Well, that's it. Two years ago I was given the honorary title of Plymouth's Poet Laureate and as of today my tenure is over. It has been wild. I can only describe this opportunity as 'an opportunity'. I was handed a title that has struck up interest, connections, and possibilities which have been both exciting and daunting! The role of the 'Laureate' has been a controversial one, and it is my hope that maybe, somewhere along the past two years, I have helped to demonstrate how it can be done, should be done, and why it is a relevant position in the city.
Firstly, this role has allowed me to open doors which as a young(ish) writer can be extremely difficult. Those words placed by my name have encouraged interest in projects and ideas where there may have been no interest before. For this I will always be grateful. Would I have been on the news with a robot? Probably not. Would I have appeared on stage with Father Christmas and yelled a poem at a crowd of hundreds? Probably not.
Secondly, I've tried to use the attention of this role to promote what Plymouth has. Sometimes this is successful and other times it hasn't been. I could have attempted to organise Plymouth's first inter-school competition but would it have had such a big draw as it did without the title? That, I am unsure of. Still, I feel highlighting the wonderful groups and talent of this city should be the primary drive for anyone in this role.
Finally, the role of the laureate with regards to writing for events is a good thing. Not every writer can write from a prompt or with a limited time frame and to be honest, since taking on the role, I feel I have lost this ability! This has been due to changing my style and approach to writing, developing myself, but still it's not an easy task and normally an unwanted one by some writers. Being the assigned person to produce something for a Commonwealth event or a light festival is a big challenge but necessary in my opinion to continue engaging with the public. Poetry belongs to the people and having it at these various events through the year is another reason why our city should be proud.
As the two years are up, I can't help but feel like David Tennant's Doctor in his final episode of the TV series. On one hand, it feels like the right time to move on. I have new adventures on the horizon and can't wait to focus all my energy on them but at the same time, to quote The Doctor, "I don't want to go." I will miss being the laureate, the jokes and banter that comes with it, but I look forward to the next person taking on this role and developing it further. Thank you to all of you who have supported me over the past two years. I hope you stay with me as I step forward into the next phase of my writing career.
The Poet Formerly Known as Laureate.
There’s a tan coloured plastic cup
sat out of place
in the lonely tennis ball graveyard
of Hazard Alley,
from Lux Park’s vending machine,
catching a ride on the wind,
it’s talking to itself,
reminiscing of friends gone by,
baked apple crumbles,
the fresh bread rolls unbuttered,
the greasy sausage rolls that are now all vegans,
and the countless bags of chips
who’ve got their GCSE’s and A Levels
and are now studying
how to be full time parents or
how to salute whilst making a bed,
he remembers stink bombs
unable to contain themselves
in the main corridor
in the French rooms
in the toilets
in the English department
in... well... you get the idea,
he’s laughing to himself
picturing sliding down the banister
of the stairs in the old hall
of the stairs in the technology building
of the stairs in the French rooms
of... well... you get the idea,
he’s trying to remember
how to speak French,
“Il y a un jambon
et un poisson avec moi
a la discotheque.”
He thinks he sounds clever,
he wonders what happened
to the thick wooden tables
that used to balance Bunsen burners
on their heads
in the old science block,
bulky wooden tables
cut from the Ark or the Argonaut
or maybe just a really fat tree,
there’s a smell he cannot place,
either burning wood
sanded on the spinning disk
or maybe just the smell of
burnt toast coming from
the sixth form common room,
from his spot by the fire station,
he can hear the school buses
stamping up and down the road,
he wants to know if they have a dinner pass
or perhaps they don’t need one
because they’re buses,
do they still expel dust from the seats
when a body slams down on them?
Does the dust dance like it’s in
the Inter-Tutor Group Dance Competition
or does it have more of a
pre-University fed ambition?
If the dust still dances then
surely the stink of dried mud
in the changing rooms
still plays rugby,
or maybe it still clings to the backs of legs
or ears, hoping to sneak its way
into a maths lesson
and steal itself some learning,
he imagines the lockers to be
the cleverest of all the
sentinels of the school,
all those decades of books stuffed inside,
hour upon hour
studying geographical maps,
the civil rights movement, and
though on that logic
the lockers should have
from all those decades of crisps stuffed inside,
the tan coloured plastic cup
in the lonely tennis ball graveyard
of Hazard Alley,
it lifts from the ground
and wanders far,
catching a ride on the memories.
I can now officially say I have performed at the Port Eliot Festival! See distinct and stylish green band below as evidence of the fact. It was lovely to return to this festival and this time as an artist.
Aside from having my beard glittered up by the Wild Glitter team, I managed to catch a few musicians playing and spend some time talking Marvel films with a guy who sold me gluten and dairy free pancakes.
Despite the intermittent showers and a slightly disorganised workshop leader who couldn't take a hint - it was a great event! It would be wonderful to see a Plymouth stage at Port Eliot and I know Peter Davey is determined to see such a thing happen. As for my fellow poets, Julian was on excellent form reading a mix of poetry from different collections, proving as always that he is a true master of language. Steve Spence was on top form, firing off a barrage of poems. I particularly enjoyed his sound poems and it always impresses me how he manages to deliver them perfectly.
