Monday, October 1, 2018

Superheroes of Leicester

River Monster of Leicester
Superheroes of Leicester encourages people to imagine Leicester as home to a cast of superheroes.

Cities around the world that are similarly home to superheroes include Lagos, which is home to crimefighter, Abolaji Coker; Tokyo, Japan, which is home to the Super Young Team and Big Science Action; and, Boston, Massachusetts, which is the former home base of Wonder Woman, and the occasional residence of Aquaman and his wife Mera. (Massachusetts is also interesting because there's a place called Leicester in Massachusetts as well.)

Leicester, England where the Superheroes of Leicester will be from currently has two known monsters: the Dragon of Habitat Loss, which we first heard about at the St George's Festival Fringe that was held in the city in April 2018, and the River Monster which was discovered in the city in August 2018.

Superheroes of Leicester, the project will facilitate or bring out a graphic novel or comic book or series of such books imagining Leicester as a City of Superheroes.

If the project leads to books, the first books in the series could be published in 2019/20 by CivicLeicester, who have just given us Leicester 2084 AD: New poems about the city, a poetry anthology that encourages people to imagine what the city will be like in the year 2084, how it will get there and what it will mean to its citizens, residents and the rest of the world.

Expressions of interest in Superheroes of Leicester can be emailed to CivicLeicester@gmail.com

Notes:

i. Spotted on 25 August 2018, in Abbey Park, the River Monster is made from plastic waste dumped in the River Soar.
ii. For ideas on how to protect the environment, like and follow Leicester Friends of the Earth and the Canal & River Trust.
iii. See also: Red Leicester Choir's "Pointless Packaging".




Monday, April 16, 2018

Interview _ Carol Leeming

Carol Leeming is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and is an award winning, internationally acclaimed, multi-genre writer, director, musician, singer/songwriter, performing artist, actor and arts curator.

Her poems have been featured in anthologies that include Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe, 2014), Hidden Stories (University of Leicester and Phoenix Leicester, 2015), Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016).

In 2016, working with digital arts practitioner Rob Gurney, Carol Leeming produced The Enchanter, a short film that fuses music, poetry and performance. She is also the author of The Declamations of Cool Eye (Dare to Diva Productions, 2017), a poetry chapbook.

In this interview, Carol Leeming talks about the work she is doing.

How would you describe The Enchanter?

The Enchanter is a mythical, magical character, a narrator, and it is also the title of the film poem which features a love song, "Habibi", and a love poem, “Drawing” which is included in my debut poetry collection, The Declamations of Cool Eye.

I produced Enchanter in March 2016 with Rob Gurney of Digital Mechanic.

The Enchanter, as an idea for a persona, came to me via a silver sequinned hat made in Morocco. I got the hat whilst in Brighton for a play of mine at Brighton Dome Theatre in March 2016.

Some of my interests in the arts include Magic Realism, Afro-Futurism and Fantasy, and using the arts and technology as a kind of magic practice. So the Enchanter persona stems from these things. It can be located in an actual space, for example, Leicester, but also within a creative, imagined space. The Enchanter persona is mysterious, acts as a jali or griot or chronicler, and shows North African tribal roots of the Amazigh or Turareg people of the Sahara. These are people I have some ancestral links with.

What were the most challenging aspects of the work that went into the film?

Time constraints for Rob, a busy, creative person and a freelancer, and myself. We had both decided to make the work in late 2015 but only got together in March 2016 to actually get round to shoot it. Also, finding a location to shoot on the weekend, for example, on Sundays, proved a challenge, which was solved by using the 2 Queens Gallery’s downstairs space.

Being a member of the Seven Five Film Production group, based at the Phoenix Arts, I was able to recruit a good crew for the shoot.

Sound was also something we had to pay special attention to.

Subsequently, when Enchanter was completed, we organised a preview launch event at Phoenix Arts. The film was well received. During the Q&A that followed, people described the film as ‘mesmerising’, ‘stunning’, and ‘magical’. And recently, at Upstairs at the Western, several people came to see the film again. They enjoyed it and said they wanted to see it again as they experience different things each time they watch it. Enchanter also received the 2016 Penfold Media Award from Leicester Writers Club.

What connects The Enchanter and The Declamations of Cool Eye?

The poetry collection gives a strong, poetic, narrative voice to Cool Eye, a mythologised black female narrator, who may or may not occupy, simultaneously, physical and metaphysical space; a chronicler who feels marginalised, who reports on the ‘down pressure’ of society. The collection starts with a sense of place and natural events, before moving into sensuality and sexuality at times, the interior of self, expressing angst, disquiet, pleasure, joy and the spirit or just observing and reflecting.

