Saturday 24 November 2012

Brain tricks and procrastination.

It's been too long. Again.

One of the problems I have in my life (relatively small compared to many problems around the world, I know) is that, quite often, I think something needs doing, and think about doing it in great detail - on my way home, say, or while I'm swimming - and then my brain is satisfied that this problem has been solved. Without me getting around to actually doing something. And even though actually doing something makes me feel really efficient and productive and good. It's like a strange trick my head plays on itself that gets worse the more time I have to complete something.

And so, yes, it's been too long. But in my head, I've updated with every single Herman that's been made (and some of them have gone down very well) and written loads and loads of poems. I have actually written, optimistically in terms of completeness, two or three; and you can see that I have updated my blog not at all.

Today I  have put my dungarees on and will try and do something about both.

So, Herman-wise, I've made: Honey, Ginger & Parson Hermuffins, Chocolate Fudge Herman, Cherry Bakewell Herman (for a birthday gift (delivered strapped onto the back of my bike), so duplicates were okay), Apple, Maple & Pecan Herman, Pineapple Upside Down Herman, Red Velvet Herman and I'm sure a few others that I can't remember. Basically, recipe-wise, there is no great mystery. Find a nice cake recipe on the internet, reduce the amount of wet ingredients slightly, add a Herman portion and cook for perhaps 5-10 mins longer to make sure it's done properly. Et voila.

Herman line-up

I am thinking of going down the route of Herman Sourdough bread of some sort, actually using it as a leavening agent rather than just a taste sensation, but we'll see if I get time.

Poetry wise, I have actually been doing some stuff. I read at Durham Book Festival in October at the launch of our new magazine Butcher's Dog (Submit some work for issue 2! Buy a copy! etc.) and at the launch of Magma 54, which I am in as an Eric Gregory winner. I've also had a poem out in Poetry London, and am applying for a few things (of which more word later) and sending work out. It's just that writing them is a bit slow at the moment, but I will get around to fixing that. Once I've stopped knitting things for Christmas... Oh, Christmas! What a glorious procrastination time-sink you are. I love you.

Monday 13 August 2012


Chocolate Hazelnut Herman
And so, after my enthusiasm for sharing Herman recipes, I made a chocolate hazelnut cake which ended in disaster. The first Herman to not be devoured in its entirety, it was dry and crumbly and nowhere near as good as it looked. How disappointing.

Luckily, I have redeemed myself with a Blueberry Herman which is based on a sour cream blueberry cake recipe which looked quite tasty, and yes, it is quite splendid.

Monday 16 July 2012

Hello Herman.

I've been nursing a Herman the German (friendship cake) for quite a while now, and am still enjoying the task I've set myself of keep one/cook one without repeating recipes, and split and share occasionally with willing cake enthusiasts. I have my own favourites among the many I've cooked, but though I've found loads of people talking about them on the internet, I haven't seen very many British recipes with grams, or very many recipes that use a whole portion of Herman rather than a half or a cup or something. So. Here I am, with a blog that has had nothing to do with food historically, starting a tradition of Herman blogging, in the hope that the recipes may find other struggling Herman devourers looking for some inspiration.

And so, to begin, a brief introduction to those who may never have met Herman. Herman is a sourdough batter that you keep in your kitchen at room temperature, uncovered except for a teatowel, made up of milk, sugar and flour in equal volumes, that bubbles with fermentation and requires regular stirring, feeding and splitting. The usual cycle is over ten days, and looks something like the document to the left (complete with splatters, which came on my copy courtesy of Herman's previous owners, Dave and Adrienne).

The tone is a bit.. patronising... but the theory is sound. So I don't end up with four Hermans at the end of each cycle, and so two to get rid of, I've just been adding half measures on both feeding days and only splitting into two come day 9.

The first cake I made was a ginger cake, and since then I have also made: chocolate cherry cake, carrot and coconut cake, coffee cake, double chocolate cake, banana cake, lemon drizzle cake and, I think, a few others that have slipped from memory. The possibilities are endless. And delicious.

So, the other day I made a Cherry Bakewell Herman, adapted fairly straightforwardly from a recipe at BBC Good Food. It was ace. Here it is:

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Whit agitation.

I learnt the word whit when I was writing a poem and researching other words to describe dust particles hitting our atmosphere to make shooting stars. You've probably guessed by now that this is another Shake the Dust post. You'd be right. But it feels like dust shaking is all I ever talk about so I thought I'd mix it up a bit... and I've failed.

