Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Two heads are better than one

Sally Bavage writes on ‘Surviving’ at Brudenell Primary

As James Nash, local poet/writer working for the first time for LitFest with Brudenell Primary School, said of his storytelling sessions here: “I told Year 6 stories; their stories were better than mine!”  Monday 9th December and yet another marvellous afternoon where young people shared their ideas with fellow pupils, parents, teachers and visitors, using a microphone and standing centre-stage to read out to an audience of 100 tantalising excerpts from their vivid tales woven around a clay head. 

Adventures, accidents, tragedy, terror, jollity, journeys – all here.  The clay model carries scars; speculation ranged from crashes to war, from falls to wounding, from kidnapping to family rescue from a cooking pot!  Dreams and nightmares.  Beautiful descriptions of candyfloss clouds, sun-drenched beaches, menacing streets.  From Scarborough to New York to Transylvania – we were taken along a global journey ourselves.  We look forward to seeing the whole stories on display later this year.

Headteacher Jill Harland commented afterwards: “Having an inspirational author work with our pupils has raised their ambition and love of literacy.  Some have been speaking English for less than two years – and now see where this work has taken their language development.”  Teacher Rachael Mann told us that “The event really inspired the Year Sixes to write more, and present their work confidently in front of an audience.  The language used in the stories was excellent and I think events like these really encourage children to have an interest in writing.”

We can leave the final words to some of Year Six themselves: 
“Working with James improved my writing as before he came I didn’t know how to start a story.” Asiman
“He inspired me to write more stories.” Maham
And, simply, “It was fun!!” Aryaan.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Draft Calendar for 2014

The calendar for the programme of the 2014 LitFest is almost in place, with only a few gaps for extra events to squeeze into - final version in a week or two - so far we've got (in the order of the calendar, and without some of the final titles), Climate Change (with Café Scientifique), Film at Heart (Caesar Must Die), Alison Taft's new novel, Irish Arts, Words on Tap Special (with Matthew Hedley Stoppard), Trio Literati, Malcolm Lowery poetry, Italian Classic readings (Dante and Bocaccio) at the Salumeria, Let Me Speak (creative writing group at Heart, with friends from Osmondthorpe if possible), The Return of the Soldier (Rebecca West, lecture by Dr Richard Brown), Leeds Combined Arts event, Jo Shapcott, Grand Launch of the book of stories from the wartime hospital at Beckett Park (together with a performance based on some of them from the Vedettes - Leeds Met students), Ridiculous Witches with Sarah Shafi, Surviving the Publishing Industry (workshop with Alison Taft), house events including one on little-known war poets, Theatre of the Dales, café events at Mint and Lento on North Lane, Scriptophilia with Peter Spafford and Richard Ormrod, a literary walk around Headingley and West Park, poetry slams at City of Leeds and Lawnswood Schools and Aritha van Herk at Heart.

Friday, 22 November 2013

'Surviving' at Spring Bank

Sally Bavage writes:
Macabre? Not a bit of it
Class teacher Jo Ward and her eager class of Year 5 filed in to a 200-strong packed assembly hall at Spring Bank primary school on Thursday 21st November to read out the poetry they had carefully crafted in workshops led by James Nash, a well-known local writer and poet.  This was LitFest’s second collaboration with the school; year 6 “have not stopped talking about it since last year” and Jo herself “jumped at the chance” to work with James.  “He gets so much out of them, all of them; I don’t know how he does it but he generates huge leaps in confidence and performance.”

Working with a professional poet, supported by mentors Alice and Giulia from the local Older Wiser Local Seniors (OWLS) – who also read out their own poems – the children created some imaginative and powerful writing that quite took your breath away at times.  A clay head of a child, with some scratches on the cheeks and a crack across the skull, formed the stimulus material.  Macabre?  Not a bit of it: the youngsters saw through the cast eyes of the child and explored what that child might see.  From shaking sheets of paper held in nervous hands, they used the microphone with quavering voices.  But not for long!  The shyness vanished very quickly and the poetry they had created soon flowed out in front of teachers, friends, family and visitors.

The LitFest theme for this coming year is ‘Surviving’ and will include, next March, our researches supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund on the Wartime Hospital at Beckett's Park in WW1.  But for today, our young writers were taking a wider look at what surviving could mean.  In worlds where families are fractured, fight, leave, lose lives or hope. But our clay child observed it all and lived on, dreaming of a better future.  Confidence in writing and in creating the voice of an observer outside the self were strongly developed under James’ gentle support.  Only one young man was too shy to read his poetry; his friend volunteered to read it for him.  So we can add teamwork as well. 

“Again, well done to all the children!  They all sounded clear and confident.  I’m XXXX’s father and all I can do is thank you all for helping her improve on her reading and writing, also confidence.”  Parent

“Wonderful poetry by the children.  Really well written and performed.  Lovely and different for them to work on!”  Parent

“I’ve just come to listen to the poems that the children have created and am so impressed by the depth of emotion and expression that James has inspired from the children.”  Teacher

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Silent Night in Headingley...

Photo by Sally Bavage
... which, for the denizens of Headingley, a quiet Friday night would be rare.  However, this was a Silent Night of an altogether different category.  A combination of original music and lyrics, with a script The Narrator performed whilst familiar images of World War 1 played across the screen and in our mind’s eyes too.  The stark images, however, segued into the portrait pictures of the many writers of letters used to create the script and the lyrics.