The Declamations of Cool Eye came about over time and coalesced, after the video was made, into a collection. I had been thinking, for some time, to create a collection of some of my shorter poems. I felt I needed to find out what audience there was for my page poetry and promote myself more as a poet, to try and get bookings and develop an audience also. I knew my choreopoetry, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diva, had an audience after sell out performances at Curve in 2012 and my second choreopoem, Love the Life You Live, Live The Life You Love, included in Hidden Stories, sold well.

I have sold copies of my poetry book to professed ‘non-poetry’ people who tell me they have read Cool Eye more than once. I have received positive reviews from respected poetry reviewers. I have also been giving readings from the collection locally at venues like Upstairs at the Western where some audience members who had already bought the book came because they wanted to hear me read the poems.

For you, what is the connection between film, music, poetry and stage performance?

I seek beauty. I may see beauty where others may not, or connections between things that may seem disparate. It can create a liminal space, for interesting things to happen. This is a challenge I like. I also see myself primarily as a storyteller, whether it is in music, songs, theatre, dance, poetry or images still or moving. In the African Diasporic culture, we have always expressed ourselves through a variety of these mediums or combined them.

In the 90s when I was not performing music, I was paid to take photos, or work as a fashion stylist. I have an eye and a unique take on things. I was like a hunter getting shots to capture a look, a moment, a mood or feeling. Always constructing a narrative, whether with clothes or makeup, creating a mis en scene. The same is true of performance, creating a stage picture, casting performers, using space in a particular way, through body movement, to create something wonderful, a look, a mood, a feeling through which to convey a particular narrative or narratives.

I also write plays, short form poetry, and long form poetry. My choreopoems are like prose short stories in non-rhyming verse. I like very much the depth, compression and freedom for the imagination that poetry provides. I seek to be transliterate as an artist and make connections, combine, juxtapose, contrast and interlink different forms and ideas. You could think of what I do as a kind of weaving, to make a whole or ask questions from the different threads.

Most artists tend to focus on one medium. You embrace and work in more than one. How did this happen?

I displayed artistic abilities in visual art, music and theatre, from childhood, but lacked the opportunities, early on, to develop them. So, after growing up in Highfields, having kids, getting married and later getting divorced, then being a single parent, I eventually came to an arts career, firstly, in music and, later on, in other art forms. Being in the music industry on a major record label, taught me so much about music, film, photography, fashion, art direction, business, performance and the experience of travel around the world.

I had always been interested in ideas and art, and I tried and was successful at many different art forms. I am a naturally curious person, with a big imagination, and I am happiest when I am learning new things. I would often put forward creative ideas, ahead of their time. Others would say the ideas would not work or that they were not possible, but I knew they would succeed. This has been key to my achievements to date, along with a knack for looking forward and anticipating future outcomes and trends.

Early on, it was difficult for others to understand or comprehend how I was able to do this so easily. From a western perspective, some tried to classify me and confine me to one art form. This was frustrating, at times. After I went to West Africa in the early noughties, then did I fully understand, from an Afrocentric point of view, given specifically my African heritage, that it was natural for me to convey my artistic expression through different art forms or mediums or a combination of forms and media. I later learned the Arts Council called me a multi-artist, whilst others in the arts and academia called me a polymath.

What would say is the role of The Arts in a city like Leicester?

I like the saying I heard, which I paraphrase: “Art should discomfort the comfortable and comfort the discomforted.” I believe the role for The Arts in Leicester should be to continue to make culturally diverse art, that reflects excellence at its very best, and to share the beauty and creativity of all its artists, from across the different communities and groups, particularly the marginalised groups. We can all see what it is we are not seeing and whose voices we are not hearing.

I think we live in a world of stories, but often we keep hearing the same ones over and over again. The role would be to be bold, to interrupt these dominant self-referencing stories, replace them, make new stories, tell old stories in new ways, but let us hear new old voices, from the marginalised communities and groups, and bring these new voices to the centre of everything in The Arts. The new voices are there but there is often wilful deafness and blindness to them. This should stop.

This article was first published online in March 2017 in the magazine, Great Central.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Interview _ Bobba Cass

Bobba Cass grew up in the United States and was in the Peace Corps in Nigeria in the 1960s.

An academic whose advanced degrees were in English Literature and Cultural Studies, he has been an activist in struggles against apartheid, racism in schools, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

He organises Pinggg…K! a poetry event that meets monthly in Leicester for an evening of metrosexual open mic verse and a performance by a featured poet.