Last weekend was the epic Thursday-Sunday national finals and Shake the Dust weekend at the Southbank Centre, and boy was it a busy one! With workshops, evening events, travelling, meetings, eatings, rehearsals, letting-off-steams and all sorts of other bits and pieces to do with nine groups of eight 13-16 year-olds it was a hectic few days - made only more hectic by the fact that I did a reading at Ledbury Festival on Friday with five of the other Eric Gregory winners, travelling there and back in one day.

Needless to say, I'm knackered. But a good sort of knackered, full of enthusiasm for poetry and the 'new' generation (though who's to say when one generation begins and another ends) and current generation of performers and writers. One of the highlights was seeing Kate Tempest and Saul Williams on Thursday evening, performing their hearts out (albeit for a little too long, perhaps, though that's not their fault but a misjudgement in programming); another was the look on the faces of our Slamming Saints at their arrival in London and first sight of the big city. The main highlight though, of course, was seeing our two teams doing the best performance of their poems they've ever done, on the main stage at Queen Elizabeth Hall at Southbank. Wow. My heart bursts with pride for all of them - they really did themselves and the North East proud!

So now, I have sleep to catch up on (still) and ponderings to ponder about the performance of poetry vs. performance poetry. Perhaps I'll get back to you with some conclusions about that one later on. In the meantime, sleep tight! Don't let the bed bugs bite!

Tuesday 19 June 2012

The dust is well and truly SHAKEN

After a long and action-packed day of rehearsals, workshops, rehearsals and more workshops at ARC in Stockton, our fabulous Shake the Dust team, the Slamming Saints, won the award for highest scoring team at their regional final on the 16th June.... and so will be travelling to London for the national finals in July! I'm so SO proud of them and their achievement and so had to post this picture of their glistening trophy.

Every team that performed at the final were good enough to win. It really was an honour to be a part of such an inspiring event. It may sound cheesy as hell, but you really do hear it all the time from the mouths of the young performers and poets themselves - they had no idea poetry could be like this, so fun, so engaging, so relevant to them and their world. I've lost count of the ways in which this project has positively impacted the poets we've been working with, and so it proves itself crucial time and again and with every smiling face. So yes, anyway, a massive congratulations to every individual young poet that was involved in this project. They were all absolutely bleedin' brilliant!

You should come along and see The Slamming Saints, and all the other regional high-scorers, in action in London at the Southbank on the 7th July. It's going to be a cracking event - in fact, that whole weekend is jam-packed with some great spoken word, so you should just hang out there the whole time. And come and say hello!

Friday 15 June 2012

Eric Craven Gregory

...was not only in possession of a rather wonderful name, but was also an extremely generous man who believed in encouraging young poets so much that he set up a Trust, in his name, for the annual support and recognition of their work. I am very grateful to him for this rare gift - not just because his Trust has awarded money to some of my favourite poets since 1969, but that it has also - marvellously, inexplicably, startlingly - awarded some to me.

My heartfelt thanks also go to The Society of Authors and this year's judges, Moniza Alvi, Polly Clark, John Greening, Sophie Hannah, Adam O'Riordan and Carol Rumens. And my warmest congratulations to my fellow winners: Joey Connelly, Holly Corfield Carr, Caleb Klaces, Rachael Nicholas, Phoebe Power and Jon Stone.

The other winners will be reading tonight, in London, at the Betsey Trotwood, though unfortunately I can't make it (it's Shake the Dust tomorrow so I had to be back in time!) We'll all be reading at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, so do come and see us if you get the chance.

It still hasn't quite sunk in, but it's getting there. Here's me with the certificate and a rainbow muppet face gurn on.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Shaking that Dust.

Well, it's the last session at Our Lady & St Bede's tomorrow, working with our young people who will be practising their performance pieces and fine-tuning their stage directions for the North East regional final taking place next weekend at the ARC in Stockton. (Are you coming along? Come along!)

It's very exciting to be reaching the end of this project and being able to see our Slammin' Saints onstage. It feels like Alfie and I have been resident poets at the school for aaages, and it's been really good fun working with the teachers and a fabulous bunch of young people who seem to have got a lot out of writing and performing their work. I can't say I'll miss the 5.30am starts all that much, but it will be weird not to be thinking about delivering workshops and playing Giants, Wizards and Elves.

I've really learnt a helluva lot when it comes to working in schools - not least that you can't underestimate how important it is to have teachers working with you who are as fired up about the work as you are - and I'll certainly be incorporating more of a performance aspect to my own work, both creatively and in an educational way. Getting people up and moving about is a great way to keep the imagination fired, and to get reluctant writers to realise that poetry is fun.

Because it is, you know. Really good fun.

Come and see for yourself!

