Reviews and comment from the Demon Crew - creative writers at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Wednesday, 29 February 2012
A group of young people enter the space. People, whose hometowns are spread over two continents. Only one of them speaks English as a first language. But there is something that unites them.
A harp starts playing and they start to dance. Slowly, beautifully; quicker as the harp sounds get enriched by singing and samba beats; energetic, as it changes into a clogging.
But all the time powerful, moving and in entire harmony.
Showing a melting of different cultures. Showing a story of time and distance, question and answer, Welsh tradition and Brazilian capoeira, contact and togetherness.
We wanted to explore the collaboration of music and dance”, explains Angharad Harrop, the leader of this international project. Rehearsing across a distance over 8000 km was anything but easy - even the internet has its limits: “We tried to work via Skype, but there is always a delay of two or three seconds, so it was nearly impossible to put the piece together.”
Angharad Harrop is a Dance Artist born in a small fishing village in the North of Wales. She left her home to study at De Montfort University and to do research in Brazil, but she has always returned. And that, finally, is what the Welsh-Portuguese title of their performance means: a feeling of homesickness, nostalgia, wistfulness and longing, something that's in your blood, something that always draws you back home:
Katharina Maria Kalinowski
As the performers sat to sing, the music that surrounded me took me to a different place. I was no longer in a dark studio but in a hot and serene setting that brought a genuine smile to my face. I let their voices drift over me.
There was time for questions and answers at the end of the performance and this was equally enjoyable. We met each performer in turn (including Angharad Harrop - formerly of DMU). Some spoke through a translator but all were filled with talent and love for the project they have embarked on. They described the ideas behind the project which expresses the sense being physically apart from somewhere or someone while a wordless need keeps drawing you back. And that is exactly what the performance conveyed to me.
All grace and elegance, Murray was a pleasure to listen to. There were no words wasted as he covered a wide range of stories, from a humorous recollection of his very first audition with Joan Littlewood, to an emotional encounter at a Doctor Who convention. He also spoke at great length regarding his role as archivist at Theatre Royal Stratford East, along with the history of the building and his many memories of the theatre. His recollections of making the tea for the company, his first role as a messenger in Macbeth and his defining role as Geoffrey Ingham in A Taste of Honey were told with great fondness, as were his many other stories.
He explained his acting techniques originating in Laban, picked out moments of his life and shared his thoughts on the importance of works such as Oh, What A Lovely War!, Murray remained fascinating throughout, regaling us with stories both amusing and upsetting. It was a wonderful evening, and I feel honoured to have been able to be in the presence of such an inspirational, influential and exceptional man.
Melissa set out five main aims to improve British education:
1. providing all children with general education until the age of 16, and not splitting them into tier groups until late adolescence;
2. mixing academic and cultural studies to discourage social divisions;
3. encouraging children of different social classes, races and religions to attend school together;
4. having schools invest on necessities;
5. making the government a key contributor in education.
The starting point of School Wars is the tripartite system set in place by the 1944 Education Act. Pupils were selected, on the basis of the 11-plus exam, for admission to grammar schools, technical schools, or secondary moderns.
Melissa explained that grammar schools were intended to provide a ladder for the poor to climb. In fact they also produced numerous failing students, and parents revolted against a test which branded their children as ‘failures’ at the age of 11.
Now Education minister Michael Gove claims that the introduction of academies and free schools will diversify education but, according to Melissa, he supports the old methods of dividing schools by social class.
In a nutshell, Melissa emphasised her desire to create a non-selective education system run by the government, with professional and experienced staff teaching broadened syllabi nationwide.
Even more shocking than the film itself, however, is the story behind it. Coldstream presented us with an opening clip of Dirk Bogarde who discussed the trouble agreeing to the role of a homosexual man at that time caused him, even with his own family - but he admitted that he had no regrets as he chose his parts on the basis of excitement and challenge. In the real world, the homophobic society surrounding Victim's release couldn't believe it, having never seen the topic covered in a serious light before. The Daily Mail weren't the only ones to cite its potential influence as dangerous either. Others named it an "irresponsible melodrama".
