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TALKING DOORSTEPS – BLOG ENTRY #4

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Wrecking Ball Press have teamed up with The Roundhouse and the BBC in a global project that will see Hull performance poet Joe Hakim travel to Trinidad & Tobago. Talking Doorsteps is for spoken word artists aged 16-25yrs and offers an accessible and interactive physical and digital community to share and platform work centered on the theme of HOME. Starting from next week, Joe will be observing and participating in workshops with young Caribbean poets before returning home and working with young Hull poets, then bringing the two artistic communities together for a performance in September as part of the “Contains Strong Language” Poetry Festival, which will be programmed by the BBC and Wrecking Ball Press. Joe will be writing daily blog entries so we can follow his progress. Here’s the fourth instalment:

 

At this point I have to give a couple of shout-outs to some great people.

Marcia Guerrera at the Cafe Mariposa is amazing. Not only does she cook for us, clean up after us and serenade us at breakfast, but she is also a font of local knowledge. She’s able to point at a bird and tell you what species it is. She can give you a quick rundown about local history, give you practical advice about what to do and where to go to get whatever you may need, and she’s just a wonderful human being who welcomed us with open arms.

I’d also like to thank Ariana. Not only is she participating in the workshops and working full-time, but she’s also made time to ferry us about as well. Plus, her Dad gave me a lesson in how to dance. She’s a truly beautiful person, and she has a truly beautiful family.

So today, Monday (I think it’s Monday… yeah Monday … turns out jet-lag makes you as confused about the days of the week as Christmas) marked our first trip into a Trinidad school. This was something that I was particularly nervous about. Late last year, my friends and partners in crime LIFE invited me to tag along and perform with them on a few dates on the UK leg of their European tour. But the nerves I experienced getting ready to go on stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire paled in comparison to what I felt as we rolled up to the gates of the San Fernando Secondary School. Luckily, I was with Debris, whose professionalism and experience in these situations worked wonders as a calming influence. Debris Stevenson exudes and transmits energy and has that rare ability to influence an environment just by being present within it. When someone has travelled to and performed in 23 different countries, you just know that they have something special to give and that they’re prepared for every eventuality.

I don’t know exactly why I find performing in front of kids so nerve-wracking. I think it has to do with the fact that I credit kids and young people with having extraordinarily well-tuned bullshit detectors. You can’t blag it, because they’ll sniff out insincerity the same way a pig sniffs out a truffle.

Jean Claude, our man in Trinidad, the 2 Cents guru, and the guy who set up our school appearances, led us into the hallway. We were set to perform in front of the school’s spoken word club (yeah, a spoken word club – how amazing is that?) so we took to the stage. As I said earlier, Debris has worked in situations similar to this all over the world, so I watched her intently. One of the big concerns that I had with this trip was how my work, and more importantly my accent, would carry over to an international audience. Beyond slowing down my delivery a little, I was really worried about the audience just not getting it. I mean, people from other parts of the UK sometimes struggle to fathom out the Hull accent – how the hell would a group of kids from Trinidad manage? Debris assured me that the secret to successfully communicating to an international audience isn’t actually that big a secret; just be honest, tell them who are you are, what you’re about and where you’re coming from, both geographically and in terms of your work.

I decided that the best approach was to confront the accent anxiety head-on. And I’m so glad that I did. Hearing a group of Trinidad school kids repeat: “Er ner, there’s sner on the rerd,” as a means of acclimatising to my accent is one of the highlights – if not the highlight – of my spoken word career. It was beautiful. And once again, I had this wave of emotion hit me. I’m a horribly repressed working-class bloke from Yorkshire – just what the hell was Trinidad doing to me?

After the school performance was over we headed back to Cafe Mariposa for the second workshop session with the 2 Cents group. Today’s session was focusing on editing techniques. The workshop was designed as both a means to give the participants a set of tools to carry into their practise beyond the workshops, but also as an exercise to get them working on the poems that Pip would be filming as part of the Talking Doorsteps project. Speaking to the participants, I got the impression that they were all particularly looking forward to this phase of the process, so there was a real buzz in the air.

Debris started the session by placing different prompts on all the tables. The prompts were focused on different aspects of the editing process, things like: What are the specifics of what you’re trying to say? How are you using verbs? How do the nouns affect the poem? What are you trying to communicate to the audience?

We drifted around the room in loose groups, discussing the prompts with each other before reconvening in a circle. We did an exercise where we moved to different parts of the room depending on how we felt about the editing process. One side of the room was “extremely dislike”, the other side “really like”. And then we did the same again, but this time addressing how we felt about others doing it, and then again about how we felt about editing other people’s work. We were then set the task of coming up with three things that we wanted to achieve/communicate with our poems.

After this wrapped up, Debris began to discuss redundancies in poetry. She handed around copies of a Simon Armitage poem, which had been re-edited to include superfluous words, and in groups we had to remove all the words we found redundant, in some cases changing the words entirely.

