Venues

I often speak about Hotchpotch on this blog. This is an open-mike night I run, with an ethos of no judgement and no criticism.

Yesterday, we heard that the venue we use is closing down, so we currently have nowhere to hold our next session, scheduled for Monday 15 July.

A few of the regulars are working on a stopgap venue, and we hope a permanent place can be found for August. We’ve also sent a message to members, advising them of the situation and asking for help.

So I’m afraid this entry has not much style nor substance, as this conundrum will be taking up much of my time this week.

Nonetheless, we’ve endured a number of venue closures over our ten-year history, and we’ve bounced back every time.

EDIT: In the time since this entry was written, we’ve found a stopgap place. This will give us breathing time before August.

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Get Away

I’ve never been the type of writer who sets aside time every day, as I have a full-time job and other literary-related commitments.

However, the last seven days have been particularly productive for my poetry. I’ve written pieces inspired by such diverse sources as a convoluted train announcement and a Sorry You’re Leaving card.

The difference seems to be that I spent last week in Hove. This is on the south coast of England, more than eight hours away from Dundee by train. But once you’re there, it’s a pleasant walk into Brighton along the seafront, with plenty of tourist attractions along the way.

I must make it clear that this was a business trip, not a holiday. Yet after my shift finished at around 5:30pm, I had time spare with no washing to hang up or dishes to clear.

Unusually, I was put up in a hostel rather than a chain hotel because of where the office was located. I had a reasonably good experience there, but the bad reviews on TripAdvisor will probably inspire more poetry.

Despite the productivity I experienced, I’m still not of a mindset where I’d travel somewhere just for a holiday. I like to be somewhere for a purpose, else it feels like a waste of time.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to present workshops about National Novel Writing Month at a writing retreat called Chasing Time, run by three friends. They’re based in a large house in rural Angus.

Unfortunately, this particular workshop didn’t have enough subscribers to go ahead, but it would have suited me nicely to devote time to the other writers during the day, then work on my own project in the evenings. I’m pleased to report that their other workshops have all been successful.

A Place to Speak

Over the years, I’ve been to poetry gigs in many different locations.

In most cases, there are only a few legal requirements, including the correct insurance, a PPL licence if music is involved, and an alcohol certificate if drink is served.

For this reason, pubs and cafés are a common choice, and many bookshops, theatres and libraries are able to help. And there are plenty of alternatives. A friend launched her novel in a bank, while my own Hotchpotch event has previously taken place on an ancient warship.

And now I have somewhere new to add to the list: a virtual reality studio. On Saturday, Second Space took over the place for one night only.

This studio is largely open-plan to allow two or more players to battle against each other wearing VR helmets. As a result, there’s an area large enough to seat 50 people comfortably.

The other unusual factor in this gig was the extent of technology involved. Each poet was accompanied by computer-generated fractal imagery such as you might find at a nightclub, plus short films screened between performers.

Even before I knew about this, I’d discussed with one of the owners the possibility of holding a special Hotchpotch there, as we’ll celebrate our 10th birthday in March 2020. From seeing how well the Second Space performance was staged, I’ll start making plans now and we’ll be all set for next year.

Poetry in the Community

On Monday of last week, I had the opportunity to teach my colleagues how to write a type of poem called a clerihew. This was part of a larger event called Learning at Work Week where people were teaching their skills to their workmates, such as Zumba, knitting and making mocktails.

A lot of people don’t think they’re very good at writing poetry, so the aim of my workshop was to encourage colleagues to write verses about each other using a simple format. I ended up with a number of good ones, and the clean ones might make it into the internal newsletter.

Colleagues and friends have also occasionally commented that they don’t understand poetry in general, with some asking how to appreciate it.

The best advice I can offer is to read and listen to a wide variety of different poets. There will probably come a point when you begin to differentiate between what you like and don’t like.

After all, most people are certain of their taste in music, and that’s because we’re surrounded by it every day and have built up a template in our heads of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’. If you’re willing to take the time, it’s possible to do the same with poetry.

The Joy of Nonsense

Last week, I said I was organising three live events over the next month and that there would be more about those in this entry. On reflection, I think this is better done as a reactive post, as I can then talk about two of the final performances. So that will definitely appear next week.


A couple of weeks ago, I was in a pub in Stockton-on-Tees called the Thomas Sheraton. Behind the bar was a coffee machine with the label ‘Biscuits don’t live here’.

For some reason, I found this particularly amusing. By the time my meal was served, I’d written a good chunk of a piece that’s now sitting at around 350 words. It’s a surreal narrative about anthropomorphised biscuits are who are fed up with people and are leaving town.

Normally when I look back on work, I’m inclined to remove words from it. In this case, however, I’ve added words almost every time.

But where is the line between a nonsense piece and one that’s simply rubbish? Here’s my view on the matter.

The Bob Dylan track Subterranean Homesick Blues is a disjointed sequence of phrases and imagery. It’s lauded as summing up the counterculture movement of the day. However, even taking into account that many of the references are now outdated, I simply don’t find the lyrics cohesive enough to enjoy them.

By contrast, I thoroughly enjoy the Simon Armitage poem Thank You for Waiting, which is structured as an airport boarding announcement, but the categories of passengers he describes become increasingly more bizarre. Taken together, all the lines poke fun at the class system.

So for me, even a loose cohesiveness or some form of internal logic makes all the difference between the nonsense I enjoy and the nonsense I don’t. Remember this is only my definition, and it’s not wrong to like what everyone else hates, or vice versa.

The Project That Turns into Another

In April, the first of two Camp NaNoWriMo events takes place. This is a less involved version of the main National Novel Writing Month in November, where members can choose their own word count or even a different type of literary project.

My aim was to produce another draft of the novel I’d redrafted in November, spending a target average of one hour per day. However, I haven’t done any of this editing so far because my time has been taken up organising three live events over the next month. There will be more about those in the next entry.

In fact, the entry you’ll see next week has already been partially written, and that’s because I put aside that for a piece that came to me yesterday, prompted by a sign on a coffee machine that read ‘Biscuits don’t live here’.

It certainly isn’t the first occasion where I’ve felt inclined to put one project aside in favour of another. Depending on the time constraints, I usually choose the one that’s eating away at me the most.

In the case of the biscuits poem, I probably would never have completed this if I’d left it aside to write the original blog entry. By contrast, I know I’ll come back to that entry next week because this space needs to be filled.

Knowing How to Start

Although you see a new blog entry here every week, it isn’t always an easy business knowing how to start writing them. Sometimes, I have only a vague idea of what I want to say; other times, there might be two topics of equal importance that don’t link into each other or sit well together.

There’s no good answer to either of these problems, but one technique is to start writing anything, whether it’s a fragment, a plan, someone else’s words, or even a load of nonsense. After a few minutes of non-stop writing, I find this has the effect of turning on the tap so a structure begins to flow.

Another good method is to head out for a walk or a run, depending upon your preferred speed. A few years ago, I was struggling to write a short story about a man with an excellent memory but limited social skills. I went for a walk in the rain, writing down fragments in my notepad in bus shelters. The moment I had the line, ‘Anger can do in five seconds what a shrink can’t do in five years’, I was ready to write the rest of it.

At times, of course, there will be nothing pressing to say. It’s more difficult to start from a blank slate, but the above techniques can be used in the same way.