“I wake from a dream into a dream
Half in heaven, Half in hell.”
Thus the wonderful voice of Julie Lloyd begins to tell us the stories of life away from Blighty from the perspectives of the lonely soldier and lonely partner at home.  With the rest of the group iFive – Charlie Burman, Dave Bowie, Steve Jones and Tony Hall, who created this splendid performance as well as partnering Julie in the songs – The Narrator Les Staves, drafted in for the occasion, unfolded the story bit by bit.

The night before Christmas 1914 had no shelling, no noise; it was indeed silent. Men slept despite the biting cold and the clogging mud.  Then the refrains of ‘Stille Nacht or ‘Silent Night’ came to them from the German trenches and … well, we know about the football game with a tin of bully beef in No Man’s Land, the exchange of small tokens (buttons, cigarettes), the proud display of family photographs, the handshakes, the sharing of drink, the camaraderie of those who had volunteered to fight an enemy and found themselves looking at mirror images.  They even buried their dead together.

The Narrator told us poignantly of letters between lovers, amazement at the turn of events; complemented by a range of songs that echoed the loneliness, longing and loss of the men whose Christmas dinner treat was bacon dip.  It couldn’t last, of course.  Friendship was again transformed by word of command into hate.  But the performance was done with a light touch and never became maudlin or miserable, much more a testament to the humanity of man.

The packed audience at the New Headingley Club sat in their own silence, rapt in a familiar  story written by real people, real words, real emotion.  “A really moving event”, “so very professional” and “thank you so much for this opportunity” were just some of the many words of praise for this premiere performance for LitFest.  It will be performed again; catch it if you can.

Sally Bavage

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Beckett's Park Hospital - the performance

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Five students from the Performing Arts course at Leeds Metropolitan University have now stepped forward to participate in the 'Wartime Hospital' performance, which will take place in March next year. It will be based on the research which has been done into the Beckett's Park Hospital in the First World War, the buildings for which were finished in 1913, just before it was taken over by the army medical services the following year. It is wonderful that Leeds Met students are taking part so enthusiastically in this project, for the simple reason that LMU uses the same site. 

Some of the true stories that have been collected from descendants of patients, nurses and members of the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) are extraordinary. They are not all about victims of poison gas, amputations and shell shock, though there's plenty of that of course. This drawing was done by a patient for the VAD nurse in charge of his ward in 1917. It comes from her autograph book.

See www.headingleyhospital.org

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Our next Between the Lines event

Young Local Poets. Very Young Local Poets

Working with three local primary schools to encourage ten year-olds to appreciate and write their own poetry has been something that Headingley LitFest has been working on since our main programme in March 2013.  Using the skills of acclaimed local writer James Nash, and working with some friends from Older Wiser Local Seniors (OWLS), James has worked in Weetwood, Shire Oak and Spring Bank schools over the past few months. 

Using a range of stimulus material, he has managed to get around 100 local youngsters to find their inner poet.  As one young girl from Weetwood said, “They were fabulous sessions, and I enjoyed every second!  And a young lad also commented, “I particularly liked the way we got inspiration from the book and the two pictures.  I think that the event would be better if it was longer but the rest was brilliant!

James himself comments, “Working at Shire Oak school, and writing poetry based on sporting and physical activity, showed me that with the great support  of staff and OWLS, and fitting into current curriculum projects of a school, we can enhance the writing abilities of all pupils and make writing relevant and fun for everybody.”

After funding from the Arts Council enabled us to develop our poetry work with local primary schools, it is now thanks to support from local councillors through the Area Management committee, Leeds City Council community funding and Wade’s charity, we have funding to be able to continue this work over the coming months and beyond our 2014 LitFest, themed ‘Surviving’.  Watch this space.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Robert Barnard 1936 - 2013

Winner of the Crime Writers' Association 2003 Cartier Diamond Dagger Award
A staunch friend of the LitFest, Robert Barnard, died last week in the Grove Court Nursing Home on Cardigan Road. He spoke on the Brontës and on crime fiction for us, very entertainingly and without using notes, and apologised for not being able to make it to any of the events during the last two or three years because of his rapidly deteriorating health. He was a professor, a scholar, a great opera lover and an award-winning author as well as a personal friend, who will be greatly missed. (Richard Wilcocks)

Guardian Obituary

Yorkshire Post Obituary

Telegraph Obituary

New York Times Obituary

Independent Obituary

Black Mask Obituary

Crime writer Martin Edwards remembers

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Wounded by Emily Mayhew

Richard Wilcocks writes

Wounded is a homage to the heroic men and women who cared for the wounded in the Great War, described by her as “an undiscovered, somehow silenced group”. Using a remarkable collection of letters and diaries, and rooted in wide reading and original research, Emily Mayhew has produced a startlingly vivid and engaging account of the way the wounded (almost every other British soldier could expect to become a casualty) were rescued, treated and cared for by bearers, Regimental Medical Officers, surgeons, nurses, VADs, orderlies, chaplains, ambulance drivers and others during a conflagration which was sparked by a symbolic act of terrorism in Sarajevo, rolled on like a mad machine for four years, and which led to the crumbling away of empires and the destruction of countless lives. A modern conflict.

