Northamptonshire is known to be very much a music county, but it has been home to many a poetry event over the years, writes Tre Ventour.
From Rumour Quill’s ‘One Night Stanza’ to Soul Food Poetry’s Knock Knock; from Raising the Arwen to Run Your Tongue; from the Bardic Basement to the Bardic Picnic. Poetry is a niche art but there are events out there for those who are willing to look for it, no matter if you’re a performer or a spectator.
Here are a number of the artists from the county and the surrounding shires who performed at The Bardic Picnic 2018.
Kezzabelle Ambler is a performance poet and Kettering-based writer, heading up regular creative writing workshops called ‘Weaving Words’. Sometimes under the stage names of Mistress of Mischief & Wordsmith Wench, she performs up and down the country, as well at events closer to home like the Bardic Picnic, Woodfest and Northampton’s tri-monthly spoken word and music night ‘Knock Knock’ under the banner of Soul Food Poetry.
She is a thought-provoking open, passionate poet and person sharing life experiences, observations, love and adventures. She is a live wire full of energy and life, making poetry fun and inclusive for all in her vicinity. Her work is messages-riddled, but also fun with dulcet tones bringing smiles to all – via her performances, creative writing workshops and her numerous books.
Paul Moss writes and performs poetry under the name Mossman. Based in Milton Keynes, he began writing five years ago after a lifetime in IT. Passionate about literature and inspired by nature and art, he writes about the wider truths of the everyday, delving into social commentary, performing pieces in Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and beyond.
Tré is a Northampton-based writer, teaching poet, journalist and spoken word artist. Additionally, he is a third-year Creative Writing student at the University of Northampton and Soul Food Poetry Ambassador for Northampton.
Soul Food Poetry is a company that puts on monthly spoken word and music nights in England and The Netherlands, tying communities together through music and the spoken word.
He is a performer, promoter and orchestrator of poetry and like-events, nationally and internationally, off the back of Toronto Poetry Slam and Open-Mic Night. Furthermore, Tré is a teaching artist, having conducted workshops for students at both ends of the spectrum, from local schools to entry-level university undergraduates.
His work, more than anything else, is a map of coming-of-age and looking back on past histories, sometimes his own and sometimes the stories of this nation, tales of empire that Britain would rather forget – bits of bunting flapping in the breeze in the haze of nooses, slavery and immigration, five-minute odes to his family’s Caribbean heritage… roots, rocks and rebellion – clever elegies with colonial undertones that allowed Britain to grow rich on the backs of others.
He blends “proper poetry” with spoken word. He thinks to himself “What if Alfred Tennyson and Akala had a conversation”, all while focussing on his craft making sure each line leaves readers shocked, gasping, thinking and challenged.
Mental health, literature, identity politics, war and race are poeticised, in addition to nicer topics like kid lit, nature and family.
These poems can be two minutes or ten minutes but they dig into your flesh, build homes and families, making sure they you stay a while. He cuts at the arteries, he satirises, he informs. He discusses the millennial experience of coming-of-age in a society where children have to grow up faster than their forbears, thanks to social media and the internet.
He gives a voice to the unsung heroes of the Black British narrative (ask him about “A Black Briton”, “Grandma’s House”, “Where are you From?”). He is one of the rising voices of Northamptonshire, deconstructing myths and stereotypes, moving from colonialism to Windrush to mental health and family, always taking audiences on journeys – odes to (not only but including) historical figures, grandparents, kid lit, strong women, ancestors and the art of writing.
Regardless of the topics, he does his utmost to challenge audiences by making seemingly difficult subjects like colonialism universally accessible for people, opening dialogues through poetry and spoken word.
Poetry – treventour.com
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Eugene Smilesman AKA Mitchell Taylor is a Milton Keynes-based poet and singer-songwriter that likes to shout about things that bother him, sometimes with his guitar.
He writes about things that make him angry or upset but things that also make him feel powerless to influence – the political and social ills that dominate our world and the struggles that come with them. It’s mainly to give him a venting platform for our global crises rather than shouting incoherently at people in the street or at himself.
Sandra Riley is new to the performance poetry circuit, having only been performing since April 2018. This year’s Bardic Picnic was only her second public performance. She thought it was a friendly atmosphere which encouraged her all the more. She has been writing for many years but only been performing for the last eighteen months.
