Seven Stories & the Late Shows!

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Finally found a good time to write about what could be the most exciting opportunity Creative Arts Practice has thrown my way – getting commissioned by Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books! The whole cohort was invited to send proposals for Seven Stories’ night at the Late Shows, and mine was one of the ones that got accepted!

I’m putting together a programme of pop-up performances throughout the evening, which will be Friday the 19th of May. They’ll be many talented poets and musicians spread throughout the building, spinning stories in one form or another. I might even get to do a set myself, if I’m not run off my feet. If you’re in Newcastle or that neck of the woods, come down the Ouseburn Valley and check it out! The whole city will be full of cultural events and people wandering around with beer and/or glowsticks.

Late-Shows-2016

No doubt I’ll be plugging this more actively at the week progresses. Keep an eye out for updates on specific performers as well – I’m really exciting about some of the people I’ve managed to get on-board.

For those interested in finding out how this came about, along with other Creative Arts Practice things I’ve been up to this year, check out my course blog (it’ll be up there once various technical difficulties are resolved).

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Uprooted

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I uprooted a shrub at my grandmother’s today
and it really didn’t want to go.

It had the resilience of wood, yes
and the tenacity of a planted heart
(fibrous veins pump more slowly)
but it was also more resourceful
fighting back more coarse and forceful
than I ever expected from a vegetable.

It rallied every trick of nature.
Fought against me root and claw
old branch, new shoot, prickle-leaf and more.
Attacked me with its nettle neighbours,
trip-slip-stung me to the floor
aching
and knowing absolutely what the mud must think of me.

Its defences ran deep, see
but I was determined too.
Siege-ready they were, my forces
well-trained in the art of undermining.

I planted foot on trunk and pushed it
I planted foot on spade and shunted
down
I planted foot on spade and hand on trunk
and pushed and heaved and grunting, sunk
until I rip-tore it with a cracking;
pebbles, worms from the soil a-bleeding
crumbling
a knotted trophy in my workshop glove.

A prize
ripe for re-planting.

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My Nan’s Book Group Could Beat Up Your Nan’s Book Group

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Something’s up in Little Dudley
where the local book group meets
there’s a tension at the bowling green
there are whispers in the streets.

See, this has always been the Woolf Pack’s town
since a time before my birth
when my Nan and Mrs Dalloway
drove the Grandmothers Grimm off their turf.

But there’s a new threat on the scene these days
at the lakehouse in the park
where, with graffiti cans in wrinkled hands,
the Milton’s Angels left their mark.

So Nan’s going round to Josephine’s
and calling up Brigid as well
so they can gather up the posse
and send those basic biddies back to hell.

“Bring To the Lighthouse and Orlando
and A Room of One’s Own will be critical,”
she says to make sure that those crotchety crones
are gonna choke on their Werther’s Originals.

So its handbags at dawn
for a literary war
they’ve got their hatpins
got their letter-openers drawn
spitting vitriol
and witty quotations
spun cleverly into threatening prognostications
not lost on their brimstony foes
(they’re pulling hair, they’re stomping toes)
a hellish host of demon dames
with a hundred late fees to their nefarious names.

But at last the Woolf Pack wins the day
and may all OAP book groups know
that my Nan is better than your Nan
and your Nan can come have a go.

hells-grannies
Photo credit: Monty Python

 

Celebrant

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When the whale
– it was a flying fish in life –
dies, crabs and gulls will flock to it
hollowing out a temple on the beach
for you to live in for a while.

There will be a salt-gash.
It will tear
from your stinging eyes
to your churning guts
to the pit of your stomach
where the harpoon is still
firmly
lodged.

You will be visited by a wise woman
to discuss the gash and the service,
tailor your drowning to the one who threw you ice-cold into it.

She will invite you to dig deep
to find the ambergris
used in the balm of another person’s sleeping
wearing concrete slippers.
She knows how to make useful things
from the corsetbone and baleen
and blubbering.
Call it ballast
to keep you stable through the ceremony
call it a life raft
to keep you afloat in the turbulent wake of

passing.

 

 

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Art by Elena Purlyte.

Middle Spirits

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Exciting news – I made a thing! A physical thing that exists, in collaboration with the excellent Elena Purlyte. Its a collection of illustrated poems – my poems, her art – that has been in the works for a good long while now. Check out some preview images below!

The title is in reference to the way people used to understand fairies and household spirits and pagan gods before they got bundled in with everything else that was either satanic or imaginary. I could go on about this idea at length (and maybe I will, in another post), but the gist is that they’re something ‘between’ heaven and hell. Supernatural, but still earthly. The pamphlet is essentially a collection of flights of fancy, some lighthearted, some darker, so the title Middle Spirits seemed like a good fit!