He came out in his late 40s following a police entrapment arrest.

In this interview,* Bobba Cass talks about the work he is doing.

You are often described as a literary activist. What forms does this activism take? And, how has it been received?

When I began coming out in the late 1980's and I experienced and welcomed the gentleness of other men, I began what I can only describe as 'hearing' a poetry which, in its intensity, was much more open about sensuality and sexuality than was then being published (much of this has changed today with poets being recognised for their intensity of detail, especially openly gay poets). I theorised this as metasexual verse.

After I retired from university lecturing in 2003, I got involved in open mic poetry events in Leicester. I noticed that there were no poets other than myself at that time (2006) who were speaking their sexuality. I began my performances with, Hi. I'm Bobba Cass, a gay grey poet.

I wanted to have an open mic poetry event that was personal and safe enough for those struggling with and exploring their sexuality, to be more direct. In 2011, I began Pinggg...K! which advertised itself as celebrating 'metrosexual verse' (the term, metrosexual based on Rikki Beadle-Blair's television soap, 'Metrosexuality'). Pinggg…K! is now in its seventh year and has seen a growing number of poets of all ages, genders, ethnicities, social backgrounds and mental and physical challenges, come forward and share their sexualities in monthly events, and this has in turn impacted on the wider poetry communities in Leicester.

In addition to Pinggg...K! events I have organised larger events that have brought together Leicester people from many backgrounds. I love Leicester, and am an advocate for its inclusivity. Although I set out here what I have done, there are many others who have been crucial to the growth that has taken place.

To celebrate five years of Pinggg…K! you published a limited edition book, four and twenty. How did the book come about?

Each month there had been a call and response couplet that worked humour out of the relationship of blackbird to earthworm, a humour that was free of the attitudes towards women, working people, black people, the disabled, the LGBT communities so often found at poetry events, especially those in pubs.

From the ranks of Pinggg...K! attenders (women and men, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, physically challenged and not, working class background and middle class, international and English), cartoons were produced to give visual energy to twenty of these couplets. And also four of the blackbird / earthworm genre best poems were included hence the four and twenty title of blackbird nursery rhyme fame.

four and twenty is a brief volume but encapsulates an activist energy that is evident in Leicester at its best.

I have occasional verse in other publications such as Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016), and several poems that can be seen and heard online. These internet poems I treasure because they are there as the result of other poet activists who have taken the time to record and post them in the ether.

When did you start writing?

Although I see myself mainly as a performer, especially as a poet, I have also written two novels, and they are part of a sequence which I hope one day will be published, especially in the Pacific Northwest of the United States where I grew up.

I am 78 years of age.  I began writing as a child in school, especially poetry. The greatest energy for writing came when I began coming out as a gay man in my late 40s.

My poetry, in its passion, is very sporadic and instantaneous - I am hearing phrases and responding to feelings and reflections. My novel writing is shaped by my interest in readability, something that can be enjoyed in a day for some or a week for others. The novels are no longer than 10 chapters.

I have lived in Leicester now most of my life. My poetry as performance has come about through the vitality of spoken word events in our city. My novels imagine more the audiences of my upbringing and experiences, for instance, living in Nigeria for four years in the 1960s and residing in countries different from that of my birth as well as where I grew up in Seattle. Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again. Once we begin to hear ourselves, the stories we tell, as if from different paths in life and different places of disposition, we struggle to find a joy. When that joy is found it fills our hearts with wanting to share it with others.

Which authors influenced you most?

Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare are key influences on my poetry - Dickinson because of her brevity and intensity, Shakespeare because of his sonnets. The novels of Thornton Wilder (Bridge of San Luis Ray) and Laura Ingalls Wilder (House on the Prairie sequence) are paradigmatic.

What are the biggest challenges that you face? And, how do you deal with them?

I had been longing for someone who would love me and allow me to love them for a long time - desperate for that. By chance such a person has come into my life. There is a huge challenge around this commitment. I am still growing within myself.

I was on the stage as a child and that has informed my energy around performance. I had a mental breakdown at the end of my four years in Nigeria. I came out after 20 years of marriage and raising three sons. I have been an activist around peace, environmental, race and gender issues. These experiences have been formative.

I feel most passionate about wanting young people to have experiences in their lives that take them beyond their childhood environments so that they can sense what others lives might be like. I would like everyone to have some part of their childhood sheltered / regaled by the unconditional love of an elder close to them. For example, my grandmother lived with us when I was a child. Her love for me saw me through the most difficult moments of my early adult life when I had what was then called 'a mental breakdown'. I always hope that there will be someone like my grandmother, in everyone's life.