Dave Wilkins AKA The Five-Minute Poet
Dave Wilkins writes and performs under the stage name of ‘The Five-Minute Poet’. He’s been writing poetry since he was a teenager but was on hiatus from then until 2001 when a friend was impressed he could write a poem in five minutes or less.
He writes poems on obscure subjects, like sinks talking to a baths for example. Also, he writes poems inspired from pictures, also in five minutes or less (hence the name).
He sees things in pictures others don’t and he’s a joy to watch perform.
Jimtom James is an radio presenter (N Live), poet and singer-songwriter. Below is a short elegy that Jimtom wrote about himself:
Jimtom…a poet-bard by need…
to express!! From an early exposure to
different country-cultures, Jimtom
developed a love of language,
communication, as common strands
imagined weaving, throughout
continents and peoples, congruently
whispering with every plant and
animal, cogent and conscious, in the
breeze! Blagging stages with many, far and
wide, and provocant to the the
Northampton spoken vibe. Jimtom,
performance artist banding under
“Jimtom…Say!”, playwright, songs of
love and loss, always positive,
philosophic, sentinent, sincere…A
Shamanic breakthrough, not -down,
testing the waters of potential, in
earth-bound, yet astral life?
diolch ym vaur, thau hesu belenos, (Thank you very much)
Shaun started writing poetry after falling foul of depression and a number of mental health issues. He had never read poetry or had any interest in it until he started writing one day and noticed that his thoughts had been poeticised.
Until The Bardic Picnic on August 5, he had never read it aloud and decided to enter the Bard of Northampton competition at the last minute when co-organiser and poet-comedian Donna Bond asked if anyone else wanted to join.
He didn’t enter to win but gained a lot from the experience; he enjoyed listening to the many great poets who shared and supported each other, whilst enjoying other musicians as well.
But the experience and the day has motivated him all the more, to write and perhaps perform again sometime soon.
My feeling of belonging comes from those that are broken,
for 25 years I was normal then my troubles were woken.
See they understand, no cheap sympathy – a real sense of empathy,
they listen to your words even when their tank is empty.
No membership card needed; their arms open wide,
they will knock your door down even when you’re trying to hide.
They know when they need me I’ll return the favour
a mutual tolerance even through bad behaviour.
Not always around but you know they’re there,
no distress flare needed… a little sign given so they’re aware.
See it’s everywhere raising awareness of mental health,
more beneficial if we valued each other’s mental wealth.
That sense of belonging is to be shared with every one,
a world big and beautiful, no one should ever feel alone.
©Shaun Hall 2018
Although she has written some short poems over the last twenty years, Sami has only been writing poetry seriously for the last year.
With an aptitude for observational and narrative poetry as well as using dialogue, musicality and metre, she enjoys taking audiences on fun and educational journeys deconstructing stereotypes, applying a dash of seriousness with experience-led verse and witty reflections. By comparing personal feelings with judgemental third party perspectives, Sami offers an open and colourful insight into his life as a human being.
As a qualified electrician, wheelchair basketball coach and volunteer at Northampton-based recording studio ‘Performing Room’, Sami is always busy. Moreover, she’s a vocal ambassador for respecting humanity and the planet. Being a self-aware extrovert, she is intrigued by the minds of the many and the beauty of diversity and culture.
With her poetry, she strives to capture the moments that illustrate her life’s lessons in hope of empowering audiences so they may grow their self-esteem and confidence, how her poetry and spoken word has done for her.
This is a journey in which she dissects labels through talking about masculinity and gender fluidity via poetry, very much reflective in the stage name, the palindrome Sami Imas (Sami I’m as). This is a reflection that rightly earned her the title of 11th The Bard of Northampton, in August 2018.
I first met Sami at Soul Food Poetry Bedford in January 2018 and she has since performed in two Soul Food Poetry gigs, Northampton in June (at my personal invitation) and Bedford in July. She goes from strength to strength and I can’t wait to see what she does next!