The military medical services hardly knew what had hit them at first, just like the British Expeditionary Force itself, which was nearly wiped out at Mons and the Marne in 1914. Veteran nurses and doctors were at the front at that time, possibly with Boer War experience, but dealing with ghastly shrapnel wounds on a large scale was very different to dealing with relatively straightforward bullet holes on the warm, dry South African veldt. In Flanders, the fields tended to be wet and heavily manured, and most of the tetanus and gas gangrene cases which resulted from just slight scratches as well as mangled limbs were destined to die horribly.  The up-to-date cylindro-conical bullets were fast, hit hard and took tiny fragments of dirty uniform and other contaminants deep into bodies. The medics learned as fast as they could, and coped with almost impossible situations over and over again, a fact made clear through a collection of true stories about the ones who were there.

Take the story of Regimental Medical Officer William Kelsey Fry of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who, after heavy losses taking a small town from the Germans, went out onto the battlefield himself to retrieve casualties.  “Time after time he cleaned the mud off his glasses, braced himself and joined the fighting soldiers, oblivious to all but the cries of the man he was trying to find in the middle of the chaos. When he found him, Kelsey Fry hoisted him up onto his back and ran as fast as he could. During one of these trips, he was shot in both legs. The wounds weren’t serious, but he was lucky to make it back to the medical post with his patient.” It was his duty to look after the water supply as well, making sure it was fresh, and supervised the digging of latrines. His reputation for unflappability and efficiency caused the upper ranks of the Royal Army Medical Corps to offer him a promotion away from the dirt and gunfire of the front line, but he preferred to stay. During a battle in 1916 he had so little time that a proper medical post could not be set up, so with his bearers he dug a hole as deep as time and the enemy would allow and put a tarpaulin over it, “It filled with casualties almost immediately, like rain collecting in a puddle. As in every aid post on the line, they worked so hard that they stopped hearing the shellfire and didn’t notice as it crept closer and closer…” Siegfried Sassoon, who knew him well, was one of many who was shocked when he heard of his death.

Or the story of surgeon Norman Pritchard, who found himself responsible for  a ward of recently captured German prisoners. “When Pritchard first set eyes on them, in their special ward, he almost turned round and walked out again. The POWs were in a dreadful state. Most had been hiding for days, lying in abandoned trenches and shell holes, hoping that their side would retake the ground. They were fetid with infections and starved, many of them on the brink of death. It was difficult to know where to start. Pritchard had no German, and so a kind, firm tone would have to do…”

Or the story of Nurse Winifred Kenyon, who “never considered going anywhere else but a casualty clearing station. She wanted to be as close to the war as possible, to share in the adventure and excitement and to make her contribution”… “Perhaps the most unexpected thing Kenyon learned inside the ward tents was how much was left up to the nurses themselves. There were several wards that they ran without doctors, and they taught their new skills to the new arrivals like Kenyon. ‘Resus’ was one of them. The men were too weak to raise their heads, let alone be operated on, and it was the nurses who brought them back from the brink. Kenyon learned to administer the magic mixtures of hot saline, brandy and coffee, and that you could never have too many hot water bottles. Sometimes you put ten or twelve around a man close to death from hypothermia and gradually watched him come back to life. Men came in grey and went back pink.”

Or the story of Nurse Morgan, whose home was the No 3 Ambulance Train, 300 yards long, with a supposed maximum capacity of 440 and equipped with iron stands and straps where cots or stretchers were hung. “During the Somme offensive the pushload of 440 or more became the norm, as No 3 struggled to keep up. Carefully planned entraining and detraining routines simply went to pieces in the face of the sheer numbers of casualties at the railheads, and within a week of the Somme the whole system of transit simply broke down”… “Morgan tried to calm her patients, while all around them they could hear the moaning of men in agony, the train an island in a sea of human desolation.”

Most of the material in Wounded is new, from previously unused archival sources, and it is presented not in a cold, detached way, but with genuine warmth and engagement, because Mayhew has the skills of a novelist, the ability to empathise, to stand in the shoes of those who were so committed to saving lives a century ago. The reader is invited to engage with the senses, to smell the gas still clinging to the uniforms of those arriving at London’s Victoria Station on ambulance trains, to recoil from appalling injuries, to gasp at the madness of it all.

Published by Bodley Head     ISBN 9781847922618

UPDATE - website for published book Stories from the War Hospital is at www.firstworldwarhospital.co.uk

* Emily Mayhew will be a guest of Headingley LitFest on Tuesday 18 March 2014

Friday, 5 July 2013

First Youth Fringe day on Saturday 29 June

Thanks to the generous support from the Arts Council and the Co-operative Community Fund, Headingley LitFest was able to host its first major event specifically targeting young people in our community with a wide-ranging programme of events.

We started with a well-attended especially commissioned performance of ‘The Woodhouse New Woman’ by Theatre of the Dales, first performed at the main LitFest in March.  Focussing on Mary Gawthorpe, local suffragist, it both entertains and informs as it follows her journey from dutiful daughter into radical politics.  It is expected to tour to local schools in the autumn.

A creative writing workshop – to find your inner poet – was a delightful couple of hours in the company of James Nash, local published poet, assisted by Ruth Middleton from the Headingley Writers Group, run by the WEA at Heart.  Although a small audience, the quality of work produced was high – and the young people have given us ideas about how to recruit more of them in the future.  That’s what pilots are for!  As one participant said, “I brought my daughter to this event, and ended up participating myself!  It was a fabulous experience for my daughter, who has shown promise in her writing, and reads avidly, but is reticent about making her voice heard publicly. The session was skilfully and sensitively run.  Excellent.”