We then moved on to lineation/realisation. Debris handed round another poem, “Michiko Dead” by Jack Gilbert. This time, the exercise was to look at and discuss the line-breaks in the poem; the visual effect on the page itself, how it affected the reading of it. Immediately following this, she handed round the same poem, this time re-edited into a different structure, with a different set of line-breaks. We discussed what effect changing the structure had: did you read it differently? What were the line-breaks telling us? Were they informing the rhythm of it? Were they little epiphanies that the narrator was experiencing as he moved through the poem? Did they make the meaning of the poem covert or explicit?

It took me a moment to realise what was going on, but when I did, it hit me like a slap in the face. The Trinidad poetry scene is very much a spoken word scene. In fact, at the beginning of the process, one of the participants declared: “I don’t write poetry, I record it.” But here they were, sat round in a circle, discussing form, structure and traditional poetic techniques. If you had said to me at the start of the session we’d have a group of slam poets from Trinidad discussing Simon Armitage poems, I’d have called you a nutter. But there we were. It is the single most effective method for teaching “page” poetry to “stage” poets that I’ve ever seen. I was absolutely dumbstruck.

After the session finished, we were set the task of further refining our poems for the next session and then we all had dinner together. It was great, and for some reason, they all really enjoyed my crap jokes, which did wonders for my frankly fragile ego.

After everyone had left, Debo, Pip and I watched one of the neighbourhood cats grapple with something in the garden. We were about to go investigate, when Marcia informed us that it might be a snake. Marcia helpfully added that Trinidad was home to no less than four different species of venomous snake. It was at this point that a clearly distressed Debo uttered one of the best statements of the trip so far: “Wait, you’re telling me there’s poisonous snakes around here?”

Shortly before retiring, Pip and I went for a little walk. As we made our way around the bloc, we noticed that the cute little stray dogs that seem to be everywhere in Trinidad were forming into packs and following us, growling at first, then barking as they gained confidence. We both started to freak out a little, worried that our stroll was about to turn into a sinister Stephen King story. I could almost see the headlines: “Talking Doorstep project ends in tragedy after savage dog mauling.’” Luckily, it turned out to be a case of bark being worse than bite, and we made it back to Mariposa safely.

Incidentally, my new collection, “Fido was a Psycho’ will be available from Wrecking Ball Press later this year.

PRODUCTION MANAGER REQUIRED FOR HUMBER MOUTH LITERATURE FESTIVAL

Production Manager Required

For Humber Mouth Literature Festival and Contains Strong Language

About Humber Mouth Literature Festival

Humber Mouth is one of the most established literature festivals in the country, with its own distinctive style. We present writers who aren’t necessarily mainstream in an informal and accessible way; over previous years we’ve welcomed artists as diverse as Chuck Palahniuk, Amanda Coe, DBC Pierre and James Kelman. With all eyes on Hull as the UK City of Culture, we’re seeking a dynamic production manager to support us in delivering the Festival for 2017. Contains Strong Language is a new poetry festival produced in collaboration with the BBC, forming part of this year’s Humber Mouth.

About Wrecking Ball Press

Wrecking Ball Press has been publishing high quality, cutting-edge literature for twenty years. For the last six years, editor Shane Rhodes has been artistic director of the Humber Mouth.

Production Manager Role and Responsibilities
The production manager will be responsible for both Humber Mouth Literature Festival and Contains Strong Language, which opens on National Poetry Day (September 28).
Duties will include:
Managing the delivery of all production and operational aspects of the Festivals;
Working closely with the BBC, the artistic director and City of Culture team on Contains Strong Language to ensure that all planning and preparation is completed to time and on budget;
Managing all festival logistics, including venues, technical arrangements, artist travel and accommodation, itineraries, production elements and set dressing;
Recruiting and managing a team of volunteers to help deliver the Festival, including drawing up a suitable volunteer policy;
Carrying out appropriate risk assessments for festival events and activities and ensuring schedules and health and safety regulations are adhered to;
Managing Festival events on the ground and briefing others in working on those events;
Overseeing the collection of audience data and ensuring appropriate evaluation is carried out after the Festival, including collating any data relating to funding or future planning, as required;
Providing support and advice in the coordination of the Festival’s production activities, including scheduling staff and resources;
Providing advice to the artistic director and other partners regarding issues of venue suitability, technical management, and production costs;
Undertaking research and providing quotations for suppliers and equipment hire for the Festival:
Preparing production briefs and sourcing quotes from potential suppliers;
Liaising with suppliers and venues on technical and production matters;
Identifying and making recommendations on new venues;
Supporting in the preparation of technical event documentation including technical and event schedules, spreadsheets etc;
Managing the get in and get out of festival events, including all personnel and contractors;
Any other duties as agreed with the artistic director and other partners.