Cambridgeshire-based poet Lauren D’Alessandro-Heath wrote her first poem at the age of nine. She recalls it being about a butterfly, because within it the poem its painted wings made roots. She didn’t she have to write a poem. She was just painting and what fitted inside those wings was what she wrote.
At fifteen, Lauren’s poetry was acquainted with semi-lightness, much akin to a person looking into a light that isn’t shining on you. Additionally, in her mid-teens insecurity was her friend. Later, at twenty-two she reused these ideas and completed poems she had written years earlier.
Her style of poetry cannot be analogised to any poet I know about today. Her work is utterly unique and free from those “it’s this meets that” labels. She believes it has darkened at times, become lucid in what her sister describes as “descriptivy.
Her most “descriptivy” poems have no storyline or narrative, they just be. However, I have found when reading her work that it reveals that each one of us has a little “descriptiveyness” to be unleashed onto the page. Who needs labels to act as a vessel into our daily routines of consumerism in our insatiable desire for stuff? This “label-fluidness” is evident in her work.
Often, Lauren’s poems are completely unedited and I believe that’s what makes them genuine. All she has done is unwrap them by writing them down. Other than that, they are unchanged. She doesn’t write for the world’s gaze, she writes for herself. Yet, she regrets that some things can get lost in translation.
Nonetheless, isn’t poetry and creative writing in general, up for interpretation? All art is subjective. Sometimes she struggles to see where prose ends and poetry begins and vice versa – it’s the words and ideas breaching her thoughts, her thoughts breaching the pen, and the pen breaching her hand. The rest is history. Then she has a chain from thoughts to hand to pen and she writes until she is satisfied.
Everybody has a truth and poetry is one of many a paths to it. You must treat your truth(s) with respect because each person’s truth and journey is different, even if the destinations are identical.
Along with poets like new 11th Bard of Northampton Sami Imas and SFP Tre Ventour (me), Lauren has performed at Soul Food Poetry’s ‘Knock Knock’ events in Bedford and Northampton. She does her utmost to not miss a show regardless of their location.
She lives for poetry, truths and journeys, no matter what form may they take.
There are many roads to the same castle and we must each treat our roads with dignity. Dignity and honesty will lend you strength that will stand the test of time.
Donna Scott is a stand-up comedian and poet who sometimes gets those things muddled up. As first ever official Bard of Northampton, and founder and original MC of Northampton’s premier new acts / new material comedy night, ‘We are Most Amused’ at The Victoria Inn, she has performed stand-up and poetry all over the UK, playing to crowds big and small.
Donna reached the semi-finals of Jongleurs Comedy Callback in 2009. She took a break from comedy for a few years, but on returning reached the semi-finals of Old Comedian of the Year in 2016, and reached the finals in 2017.
Donna got involved with organising this year’s Bardic Picnic back in May and had to hit the ground running. That’s not so easy when recovering from a broken ankle. When you are just a visitor, or even a performer, it can be difficult to envisage the work that goes into making an event like this happen.
All she ever had to worry about before was what to put in her picnic, and would she need an umbrella? Ironically, these were the two things she didn’t have to think about at all this year, as we had amazing vegetarian food on site and heatwave. Gorgeous sunshine blessed the day and Beckett’s Park was full of happy people enjoying the blissful atmosphere and poetry vibes.
She thought the Bardic Picnic offered a great introduction to the pleasures of poetry performance. There was poetry that tackled a broad range of issues: serious poems on diversity and equality; humorous poems about Northamptonian peculiarities; so many topics!
There were also songs, rants, raps, stories and comedy. It was fantastic to see the work carried out to encourage those who had never performed before find their voice, and to inspire the next generation of artists.
Of course, being part of the committee she was one of brains having to think about arranging performers, general fretting, finding people who could do the things she couldn’t, and in some cases, actually learning the required skills and cracking on – including making her own amazing chalkboards too.
She was very grateful to the very small band of merry men and women who helped me. Despite running around all day, Donna clocked in nine hours of hosting in the spoken word tent and finished the show with a comedy set, for which she had a an appreciative audience.
All in all, Donna thought it was a fantastic, fun-filled tiring day, and an absolute privilege to discover so many awesome new poets, including current Bard, Sami Imas who is doing a great job representing the spoken word scene of Northampton, both in and beyond its borders.