The film We Are Poets was again shown to a healthy audience that was both moved and uplifted by the story of six young Leeds poets, none with an easy backstory, who go off to an international ‘slam’ in Washington called Brave New Voices.  And get to the semi-final.  Beating forty other teams. But as Alex Ramseher-Bache, director, in the informative Q&A session afterwards, said “Points aren’t the aim; the point is the poetry.”  And it was – affecting, engaging, emotional.  For more information, check out We Are Poets.  Watch out for it on DVD soon.

Finally, Alex Rushfirth put together a great evening of local young musicians playing their own songs and poems to their original music.  As Seas-of-Green sang,
‘We're mutually in harmony/ all programmed by a man with a pocket full of pens’
Le Servo de Spock backed this up with some very original numbers where the music was definitely only illustrating the poetry. A shame we had to call time at 10.30 pm!

Were we happy with the programme of events?  Yes.  It would have been better to have had more young people involved, but we have learned a lot from this pilot, and will take the ideas from our contributors and audiences to our next venture for young people.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Society of Young Publishers

The Society of Young Publishers North and Midlands would like to invite anyone interested in the art of writing and publishing to a special event in Leeds
The Society of Young Publishers North and Midlands would like to invite anyone interested in the art of writing and publishing to a special event in Leeds at 7pm on the 18th June at The Outlaws Yacht Club. There will be discussions and networking opportunities alongside free food and drink.

The evening will feature talks and readings from:

Robert Williams, Faber & Faber Author
Mathew Headley Stoppard, Valley Press Poet
Louise Swingler, Arachne Press Author and Proofreader

The Outlaws Yacht Club is situated at 38 New York Street, Leeds. LS2 7DY. Doors are at 7pm and entry is free.

Established in 1949, The SYP is open to anyone in publishing or a related trade – or is hoping to be soon. Our aim is to help assist, inform and enthuse anyone trying to break into the industry or advance within it.

You can find out more and RSVP on Facebook and follow @SYPNorth on Twitter

Monday, 3 June 2013

Time Passing in HEART

TIME PASSING - a free poetry and song evening at HEART café - Wednesday 5 June 7.30 - 9.30pm featuring Lis Bertolla with Doug and Maria Sandle

A Headingley LitFest  Between the Lines event

Regarding Lis Bertolla’s book of poetry the reviewer in the current Green Spirit Magazine writes – a glorious jumble of laughter and lust, beauty and poignance, compassion, wisdom and whimsy                    

Monday, 13 May 2013

We Are Poets - on Youth Fringe Day at HEART

We've had plenty of enquiries about Alex Ramsayer-Bache's film We Are Poets, so here's a set of links which might help you. Why not start with this YouTube interview in which Alex is interviewed? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hkqtBYlIVs

Keep Saturday 29 June free! The day starts at 1pm.


Official website: www.wearepoets.co.uk  

Brave New Voices & Youth Speaks: http://youthspeaks.org/


We Are Poets talking points for schools/education: http://englishpgcme.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/we-are-poets.html

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Congratulations, George Szirtes!

Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes’ In the Land of Giants, illustrated by Helen Szirtes and published by Salt, has won the 2013 Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) Poetry Award.
The annual award, established in 2003, encourages and celebrates outstanding new poetry for children.

In the Land of the Giants, which includes poems translated from Hungarian, centres on a series of poems in which characters feel small and insignificant in a big world.

George was a contributor to the recent LitFest. In the picture, he is talking to poet Kim Moore. Read the review here.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Big Fish - Hyde Park Picture House

Martin Grund writes:
Tim Burton’s adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s novel fitted the ‘Lives and Loves’ theme of this year’s Headingley Litfest perfectly. The film tells of a son trying to learn more about his dying father’s life through the fantastic stories he has been told over the years.

From the start, the line between fiction and fact, between man and myth, becomes blurred.  The son is a writer, the father a teller of tales.  Storytellers both.  A child is entranced by fantasies and tall tales; an adult is merely embarrassed and angered by lies.  This film weaves the threads of the story, from past to present, from truth to embellishment, into a delightful fairy tale that takes you with it from what you do believe to way past the point where you suspend your disbelief – because you want to enjoy the feelgood effect. Tim Burton uses his unique style to give the look of the film an almost carnival feel, adding to the increased level of the fantastic that makes the stories so compelling. I’m not sure that the willingness to suspend disbelief would be so easy if it had been another director behind the camera.

Dad was fearless, faithful and philanthropic in his enthralling fables, his only son embarrassed, irked and estranged by the fabrication and deceit.  “You’d better talk whilst I’m here,” says the son, recalled to his father’s sickbed, and trying to find out something of his father’s real life. He wants all the facts, none of the flavour.

“No, you’d better talk whilst I’m here!” says the father to the son, aware he is close to death but still relishing the magic of mystery tales. The tale of the elusive big fish, caught only with a golden ring, serves as a metaphor for ‘who dares, wins’ throughout the film.   The father talked of a lot of exciting things he never did, but did a lot of good things he never talked about.  And we finally see the son embrace his father’s life with the telling of a tall tale to take his father peacefully through to death; literally a happy ending as each acknowledges the love between them. 

Thanks to the Hyde Park Picture House (http://www.hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk/) for hosting our first partnership event.

Read more about the Film Festival at: http://www.leedsyoungfilm.com/

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Lawnswood Poetry Slam

June Diamond writes:
The sixth  year of the Lawnswood Slam gave us not just a brilliant event, but an event with history. One by one, mature and confident young people returned to compere , perform, and testify to the transformative power of the Slam and the mentoring relationship. They were role models for the younger performers and an inspiration to us all.

