Handing out words


December 2016

The Roving Poet Part 8: A Quiet Land


ABOVE: Copies of the fourteen-strong sonnet collection ‘A Quiet Land’, written, designed and created by me (Becci Louise). Copies will be on sale at the Nomad Bakery in Caversham, Reading, on Tuesday 20th December at £4 (inked copy) and £5 (Embossed copy). Each copy also comes free with a personalised fifteenth poem on parchment vellum paper in an envelope at the back of the collection. I will be able to take card payments!

It is twelve days until Christmas and my Facebook feed is filling with exciting adverts for glorious gadgets with alliterative taglines and far too many exclamation marks. Because the internet has become creepily voyeuristic, it seems to know that I might be interested in gadgets that I can write on, things to replace notebooks and pens, a tablet that doubles up as a journal, that I can sync to my phone and my laptop, paper-white and interactive with no blue light so it’s not harmful to the eyes. I’ve got to admit, I’ve been scrolling through this list of sickeningly expensive tablets and technologies with that same zombie earworm repeating itself in my head.

Want, want, want…

They do look cool. They look exciting, new. Maybe they would revolutionise my writing life, maybe they would help me produce the next masterpiece that would catapult me to the dizzy heights of canon-hood alongside such celebrated poets as Kate Tempest, Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker…maybe, as a result of this magnificent technology, I would produce a book of words so fundamental, original and beautiful that nobody would be able to read it without weeping frantically into the pages and saying “yes! This is what it is to be human!”

Probably though…probably not. And I am a real sucker for beautiful ink pens wound around with bronze dragons, for glossy notebooks with fine parchment paper, for leather files and folders and hosts of unnecessary stationary. There are other ways to be materialistic, let’s not pretend! We all do it, don’t we?

This notebook! This will be the one! I will write my masterpiece in this!

Well, if I’m honest, I haven’t yet. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against this technology. I’m all for progress, for new ways to make writing into an experience, to make it accessible to those with alternative abilities, to appeal to new generations. Let’s face it, less paper, less tree-death. But then, it does take an awful lot of plastic and energy to build these tablets, which need to be charged at the wall, thereby soaking up our fossil fuels until we can find alternative sources of energy. They do not decompose. And much of our paper (though not all, I will not lie) comes from sustainable tree farming such as those harvested and replanted across the vast valleys and hills in southern Scotland. So there are pros and cons on all levels.

So I have decided, as an artist and artisan, to look back on some older practices this Christmas, so that I can fully appreciate my own position as a writer and create things that might have personal, simple and beautiful meanings. I hope this is not reactionary. It is not instead of or in spite of the advent of technology, but as well as, to show that new things do not have to destroy the old, but can work and grow alongside it.

So. I have been working on a collection of fourteen sonnets, crafted and sewn into a bespoke poetry book using saddle stitching, stamping and embossing. It is paper. It is made with the biological technology of my own brain and my two good hands. It is written and made with love, arranged with the power of creative energy and produced with personal, artistic pride. It speaks of the mind, of the human experience, and of the things to which there is often no monetary answer; old age, loneliness, mental suffering, that quiet land of humanity into which we all tread occasionally but rarely speak of. And at the back of each collection is an envelope into which there will be fitted a fifteenth poem. But this poem has not been written yet, because this poem is yours, it will be written in your words, to tell your truth for yourself or for someone else who might need it. These are pieces that are written through conversation, eye-contact, the subtleties of the face and body and the billions of years that have shaped language through the instrument of our anatomy.

They are not expensive! £4 for a stamped copy and £5 for an embossed copy. If you are Reading based, I will be selling my first batch at the Nomad Bakery in Caversham on Tuesday 20th December while the bakery is open. I like discussion in my poetry. I also like cake, and tea. I would be more than happy to share some of the bakery’s fine home-baked goods with you over a chat, a book and a poem for you that has yet to be written. Come and find me! I’ll be the one surrounded by paper and stamps and most likely covered in ink, keen to share my poetry with you in the most personal, human way I know.

And no, sorry, I don’t have a kindle version.



The Roving Poet Part 7: ‘To Tell YOu The Truth…’

Wednesday 7th December 2016 saw the transformation of ten of my young poetry students. Between 5 and 6pm that evening, in front of an audience of their parents and teachers, transformed from poetry students into fully fledged, thoughtful and skilful poets.

It was our first ever poetry slam. After a frantic commotion involving the rearranging of chairs, the printing of certificates and acquiring of necessary sugary prizes, there were the nervous young thespians to deal with, many of whom had never performed before, let alone read their poetry aloud to an audience. Many of the youngsters that attend my after school poetry group are not the conventional creative-writing-club-goers. They are often vulnerable, some are labelled as ‘low ability’ (but my goodness, you should see them write!) they are anxious, frightened, angry, often confused and rarely experience the sense of achievement well known to the high academic fliers. Some are enthusiastic, dedicated students who are outcasts in their year groups. They have quirky and shrewd senses of humour which many of their peers don’t understand. They are perfect templates out of which to build young poets.

And they proved this irreversibly with the poetry that they read on Wednesday, and the incredible difficulty with which our three judges decided on which students were to win the prizes. Most notably among the students was a young man in year 8 who, for the purposes of this post, we shall call Dylan. Dylan had no one there for him in the audience of the slam. He was exceptionally nervous, switching places with a couple of students because he felt he could not face the audience. However, in the penultimate poetry slot, up he got, walked slowly onto the stage and began to read. To protect him, the contents of his piece will not be shared here, as it was his own experience, but suffice to say that the level of bravery it took that young man to share his unbelievable story with a room full of strangers is mind-boggling. His narrative was heart-breaking in its honesty, blinding in its simplicity and read with a calm truth well beyond its writer’s years. Deservedly, he won the Award for the most thoughtful poem and I and many others are still reeling from the awesome power of such a story. Dylan told the truth, and that took more bravery than even he knew he had.

Alongside Dylan were two year 7 girls who were reading for the first time. Neither of them had written much prior to attending the poetry group, but one had filled books with her work since starting Fernhill and the other had discovered a newfound love of poetry that was dramatically expanding her reading. Neither was used to receiving praise for their work and both often said they felt confused in lessons. They found English hard (through no fault of any of their teachers) but had discovered something new and exciting in poetry writing. Despite their nervousness, they read their poetry with thought, feeling and honesty.

And then came a group of year 8 boys with enough wit to wipe out a whole city of sceptics. Emotionally and politically aware, shrewd and intelligent with their jokes, they expressed an awareness of the world that many of the audience were surprised at. Their use of language and performance was phenomenal and they rocked the stage.

I was extremely proud to hand out awards to these students, to credit them for their incredible inventiveness, thoughtful application of language and young enthusiasm, something I hope they can maintain for a long, long time. I went home that night, humbled by their drive, their courage and their imaginative writing. No matter their young age, their limited experience of the world and their own fears and confusions, their writing was original, powerful and they have the potential to write real change into their futures. They chose their stage, their words, their performance and I could not have been more proud of their achievements.

Alongside the awards, each of the students who were not nominated for a specific award received a certificate for the achievement of beautiful reading. It was well deserved, as there was not a single student who did not achieve something remarkable on that stage. This close to the end of the year, I hope three things. I hope they are proud of the poetry they wrote and performances they gave. I hope that, when life and school and lessons let them down (as they all do sometimes, we cannot help it), they remember the strength they called upon for that performance. And I hope that they will continue to write; when they feel inspired, when they feel terrified, when they feel so angry they don’t know what else to do, I hope they write. Because what they write will shape them from now on, and shape everyone who reads it.

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