a haiku at the Festival Sticker Art tent, and the Town Mayor's Civic Lunch on June 24th.

I am very much looking forward to judging the Town Crier Competition September 23rd alongside bellman Terry Ford, and I'm sure there will be projects in the pipeline.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018


As this season sees itself out, the Beast from the East has barged into Otley and made blank pages of our backstreets for poets and 4x4s to scribble on. Whenever we get a good layer of snowfall I always think of Robert Bridges poem 'London Snow', "hiding difference, making unevenness even". And this was key when writing a poem celebrating the tercentenary of Thomas Chippendale's birth, commissioned by Otley Town Council. This was, of course, a daunting task and also a challenging one, as furniture isn't typically a romantic or poetic subject. Nevertheless, carpentry is an honest, egalitarian trade and I conjured up a world where Chippendale is creator and protector, taking the sentiment of Bridges's poem, how differences can be made even. I don't want to say too much at this point, but there are plenty of other attractions relating to Chippendale300, which are included on the official website.

Aside from writing poems about pioneering sons of Otley, last month I was asked to read a poem for Radio 3's The Verb podcast, as part of their Christmas Special. The very talented and frustratingly youthful Laura Potts, recently selected as a BBC New Voice, invited me to interpret her poem, 'The Wise Child', which meant a trip to Salford Media City. I realised this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I was eager to oblige, but in my haste I forgot to take any pictures of the studio (or 'dead room') where I read Laura's poem and the famous soundstage (and more famous stairs with three types of surface) where they record radio plays. The experience was unforgettable and I am chuffed to appear on the same podcast as Laura, Carol Ann Duffy, Berlie Doherty and Hollie McNish - which will, no doubt, never happen again.

Then late last month I was asked to deliver a day-long poetry workshop for Year 5 and 6 pupils at Harewood Primary on the topic of WWII (you will notice in the pictures I am proudly wearing my Otley Ambassador badge). This, again, was a first for me because I had never prepared an entire day's worth of writing activities nor had I researched WWII so much since secondary school. The results of the workshop were really interesting and I was overwhelmed with the young poets' enthusiasm, especially during such a gruelling day with me.

I tried a few new formats for prompts, including what I like to call 'exploding poems' and some ice-breakers to keep the energy levels up after lunchtime. It was a really inspiring day and I'm incredibly thankful for being invited to the school.

What next? There is plenty to come and I don't want to give the game away, but I will say there will be a new 'poetry item' in celebration of the Tour de Yorkshire passing through Otley again and a little something for National Pie Week.

In the meantime, you can catch me compering A Night of Subversive Poetry at Otley Labour Rooms on St Patrick's Day, March 17th at 7.30pm. Featuring Laura Taylor, Janine Booth and my old chum Brendan McPartlan. Hopefully see you there!


Friday, 20 October 2017


The rain continues to pour, the Wharfe continues to puff out its chest and the Town Poet duties continue to keep me on my toes. September saw A Firm of Poet's farewell gig sell out St Austin's Hall in Wakefield as part of the city's Lit Fest. It was an emotional event, as well as being a star-studded event, with John Hegley, Becky Cherriman, Laura Potts, Kate Fox and Linton Kwesi Johnson following us on stage. I've mentioned what an honour it has been to perform with my fellow Firm members and I shall miss them unfathomably.

Then, on National Poetry Day, Korks Wine Bar, on Bondgate in Otley, was packed out for our performance of 'Town Below the Steps'. I was dead chuffed with the turn-out, as well as the cast and musicians who made it such a special night. Also, immense thanks should go to everyone at Korks who were magnificent hosts. This is the third public performance of the poetry play and I don't know when the next one will be, but you can still listen to it on the East Leeds FM website or read it after you've bought a copy from Otley-based publisher Half Moon Books.

Finally, I foolishly took a dive into the world of theatre - and found myself treading water - by taking part in Otley Welcomes and ice&fire's production of 'The Asylum Monologues' at Otley Courthouse. The play is composed of genuine testimonies from people seeking asylum in the UK and performed around the world. All profits from its performances are donated to Amnesty International, so we were thrilled that almost 70 people came to the 100-capacity venue to watch me struggle to perform alongside outstanding actors Astrid Copeland and Andy Squires.
I think that's it for now... except to say that I have begun work on a poem to celebrate 300 years of Thomas Chippendale. At first, I was daunted by the thought of paying tribute to the great man, in verse, but having researched his background I have since discovered that he is somewhat of a poet of carpentry - he was once described as "the Shakespeare of furniture". He very much had his finger on the pulse of culture during his time and it was reflected in his art. It's a shame certain nervous poets struggle to do the same...

Monday, 18 September 2017

Summer (only just)

As I write this blog post, National Poetry Day (Sept 28th) is just over a week away and myself and a group of Otley poets will be performing our play in verse, 'Town Below the Steps' at Korks Wine Bar to celebrate. This performance will be very special because we will be joined by musicians Beth Kilburn and Matthew Sturgess (The Silver Reserve), who will play original compositions specifically written for the occasion.

Also, Saturday Sept 23rd will be the last-ever A Firm of Poets gig at Wakefield Literature Festival. I have mixed emotions about the event, but I shall miss sharing a stage and memorable experiences with my friends. We will be supporting dub poetry pioneer Linton Kwesi Johnson, another milestone for me.

Our "song for Otley" project is well underway. The idea was originally Sally Egan's (from Opera North); that the town deserves a piece of music celebrating its heritage and people. Following initial discussions, we decided that the townsfolk should be involved, hence the 'Otley Voice Box' was created. These song-contribution boxes were placed around Otley, inviting people to pen lyrics for the project. It was my job to collate the words and write a poem that can be added to music. The results were very interesting - sometimes baffling - but overall there was lots of material to work with. Musicians Phil Snell and Tony Wright (from Terrorvision), along with Sally, are now putting the finishing touches to the song. Very exciting!

Lastly, I will be performing The Asylum Monologues at Otley Courthouse on October 16th, with punk poet and Edinburgh Festival sensation Matt Abbott and actor Astrid Copeland. Otley has a history of welcoming people in need, therefore it is fitting that such a powerful and topical piece of theatre is being staged here.

I think that's about everything for now, so I'll leave you with a contribution from a 'Voice Box' - which I think makes a lot of sense...