The winners with Michelle
Ms Amanda Stevenson, now head of English, and still spearheading the enterprise, opened the event, stressing that all participants were winners. She passed on the task of introducing the event to Jack and Priya as our presenters.  This confident and charming pair were our guides. They testified to the work that had gone into all the performances behind the scenes in workshops and rehearsals , organised and supported once again by Michelle Scally Clarke, with her team of mentors, Johnie and Stella.  Michelle is not just a hugely skilled actress, poet and teacher, she also maintains lasting and supportive relationships with the young people she works with.

Prya Lota gave a resounding start to the performances with a poem by Catherine Hawthorne, a Lawnswood sixth former, “Stars”, in which we imagined the stars looking down on us, and what they might think.

We moved on to Round One.

Azeel Abdulaziz performed “Giggle, Tickle” with verve and energy, and then moved on to a dialogue with her sister, Nada, “If Love was a Person,” which contrasted the twins, love and hate.
Ingi Hughes, a three-year veteran of the Slam, accompanied herself on the guitar and sang beautifully and touchingly of her “Substitute Family”, who might “quietly hold my hand”.
Kieran Gately gave a deeply-felt performance of “This is Me”, in which he clearly asserted his right to be his own person, “no matter what you say”. Adam Barber gave a lively and  affectionate tribute to his brother in spite of his title , “My little Brother is a Pain”. This was followed by the winning performance (for two poems) by Nada Abdulaziz, “The Innocent One “. 

The judges later commented on her effective delivery and eye contact, the compelling structure of the poem,  with its haunting refrain, and the romanticism of the imagery. Ingi played for us again, this time setting a poem of Michelle’s to music. “I miss you” addressed both the personal and political with anger, energy and emotion. Will she be ‘the next Tracey Chapman’? Esther Moran gave us a beautifully-delivered  account of “Love to Hate”, “I wish people could see the world with clear eyes”.

The next performer has been involved with the Slam since it began, working with Michelle since Year 7. She is now a member  of the Leeds University Performance Poetry Group. She opened the Litfest last year. Fatima el Jack spoke of “Motherland” with  deep feeling and eloquence. Kizzy Jones then performed “Love and Life”. Michelle talked about the power of poetry to release emotion and performer after performer opened their souls.

Michael Quain chose a traditional rhyming format in “Life mine, or just a line “ , which swung with energy from title to conclusion, “I’ll never live it alone”, while Jasmine Williams, who received a special commendation from the judges, gave us her assertive position on life in “Opinion”. Sarah Hamaway led us into the horror of nightmare in “Where am I?” , a powerful account of being “lost in my lonely imagination.”, in the first of two effectively-delivered pieces.
The first half ended with an unusual performance. Charlie Nullmyers used lights, special effects and a cast of two in “The Doll”, to chill our spines with the story of a doll that came to life. Awesome!

Michelle, Johnny and Stella swung the second half into life, and Tanaka Guzuwe, Michael Quain and Victor took on the baton with a powerful, rhythmic piece of rap, “Life”.
India Claybourne in “Hate”, performed the winning song under the category of Best Poem. She sang beautifully of frustrated visions  and dreams. Aidan Foster Green, another commendation, had us on the edge of our seats with the brilliant “Life”, a horror story of corpses and mirrors.
Ayah Almarsi performed the first of two pieces, the second with Azeel Abdulaziz, in which they explored “Slavery” and “Friendship”. Why do people bully each other?

Rosa Weiner and Toni Busby performed a cover of a Kate Nash song, and made it their own. These Slam veterans return to show where there is to go.

Adam Barber, whose delivery of “Hold onto your Dreams” brought him a judges’  commendation, spoke clearly and beautifully of the way forward. “Follow your soul, to be whole".  Nada gave us the second of her prize-winning poems  with “Love is whatever you want it to be” in this brilliant second half. Fatima el Jack mesmerised us with a powerful, angry polemic, exposing the hypocrisy and inequality in society, and showing us yet again that poetry has the power to electrify and persuade, as well as to delight.
Yasmin Mehudin performed on her own, and then with Annie Moran, in two strongly contrasting pieces: “Everything” explored dreams, while “His Life” told of  a life gone wrong, in dialogue. Dylan Fallon delighted us with the best personal performance, in the judges’ view. He didn’t just tell us about a vampire, he was the vampire, concluding the second half with a bang. Rosa and Michelle entertained us while the judges did their thing.

Thank you to all the performers, presenters  and supporting staff for a brilliant evening. Thank you to the judges: Toni  Busby, Slam veteran; Raftery the Poet, and Richard Wilcocks of the Litfest.

This event is always the climax of the Litfest for me, and a brilliant conclusion, this year.

Literary Tea Party

Partnership event with Far Headingley Village Society

Bill Fitzsimons writes:
The Mad Hatter's tea Party came to Headingley on the afternoon of 24 March at The Secret Garden CaféWith lashings of tea, dainty sandwiches and cakes to satisfy the bodily hunger of the refined audience, and literary titbits, plus quizzes, to allay the cultural hunger of the most discerning, this event was a hit, a very palpable hit!