Do you write everyday?

The poetry is spontaneous. It happens in moments. The novels I set out to do and they are written within three to four months and then revised many times.

I am preparing to write my third novel, Nigeria! Nigeria! I was in Nigeria at the time of Biafra. I lived where the war first broke out.

This particular book will draw heavily on the letters I wrote home at the time, and will be epistolary. The underlying narrative will be an expansion of the life of a character, Donny, in the first two novels, and one of his friends.

Which are the most difficult aspects of the work you do?

With the poetry, the forms have been most various, and have required a lot of reworking in some instances. All of the poems are memorised and that by way of reworking. With the novels, the diction and dialogue have required many revisions. As with the poetry, I find hearing the writing aloud crucial.

Which aspects of the work do you enjoy most?

For the poetry, recalling particular moments that have an integrity in emotional relationships gives me a vitality and sense of achievement. For the novels realising conjunctions in the relationships of the characters that go beyond initial imaginings always seems miraculous.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer and as a literary activist?

For the poetry, my greatest of achievement has been the interaction with other writers in Leicester, and my part in bringing this about. For the novels, I hope that my persistence in working on the narratives over a long period of time in my late adult life will be regarded as a big achievement.

My greatest joy as a literary activist is the shared experience of celebration. To me this is live. It is spontaneous. It is what we can all bring to an event. It is primarily spoken. We attempt to capture it in words. And that is a great challenge. But the greater challenge is allowing ourselves to be wise in each other.

Oscar Frank is one of our spoken word community – a wonderful oral tradition poet. One afternoon as I was rushing to get a train to Nottingham, Oscar saw me near the train station. He was eating from a cob, but he had to say to me what was uppermost in his mind, “Time is longer than a rope, Bobba. Time is longer than a rope!” That night, in recollection, the meaning and this poem was in my heart. (‘Farrels’ is my word for the muscles either side of the urethra in the phallus):

for Oscar

time is longer than the rope
that farrels through our dreams
that wrinkles with a bartered hope
that lithes with peril beams

when that ourselves eventuates
to dust galactic streams
the time that was
more likely still
a carnal apple gleams


*This interview was first published in the magazine, Great Central, in March 2017

Friday, March 16, 2018

Leicester 2084 AD: Poetry & Microfiction - a Call for Submissions

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about The City is now available

An introduction to the anthology can be read on the Creative Writing at Leicester blog. 

Could you write a poem or short fiction that shares an experience or aspect on or of future Leicester?

Your poem or short fiction could be about life, personalities or relationships with, within or around the city, its people, features, landmarks, peculiarities, history, or future.

What will Leicester be like in the year 2084? How will it get there? Where will it go or where did it go along the way?

There is a legend, at most points into the city, that says,
Welcome to
Leicester
Historic City.

Will this legend still be there in the year 2084 or will it have been replaced by another one?

What greeting will people get when they come to future Leicester? What will they be coming to? What or where will they be coming from?

What meaning will Leicester have in the year 2084? What will Leicester mean to its citizens, residents and to others? What will Leicester's relationship be like with or within itself or with the rest of the world?

Submission Guidelines

● Poems should be 40 lines or less, and short fiction, 100 words or less.
● The poems and short fiction should have a strong, recognisable link to Leicester.
● Submissions must be in English. In the case of translated work, it is the translator’s responsibility to obtain permission from the copyright holder of the original work.
● If submitting a poem or short fiction which have been previously published please give details of where it has appeared and confirm that you own the copyright.
● Ideally submissions will be typed single spaced and submitted either in the body of an email or as a .doc attachment. Postal submissions will also be accepted.
● Please include a short biography of 50 words or less. This will be included in the anthology if your poem is accepted. If you do not send a biography, it will assumed you do not wish your biography to appear in the anthology.
● You may submit a maximum of three poems or three pieces of short fiction or a combination of poems and short fiction. You do not have to submit all three at the same time, but the editors can only consider a maximum of three submissions.
● Please send poems and short fiction to civicleicester@gmail.com by 5.30pm on 1 August 2018.
● We welcome submissions from writers of all ages, based anywhere in the world.

Note:

This blog post was amended on 22 July 2018 to show that the deadline for submissions for Leicester 2084 AD has been extended from 12 midnight on 15 July 2018 to 5.30pm on 1 August 2018. The rest of the brief and submission guidelines remain the same.

The blog post was further amended on 1 October 2018 to include a statement saying Leicester 2084 AD: New poems about the city is now out, and that an introduction to the anthology is available on the Creative Writing at Leicester blog.