Friday, December 20, 2013

special feature: steve toase

I'm looking forward to co-hosting Speaker's Corner at the Golden Ball in York on Tuesday, 8th January, where Steve Toase will be the guest reader. Here are a few highlights from Steve's busy year:

Steve was commissioned to write fiction as part of 'Runs on the Board', a celebration of over-fifties cricket in Yorkshire: his fiction appears on the website, in collaboration with Lucy Carolan's photography: their work now appears in a beautiful hardback book, and is being exhibited at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Leeds.

This December, I've enjoyed reading a daily piece of flash fiction by Steve on his Facebook writer's page.

Read more of Steve's work on his very nicely presented website, where you'll also find news of his growing number of writing successes.


Friday, November 08, 2013

book review: in the moors by nina milton

Even though I have a tendency to skip to the end of crime novels to find out 'whodunnit' (or, in this case, whether two of the characters get together) I resisted this impulse when I began reading 'In the Moors', and subsequently could not put this book down.

Sabbie is an engaging character with an unusual profession: she is a shaman who is drawn into a police case involving one of her own clients. Her concern for her client, and her determination to keep hold of her intuition, even at the expense of her own safety, was completely absorbing.

 'Perhaps because I was thinking of rabbit holes and strange, reversible worlds ... I started at the end,' Sabbie says. Nina Milton has also given her readers the challenge of making associations between beginnings and endings, present and past, children and adults, memories and facts, speech and silences.

At one point, a wise character says, 'Everything connects'. Small everyday details are hugely significant here: bicycle wheels, eggs, nicknames. I found the characters - animal, spirit, human - convincing, and the various settings either warm and lively, or haunting.

In the end, Sabbie's search for understanding reminds us how our childhood experiences influence how we live as adults and how we make sense of the world.

Find out more about Nina on her highly popular blog.
'In the Moors' is published by Ink Press.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

book review: red roots, orange sky by csilla toldy

I always look forward to reading a Lapwing publication, and Csilla Toldy's poetry pamphlet is no exception. Relationships are a strong theme, with the first section of the pamphlet, 'Red Roots', exploring growing up, and the second section, 'Orange Sky' looking at the twists and turns of a relationship. Csilla is also a film-maker, and many of the poems feature surprising visual images:

Quick, bring
the needle to pin
her down into the dark -

(from 'The Sewing Machine')

Repeated images of losing blood show us the vulnerability contained in the narrative and impressionistic poems, while the orange sky seems to represent the weight of the past.  The free verse formats, punctuation, last lines, and titles work very hard to show us, rather than tell us, the strong emotions here. This is an ambitious collection and I was left with the feeling that the poet has more to say. I hope to read more from Csilla in the future.

Find out more about Csilla, including details of 'Red Roots, Orange Sky' on her website.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

a braid of words: ten years on

It's now been ten years since my first pamphlet collection A braid of words came out with Poetry Monthly Press. Chris and I had spent the previous day moving house: I remember how exciting it was when the little box of pamphlets arrived at our new home. Here are two poems from A braid of words to mark the occasion.

A braid of words

I cling to the edge
of the roar of a lion,
its white-gold edge
like a coast at sunrise,
My feet hang clear
of the quicksand below
as it bubbles and sucks.
I will scramble up
to face the roar,
its mountains and valleys,
my breath a sirocco,
my pulse a landslide.
I will hear my calm voice
through the tremor,
a braid of words
like a pulley-cable
to haul myself across
until I fall off
into full noon sunlight,
blinking, my palms
stripped and raw.

(This poem was first published in Iota magazine, and also appears in Centuries of Skin)

Angel in the shopping centre

Next to this High Street bench
I sustain your thrown fag-ends,
your empty cans of Coke -
their teardrops brand my palm.
All day I am brushed
by the fingers of your children.
They are unafraid,
but you will only seek me
in your dreams.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

book review: andrew taylor's make some noise: the woking poems

Andrew Taylor's collection, Make Some Noise (The Woking Poems), written during a residency at Liverpool Art and Design Trust, takes us on a journey through various urban settings. A variety of free verse formats plus enjambment and the present tense puts the language under pressure effectively. He takes the urban, the everyday, the stuff that we are expected to pass by, and gives it an immediate and a strange feel. Here, in a shopping centre:

'Security guards follow people badly, while a minimum wage
cleaner polishes a glass balcony, all day.'