Type of Work

Contract – Full Time Length
90 Days
February – October 2017
Reporting to:
Shane Rhodes
Editor/Wrecking Ball Press
Artistic Director / Humber Mouth Literature Festival Salary
£10,500
Core Skills Required:
Experience of producing festivals or large scale events;
Excellent interpersonal and communication skills;
Experience of managing multiple events in different venues;
Experience of managing and organising staff and crew;
Proficiency in Word, Excel, Outlook;
Excellent time-management skills;
Excellent attention to detail.
Desirable Skills
An interest in literature and a desire to make it accessible;
Experience of working specifically in literature festivals.
For further information or to apply for this position, please send a covering letter and resume to editor@wreckingballpress.com.
Applications close Wednesday 25th January. Interviews will be on Thursday 2nd February.
For further information or to apply for this position, please send a cover letter and resume to Shane Rhodes, Artistic Director, at editor@wreckingballpress.com.

Applications close Wednesday 25th January. Interviews w/c Thursday 2nd February.

 

TALKING DOORSTEPS – BLOG ENTRY #3

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Wrecking Ball Press have teamed up with The Roundhouse and the BBC in a global project that will see Hull performance poet Joe Hakim travel to Trinidad & Tobago. Talking Doorsteps is for spoken word artists aged 16-25yrs and offers an accessible and interactive physical and digital community to share and platform work centered on the theme of HOME. Starting from next week, Joe will be observing and participating in workshops with young Caribbean poets before returning home and working with young Hull poets, then bringing the two artistic communities together for a performance in September as part of the “Contains Strong Language” Poetry Festival, which will be programmed by the BBC and Wrecking Ball Press. Joe will be writing daily blog entries so we can follow his progress. Here’s the third instalment:

And so we arrive at the business part of the journey, the reason we came to Trinidad in the first place: poetry.

But we before we get into that, I just have to say something: Debris Stevenson is without a doubt the best dancer that I have ever met. She absolutely tears it up, owns the dance floor. I quickly adapted my one technique, a version of the Mancunian Simian Shuffle, by adding in some subtle hip movement, but I’m convinced the only reason I got away with it is down to Debris taking the spotlight.

Anyway, after another hearty breakfast, Jean Claude, our man in Trinidad, arrived at the Cafe Mariposa with the participants. Now, in addition to being a dynamite wheelsman, Jean Claude also happens to the leader and driving force (ahem) behind 2 Cents, a spoken word collective of young people aged between 16-25. They arrived a little earlier than expected, but Debris just happened to have a plan for such eventualities. And so, right from the off I learn an important lesson, and that is to have a ‘rolling’ workshop, one that accounts for the possibility of things veering slightly off-track due to people being late, or in this case, early. Debris had brought a word-based card game, just a little something to keep everyone occupied while we finished setting up. It may seem simple, but had I been in the same situation, I would have probably got myself into a right flap, which would have gotten the session off to a tense start.

Once we were good to go, Debris started the session by writing quotes on large sheets of paper, and then placing them around the space. She also had some music playing in the background, once again something that seems obvious in retrospect, but had never occurred to me before. The participants (myself included) then moved around the space, and were encouraged to add lines to the sheets of paper, using the quote as a jumping off point to get the ideas flowing. And then with each subsequent line that was added, we moved along to the next sheet and added one, and so forth and so forth until the sheets were full of words. There was no pressure to maintain a line of thought, or structure or anything like that. It wasn’t even necessary to adhere to the themes that had been established by the previous line.

After this phase of the exercise was over, we all took part in some simple breathing exercises and physical warm ups, like stretches and vocalisations. I have to be totally honest here; up until now, I have never utilised any physical training as part of the workshop work that I have facilitated so far, partly due to the fact that I’ve felt self-consciousness, and partly due to the mistaken belief that things like that are a bit ‘theatre’. But there’s definitely something in it, not only because it wakes everyone up, but also because it gets people to loosen up and ditch some of their own feelings of self consciousness. One of the big difficulties in encouraging people to write and recite poetry in front of each other, especially young people (and especially young people in Hull) is getting them beyond the fear of ridicule. Getting everyone to participate in something together first places them on the same level.

Following on from that, we split off into groups, and each group was given one the sheets that we had filled in on the table, an asked to create a short impromptu group piece. As before, this was more an exercise to get everyone working on the same page, but it quickly became apparent that this was a seriously talented group of young people. Despite only having a few minutes to get something together, each of the groups managed to include elements of choreography and movement as part of their delivery.

After this session, Debris asked them all to gather round and think about the kind of things that may hold them back or affect them when working in a situation such as this. In the main, it was an opportunity for everyone to open to up each other, and establish trust. Most of the things that they relayed back to the group were small anxieties or idiosyncrasies, such as the need to feel comfortable before fully contributing, or the need to be left alone when writing, things like that. It was another way to establish trust in the group by giving everyone the chance to express themselves, but I was starting to pick up on something else; Debris was managing to get everyone’s attention and keep them focused without ever having to raise her voice. As she said to me later on, it’s all about finding ways to implicitly create the rules of a space, without resort to traditional teaching methods, methods that place barriers.