But ultimately, the struggle to sell the concept paid off, and as stated by Coldstream Victim was hugely influential in the passing of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which was an enormous step in accepting homosexuality. Furthermore, it made the topic acceptable to treat the subject seriously.
However, the discussion left us to consider the question of whether, though society's views have become more enlightened, the UK. still suffers from homophobia. The release of Victim has certainly played its part in the battle.
The talk was given by John Coldstream. The event was only one hour long, but I am positive he manged to fit hours' worth of information into the allotted time. He gave a strong and thought-provoking talk on the film's treatment of homosexuality.The audience were fully engaged with him and eager to hear more.
Towards the end of his speech, he asked if members of the audience had any questions. One gentleman raised the argument that Britain has not changed a great deal since the time of Victim. He shared the sad fact of his partner passing away, and how he is continually treated in a shocking way by our society.
This event was more than just part of Cultural eXchanges. It was a discussion involving real people's emotions. It was everyone talking as one: Being Equal. It raised the continually avoided question: Has Britain really changed?
On Tuesday 29th February, De Montfort was treated to a reading by six highly-talented creative writers.
First was Daniel O'Donnell-Smith, who completed his MA in Contemporay Poetry at DMU in 2010. The language of O'Donnell-Smith's poems, with successions of evocative words such as 'shot, sparrow, shiver' suggested he placed even more importance on sound than on meaning.
Next came Claire Baldwin, a DMU graduate with an MA in Creative Writing by Independent Study. Her short story 'Frank' uses repetition and surprising shifts in content. She read only the first half, leaving the audience more than a little anxious about the speaker's actions and state of mind.
After this there was Richard Byrt, a postgraduate student of Creative Writing by Independent Study. The three poems he read included the comical 'Dear Professor Auden' and 'Typical Bloke in a Woolly Hat,' which ended with Byrt pulling woolly hats from his own bag.
Bhagwant Kaur, who has moved from her 1st class degree to M.A. studies, amused the audience, which included many students of creative writing, with her short story 'Reasons For Divorce.' The narrator's second reason was summed up in the sentence, 'He's a writer'.
Penultimately, Pam Thompson, one of the organizers of Word!, read a collection of short poems taking a fim about Leicester as their inspiration. All were dark in theme.
Finally, Alexandros Plasatis, a co-editor of the third volume of literacy magazine, Hearing Voices, gave us a story about a young Greek man seeking friendship with Egyptians working in Greece. His Greek accent provided a short cut to the heart of the story.
The six writers set a high standard which many of us in the audience plan to attain.
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
This talk was led by a Dr Andrew Reeves, as part of the Green Light Festival, someone who showed great enthusiasm in bringing about social change to the UK.
For those of you who don’t know, a social enterprise is a business which trades for a social purpose. As clearly illustrated in the session, these businesses don’t follow the scheme of having all the profits go to the boss and the shareholders. Instead it goes to everyone who has a stake within the business, all the workers who managed it equally, and is used to sustain the enterprise indefinitely.
Dr Reeves even provided some examples of social enterprises such as AFC Wimbledon, a football team created and managed by the fans when their original team moved to Milton Keynes. Local shops and community centres have increasingly become controlled by the locals and by the community.
A good question which was presented was when social enterprise is appropriate and when is it not. It doesn’t solve every problem but at least it does solve problems.
The session was enough to plant the idea within me that perhaps social enterprise is the way forward. I wonder if you’ll think the same.
Item 92, you have psychedelic shades of green. Do you represent the curves of a woman or the creation of life? Precise shapes flow effortlessly on the canvas.
Item 35, it's so impressive how you fit a redheaded woman in a cardboard box - and more impressive that her nudity is displayed with an air of grace. Much more classy than the painting of the man’s chode.
Item 72, you are exceptionally hypnotic, creating shapes from tricks of the eye. I would have put a bid on you if I had a penny to spare. Your glass mould with intricate patterns is the definition of working man’s art, whatever that means.
Item 73, I thought you were the bee’s knees. The perfect example of abstract art. A reflection of life’s duality and imperfections. How disappointed I was to realise that part of you was accidentally created through a shining light.