Sheila Chapman writes:
The secret garden was covered in snow just as the tables inside were covered with white pristine table cloths. There were also flowers and an eclectic set of china culled from jumble sales, charity shops and home cupboards.  A giant teapot was placed on our table to be followed in succession by sandwiches (including cucumber sandwiches, and we did later hear an extract from The Importance of Being Ernest), scones (with choice of creams plus jam) and, on a cake stand, a mixture of very lovely individual cakes plus biscuits and jam tarts. We could not stop eating and, I am ashamed to confess, our table called for more.

It was terrific to eat a proper tea and we heard how Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford is credited with creating the afternoon tea to fill the 'sinking feeling' she experienced between lunch and dinner - although how anyone could even contemplate a dinner after this feast I do not know.

But we had work to do as well: quizzes (literary of course) and a word game which you might like to try - make as many words as you can from the LitFest's theme 'Lives and Loves'. There was also a satisfyingly complex scoring system from which it emerged that we had won a prize -what joy, it was a cream egg (by you know who).

All this plus performances and readings- all overseen from the window rail by the Mad Hatter's hat, the Dormouse (nestled in a teacup), and the White Rabbit.

Our thanks to the multi-tasking Far Headingley Village society team (cooks, performers, waitresses and cloakroom attendants) and Tony from the Secret Garden Café 

This was a labour of love and we all loved it!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

'Spoken Word' at City of Leeds School

Sally Bavage writes:
Billed as a ‘competition for young writers and performers’, some of our young poets showed first-night nerves at the second poetry ‘slam’ event rehearsal – but stepping up to the mike under the spotlights, with the warm support of family and friends in the audience soon gave their courage wings.  And they flew. How lovely to see the nerves dissolve when the words started to flow and the mood of the evening willed them to reach inside and find their inner John Cooper Clarke. 

Three rounds of the competition gave each performer the opportunity to select the original poems they had written that reflected differences in topic, range and style.  Pathos, anger, loss, longing, looking back, looking ahead, joy, pain – all here in spades. The commitment and talent in this school shone a beacon on all that is so valuable about the way that poetry allows something deeply-felt to be explored in a medium that is both edgy and safe, that allows explanation not exploitation.  Michael Gove, you’d have to be there to know what you are missing.

“I write to forget the world, I write ‘cos no-one’s listening” - Hyab Bereket, in ‘Don’t know what to write.’

“You can’t take my shine” – and we certainly couldn’t as Ghyraiss M’Poussa rapped in ‘Superboy’.  In ‘Unleashed’ an angry cry of “Do you not see me?” resounded over the whole studio.  A poet as well as co-host of the event with Antonio Bessa in a bravura performance of confidence.  Both made for the stage.

“Shut up and listen to my wise words, Don’t hate,” Ben Brennan told us in ‘What’s the matter’. Later, his ‘One love’ included “The first kiss …I loved every millisecond of it.”   “Just accept that I’m different” he pleaded in ‘Don’t judge me’ before going back to his place on the technical sound team again. 

“A knot inside your tummy like butterflies flying backwards” was part of Shannen Oddy’s Heartbeat fear.’  “I might be at the bottom but I’m still trying” came from ‘Sadness.’ “We can’t recycle life but we can waste it” resonated not only with the audience listening to ‘Life moving’ but also won her the Best Line award from the judges.

“The earth is flashed in lightning” according to Farhan Khan in ‘Nature is revealed.’  A serious young man who averred that “As long as we’re together, I will love you forever” in his version of ‘Love.’ Still serious in ‘The devils are back’ with “I thought I’d be OK but I’m broken into pieces.”
Then Antonio performed his first poem, ‘Rhythm’ – “It’s every person’s goal to be perfect; This is who I choose to be.”  ‘Earliest memories’ told us that “Now I am in England but I want to go back to my home, my Africa, that happiness, that belonging.”  Powerful performance, powerful message too.

Louisa Kwofie didn’t need her script at all to tell us about ‘My understanding’ – “Forget the past.  I’m by your side. Live.”  ‘My life’ told her “Mother, I will make you happy, I love you dearly.” 

Tafadzwa Mokgwathi’s ‘Home’ was poignant and included “I lose myself in the memory.  A past lit by the light of a fire” hinted at darker things.  It won her the award of Best Poem from the three judges.

Charlize Engelbracht also contributed to some of the Master of Ceremonies duties before ‘Not to love him’ told us that “He was never mine.  Momma said, Never fall in love with a guy who isn’t ready to worship the ground you walk on.”  My goodness, old heads on young shoulders.  “I love thee, and with thee my heart is anchored”, in ‘My Africa,’ again spoke of the longing for homeland. 

Neelam Chohan took us to the first break with ‘Where’s the love’ – “Love is trust, honesty, no cries, no lies.”  And then she blew us all away singing her cover of Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’ – such a powerful voice and we watched as her confidence just soared along with the notes.  Fantastic.

Jade Gilbertson is a more accomplished performance poet, having already worked with Leeds Young Authors.   She found the evening “inspiring” and “a unique experience,” she said when asked.   She also admonished us in ‘Our generation’ to “Tell the world, Peace is in, Violence is out.”

Courtney Morton in ‘Remember’ spoke of “The empty space in the chair”. Rather chilling.

Emma Rose wondered, in ‘Valentine,’ if it was worth it to “Spend all day chafing your feet in high heels.  Get rid of Valentine’s Day. Pointless.” She found ‘Angel of the North’ both a “Rusting massiveness” and a very sad reminder of a broken family.

