Losin’ yer virginiteh in the ‘tempreh.

Wednesday 4th August saw Scribal Gathering lose its virginity at the Nottingham Contemporary Cafe in front of a packed crowd of 150-200 people. It’s the largest audience I’ve ever seen at a spoken-word event so Aly Stoneman and I were over the moon to see people happily congregate on the floor when seating was not forthcoming.

The event took a lot of planning, largely because we had to coordinate our selected acts with both the publication of the magazine and the release of our 7th Write Lion podcast. Our objective was to create a kind of literature variety show, featuring beat poet Joe Coghlan who we predict will be massive and self-funding dramatist Rachael Pennell who writes about women written out of history. WORD! were our featured act to help promote their monthly event in Leicester and Al Needham for his irreverent humorous outlook.   

Our open mic was ridiculously talanted with Chris Lewis-Jones, Jane Bluet of DIY Poets, a pirate, Michelle ‘mother’ Hubbard, Eireann ‘I’m an American poet, get me out of hereeeeeeeeeeeeeee’ Lorsung and that lovable rogue Lord Biro (who recently stood in the Kettering elections, promising to force Kerry Katona to wear a Burka because he’s sick of seeing her mug plastered over the red tops). Unfortunately we signed up so many poets that we overran by twenty-five minutes which meant we had to axe the breaks and go straight into our featured act. Next time this happens we’ll have to insist they only do Haikus…

To give the night an added twist we’d pencilled in a game of Poetry Bingo. The idea was to to use the names on the board as a means of promoting organisations, publishers and wordsmiths in the region as well as making some silly gags. These typically included:

WORDSWORTH – Is that a daffodil or are you just pleased to see me?

HAIKU – Nothing more than a glorified status update.

SHINDIG – Our next spoken-word event, to be held on September 19th at the Jam Cafe.

JENNY SWANN – This local publisher is burning the poetry candlestick at both ends.

RUTH– Up the Oxford University creek without a Padel.

STAPLE– Something that hurts when fired into the arse and also the name of the Sneinton based publication edited by Wayne Burrows.

Unfortunately this was cut due to time constraints but it wasn’t the end of the world. Quite fortuitously, Ross Bradshaw donated two hundred copies of Sunday Night, Monday Morning which we gave out to everyone on the strict condition that they read them. ‘You’ll be tested at our next event’ was the courteous warning. People were clearly delighted at this unexpected gift and meant we had the ‘bread’ for the ensuing ‘circus’.   

For our next event at the ‘tempreh (Hockley Hustle, 23rd October) I’ve got a game of Literature Room 101 planned where authors, agents and publishers will be asked which aspects of the writing industry they’d like to see consigned into Orwell’s imaginary void. These can then be followed with a reading. I also want to make a slot for our new book reviewer Katie Half-Price who has hilarious potential but the problem is figuring out how to conceal ‘her’ identity. In my head I envisage her wearing a Bo Selecta style mask, pushed around in a wheelchair (ala Little Britain) with Pythonesque papier-mâché breasts dangling down to the floor and ‘left’ ‘lion’ tattoed in pink across her knuckles. It sounds like a lot of extra work but it will be worth it as the Art Show is coming up from London on the same day so the ‘tempreh will be swamped with press and literati.

I thought the visuals worked really well behind the acts, particularly the photo of ‘Fanny St’ which accompanied Al Needham’s ‘spoken wood’. I’d like to see more specific images for the other acts as well as more work from the LeftLion artists to help promote their work. Talking of which, we need to get some T-Shirts printed. We can flog tons of these if we plan well enough and make some money which can be invested back into the night.

Overall I was delighted with the night and proud to see so many interesting people under one roof. It really felt as if we were part of something. My personal three favourite highlights were hearing Al Needham say ‘Scunthorpe is the only city in Britain with ‘cunt’ in their name’. Who’d have thought we’d get away with that in the ‘tempreh?! Secondly was someone describing LeftLion as the Viz of the East Midlands and last but not least was young Joe Coghlan asking for a hug. That’s the exact reason why we wanted to put on the event. For hugs.

Nottingham Contemporary website

WriteLion 7 podcast

Journalism workshop at Nottm Contemporary

Today I held the first of four workshops on magazine journalism at Nottingham Contemporary. One of the opening tasks was writing for a specific audience. The class had to write a review of the building for the Sun, Mail or Guardian. In preparation for this I gave them an extract from each paper reviewing the Turner Prize and we selected certain phrases that captured the style of the publication.

The Sun focussed on Rebecca Warren’s ‘display of litter’ that ‘was picked up from the floor of her studio’ suggesting a flippant, casual uneducated piece, subtly rubbishing modern art in the process and telling us what we all like to think – it’s a load of pish made by workshy middle-class dropouts. The quote they pulled from Rebecca made her sound completely incompetent ‘for somebody it could mean one thing and for somebody else it could mean something else’. As much as I detest Murdoch’s runt of a child, you can’t help but admire the Oxbridge journos that pen these words. Absolute genius. Allowed the artist to hang herself whilst opening up the high/low culture debate without a sniffle of pomposity.

The Mail managed to hype things up to boiling point by focussing in on the ‘ripped paintings’ and ‘serial killers’, using the coveted art prize as yet another vehicle through which to scare the living shit out of the population and demand the return of the birch to restore order. But boy do they do condescension well. They managed to make Susan Philipz sound like a cross between an escaped X-Factor convict and a troll. ‘A woman known for singing through a PA system at a branch of Tesco… and under bridges’. Hilarious. And not a mention of her art.

The Guardian offering was as liberal as ever, promoting ‘culture from below’ by asking ‘Wot, no Bansky?’ and giving a more balanced appraisal. It was great fun deconstructing language and reminded me how easily you can build up a profile of someone through just a couple of carefully constructed sentences. Odd that in teaching this it suddenly hit home.

In preparation for writing their own pieces, the class wandered around the building taking notes. The corrugated panels to the exterior of the building (or the Anderson Shelter as locals refer to it) is partially covered in lace. It made me think of an old tart pissed up around town, necking back her WKD in ripped tights and mini-skirt. Then when you realise that the gallery is next door to the Pitch ‘N’ Piano, a church converted into a pub, it suddenly becomes a place where everything is trying to be something it’s not. Nottingham could be accused of a similar form of deception, thinking it can accommodate this cultural behemoth into the landscape. Whatever our interpretations, the point is there is detail everywhere. The key is finding the correlations and then putting it in a style that will appeal to a particular readership.

I should note here that the reason I am so fascinated by detail at the moment is because last week I attended the Stanley Middleton Celebration, the Booker winning Notts author who died recently. The former teacher was a master at small detail who would often ask students to look out the window and describe what they could see. ‘Look at the wind, what direction is it moving in, what’s it doing to the tress, what noise does it make, look how it’s blown that woman’s hat into a puddle, look at her reaction etc. Gawd bless him.

The main function of this blog though is not to give away free journalism workshop ideas to them that can do me out of work. It’s a test. After discussing the importance of writing a blog to gain an online presence and to discipline yourself to write, I wonder how many have checked this out – to see if I’m good to my word or simply to do a bit of prying. If you are one of my students reading this then you can successfully tick off ‘intrigue’ as one of your essential journalistic traits.