Item 106, are you the script of a person’s mind? A woman’s mind perhaps? You are entirely nonsensical and I find you intriguing to examine.
I never thought I would be able to appreciate art in any way. Now I hope there will be another art auction preview at next year’s Cultural eXchanges.
Bhagwant Kaur seemed utterly at home within the showcase. She was confident and composed. Her work, 'Reasons for Divorce' was brilliant. Her comedic timing was first class. She performed her work with such passion that it was clear how much enjoyment Bhagwant finds in creative writing.
The speakers were Daniel O’Donnell-Smith (poet/musician), Claire Baldwin (writer/poetry blogger), Richard Byrt (retired lecturer/mental health nurse), Bhagwant Kaur (writer), Pam Thompson (poet/performer) and Alexandros Plasatis (editor/writer/performer).
The presentation displayed a wide array of compositions to appeal to all tastes. This ranged from unusual and vivid poetry, a short fiction which imaginatively used repetition and explores identity, an amusing poem assisted with crowd-pleasing props, an elaborate joke narrated in fictional form, a powerful description of city nightlife and a deep insight into the conversations between hashish smokers.
Each reader's work demonstrated that time spent in creative writing at DMU was far from wasted.
S. M. Knight
The six speakers shared work which was varied stylistically, yet all pieces were of a high standard. I particularly enjoyed the poetry of Richard Byrt, who combined humour with linguistic vibrancy, and fiction from both Bhagwant Kaur and Claire Baldwin, with the latter creating a narrative voice which was strikingly fresh and unique.
As well as inspiring the undergraduates in attendance, there was plenty of entertainment for the rest of the audience.
I hope to be in the position of those writers in just a couple of years' time, and also hope that their work will be visible on a much wider scale in the very near future.
However, as a first-year student studying Creative Writing, I was taken aback by the confidence with which these postgraduates read from their unique pieces of work.
I particularly appreciated two writers. When Richard Byrt read his poem ‘Typical Bloke in a Woolly Hat', he actually pulled out a bunch of woolly hats towards the end, claiming that if we bought one we would resemble the character in his poem. This made me see that when reading out poetry, a poet can actually ‘perform’ it, making it a more emotional or humorous experience for the audience.
I also enjoyed Bhagwant Kaur’s short story ‘Reasons for Divorce’. I heard her read a short ghost-story at the Demon Crew launch at the beginning of the year and liked her writing style. In this story I enjoyed the way she structured and unveiled the narrative, as well as the way she incorporated birds. She read in a lively and confident tone, which is something I aspire to develop.
Each readers had an individual style of writing and reading aloud - I was never the least bored or in danger of zoning out.
Heather Peace is in an actor/musician known for her parts in London’s Burning and Lip Service. As soon as she entered the room it was obvious that there was a massive amount of respect. We sat in silence as she was interviewed by Beverly Hancock-Smith of Leicester College.
Within the first five minutes of seeing Heather, it became very difficult to not become enamoured by her demeanour. Heather smiles a lot and is so down-to-earth that when she laughs you can’t help but laugh along with her. You imagine taking her down to your local and having a few pints like it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
Obviously the subject of Heather’s sexuality came into focus a quite a bit. I was surprised at her responses: that sexuality shouldn’t matter, that she has “never been in the closet” and questioning a person’s sexual preference is crass.
Tonight I felt we saw the real Heather Peace through her history, ambitions and honesty. We were treated to three of the songs from her upcoming album Fairy Tales.
And strike me down if Heather Peace can’t belt out a note or two.
I was utterly smitten by just how lovely a person she is. She's probably the most genuine celebrity I've ever seen. She was extremely welcoming and friendly, had plenty of jokes and stories to tell and was an absolute delight to watch. It was a very real, heart-felt interview and Q&A.
Aside from the conversation, Heather also treated us to some of her musical talent. In a word: outstanding. I'm always in awe of people who can both play the piano and sing; with her power and vocal range Heather was simply fantastic. An utterly breath-taking and intimate live performance of three songs from her upcoming album Fairy Tales. The title track is particularly worthy of praise.