(So Modern Everything Seems Pointless)

Birdsong and butterflies push through urban cracks to find new spaces, while rural landscapes appear abruptly, or in memories. A compelling read.

Make Some Noise: The Woking Poems is available from Original Plus chapbooks.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

book review: tim ellis, on the verge

Welcome to the first in a series of short book reviews. We kick off with Tim Ellis's new book of poems 'On the Verge'. The innovative structure allows him to include single poems within a longer poetic narrative. Interestingly, some single poems have been inspired by the journal of a real-life unidentified and environmentally aware poet, 'Tom', now deceased, while other single poems are attributed to 'Tom' (this is all clearly and sensitively explained in the introduction to the book). These poems have been creatively woven into the longer narrative. Here, a young hitch-hiker, based on 'Tom', attempts to engage with the intolerant lorry driver who picks him up. Both characters are well observed:

'I know his sort - he's out of touch with nature,
thinks animals the same as animations'

while, in other poems, rhinos and unicorns voice their own anger towards humans. As in Tim's previous poetry collection 'Gringo on the Chickenbus' the playful tone, vibrant rhymes, and juxtaposed cultural references lead the way into serious environmental issues. This is a collaborative road trip that explores fear and loathing, giving us imaginative transformations that show us the consequences of our environmental (in)actions.

On the Verge is available as an e-book through Smashwords and Amazon. Tim's website gives details of his previous publications as well as more information about his writing and travels.

Friday, March 15, 2013

york literature festival 2013 part two: telling the fairytale

As part of this year's York Literature Festival, 'Telling the Fairytale' will be taking place on Saturday, March 23, 2013.1:00pm. Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York. Tickets £5 each from York Theatre Royal box office (01904 623568 or book online at

We are delighted to hear more about this special event from Helen M. Sant.

Telling the Fairytale is a collection of storytelling pieces from Helen M Sant and fabulous fairytale themed poetry from Andy Humphrey. Helen based the idea round the Roman myth Cupid and Psyche which has many underlying fairytale themes. It's not fairytale as we know it - but the origins and archetypes of the ugly sisters, cruel maternal figure, beautiful princess and handsome prince - they're all there.

The show was originally performed to an appreciative audience in York's basement of Bar Lane Studios, by candlelight, in September 2011. Then, the literary pair were joined by Jane Oakshott, a storyteller and voice coach from Leeds and her actor son, Will Rastall. This time, it will be talented musician Jack Firminger, who will make sweet music as Helen weaves her fairy tales and Andy performs his magical poetry. And the venue will be the enchanting Medieval church of the Holy Trinity on Goodramgate, York, at 1 in the afternoon.

Helen aims to tell the stories with a contemporary twist, while keeping the old fashioned themes of lost love, magic and mystery - with perhaps a little mayhem thrown in! Andy's poetry perfectly complements the air of otherworldliness with his fairytale foray from the seas to the ancient mysteries of woodland. Suitable for adults and children over ten, this is an experience all ages can relish, so if you thought you were too old for fairytales, think again!

The festival brochure says: An enchanted journey of exquisite words, dark imagery and intoxicating music, as part of the York Literature Festival 2013. Join storyteller Helen M Sant, poet Andy Humphrey and musician Jack Firminger as they explore the strange and magical landscape that lies behind fairytale. From Pied Piper to ancient myth, from selkie and shipwrecked mariner to the mysterious Green Man, Helen, Andy and Jack will reawaken these classic stories for a 21st century adult audience. Follow your dreams – you never know where they might take you!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

york literature festival special feature one: tanka and japanese drumming

Today we have the first of our two scoops on events running at the York Literature Festival.

Many thanks to poet Oz Hardwick for giving us more insight on how this highly interesting collaboration came into being.

Oz says: The long version of the story goes back about 20 years to when I was in a band with a chap called Aaron Turner. Subsequently we've run into each other on and off, most recently in situations where he's been playing with Kaminari Taiko, who are the only group in the north of England playing Japanese style percussion, and I've been reading my poetry.

So it was that about 2 years ago he asked me if I would be interested in writing something to complement some percussive pieces. I've always had an interest in short forms (most of my earliest publications were in places like Haiku Quarterly, Presence & still), and I've also worked with a lot of different musicians, so I jumped at the chance.