A special thanks to Helen Moore for being our photographer for the day and also for her compering duties. Now... time to wash the glitter out!
Video contains swearing/adult content.
I am writing this on World Poetry Day yet the event in question happened over a week ago! I was asked to attend the flag raising ceremony at Plymouth Guildhall but due to other commitments I had to decline. Fortunately, Reverend Appleby (the chaplain to the Lord Mayor) stepped in to read on my behalf. The poem is a merger of 'old school' and contemporary and I'm impressed with how Reverend Appleby interpreted the formatting, he gave a great delivery! Below are some pictures of the ceremony and a video recording of the poem being read out.
Read the Plymouth Herald article here.
I was very fortunate today to skip across town and meet Seth White and Simon Bench who are responsible for a robot named Pepper. Pepper is the first emotional humanoid robot. Capable of recognising main emotions, whether greeting guests or working with children to improve their learning and performance. The latter is the main reason I went to see Pepper (and to tick 'meet a robot' off of my boyhood dreams list). I am teaming up with Volume the AI agency to bring Pepper into a local Plymouth school and use the robot to promote poetry. Pepper has been programmed with a script (written by me) of similes that can be recalled when prompted with a question. The Volume team will be showing off Pepper's new literary talents the same week as World Book Day. This is a brilliant opportunity to promote both poetry and programming. These are the sorts of experiences that children will never forget and could be the inspirational catalyst for a whole new generation of writers or engineers. I am so excited! On a side note, Pepper is much better at dancing than me and I now have the video evidence to prove it.
The colonists wiped their boots on straw mats,
the rocket, fuelled by Elon's musk, would
take them sailing under Sagittarius and The Plough.
Each wipe was a haphazard grapevine,
erratic shuffling of feet,
they didn't want to carry the dirt of this world with them,
clean soles meant clean souls for the
soon to be Mooners.
Two sides emerged amongst the passengers,
separated by a gangway of
one metre of speckled Lino.
The Saints saw a chance to design their own steeple;
The Strangers just wanted to see if Wallace and Gromit were being truthful,
they packed more crackers than the devout,
based their dreams on the stop motion theory.
When the countdown ended,
two gangly blowtorches strapped either side,
created a hard caramelised layer on the
they were leaving behind.
Halfway between the great black sea and the
absolute darkness, light flickered.
waved from the sun like the
bell bottomed jeans of a seventies TV star.
Fiery winds knocked the rocket off course,
of course none of them knew.
When they landed far away from Neil's flag, the
passengers declared the stones in the dry river
were beds. Ideas forged; a government made.
The Clangers whistled a tune of jealousy at
such a fine foundation. Sewn eyes turned green.
Differences were put aside. No more 'my religion' or
'you're lack of religion'.
The dark side of the moon didn't care about Dawkins and Darwin,
crosses marked the graves of the crew that didn't make it, no longer
marking moral supremacy, hairy chests, and cleavages.
The lost souls of travellers that departed, died
for a number of reasons. Some croaked from g-force
sickness, most starved after the space maggots
ate their supply of Jaffa Cakes.
After a debate they named the new settlement Fraggle Rock,
one of the large moonstones looked like Jim Henson's hand.
In the land of many craters no-one is a puppet,
the strings are cut. When you have nothing tying you up - Saints
become strangers. A sea of unnamed faces in an unforgiving world.
As the first days passed
they came to the bay of Epiphany, a
realisation that there was no food on the moon.
the silver shelled turtle was not uninhabited,
natives queued up to see the pale faces, even
Sagittarius and The Plough dangled down to
catch a glimpse of their starving eyes; hungry frowns.
The Tribes of Selene showed the weary how to use their hands.
Taught them how to fish for asteroids and build
houses out of scrapped lunar landers. They never took
more titanium plating than was needed. The exuberant Mooners
declared a National Holiday,
commercialised cards littered the scene amongst golf balls and shadows;
they had microwavable turkey dinners shipped
from the International Space Station.
The tribes brought with them a cheese platter.
The Strangers knew they'd been right all along.
(Me at the Illuminate guest event 2017, Royal William Yard. Pictures thanks to Heather Sabel)
After the break we came back for the last two rounds. The second round was excellent. Every poet who performed in the semi-final scored highly in writing. Cerys (hope I'm spelling that correctly) delivered an excellent poem that really struck a chord for me. Still, the poem hungry reaper, wielding his microphone-esque scythe, had to strike and cull the number down to just three. The three finalists, Jason, Jackie and Ross were absolutely brilliant performers. In the end there could be only one (don't sue Mr Lambert, please sir) and that winner was Jackie Juno. Jackie scored 90+ for her writing consistently throughout all three rounds and the ambition of her last piece, an A-Z interactive road trip poem, sealed her the £100 cash prize.
Photo courtesy of Mark Jones (one of the slammers).
This event was a fantastic night and should become a fixture on the Plymouth writing scene.
To learn about the other events going on this week for the Plymouth Literature Festival just visit their website. My final stop this week is going to be hosting an open mic on a river. Can't wait!
Photo courtesy of Emma Twamley (one of my fellow judges).
Thom Boulton is a contemporary free verse poet who lives and performs in the South West, UK. He is Plymouth's current Poet Laureate.