It's hard to believe that the event didn't cost a penny - a real treat for hard-pressed students. An excellent event on all accounts.
Kerry Young reminds me of a really charming amalgamation of my Filipino Great Aunt Lilia and my Jamaican Grandfather George. If I were forced to drink a shot for every time Kerry stood from her chair to dramatize her responses I’d be looking at complete liver failure.
When we first went into the lecture room we were greeted by rows of what I might call a more “mature" audience - we felt like children tagging along to a grown-ups' tea party. Nevertheless the atmosphere was extremely relaxed and respectful; it was refreshing to learn about the history of Jamaica and Kerry Young herself.
Kerry Young took seven years to finish her novel Pao and, from what she said, I feel that it is a project she needed to complete to solidify her identity as a Chinese-Jamaican woman. I asked Kerry if she ever thought of giving up during those seven years. She said she had been tempted but that the novel was a gift for her father - and what a special gift it was. During the discussion it was glaringly obvious that Kerry is passionate about her writing. It was truly inspiring to listen to her tonight.
This was easily my favourite event of Cultural eXchanges so far.
The chairman of Arts Alliance (the company that brings art workshops to offenders) spoke passionately, pointing out that when any of us goes through a strong emotion, be it love, loss or hurt, we use creativity as an outlet for the feelings. It's therapeutic and helps us to vent the emotion without hurting anyone else.
Iexpected the twisted art of serial killer John Wayne Gacy or the beauty of a back piece done with a sharpened bed spring. I was pleasantly surprised when a member of the Arts Alliance simply said that prisoners are humans too.
I was further surprised at how vocational the programs were for the Arts Alliance. I did not know that prisoners must fulfil specific educational requirements to take part in the program, nor that they must demonstrate that they are developing within their work.
By the end of the one hour session my scepticism was turned to optimism as I realised that the Art Alliance was a serious organisation for prisoners who seriously want to rehabilitate through hours of work (more than 20 a week) and who show consistent dedication.
It's Cultural eXchanges week at University. I headed to a talk on the use of arts in prisons. It was hosted by Arts Alliance, for whom art doesn't just mean painting, but drama, dance, music and writing as forms of art too. They believe that if crime is a broken social connection, and art is a largely social thing, the arts can help to rebuild that connection.
Many people believe that prisons are too luxurious for convicted criminals, to which Arts Alliance respond it's "not just a holiday camp". They explained that in every prison, education is contracted from outside the prison to teach the offenders. They then explained that classes in the arts probably take up less than 5% of the courses on offer, which they think is not enough at all.
Why are they so persistent about the need for classes in the arts? Because it has been proven that not only does it save public money on other forms of rehabilitation, but it also reduces the likelihood of a prisoner re-offending. Arts Alliance helps by training people to continue giving support to prisoners after their release.
There are also groups such as the Shannon Trust which work within prisons, encouraging more-able prisoners to mentor the less-able prisoners, in reading and writing etc. This can help prisoners who need to reach level 1 in Mathematics and Literacy before taking Arts classes. This is largely so that they can pick out those who will most likely excel on the course. (This may seem unfair but it was also made clear that exceptions are made for prisoners without level 1 in mathematics and literacy if they show show a great deal of enthusiasm and passion for art.) Arts Alliance insist that these classes not only teach a form of art, but also how to express ideas, responding to feedback, and working in a team, all vital skills.
My vote? The arts should be taught in prisons, because surely, if an offender has an interest in one of the arts, it would be easier to rehabilitate them and reduce the risk of re-offending.
Sarah Kate Beckett
Three speakers from the Arts Alliance were adamant that serious involvement in art, theatre, dance and creative writing provides offenders with a form of education and allows them to build up self-esteem, despite any lack of literacy and numerical skills.
They explained in detail how limiting the creativity and expression of prisoners would simply exacerbate the problem. This makes it far more likely that offenders return to prison soon after their release.
The idea of art in prison was something I’ve never considered before. This lecture certainly gave me food for thought.
S. M. Knight
Friday, 24 February 2012
Well. Sort of. When I explain that actually, it's a whole week of dance, literature, poetry, films, with appearances from celebrities like Jamal Edwards, Murray Melvin, Gwyneth Lewis and Hustle's Adrian Lester for little or no money, people's expressions change.