After another quick writing session, we headed out into the wonderful space at the back of Mariposa, the little amphitheatre. It was an opportunity for us each of us to share a poem, and we took it in turns to stand on the stage under the Caribbean sun and recite our work. It has to be said that the work of 2 Cents was absolutely phenomenal. Everything, from their delivery to the actual words, was slick. They’re the real deal, and they’ve got a passion, sincerity and intensity that could really teach the youth of the UK a thing or two.

After the sharing, we had another amazing meal. As I explained to Marcia, our host, one of my real concerns is how I’m going to manage when I get back home. All of the food is outstanding; fresh juices, vegetables and ingredients gathered from the garden of the property, as organic as you can get.

After lunch, we head over to the park. As part of the Talking Doorsteps project, Pip, our lovely and talented film-maker, will be making short films of each of the participants performing a specially written piece around the theme of home, so we spent the afternoon engaging in writing exercises that managed to be quite intense, yet accessible. Already, Debris was managing to push the participants out of their comfort zones, but with a subtlety that only comes through experience. By the end of the session, we had clear agenda for the following day’s session, which would focus on editing techniques.

After we finished for the day, Jean Claude invited us to the 2 Cents Lime. Now for anyone who is unfamiliar with the concept of a Lime, it’s basically this: Take the best house party that you’ve ever been to and times it by ten, and then you’re getting close. Seriously, if anyone in Hull tried to throw a party like a Lime, the police would shut it down. However, here, instead of complaining, the neighbours all come out and get involved. The vibe was unbelievable. I’ve never felt more welcome at a party. We had an intense game of Taboo – party games are a serious business in Trinidad – we danced, we ate. Parents turned up, relatives turned up, friends turned up.

They also had a small catering cart there, serving Doubles. Doubles are pretty much the Trinidad equivalent of a kebab, a little flatbread with beans and sauces. Spicy, messy and absolutely delicious. I had to have two. To be fair, they are called Doubles.

After the Dad of one of the participants gave me a dancing lesson, I came to realise something; that a big part of the reason why 2 Cents are so good at their work is because they are not just a poetry group, they’re a community, a family. They hang together, work together, and play together. And this goes way beyond spoken word. Being part of the collective provides an outlet for them, something for them to feel part of, to feel proud of – an example of a way for them to live and function within society, keeping safe and out of trouble by keeping them busy. It’s incredible.

And for a project that deals with the theme of home, it provides a template for something that we desperately need in the UK right now, especially for the young people in a place like Hull.

TALKING DOORSTEPS – BLOG ENTRY #2

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Wrecking Ball Press have teamed up with The Roundhouse and the BBC in a global project that will see Hull performance poet Joe Hakim travel to Trinidad & Tobago. Talking Doorsteps is for spoken word artists aged 16-25yrs and offers an accessible and interactive physical and digital community to share and platform work centered on the theme of HOME. Starting from next week, Joe will be observing and participating in workshops with young Caribbean poets before returning home and working with young Hull poets, then bringing the two artistic communities together for a performance in September as part of the “Contains Strong Language” Poetry Festival, which will be programmed by the BBC and Wrecking Ball Press. Joe will be writing daily blog entries so we can follow his progress. Here’s the second instalment:

I’m caught in the phase in between being asleep and being awake and I briefly forget where I am. And then I become aware of the heat, and I remember that I’m on the other side of the world, in the Caribbean.

The room I’m staying in has a small veranda at the back with a table and chair, so after dunking my head in cold water, I go and sit and look out the window (well, not a window as such, more of a mesh). It’s dense with foliage outside, and I suddenly become aware of a persistent buzz, a strange rhythmic pulse. To my absolute delight, I realise that the sound is emanating from hummingbirds. Lots of hummingbirds. A fleet of them.

I get dressed and head downstairs. The place where I’m staying for the week is called the Cafe Mariposa (Mariposa is Spanish for butterfly). It’s a beautiful open plan building, family owned, and the main eating area is a porch that faces the garden of the property. There are sugar-water dispensers dotted about, and the place is alive with hummingbirds, little neon flecked helicopters hovering around everywhere, hung suspended on the breeze in a way that seems to defy reason, before undertaking dive-bombing raids on the nectar fortresses.

Bleary-eyed, I stumble out into the vast garden. Just to my left is a small church, and located at the back of the property is a small man-made amphitheatre, which will serve as our performance space for the first day of the workshops. Lopinot is located at the foothills of the Northern Range, and everywhere I look there are huge trees and shrubs that look as though they have been transported from the Jurassic age. Because I arrived at night, I couldn’t see just how big and green and magnificent it all was. It’s breath taking, and for a moment I experience total sensory overload. A whole range of emotions floods my body, and I become giddy with it. At that particular moment I’m glad there’s no one around, because I end up blubbing for a bit, unable to fully comprehend what I’m experiencing. Fortunately, it passes quickly, and I pull myself together and head for breakfast.