I thought it would be interesting to have two voices, so I involved Amina Alyal, whose work I have always liked, and we set about writing an extended sequence of mostly tanka.

We started with a few ideas each - my own approach was to mix aspects of medieval English poetry with medieval Japanese verse - but then started responding to each other's work to the extent that there are several sections of the piece that I can't remember who wrote them.

We presented these to Aaron, who arranged them with existing taiko sequences as well as developing with Kaminari some new sections. Naturally, once it all came together, we then all started tweaking bits and pieces so that the words and music really come alive with each other. 

The process didn't end there, as the whole thing has been reshaped for each performance so far and I'm sure it will continue to be so. It really is quite thrilling to be a part of the performance, as you don't just hear it, you feel it!

The York Literature Festival brochure says:
Kaminari Taiko drumming group join forces with York writers Oz Hardwick and Amina Alyal to present powerful rhythms and intricate wordplay. A dynamic spectacle of words, sounds and biceps. Kaminari Taiko is a Japanese-style drumming group drawing members from North and West Yorkshire and has been playing in the local area for three years.
Taiko is an art form that reinterprets ancient shinto and buddhist drumming traditions for the modern day, and is rhythmic, dynamic, atmospheric, and visual. Amina Alyal is a poet and a lecturer in English literature. Her interests cover Renaissance literature, poetry, drama, oratory and myth. Amina has written for music and for musical performance and is currently working on two collections of poetry. Oz Hardwick has written three collections of poetry, including The Illuminated Dreamer (2011).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

poetry snapshots: caroline gill


The peat fire crackles and burns with stories:

footsteps scurry through mist and mountain

to warm a Hebridean hearth with stories.

A figure crosses turf where St Columba

knelt long ago beside the Snizort:

the crofter’s creel is laden with stories.

He pauses to watch the snow-stars drifting

on the loch, with its kelp and pebbles:

hares in the lazy-bed leap with stories.

The crofter enters his neighbour’s parlour,

rests on the settle while divots smoulder:

a plaintive skirl fills the room with stories.

Shadows dance round the doleful piper,

whose music makes the embers tremble:

the single oil lamp flickers with stories.

A mother stirs her three-legged cauldron:

sisters spin, or weave at the handloom,

infusing a homemade plaid with stories.

Hailstone tears pound the snow-flecked Cuillin,

recalling the Clearances, emigration:

the Ceilidh House overflows with stories.

© Caroline Gill 2013

Publication …

1] By the winter fires (ed. Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling, Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2009)

2] The Holy Place (poems by John Dotson and Caroline Gill, published by Peter Thabit Jones of The Seventh Quarry Press in Swansea, in conjunction with Stanley H. Barkan of Cross-Cultural Communications in New York, 2012)

Caroline Gill’s poetry chapbook, The Holy Place, co-authored with John Dotson from California, was published in 2012 by The Seventh Quarry Press (ed. Peter Thabit Jones) in Swansea, in conjunction with Cross-Cultural Communications (ed. Stanley H. Barkan) in New York. The Holy Place was launched at Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, birth place of Dylan Thomas. Three of Caroline’s poems have been included in The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics Including Odd and Invented Forms by Lewis Putnam Turco, 4th edition, (University Press of New England, 2012). Caroline won first prize in the international Petra Kenney Poetry Competition (general section) in 2008. She was awarded the title of Best Fixed Form Poet of 2011 by the international poetry journal from India, Metverse Muse (ed. Dr. H. Tulsi). Caroline is an external collaborator for the Romanian journal, Orizont Literar Contemporan (editor-in-chief, Daniel Dragomirescu). Caroline’s poems have appeared in publications from the UK, USA, Romania and India. Her poem, ‘Preseli Blue’, featured on the BBC Poetry Please programme in 2008 from the Guardian Hay Festival. Caroline’s tercet ghazal, ‘Migrant Hawker’, has been selected for inclusion in Heart Shoots (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2013), in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Work by Maya Angelou, John Betjeman, Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas will feature in this anthology.