Finally, Darren Phillip’s ‘Til death do us part’ reminded us in Headingley LitFest 2013: Lives and Loves that “Love is about the heart and the rest power within.”  He won the judges’ hearts and was awarded Best Overall Performance.

We were also richly rewarded by a performance of breakdancing from Shane Fenton and two young colleagues, Beanz and Georgina (an ex-pupil of City of Leeds), who perform as ‘Speak to the Streets’.  They give up their time to encourage youngsters to use dance and celebrating hip-hop as an expression of energy rather than get involved with guns and gangs and knives.  “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at!  Stay positive and passionate.  Love life.”  Poetry in motion, too, as they defied gravity and the expectations of what a human body can do.   

Thanks to our three judges – June Diamond of Headingley LitFest, Carrie-Ann Merifield from City of Leeds music department and Saji Ahmed from Leeds Young Authors, who finished the night with an original performance poem, Freedom.’   “Poetry in life”, he said, “is not just Shakespeare, good though he is, but it is in songs, books, the world around you.”  Thanks, too, to artist Michelle Scally Clarke for all her weeks of workshops to nurture and encourage the poet in each performer, and to Jonnie Khan (who was part of the sound team on Refugee Boy  at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, on till 30th March).  What a feast of talents.

Performances in poetry, dance, music, songs.  If whooping was a sport for medallists, then the assembled crowd in the Drama Studio won gold. What a noise!  What a night! 

Leeds Combined Arts Cultural Poetry & Music Evening

Doug Sandle writes:
Leeds Combined arts lived up to its title with a programme that included poetry, song, music and visual art in a multicultural presentation that featured several languages and traditions. The evening was varied but always interesting and engaging, including some exceptional performances of quality and skill that were received with appreciative enthusiasm by a room full audience. IMOWI, (Indian Music On Western Instruments) opened the proceedings with a fusing of background recorded sitar music with live flute and tabla providing an overlay of more western musical forms, which skilfully fused and counterpointed with the sitar background in a meditative and relaxing opening.

Local poet Bill Fitzsimons followed with a rhyming evocation of his Irish background, opening with Dublin Boy that told of his love of words and poetry. His Irish past was evoked in Back Home and in the second half of the evening Teanga Dhύchais, which was read in Irish Gaelic, ironically lamented his frustration in not being proficient in his ‘mother tongue’. His poem Searching was for me the more evocative and powerful of his contributions, perhaps for not being restricted by the constraints of rhyming couplets, but also for its imagery and expressiveness – it ended as follows:

A gang of raucous ravens mock me
from tall trees and my spirit slumps.

There is no revelation here, no mystical
bonding with ancient ghosts – merely
inadequate memory and a longing
for a childhood that was never mine.

Jacqueline Zacharias from York read work from her Poems on the River Ouse, which were powerfully delivered evocations of nature, myth, folk lore and her personal responses to the river. Her strong presentation beautifully captured the moods and nuances of the river and its landscape in a reading in which voice and body combined - her arm and hand moving as if in a dance with the words and the images she brought forth. Her homage to the Ouse climaxed with a powerful incantation of the sublime and darker supernatural forces of the river – an engrossing performance.

Poetry and folk songs from Russia, spanning over 250 years, were sung and recited by Natasha Mwitta that included work by Pushkin, Tsvetajeva and Pasternak. A regular contributor to Combined Arts, Natasha confidently engaged the audience with both Russian and English versions and the poetic tones and cadences of the Russian language were sensitively expressed to perhaps surprise the non Russian speakers in the audience (99%?) with its lyricism.

The ‘unexpected’ happening of the evening were two presentations that included some actual paintings, held aloft by a volunteer, while local artist Lilliane Gosling explained the origins of her subject matter. Drawing upon myths and folk tales from different eras and cultures, Lilliane’s art illustrates and explores the narratives and their symbolic meanings. In a delivery that was assessable but informed, she recounted the fascinating background to each of the pictures displayed. The audience were intrigued as she deconstructed the imagery to reveal their wider cultural meanings and uses, drawing upon feminist analysis as well as the psychology of archetypes. Her painting The Waq Wag Tree, for example illustrates a mariners’ folk tale about a mythical tree that grows women, but which is both beautiful but empty. The artist having used words to inspire her paintings, the paintings are then used for further words by popular local poet Linda Marshall in poetic responses that were presented in her usual sharply crafted and observed manner. For example, Lilliane’s painting of the Waq Waq tree and Linda’s poem are as below:                                                    

Have you heard of the Waq Waq tree?                                                          
Eyes hang off it like berries.
Skulls surround it like fallen fruit.                                 
Once it was a tree of human heads                                 
All speaking at the same time
In convoluted languages.
If someone had stuck an apple
Into each of those mouths,
It still wouldn’t have been an apple tree,
Or a silent tree.
Look at its glittery jewelled colours!
It is the tree of paradise, of earth, of hell.
Its vociferous lips agree
There is only one word for pleasure
And that is pain.

IMOWI having opened the evening were also featured several times elsewhere in the programme.  Maisie Bannister delightfully played the classical guitar featuring Etude 6 by the Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer. Sam Lewis on the saxophone and John Ball on tabla closed the evening as they played to a background sitar playing Ahir Bhairav, a Hindustani classical raga. The tones of the sitar provided a background like a rippling meandering brook as the saxophone soared, fluttered and swooped above it like a singing bird – it was an exquisite piece to end the evening, skilfully executed.