I’m joined by Debris, poet and workshop facilitator for the Talking Doorsteps project, whom I’ve come to observe and shadow, Pip, film-maker and documentarian for the trip, and finally Debo, a representative from the British Council. We are joined by a couple of other guests who are staying here, Sam and Jacob, two American students who are about to undertake a period of study at the University of the West Indies. We dine on grapefruit washed down with hot chocolate sweetened with condensed milk. The hot chocolate is actually hand made by the siblings who run the establishment, who peel and refine the cocoa by hand. Needless to say, it’s amazing. I’m about to get up and leave the table when I’m informed that this is actually just the first course. Usually, I skip breakfast, so the idea of having a breakfast that consists of courses is completely alien to me. I eat it anyway, because it tastes amazing; yam porridge sweetened with jam and tortillas with a warm salsa, garnished with a peppercorn sauce that is quickly becoming an obsession.

After breakfast, Bianca, one of the owners takes us for a walk around the district. The sun beams down relentlessly, so I slather myself in sun cream and head out. As we head down the hill, the true glory of the stunning vista, previously obscured by the night, opens up. It’s paradise in every sense of the word; big rolling hills dense with thick, lush vegetation. Music is blasting out everywhere, from the houses, from the cars. As we cross a little stream to reach the lower part of the village, a group of revellers are unloading a huge sound-system from the back of car ready for an impromptu early morning rave.

Bianca explains that the people who live in them build all all of the houses -little one-story bungalows with big porches -. As we pass by, everyone greets us.

After stopping by one of Bianca’s cousins to say hello and eat fresh coconuts, we head back towards the cafe, stopping at the last remnants of the La Reconnaissance estate. Lopinot the village is named after Count Lopinot, a French general who originally settled in Haiti in order to become a sugar planter, a lucrative market. After the slave uprisings that began in 1791, Lopinot petitioned the British government for compensation and arrived in Trinidad in 1800, trekking through the mountains until he found this flat plateau, deciding it was ideal for planting and cultivating cocoa. For the slaves, it was a brutal existence. Pointing at a young tree, Bianca informs us that the cashew trees are where they would hang the slaves.

After our walk is over, Arianna, one of the participants of the workshop, picks us up. We have one free day to cram everything in.

“Where would you like to go?” she asks.

“The beach,” we reply in unison.

As we head down into Port of Spain, the daylight reveals just how precarious and scary the road that connects Lopinot to the Port of Spain is. And it quickly becomes apparent that Jean Claude is not unique in his approach to driving, but merely representative of the way that everyone in Trinidad drives – foot-down all the way.

Passing through the Port of Spain, I eagerly crane my neck to try and take everything in. The beauty of the climate and the scenery is often contrasted with glimpses of poverty and destitution. Just before you reach the main centre of Port of Spain, you pass a huge, stinking open landfill and a slum district before hitting the central district, with its large buildings, shops, cafes and bars. We arranged to meet some of the students at the National Academy of Performing Arts; a big sliver building that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Sydney Opera House. After meeting up, we headed to Maracas Bay, which necessitated another clench-inducing drive, this time up a hill, granting us an incredible view of the whole area. Once we’d reached the top, we then had to drive down again, eventually arriving at a beach, the likes of which I’d only ever seen in films before.

It was at this point that I had to make a frank admission to myself. I’d planned on playing it cool, taking it all in my stride, letting it all wash over me. I didn’t want to be the atypical slack-jawed ‘Brits on tour’ tourist. But I was kidding myself. Everything I see and experience blows me away, and I find that I’m running out of adjectives and superlatives. You all better get used to hearing me say, ‘amazing’ and ‘brilliant’ a lot.

The beach is nestled in a bay surrounded by big, rainforest covered hills. The surf crashed and roared, and I pushed my toes into the sand. A guy with a guitar approached our group.

“Can I play you all a song?” he asks, flashing us a big gap-toothed grin.

“Sure,” we say.

I smile as he takes the plastic spoon that he uses as a plectrum and begins to strum. I’m expecting to be regaled with some lilting Caribbean melody, or a Bob Marley tune or something, but then he opens his mouth and begins singing:

“Today is gonna be the day that I’m gonna throw it back to you,

By now you shoulda somehow worked out what yer gonna do,

I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do,

About yer noooooooow….”

 

TALKING DOORSTEPS – BLOG ENTRY #1

 

JOEHAKIMROAD

 

Photo by Graeme Oxby

Wrecking Ball Press have teamed up with The Roundhouse and the BBC in a global project that will see Hull performance poet Joe Hakim travel to Trinidad & Tobago. Talking Doorsteps is for spoken word artists aged 16-25yrs and offers an accessible and interactive physical and digital community to share and platform work centered on the theme of HOME. Starting from next week, Joe will be observing and participating in workshops with young Caribbean poets before returning home and working with young Hull poets, then bringing the two artistic communities together for a performance in September as part of the “Contains Strong Language” Poetry Festival, which will be programmed by the BBC and Wrecking Ball Press. Joe will be writing daily blog entries so we can follow his progress. Here’s the first: 

I didn’t sleep much the night before. For some reason, I kept replaying that scene from Airplane over and over in my head, that bit when an obviously distressed Ted Striker sits next to the little old lady on the plane, who turns and asks:

‘Nervous?”