Caroline has a blog and a website.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

poetry snapshots: steve urwin

What Am I? #2

Morning pager

Professional whinger

Porridge eater

Ribena drinker

Trials rider

Mountain biker

Music lover

Biscuit hoarder

Bus hopper

Dummy spitter

Journal keeper

Avid facebooker

Luck pusher

Jazzhands cuddler

Poetry jammer

Stanza shaper

Indy publisher

Rule breaker

Manic ranter

Audience scarer

Multiple slammer

Dust shaker

Garlic dodger

Middle Word In Life

If only they’d done more sooner

If only they weren’t out of town

If only the little boy hadn’t played with matches

STEVE URWIN  blogs at Scribbles from the Brink of Inertia and is also on Facebook here. He was born in 1970 in Consett, County Durham where he still lives. Diarist, editor, publisher, poet, his work has appeared in magazines such as Fire, Open Wide, Other Poetry, Sand, Smiths Knoll and Tears in the Fence and has been broadcast on BBC Radio. His debut full-length poetry collection “Tightrope Walker” was published by Redbeck Press in 2001. Steve is a widely respected spoken word performer throughout the North East of England. He is the 2008 Bare Knuckle Poetry Slam Champion, 2008 Northern Lines Poetry Slam Champion and 2011 Middlesbrough Intro Festival Spoken Word Stage Slam Champion. His second poetry collection Hypomaniac, published by Red Squirrel Press in 2009, was September Book of the Month in North East cultural listings magazine The Crack. His latest book Shades of Grey was published in October 2011 by Red Squirrel Press. Steve works as a creative writing facilitator – mainly within mental health settings – and runs Talking Pen, organising live literature events and publishing limited edition monographs and pamphlets. He hosts the monthly Writers’ Open Mic Night at Lamplight Arts Centre in Stanley, County Durham; and Poetry Jam at Waddington Street Centre in Durham City. In 2012 Steve made a 20th Anniversary reissue of his first self-published book “There Are Easier Ways of Living than Bleeding to Death” and was a shadow poet coach for Shake the Dust national youth poetry slam. He likes mountain biking, black clothing and bleak music.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

special january feature: nina milton

Today we are excited to feature an extract from a new e-book for children by writer and OCA creative writing tutor Nina Milton. It is called Tough Luck, is available here from Amazon, and, in my opinion, is a very enjoyable read, full of links between past and present, and lively characters.

...I began skating round the edge, keeping with all the other skaters. Every minute or two, I passed the café window, right under the noses of the gang just the other side of the glass. I wanted to keep their minds off Helen.

It’s funny, but when I think back to that time, the five or so minutes I spent doing my impression of a goldfish on blades, I always think of Jake Silver. Which is very odd because I’d never heard of Jake then.
I think it’s because we had to make him up, partly, fill in the spaces of his life by imagining it, like doing a jigsaw where a lot of the pieces are blank, tossing ideas between us, trying to work out what it would be like to be Jake.
      He’s standing on the dockside. People walk round him, eye him up, check if his teeth are sound. He doesn’t exist for them, except as something that might be of use.
      When Helen and I tell each other Jake’s story, I remember the ice rink and think; that’s how they looked at me through the glass, eye-balling me with a look of possession, as if they could pick me off a shelf, something to buy and enjoy later.
      They looked at me as those slave masters must have looked at Jake and right away I knew how must have he felt. I knew that he wouldn’t look back at them, just stare down at his feet and shiver as the breeze blew through his thin clothes. There was no point in trying to run away. That look tells you – they’ll get you in the end.

When the slush-machine cleared the ice, I knew I’d have to act quickly. I got off at the very other end of the rink, so they wouldn’t spot me in the crowd. For a bit, I thought I’d fixed them. I headed for my locker, the key in my hand. I slipped into a bog and changed my skates for trainers. Then I stood on the toilet seat to see if the coast was clear.
     I took a couple of deep breaths before bursting out of the toilets, out of the locker room, along the rink side and out through the heavy glass doors. I was three flights up from the street. I looked across the concrete banister over the city and suddenly had this silly wish that I could fly – just take off – sail homewards. I’d never longed to be at home as much as I did then. I raced down the steps, turning corners like I was at the Olympics. I was almost at the bottom when I heard a cry from above.
     “That’s him! Down there!”
      I shot into the street as if the steps had spat me out like a gob of phlegm, and pelted in the direction of the Centre. The Centre was where my bus stopped. It was also a nice, busy place on a Sunday evening.     
      I might have made it, if I’d gone a better way. But there’s a bit of old Bristol between the ice rink and the City Centre, a maze of narrow lanes filled with tall, elegant, houses with tiny railings at the front. I was beginning to get lost.
      They were gaining on me. Each time I reached a corner, their footsteps were louder – footsteps that rang on cobbled stones. A shiver went across my back like I’d fallen on the ice rink.
They were not wearing trainers.