Being a newcomer myself, I'm excited for next week. I've never been to a festival quite like this one, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when lots of creative types are thrown into one place at one time.
In a world where students are constantly told it's near impossible to get a job in media, art, writing, and so on, it will be interesting to see a group of successful people in these fields who have got these jobs, and to figure out how they did it.
To book for the events running Monday 27th Feb - Friday 4th March click here.
On 1st March 2012 DMU will host another power couple when Geraldine Monk and Alan Halsey arrive for the Leicester launch of their new works.
Monk presents her Lobe Scarps & Finials, which its "attractively irreverent wit” (The Guardian) whilst Halsey’s reads from Even if Only Out Of, which includes a symposium on Blake’s erotica and some helpful tips in these times of recession.
Does married bliss lead to literary harmony? Book here and find out.
So I say, enjoy poetry the way it should be - read aloud! Listen to the sound of the letters and the words as the poet speaks them; feel the rhythm; hear the tone of voice.
A week of performance poetry is here at DMU to be embraced, at the Cultural eXchanges Festival.
Tuesday lunchtime is devoted to DMU Creative Writing students (like me!); listen to readings of poetry, short fiction and much more from up and coming writers.
One of these is the phenomenal, Jamal Edwards, CEO of the online music channel SBTV, who turned his hobby into an online empire.
This is one talk that I am particularly interested in as the 21-year-old entrepreneur is only a few years older than myself.
Of course I am interested in the other talks, but this is definitely one that I didn't hesistate over when parting with £2 out of my pitiful funds.
As a follower of Jamal on twitter, it is clear from his persistent tweets that he is very passionate about his work and with 71,321 followers I think it's safe to say that people want to 'follow' his life.
The google chrome advert is just a short summary of his immense success...
Dr James Russell's discussion of Harry Potter as a film franchise, which will address both Hogwarts and Hollywood, has magically (haha) grabbed the attention of many students. Members of the public, watch out - there may be few tickets left. But if you're quick enough, you can book by clicking HERE - or turn up on the day and beg for returns.
Murray Melvin has also appeared on TV screens for many years, in shows ranging from The Avengers and Petticoat Pirates to Torchwood In these, as in his stage and film work, he is a distinct and remarkable personality in the world of acting.
Tickets can be booked HERE.
On Monday 28th Febuary Members of the Art Alliance will discuss whether prisoners should be allowed to speak out through art. Is it more important to provide a vocational skill with which they can use after rehabilitation or should prisoners be given, for lack of a better term a blank canvas ?
- John Marr
At 78, he is still writing for The Sunday Times and is widely renowned among his peers as the greatest sports journalist of all time. Famous for his reporting of the classic 'Rumble In The Jungle' between Muhammad Ali and George Forman in 1974, his touching tribute to his great friend George Best and his biography of Sir Alex Ferguson, he really is the king of sports journalism.
Hugh will be speaking to DMU's Dick Holt on his extraodinary career on Tuesday 28th February at 5.30pm and I would recommend any aspiring sports journalists or fans to attend. Tickets can be bought here.
I had no idea about what this movie involved but a little research led me to a summary of the plot. It's the story of barsister Melville Farr (played by Dirk Bogarde), who finds himself in trouble after blackmailers learn of a homosexual relationship he had on the quiet with a younger man called Barrett. The film chronicles Barrett turning to Farr for help when he is hunted down by those who find out, creating a plethora of problems.
So why was this film controversial at the time? It was the very first film in the UK to use the word "homosexual", or cover the topic of homosexuality at a time when homosexual acts between two men were illegal in England. It was released in the wake of the Wolfenden Report, which recommended that the laws against consensual male homosexuality be repealed. Director Basil Dearden was a director not afraid to explore problems with society in his work, having made the film Sapphire earlier which concerned racism against Afro-Caribbeans. And just to add to all the drama surrounding this challenging film's release... it debuted in none other than Leicester at the Odeon Cinema!