‘Yes.”

“First time?”

“No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.”

Fortunately, my girlfriend, who has flown many times, took charge of the packing. It was a good job too, as I took it upon myself to have a couple of glasses of wine and start ringing round people to tell them things like: “If anything happens to me, I just want you to know that I’ve always been very fond of you.”

General Zod, my cat, usually wakes me up by planting himself on my chest and sticking his paw in my mouth, but on this particular morning he seemed to be a bit subdued, so I immediately took it as a bad omen, a sign that he was aware that something was about to happen, utilising that creepy extra-sensory pet sense that people often attribute to animals.

I like to think that I’m a rationalist, someone not swayed by vague non-existent spiritual forces, but like most people from Hull, I have a large superstitious streak that emerges during times of stress, and the fact that I was flying on Friday the 13th was all a bit much for me.

Eventually my girlfriend managed to tear me away from touching all the wooden surfaces in the house and shepherded me out the door and dropped me at the train station.

The extreme cold weather that the news had been warning us about for days was starting to hit, and as the train passed through Leeds the snow had started to fall, becoming a thick white blanket that covered the ground by the time I arrived at Manchester Airport.

My anxiety about flying for the first time was compounded by the fact that I was travelling alone, because I had no one to guide me through the whole thing. The first big test was passing through customs. As anyone who knows me reasonably well will attest, I have a very shady looking face, so it was almost inevitable that I was searched on my way through. After being manhandled by a bear-like bloke, I was let loose into the departure lounge. My original intention was to settle down to some work, but I was just too jittery, so I occupied myself by pacing up and down the lounge trundling my case behind me.

Eventually the big moment arrived, and I, along with my fellow passengers, was huddled into a big metal tube on the runway. Despite my nerves, I was chuffed to see that I had a window seat, so I sat down and prepared myself for the big moment, and it didn’t take long for my anxiety shift into pure exhilaration. For the first time, I was leaving the borders of my country.

Mercifully, the flight was smooth and uneventful, aside from a bit off turbulence that kicked in just as we were landing in Barbados, the place where I was due to catch my connecting flight. As I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, the warm air filling my lungs felt incredible. After a very brief stop it was time to board another plane for the next leg of the journey. I felt confident now, bordering on cocky, as I strolled out onto the runway. This new found swagger was short-lived however, because we got closer to the plane, I realised it was a small two-propeller craft. Once again I had been given a window seat, but I wasn’t as thrilled as I was last time, mainly due to the fact that the view from the window was that of the one of the engines. It was a bumpy, juddering flight, and my hands gripped the armrests every time we hit a pocket of turbulence. Not only that, the plane stopped off in Grenada, meaning I had to go through the whole take-off/landing again.

I was a bit burnt out by the time I landed in Trinidad, but buzzing. I met up with Debris and Pip at the airport, and after a gruelling trek through customs, I had finally arrived at my destination, Trinidad. Debo and Jean Claude, our man in Trinidad, picked us up at the airport.

It was dark out by this time, and our place was up in Lopinot, a village located a few miles outside of Port of Spain. This journey entailed driving up a long, thin, unlit winding road, bordered with thick bushes and trees, and the odd sheer drop. Jean Claude tackled the drive with much aplomb; foot down almost all the way, navigating the all the twists and turns with the speed and determination of a rally driver, even swerving to avoid the stray dogs did little to put him off. Indeed, he was so at ease that even managed to turn around and converse with us directly.

After being given a warm welcome by our host Hyacynth, we each retired to our rooms, knackered by our journeys. After taking off my shoes, I headed out onto my veranda to type this, the first of my blog entries.

Tired and sweaty, surrounded by the unfamiliar noise of thousands of exotic creatures, it suddenly dawned on me: I had made it, I was here, in Trinidad, and the real journey was just beginning.

FROM HULL TO TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

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Wrecking Ball Press have teamed up with The Roundhouse and the BBC in a global project that will see Hull performance poet Joe Hakim travel to Trinidad & Tobago. Talking Doorsteps is for spoken word artists aged 16-25yrs and offers an accessible and interactive physical and digital community to share and platform work centered on the theme of HOME. Starting from next week, Joe will be observing and participating in workshops with young Caribbean poets before returning home and working with young Hull poets, then bringing the two artistic communities together for a performance in September as part of the “Contains Strong Language” Poetry Festival, which will be programmed by the BBC and Wrecking Ball Press. Joe will be writing daily blog entries so we can follow his progress. Keep your eye on the Wrecking Ball Press website and the usual social media outlets.