However, earlier in opening the second half of the presentation, IMOWI had provided perhaps for many the ‘show stopper’ of the evening  – two songs, one from North Africa and the other from Bengal, sung by Vanessa Chuturghoon, accompanied most professionally by guitarist Joe Harris. Both were most beautifully sung, (in Swahili and Bengali), with a haunting and poetic voice that sonorously filled the room with its lingering notes and hypnotic rhythms.

Carol Downing’s Combined Arts evening has become a regular feature of the Headingley LitFest and, as this evening ably demonstrated, their contribution has gone from strength to strength.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

If love is the answer, what was the question?

Sally Bavage writes:
Peter Spafford
Peter Spafford  began this evening of words and music with a quick poem that melded the trial lines left on the ancient exhibition typewriters in the Terry family house in York which is now open to the public – yes, that family of chocoholics and no, not produced by monkeys but youngsters more used to computers with cut ‘n’ paste than cutting words.  The final line?  Love life, love chocolate.

Two songs from Peter set the words of George Borrow - a nineteenth century lyrical travel writer - to his own blues-style keyboard accompaniment (Sweet Things) and then Slow Cooker, a more jazzy homage to extracting and savouring life’s flavours at a more gentle pace.

Gloria (Jeffries) was up next with four songs accompanied by guitar.  Leeds Brig by the ‘river of Aire’ was followed by a song inspired by Shakespeare’s line ‘The iron tongue of midnight hath tolled twelve’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was about about searching for love.  Other lines from Titania included:

The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set.

Then as now…

The Sheffield Fox was based on the work of John Clare, the early nineteenth century poet who celebrated rural life, and then finally Song finished a delightful set that explored love of nature through the ages. Gloria varied the tone and the mood expertly, to the warm and appreciative pleasure of the audience.

Matthew Hedley-Stoppard
Poet Matthew Hedley Stoppard took a more light-hearted look at life.  Fresh from a children’s party – we all shuddered for him – and probably still OD-ing on cake, his set of witty ditties was a change of mood.  The Pyramus and Thisbe of Matlock kissed virtually through the plexiglass of a Post Office counter, pensioners long past seduction.  A first house in Leeds felt a bit like a Wendy House to young marrieds who were still settling in to the awe of being grown-ups. Back to Matlock for an ode about what goes on in the parks – and your blogista has been there and could see, from Matthew’s vivid lines, exactly what he meant.  Rioting in London was the scene for a tragedy as a widower saw his home burn down and with it the memories of his wife.  

Other poems included the finding of abandoned crutches in a local park and a new version of Ten Milk Bottles.  Matthew’s poetry is that of observation of the small things that make up life and love – and love of life.  For more of his work, go to http://www.valleypressuk.com/ in May when his latest collection A Family Under Glass will be published. 

Maggi Stratford
Maggi Stratford and Peter dueted four songs, all rather melancholy, mournful and melodic.  A Victorian merchant ship, the Smiling Thru, comes to grief, leaving the wreckage of the boat and the men strewn on the rocks.  Now there’s a metaphor.  L’Eclousier, by Jacques Brel, follows a canal lock-keeper’s life, fishing out the drowned along with other flotsam.  John Anderson, words by Robert Burns, made the older members of the audience smile to hear of life in love in old age, and Love Letters Straight from the Heart was the golden oldie to take us to the interval.

A quick poem from Peter introduced the second half – Not Waving – riffed on young love, then the young We Be Happy  – Alex Rushfirth on keyboard, Francesca (Frankie) Pidgeon on acoustic guitar and vocals, and accompanied this time by Joe Campbell on electric guitar - took to the stage like experienced hands.  The confidence of youth was evident in their three numbers, each with Frankie reminding me of a young Marianne Faithful with that delightfully breathy voice.  All the gentle songs were about love, for, of course, even at that age it can be painful and powerful.  They will be playing again at HEART on 29 June as part of Headingley LitFest’s first Youth Fringe.  Do catch them. You can find out more about them on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/webehappymusic?fref=ts)

We Be Happy
We were moving towards the mellow end of the evening: some pithy poem portraits from Peter about the important things in life for some of the elderly at a lunch club – Best Thing, This is My Life, Time, Bikes – and one that referenced the opening night of this year’s LitFest on Friday 8 March with a look at the conflicts in those of dual Irish/English nationality. Two more ballads from Gloria, three final songs from Peter and Maggi, again with a French theme and we were ready to go home.  Not quite – the final song encouraged audience participation as we sangalonga Bowie, cuecards helpful here, to his single Where Are We Now?

As long as there is sun (repeat)
As long as there is rain (repeat)
As long as there is fire (repeat)
As long as there is me
As long as there is you.

Life and love in a simple refrain.  It may have been Arctic outside, but inside the Heart Centre it was warm and mellow. Thanks to Peter Spafford and friends for making us love life.

Richard Wilcocks adds:
It was exciting to witness the birth of a new collaboration between Leeds's best known chanteuse Maggi Stratford and Peter Spafford on keyboard. Teamed up with the spirit of the brilliant Jacques Brel, they are sure to go far. Having seen Maggi with Encore!! on previous occasions at various venues (including the Howard Assembly Room), I was struck by the ease with which the two of them were able to convey pathos and charm. Bis! 

Maggi et Peter, vous avez créé en nous 
ces sentiments spéciaux, passionnés, et nous 
sommes convaincus que nous étions dans un café de France.

Photos - Richard Wilcocks