(I realise all this sound a bit pretentious and high flown, but that was pretty much the opposite of the point – I wanted to use poetry to express imagination in a way that *doesn’t* require you to understand metre or have read Wordsworth)

We’re most at the end of what was essentially a ‘trial run’ of printing and selling them, largely on a personal basis, which we did to get an idea of what they would look like and how much it would cost to get them made in that particular way (we used a website called Inky Little Fingers, if you’re interested). There are a few copies left from the first run, but essentially we’d like to figure out more properly how we’re going to sell and promote them before we print any more. If you’d be interested copy, drop me an email at allstar.lewis@gmail.com and I’ll see what I can do – if nothing else it will give me an idea of how much interest there is.

The two of us have a few different ideas for what might come next, potentially accompanying the first ‘proper’ print run. Prints, perhaps. Buttons, maybe. Tote bags, potentially (if only because me and Elena really want our own ones). And maybe even a second, shorter collection with a tighter focus. But in the meantime, it just feels so good to have something I can hold in my hands. Hype!pamphlet-selfie-cropped

 

Curiouser and Curiouser

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I didn’t know what to expect when Miko Berry asked me to do a ‘scary story or two’ at a ‘secret gig’ a few days ago. Curious, nervous and excited, I trekked all the way down to the bottom of Leith Walk, where a trail of glitter lead me to a flight of stairs… and at the top I found myself in one of the fanciest and most strangely-decorated studio flats I’ve ever seen. Top hats hung from the ceiling. A statue lurked in a purple-lit corner. Fancy cocktail menus and sushi were arranged on tables. I had no idea what was about to happen.

curiouser flat

The venue was almost empty at first, but I recognised familiar face – painter and fellow poet Suky Goodfellow, who told me she had been booked to do ‘live painting’ for the event. We hid together in the corner for a bit, her setting up her paints and me frantically practicing a poem, and people slowly began to arrive. Some of them were wearing masks, two of them were wearing crowns, and one person even had what looked like a ringmaster’s coat. At this point, my thoughts were something along the lines of ‘shit, this party is too cool for me’ and ‘what have I gotten myself into?’

But I needn’t have worried.

As it turned out, the evening was to be the experimental premier of a new artistic showcase night called Curiouser and Curiouser, hosted by Jody Bowen and curated by Miko. As the guests arrived – and it really did feel that we were less like audience members and more like guests at a live art exhibition/swanky party – funky live music began to fill the room, followed by some exquisite singing backed by the same band. After that it was my turn – I stood up and performed the Tall Man’s Coat and after that something new, with more music and Miko belting out some of his killer performance pieces in-between, backed by the band. After that I could finally relax because my part was over, and the music struck up again as the night began to draw to a close.

Curiouser band

It certainly felt like no other gig I had performed at or attended – partly because of the unique venue, partly because of the atmosphere, but especially because of the unique mix of artists. Curiouser and Curiouser wasn’t the first night I’ve been to that combined live music and spoken word in interesting ways, but it certainly did it very well. The thing that impressed and interested me the most, though, was the inclusion of live artists. Not only was there face-painting, but Suky and sketch-artist Ekaterina Sedykh (Kat) were sat throughout the night, painting and drawing the faces and groups of people around them. It was intriguing to watch them, and they put their work on sale at the end of the night – I even picked up this awesome portrait of me, courtesy of Suky!

All in all, it was a great first night! I wholeheartedly hope that Curiouser and Curiouser takes off and gets the attention it deserves. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it, and any other similar events that come my way. Over and out (-:
-Lewis

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Photo credit to Yelp Edinburgh, painting by Suky Goodfellow.

Worse things happen at sea

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One evening in an old port town, a fisherman sat drinking in the shadows beneath the dock, warmed by the fire of a piece of burning driftwood. He bore no chains, but his shoulders were heavy, weighed down by an empty wallet and a broken heart. He was alone, until, as he took another swig from his bottle, he caught sight of a tall figure approaching out of the darkness.
“Who goes there?” Asked the fisherman.
“A sailor,” replied the shadow, and as he said it a cold gust of salty air disturbed the fire, as if to back up his point, “a sailor with a story to tell. I’d wager your fortunes have not yet sunk so low as me, and I’d like to tell you what befell me upon the sea.”
Although fisherman found that hard to believe, he reasoned that if it was true, it might make him feel a little better about his own lot, so he motioned to an empty crate on the other side of the fire. The sailor sat down in the shadow of one of the great wooden struts, and began to tell his story.

