Doin’ our bit for lit: LeftLion Magazine #79

LL CoverI haven’t blogged about LeftLion for a while so this post is well overdue. The timing is important too as I’ve recently resigned as a director of Nottingham City of Literature. No mardies or drama. Just time to give up my seat so that someone else can sit down. The City of Lit team is comprised of representatives from 8 organisations and I was representing the Nottingham Writers’ Studio (I was Chair from 2012-15). But to be perfectly honest, I always thought of myself in terms of LeftLion and as an individual digital storyteller.

LeftLion played two crucial roles leading up to the bid. The first was through a series of magazine articles called the Nottingham Essay which focussed on key literary figures. These have since transformed into photoessays courtesy of some very talented NTU placement students for Dawn of the Unread. Secondly, we created a literature podcast so that all of our wordy propaganda could be felt in broadcasts as well as in print. This is produced by NG Digital and is broadcast once a month.

The June issue of LeftLion epitomises LeftLion’s commitment to literature. The sheer volume and variety of topics we’ve covered in one issue is staggering. The LeftLion editor Ali Emm should be given particular credit here for being so supportive and encouraging. There aren’t many editors who would let me get away with being such a potty mouth in the name of art, such as the ‘Is Lady C worth a wank?’ article. Ali also had the intelligence (and guts) not to delete ‘cunt’ from my article about D.H Lawrence and censorship. It would have made us look a right bunch of c***s given it was being used appropriately within the context of the article.

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Elsewhere in the mag I did an interview with the supremely talented Abigail Parry, the poet-in-residence at the National Video Game Arcade and our Poetry Editor Aly Stoneman interviewed Becky Cullen, the poet-in-residence at Newstead Abbey. Our Deputy Literature Editor Robin Lewis spoke to John Lucas, a poet, emeritus professor, publisher and jazz musician.

The Dilettante Society are an art collective “that’s about creativity and historical interest, a little bit of mischievous activity and writing” said founder Lady C. “Our aim is to encourage imagination and local interest, with a little bit of absurdity thrown in for good measure.” They produce lovely gazettes which can be found in various cafes across the city and we’ve since given them a regular slot to promote what they’re doing. Supporting grassroots culture was one of the key aims of the City of Literature bid and LeftLion have been doing this since we formed a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. This issue they look at one of Lord Byron’s lesser known relatives.

BYRON and deb

The Mouthy Poets were another central part of the UNESCO bid and founding member Debris Stevenson is featured discussing her innovative contribution to NEAT16 that will see an infusion of grime, rap and poetry. I remember interviewing Deborah five years ago when Mouthy Poets were still in their nappies. Now Mouthy are the highest funded poetry collective by the Arts Council, have a load of live shows under their belt, and are quite simply the most energetic and aspirational group of poets on the block.

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NEAT16 was one of the events the City of Literature team promised to deliver in their application so we’ve giving this as much coverage in the magazine as possible. My Lady C article relates to the Novel Trial performance at the Galleries of Justice on 2 June, Debris Stevenson’s Poet in Da Corner is on 11 June, and there was also room to have a natter with Midlands Theatre Company LaPelle’s Factory whose Cloudcukoolanders  celebrates all things dysfunctional on 5 June. Neatly rounding up theatre related articles was an interview with Rachel Young. I, Myself and Me is the result of a BBC Performing Arts Fellowship that’s been touring the country and stops back off home on 9 June.

neat and rachel

LeftLion also creates space for writers to promote their books or plans for books. Wayne Burrows’ Advertising Sectioned was originally conceived as a means of giving him the opportunity to sift through various cuttings and put together a themed collection exploring local advertising which he can then pitch to a publisher when complete. Likewise, Street Tales draws attention to Joe Earp and the Nottingham Hidden History Team. I met Joe a few years ago and was delighted when he agreed to do the column. Now he’s got a couple of books out, hopefully his presence in our monthly rag will help him shift a few copies.

street tales and zombies

And last but not least is our ‘choose your own ending’ zombie serial (#ZombiesinNotts) which has been determined by our readers and written anonymously by some of our fulltime in-house writers. This feature is a nod to the Choose Your Own Adventure serials started in 1976 by Edward Packard and is just meant to be a bit of daftness.