So, for an interesting slice of controversial cinema and the times surrounding it, this might just be the event for you. You wouldn't want to let this face down, would you?
One event we are going to is on Thursday, a poetry evening with Geraldine Monk and Alan Halsey, two very innovative poets. They will be reading some of their work and whether you enjoy poetry or not, it's a great (FREE) event to attend.
Another talk will be given by Steve North, the Head of Dave TV. Sooo basically, he's super cool, he runs a channel for flips sake! So check him out!
Catriona and Holly
Without going into too much detail, things have taken a downwards spiral recently: my butter has been spoiled, someone stole my dog and worst of all my kill death ratio on Call of Duty has fallen below 1.6
But now I can say with great satisfaction that tonight I will not cry myself to sleep. For next week, here at De Montfort University, there will be the Cultural eXchanges week. It will be the Bomb! A complete boss: so totally Rad it's not even funny. They have it all: a vast and divergent selection of top quality shit ranging from more conventional subjects such as poetry and writers' lectures to discussions on whether the social enterprise is an alternative to capitalism.
Book your places now!
I'm also going to look at "Arts in Prisons: Art for Art's sake?" and "Dr Ming Turner: Contemporary Art in China and Taiwan". Before I decided to go in for Creative Writing course at University, I was torn between writing and art, and one potential career I had in mind was Art Therapy, where I would have been working with people in mental hospitals, prisons etc. So I was nterested to see that a talk on this very topic was taking place in the Cultural eXchanges week. I'm not about to shed my interest in this area, so looking forward to indulging my love of art.
As for Dr Ming Turner's talk, when you couple my love of art with my interest in China, I couldn't miss it. Eastern art has a distinctive style which is completely different from the art I'm familiar with. I'm not quite sure what to expect but China has a pretty interesting history and I've never been to a talk like this before.
Sarah Kate Beckett
Katharina Maria Kalinowski
Monday, 20 February 2012
Guests were justified in thinking maybe the food on offer was imitating Concrete Art. The event on 13th September was held to welcome back avant garde Swiss poet Eugen Gomringer, himself partly inspired by the Concrete Art movement to develop Concrete Poetry as a new poetic form in the 1950s. Concrete poetry is a playful and creative use of language, deceptively simple yet adding a further dimension to a poem. It uses the typographical arrangement of words together with the blank space of the page to suggest meaning, as well as from the words themselves.
Eugen Gomringer is ‘the daddy’ to this movement, and DMU is priveleged to house a collection of many of his seminal poems in the Clephan Building. The collection was printed by Francesco Conz, a collector of concrete poetry, and was originally donated to DMU in 1996. The donation was organised by former Professor of English and Cultural Studies Nicholas Zurbrugg, not only an influential academic but also a noted concrete poet and artist.
Gomringer, now in his 80s, was modest and charming as he spoke of viewing the collection again. I know for a fact the concept of concrete poetry is taught in primary schools, and every year his poems are seen by a new audience at DMU as another intake of Humanities, and now Art and Design students, make their way around Clephan building. Some will stop and look at the collection, some won’t, yet the poems are there.
And in case you were wondering, the canapes looked and tasted very nice thank you and that was all they were meant to do.
Editor's note: This post has been published long after the event (in September 2011) owing to blog-problems. Usually I would not publish anything so belatedly but Gomringer is so distinguished that it seems worth including a belated review. And the works will remain on display in the Clephan Building during Cultural eXchanges week.
Tuesday, 7 February 2012
De Montfort University's Cultural eXchanges festival returns. It runs from Monday, 27 February - Friday, 2 March and the majority of events are still free. Highlights include a poetry evening with Geraldine Monk and Alan Halsey, a Q&A session with actor and director Adrian Lester, and visits from choreographers Matthew Bourne and Sonia Sabri.
You can learn more from the website - and booking goes live on Monday, 13 February.
You may also be interested in the return of States of Independence, the independent publishers' day, which takes place at De Montfort's Clephan Building on Saturday, 17 March. Once more there will be stalls from booksellers and publishers as well as a choice of panels, talks and performances to attend. Admission to all talks remains free - a bargain in this age of austerity.