Once, there was a boy named John. He had grown up on the streets of a port town, but was adopted at a young age by an old fisherman who taught the boy his craft. The boy grew into a young man, and the young man worked hard, so hard that when the fisherman passed away he left the John everything he had. It wasn’t much, but it was enough that he was able to make his own way in the world, although eventually he tired of catching fish and became a sailor because he wanted to see the world.

For a time, all was well. John was happy, and soon he fell in love with a young woman. She had blonde hair, which fell in beautiful tresses like the manes of the white horses that ride the crests of the waves, and he charmed her with his tales of the sea.

His income was enough to support the two of them, but only just. They were forced to sell the old fisherman’s home and move into a tiny house in the bad part of town, where the buildings were crumbling and the cobblestones were overgrown with weeds. This made John miserable, because he wanted so much for his beloved. He wanted to buy her a fine, two-storied house, and to shower her in silk and pearls. He began to take even longer and riskier voyages in the hope of saving up enough money, and when he learned that his beloved was with child, he foolishly signed onto a particularly risky voyage.

At first, all was plain sailing. The ship made port in a distant land, collecting a rare and valuable cargo. But on the return journey the crew were attacked by pirates, and while they were able to fend them off, the ship’s mast was damaged beyond repair and many supplies were lost. They drifted, drifted for days and days, seeing nothing but open sky and endless sea. Eventually, half-mad and driven by a desperate hunger, the crew agreed that since they could not all live to see the ship make port, some would have to give their lives so that the others could live on.

Lots were drawn, and one by one the crew went into the pot, and the others ate well, sustained by their comrades’ sacrifice. But still they drifted on with no land in sight – nothing but the endless, unforgiving sea. John was disgusted by his comrades’ barbarity, and withheld or as long as possible, surviving for a while on the scavenged corpses of rats and seagulls, but in the end even he succumbed to in the end, even as he was overcome with guilt and shame.

Soon the crew’s numbers had dwindled down to less than half a dozen, and the name James Crawley – the ship’s first mate – came out of the hat. James Crawley was arrogant, and a coward, and refused to give himself up as his comrades had done, even though he had eaten of their flesh, and zealously too, taking more than his fair share. There was a struggle, and the first mate tied himself to the ship’s anchor and flung it overboard to escape his fate, knocking the young man into the sea as he did so.

The water was cold and the waves were harsh, and James Crawley sank down and down, but for John this disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise – he was saved by a mermaid, who took pity on him and returned him to the shore. The young man made his way back to the town where his beloved waited for him, but as he entered the town he realised that he could not face her with the guilt of what he had done still unabsolved. So he found a secluded cove and sat by the water’s edge for many days, praying and fasting and communing with the gods of the sea until they saw fit to grant him absolution.

Only then did he return to the town, and there he found his lover waiting for him, and with her his newborn son.
The young couple were married, and soon after they moved away from the port town, the young man having given up the life of a sailor to become a fisherman again. He had learned the lessons of pride and avarice, and was content to live a humble life in a small cottage on the banks of a river. In time, John became an old man, by which time he and his wife were blessed with two more children. One day, the old man grew ill, and knew he was soon to die. In his final hours, with his wife and children gathered round his bed, he put a wrinkled hand on the shoulder of his weeping eldest son, and told him: ‘Hush, child. Worse things happen at sea.’”
And with that the sailor ended his tale.

“I don’t believe it,” said the fisherman, “It’s too perfect. And besides, you’re still here. That last part can’t have happened to you at all.”
“You’re right,” said the sailor, “but every word of my story was true.” The fisherman pondered on the impossibility of this claim and was about to protest when his companion interrupted him with a question.
“Would you say John was a good man, in the end?”
“Well, yes, providing he really did redeem himself like you say.” The sailor nodded from his sitting position.
“And what about Crawley?”
“What, the ship’s mate? No! He was the worst of the lot.” There was a lengthy silence, broken only by the sound of the waves against the rocks.
“That’s a shame,” the sailor replied, getting slowly to his feet. As he did the fisherman heard the soft clinking of metal on metal, and the sound of something rusty grating on the stone beneath their feet, “But you’re right, of course.”
“Now then, John-” said the fisherman, warily, getting to his feet and holding out his hands. The smell of salt was strong in his nostrils as the other man stepped into the light of the fire.
“I never told you my name,” the sailor said. The last thing the fisherman saw before a great and terrible weight struck him across the head was the other man’s full height, clammy pale skin, and the red dripping from his chin.

sailor picture

Art by Elena Purlyte