We also have some very exciting books lined up for 2017. Adelle Stripe’s keenly anticipated novel about Andrea Dunbar “Black Teeth And A Brilliant Smile” will be launched at this year’s Bradford Literature Festival in the summer. We’re working on the cover right now and ARC’s will be available come the Spring.

Internationally acclaimed poet and Hull favourite Helen Mort will publish her debut short story collection “Exire” with us in 2017. Helen’s prose is every bit as wonderful as her poetry and we are very proud to get behind this landmark book.

Hull poet Mike Watts fourth collection will also be appearing in 2017. We’ve yet to decide on a title, but it’s Mike’s most mature and accomplished work yet. A brilliant addition to an accomplished canon.

And lastly, local magazine Tenfoot City ran an interview with our shy and retiring Chief Editor Shane Rhodes in their latest issue. Turn to page 36 here:

Sometimes I’m So Happy I’m Not Safe On The Streets – Poetry by Dean Wilson

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Dean Wilson suffers from Poetry Tourettes, a condition that affects one in every ten people in the city of Kingston-Upon-Hull.

Dean likes Patsy Cline, Timi Yuro, Suzi Quatro and Emmerdale Farm; he likes club singers who wear slacks, red faced bus drivers and middle-aged men with faded tattoos. 

Sometimes Dean gets fed up, and when this happens he likes to go to the seaside and look at the sun shining on the cliffs. He likes to roll up his trousers and paddle in the sea, go for a game of bingo and visit the grave of Anne Bronte. This cheers him up no end. 

Usually, though, Dean is a happy soul. 

And sometimes he’s so happy he’s not safe on the streets.

 

 

Sisters In Spitfires – A Free Poetry & Film Event

 

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Alison Hill & Ian Duhig.  

 Saturday 20 August , 7.30pm

Artlink Community Arts Centre Princes Avenue

Hull

HU5 3QP

TS Eliot Prize nominated poet Alison Hill will read from Sisters in Spitfires (Indigo Dreams, October 2015), her latest collection celebrating the women who flew with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War.

‘This collection is a real labour of love – a celebration of the unsung heroines of the civilian organisation the ATA … Alison Hill has been meticulous in her research and as a result the women come vividly to life, all of them larger than life characters.’ 

Pippa Little, The Lake

Alison will be joined by Ian Duhig. Ian has won the National Poetry Competition twice, and also the Forward Prize for Best Poem. His collection, The Lammas Hireling, was the Poetry Book Society’s Choice for Summer 2003, and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and Forward Prize for Best Collection.

We will screen Laura Mulvey’s 1980 film AMY! – an evocative and mesmerising film that enquires into what it means to be a heroine.

‘The film is not so much about Amy the woman as about the power of representations to fix the meaning of events. Amy becomes a legend that can be consumed and her action loses its subversive potential.’

Jane Clarke, Spare Rib.

The Feel-Good Hit Of The Summer!

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Here at Wrecking Ball Towers, we love a bit of existential angst just as much as the next lit fiend. Indeed, our shelves are crammed full of it – worry, doubt, paranoia, nausea, complaint are all present and correct. But even the most hardened modernist needs to throw the curtains back and allow a sunbeam of hope to come dancing into their lives. Allow us to introduce Alex Green and his wonderful debut novel, The Heart Goes Boom.

   The Heart Goes Boom is essentially a quest novel – the quest for true love. Yes, that old chestnut; but hold your horses, this is not just any old bog standard Mills and Boon Moon in June guff we’re talking about here. This is the kind of true love that hits you square in the chest and sends your very essence vibrating to the rhythm of the universe. The kind of true love that makes magic happen.

   It’s the kind of true love that makes your heart leap out of your chest and take flight into eternity.

   After his girlfriend pushes him through a fortune-teller’s window, fading TV star Kieran Falcon realizes his life needs to take a decisive turn. Aided by an assorted cast of eccentrics, mavericks and outright maniacs – including a wise man writer, a silver-eyed magician and The King Of Love Himself – Kieran sets off on an epic quest for true love and immortality.

   Alex Green’s writing is smart and snappy and full of joy. If you only take one book onto the beach to read this summer, make it this one. The Heart Goes Boom will make you laugh. It will also confirm your faith in the restorative power of love.

   There. That didn’t hurt, did it?

Bukowski, Work & Me …

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I’ve always been deeply unsettled by the idea of work. It seemed like a horrifying imposition to me, the notion of giving up your precious time on this bright and beautiful planet purely to make money for someone else; someone who would, more often than not, gladly work you to the edge of the grave and then skip merrily over your lifeless body in search of the next servile victim. This seemed like complete and utter madness to me. It railed against my most basic concept of human freedom.

   All through my childhood, the adult world of work loomed over me like the shadow of a malevolent stepfather. The message was etched clearly in the tired and grimy faces of the adults around me: work wore you out. It sucked the life marrow from you on a daily basis. Work wasn’t about doing the things you wanted to do. It was about doing tedious shit that someone else demanded.