Nina blogs at the delightfully named Kitchen Table Writers. I highly recommend her site to anyone seeking motivation or tips, as well as good recommendations of writers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

poetry snapshots: vicki bartram

The Melancholy Death of Marriage

We live in the attic

between boxes of love,

bagged up memories,

nestled next to forgotten dreams,

sleeping silently beneath

creased seams.

We live in the attic

shoved between reminders

of what should have been,

fluttering like lashes

in the first light of morning.

We live in the attic

laid here by accident

during a spring-clean.

Once we danced in orange light

now dust lays thick

on gravelled tongue.

Placed 3rd in the NAWG Open Poetry Competition (adjudicated by James Nash)

Vicki Bartram is a writer based in York and is currently studying Creative Writing and English Language at University.

Her work has appeared in Indigo Rising US, Soundsphere Magazine, Pastiche Magazine, Turbulence Magazine, and the Scottish Metro. She is also due to appear in Beautiful Scruffiness and The English Chicago Review in 2013. Her poetry has been highly commended in the York Writers Open Poetry Competition 2012 and she was placed 3rd in the NAWG Open Poetry Competition 2012.

She currently works with Stairwell Books; a small (but growing!) publishing press based in York where she manages the submissions for Dream Catcher Magazine. She recently became the co-editor for the poetry submissions at Indigo Rising UK.

Her interest in the supernatural and unconventional relationships slips into her work regularly and her work has been described as having “a sense of knowing, an insight into that which I have never experienced first-hand” – James Nash.

As well as writing poetry, short stories and music articles, she is also planning a creative non-fiction book with a cheeky twist, so watch this space! Vicki has a blog and is also on Facebook and Twitter: @vickibartram

Saturday, January 12, 2013

new year poetry snapshots: john drew

We are starting 2013 with a bang by featuring new work from one of my fellow OCA creative writing tutors, poet John Drew.
I'm currently enjoying John's collections The Lesser Vehicle (Bloodaxe, 1986) and In the Temple of Kali (The Cambridge Poetry Workshop, 1991).
The two photographs below were taken in Mumbai when John and his wife Rani (also pictured) visited as writers. John has also read with a distant relation of mine, the famous Indian poet Nissim Ezekiel.


The Earth shook and the skies grew dark in Mirandola.

A cathedral wall fell and a town hall. Also in Modena.

Never before such an earthquake in the Emilia Romagna.

The pigeons sigh in the pines, oregano, rosemary hang on the air.

The old hawk is not to be found in his high square tower

Singing praise of his sister as a partisan in the War.

We loved him as he sat frail at a last grand feast,

Able to eat little, glass raised in defiant toast,

Nodding off as if in sleep as a man past living must.

What force then lifted his hawk-like face and drove his voice

To speak of each of us there with such a precise grace?

What more can we ask of this world before we pass,

As he does now, out of it? Only the lilt of his voice

Remains, along with his empty glass and a rind of cheese.

From the very gates of the Underworld, he sent us his messages.


She was sitting up top on a bus out of Hackney,

The young woman with spiky hair

and glitter all over her face.

She was reading a book, putting it down

every few minutes

To primp the spikes in her hair.

No, she wasn’t reading the book

as part of a course

(A presumptuous question, you silly old fool).

A Swedish friend had recited,

We live, as we dream, alone,

And she just had to read such a book.

Had I seen Apocalypse Now?

And what of the war on Iraq?

Her face had a glitter all of its own

As she spoke of dishonesty, empire and lies.

The last I saw of her, she was a whirl of hands

Among a row of heads on top of the bus

As it beat upstream into Euston.

York Literature Festival HUB 2018 event, Tuesday, 20th March

I'm looking forward to my first event for absolutely ages - at the York Literature Festival HUB. Many thanks to YLF and Valley...