Monday 21 May 2012

Self-imposed restrictions

And so... NaPoWriMo was a no-go for me, mostly because of time and considerations of where to post these things. It's a terrible thing, getting more 'discerning' with your poetry. I dislike myself sometimes, as it feels like I'm being a tad snooty with my own work, but with the burgeoning internet (accidental) self-publication possibilities, and a diminishing market for real-world publication (and some pamphlet competitions specifying that included poems not be freely available anywhere on the internet) it seems more worthwhile a consideration. And so, and so. I find myself with these self-imposed restrictions and a mild self-disgust for following them.

So, no NaPoWriMo, and still not a huge amount of writing, but things are looking up a bit as I've enrolled in The Poetry School's online poetry course 'Adventures in Form' (which is inspired by that book over there, published by Penned in the Margins), and this requires a poem a week. I like the online course format, with friendly forums and loose deadlines, and no tutor to answer to for posting late (which I've done with every poem so far...) And it's good to be writing regularly again, even if it is in strange N+7 or Poemixtape forms - there's those self-imposed restrictions again.

AND, I'm running regularly again (hoorah!), and looking after a Herman, and learning to drive soon, and still Poet Shadowing for Shake the Dust, and customising cardigans with horse faces, and the rats are lovely - so really life is full and interesting without a poem a day to think about.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Making room

So it turns out that it's really difficult to do everything in life. Who knew?! Shake the Dust, full time job, sleeping, cooking, growing veg, watching Game of Thrones/Grey's Anatomy/Dexter/Holby City/Casualty/Homeland, playing with rats and reading the Guardian seems to be taking up all of my time, leaving notmuchroom for writing. This needs rectifying, obviously.

I am considering taking part in NaPoWriMo to kick start the creative habit again. Doing a creative post every day for a year was a wonderful thing to get the juices flowing, but it was a huge undertaking that I wouldn't recreate lightly, so a month seems a good place to start. I am having wonderings about posting online, though. Many more places specify that poems sent for consideration in competitions/publications shouldn't be freely available on websites, and although anything I post in these furious periods of creation are in a very rough, unedited state, my revisions don't often amount to a complete rehashing of a poem beyond recognition. But really, if you're doing a poem a day for a month, there should be some public declaration or proof that you have completed this task, even if no-one reads it. Or should there? I'll have a think and let you know.

Sunday 4 March 2012

They've arrived!

Comma getting a scritch
It's been a long wait (since Christmas, and the wonderful gift of a rat-mansion from the OH) but Comma and Em-dash are now here. The pale one (officially buff) is Comma, and she's already a snuggler who has a tendency towards funny-five-minutes's, and Em-dash is the darker one (officially agouti). She is the adventurer, and always likes to know what's going on.

They are brilliant, and all of my thanks and delight is aimed in the direction of Lloyd at Eximius Rats for breeding and raising such terrific little girlie rats.

Em-dash having a look
Just a note on the names: I've always wanted to call some animals after punctuation, as it's such a prevalent and useful thing in my life as a poet and wordsmith, and by strange coincidence the litter that these lovely ones are from was nicknamed 'The Brackets', after mum Katy and dad Bracken. It was meant to be!

If you're interested in rats and you'd like to see my ratty Pinterest board, then go ahead and take a look. I will warn you, though. I love double rex and hairless rats too... so they're not always the prettiest cutest looking creatures. Also, it's quite hard to find a lot of positive rat imagery. People seem to hate them. Even with faces like these!

Thursday 16 February 2012

It's all go.

I am now firmly entrenched in the wonderful Shake the Dust initiative as a poet shadow working with the marvellous Alfie Crow, and though we haven't gone into the school yet (first session on Tuesday!) I am already excited to be a part of it all. In fact, I've just spent the last hour reciting a poem in order to memorise it for performance - for the first time ever. I'm quite excited and scared about the prospect of freezing and forgetting everything at an inopportune moment, but hopefully the story of the poem and the mental map I've sort of created as I've been doing it will help.

Actually, no, who am I kidding. Memorising and reciting a poem isn't something I've done since I was about 10. I'm terrified! And to test this new practice in front of 150 12/13 year olds?! Oh my. Ohhhh my.

Talking of new experiences, I am also in the process of creating my own website! I've picked up quite a bit of html over the years, enough to decipher and amend pages and make existing designs do what I want, but I'm determined to build an xhtml and CSS website from scratch this time, so it's a very steep learning curve to get things looking how I want. Even though all I want is to keep things very simple! There's something very satisfying about learning it on the fly and getting links to change colour when you hover on them, or moving your sidebar so it floats left and leaves enough room for the main content to appear next to it.... no? Just me? Oh well...

In other news, I am getting rats at the beginning of March! Squee!