I have been writing for LeftLion now for around 13 years. No magazine offers such complete freedom of expression when it comes to style of writing or topic of writing. Our June issue is an absolute kick in the bollocks for anyone who thinks reading is dead. Having said that, our editor in chief, Jared Wilson, is on the lookout for Vloggers and LeftLion is slowly edging towards becoming a multimedia channel. This will inevitably mean more videos and less words which will mean readers will become viewers. Let’s not get too smug. Let’s just enjoy the moment. For now, words rule. IDT. INDST.

Scribal Gathering of Poetic Dissent

Our Scribal Gathering events are few and far between but when they happen, they’re special. On Friday 4 November we put on a Scribal Gathering of Poetic Dissent to mark the two hundredth anniversary of the ‘Luddite’ rebellion in Bulwell and to show respect to the ‘Occupy’ movement who are currently residing in Market Square. As is often the case with events you are organising yourself, they bring little joy on the night as you’re running around making sure things are going alright and that performers know what they’re doing.

I kicked off the event with a fifteen minute introduction with Motormouf, a young beatboxer from Nottingham who’d previously impressed with performances with Nina Smith and Maniere de Bohemiens. It’s really important when you’re dealing with political content that you don’t start lecturing on the obvious and so we went for a simple format whereby I’d discuss current events and then when I asked Motormouf what he was ‘mad as hell’ about or his opinion of Alessio Rastani – the City Trader welcoming the recession, he’d break out into beatboxing. Then, just when you expected him to continue in this vane, he freestyled a poem about Rosa Parks that was outstanding. Contrast is the key; mess with expectations. I planned this routine in one meeting with Motormouf and it’s so good to work with someone who listens and trusts your judgement. The purpose of the routine was to make him look amazing and me the talentless ‘dumb blond.’ Tis a humble life.

The Lambhorse Cabaret performance was a theatrical masterpiece, creating fake explosions courtesy of balloons and party poppers to bring down the system. They were joined by Stickman Higgins – who I wrote about in my last blog. Stickman is joy personified; he has so much energy it’s like he’s swallowed the sun. He played the part of an elderly Jamaican man and walked around greeting the audience before freestyling as the Lambhorse played on.

The key to large events is variety or else you overdose on the written word. Johnny Crump offered this by scratching on the decks with film visuals projected behind him. We also needed a variety of poets. Aly Stoneman was short and sweet, teasing the audience with her Ms Hood poem – in my opinion the perfect formula as then the audience want more. Joe Coghlan and Jonesy bounced an electric set off of each other, complimenting their differing styles. Debris Stevenson had the audience joining in which got everyone in a great mood whereas Scruffy Dave and Tokin’ John went for more traditional readings. And of course our joker in the pack was Al Needham who has not only made swearing socially acceptable but an art form in itself.

Chester P was our final act and proved that you don’t need a stage persona to perform. Simply exuding personality and being yourself is enough. But who is he? He looked like a crazy old man with autism as he nervously shuffled back and forth on stage on the tips of his toes as he delivered a stream of consciousness that washed over the audience like a tsunami. Every now and then you’d catch a phrase, a joke or a clever metaphor and before the beauty of this observation could settle, bang in came another. Wow.

Of course not everything went to plan. I’d spent ages recording Big Issue Sellers and Protestors in V for Vendetta masks and then recorded audios to be dubbed over the top which related to the film. But these weren’t edited together properly and so our hopes of having an anonymous production didn’t work. This, however, is inevitable when you’re relying on the goodwill and free time of various people to help suture everything together. The event was a collaboration with Dealmaker and LeftLion, photographs were kindly taken by Ralph Barklam with Adrian Towell filming proceedings and Stupeflix made the brilliant video to promote the event. The night was dedicated to Peter Preston who recently passed away and although a free event, we left buckets on the bar for people to donate to the Alan Sillitoe Statue Fund – or to be sick in.

Now we need a theme for the next event. I’m thinking Berlusconi’s Bitches or perhaps updating the Roald Dahl classic…the Fantastic Mr. Liam Fox. So much choice in a corrupt world. Thank goodness for villains, life would be dull.