   Then I left school and all my worst fears were confirmed. The offices and shops and factories were staffed by dull witted sadists who made you get out of bed when it was still dark and then barked orders they barely understood themselves for eight hours solid until it was time to go home.

   Like everyone else on the chain gang, I stepped into line, kept my mouth and mind shut and my sense of injustice quelled. This, it seemed, was how the world revolved. But I still couldn’t help thinking that the act of going to work was like queuing up for a daily punishment dished out by churlish medieval glove puppets. I acknowledge I’m not alone in this idea. Most people probably feel the same. But I couldn’t help thinking that there was an escape route somewhere. I would stagger home in the summertime, past packed pub beer gardens and wonder how the hell they managed to balance the time/money equation to their benefit.

   This attitude was probably forged by a recognition flash ignited from an early childhood book: Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. I stood directly behind Tom when his spirit crumbled at the yawning length of Aunt Polly’s fence. And I punched the air with glee when he managed to shackle his free spirited peers into slapping on the whitewash. Work is anything a body is obliged to do, he said. Dead right, Tom. Only problem was, unlike Tom, I couldn’t talk anyone else into doing my graft for me.

   Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were probably the first two books I read all the way through. They lit something up in me. I didn’t want to be part of straight and so-called respectable society, a set up that killed your time and crushed your spirit; I wanted to run away from the city and live the life of a carefree hobo. Which is all well and good if you live in the Deep South Of America at the turn of the century. You can pull catfish from the Mississippi and smoke a corncob pipe as your raft punts gently downstream. If you tried to live a similar dream in the North of England in the Eighties you were more likely to end up picking half-eaten kebabs out of waste paper bins.

I would scour Factotum when I got back exhausted from work, crashed out on the couch, afternoon TV on, volume down, the room heavy and blue with smoke. Its lines were so clean and simple and true. I rampaged through it, and then hoovered up every other bit of Bukoswki I could find.

   And then, when was in my late teens, I discovered Charles Bukowski. It came as something of a revelation to me, to find books like that: brutal and beautiful, simple and seemingly profound. Books about everything and nothing. Some bloke who was surplus to requirements who just stumbled around in a daze. There it was, the flashbulb in my head again, that light of recognition. I would examine Bukowski nightly. They became the most heavily thumbed books at my bedside.

   I’d first heard about Charles Bukowski via “Barfly”, the film with Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. I thought the central Chinaski character was hilarious; W.C Fields with a dirty mouth and an oddly saintly mind, a tramp with poise, a piss-stained angel with attitude.

   I went looking for his books and found “Factotum” first. I was living in a crumbling manor in a sketchy area and Factotum chimed true with me. It was another one of those rare and precious times when a book reads you. I would scour Factotum when I got back exhausted from work, crashed out on the couch, afternoon TV on, volume down, the room heavy and blue with smoke. Its lines were so clean and simple and true. I rampaged through it, and then hoovered up every other bit of Bukoswki I could find.

   At this point, I was working in the wholesale food industry, i.e., I used to ride shotgun on a wagon visiting local grocers and chip shops and supermarkets, stacking their back yards and cold stores with cut-price King Edwards. It was one of the best jobs I ever had, especially in the summertime. It was like riding around the lawless trading posts of the Old Wild West. I encountered psychopaths and sweethearts in equal measure; there were enough characters in the fruit shops and fish shops to fill ten novels twice over. My partner and I struck cutthroat deals and pulled off outrageous stunts. We traded in bulk carbohydrates and other essential goods, and dealt in cash only. It was like being a pirate on a sea of grimy traffic.

   I’ve had loads of different jobs and I’ve tried to make the best of all of them. Puppet seller seemed quite a promising career. My pal Sean had an Uncle who had a job lot of “Huggy Buggs”, a Sesame Street style character who clung around your neck with the aid of Velcro paws. One mohair-encased arm formed the neck of the puppet and the hand would mouth the words, a pair of rolling cartoon eyes perched on your knuckles. When you were laden down with half a dozen Huggy Buggs you were like the Pied Piper of Withernsea Market. I sold dozens of the little buggers. The only problem came when you were down to the last one. Then people just assumed you were a wandering eccentric.

   Bukowski’s book seemed to understand the obvious insanity of situations such as this; the way what’s left of your brain gets pulped into strawberry jam by the endless grinding dismay of it all. Your body drained by day and your mind sucked dry at night. I still don’t think anybody has captured the relentless pointless horror of work as perfectly as Bukowski did in Factotum – although Fred Voss came close with “Goodstone”. Books like this can make you feel less alone if you ever feel like the world of work has got you by the throat.

   Now I am lucky enough to make my money by writing, which has never felt like work to me. But even so, old habits still die-hard. That last sentence took me four hours to write, in-between wandering off to make cups of tea and stare blankly out of the window. Maybe I should have been a Lollipop Man. They don’t have to start work until they’re sixty-five.

   Now that’s what I call a proper job.

 

Russ Litten 

 

(This article first appeared on Sabotage Times)