Highlights for 2017 and 2018

It’s March, and I’m delighted that my first play is being produced as I write this! The Storm Officer has emerged from a commission for a pamphlet of poems to be inspired by an extraordinary archive of Extreme Weather (over 16,000 entries, from all around the U.K., going back 1,000 years) recently created through the University of Nottingham. The material emerged as a long poem with many voices, which I’ve turned into a play, which will be on in March at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham and again at the Kirkgate Centre, Cockermouth – in the Lake District, where I spent a week doing research into the impact of the floods following  Storm Desmond in December 2015. These first 2 shows are previews, with plans for it to tour in Autumn 2017 and throughout 2018.

Anyway, it’s very exciting, and lots of new, and I’m learning lots, including a range of fabulous thespian terms and stage vocab by working with the Producer, Director, 2 actor-musicians and Musical Director.

I’ve also recently been told, wonderfully, that Smith Doorstop are going  to publish a pamphlet of poems later this year. Called Spoon Rebellion, it’s 20 or so recent poems as well as 5 or 6 older poems that were in my self-published collection  Swimmer. I’m particularly pleased that “Miles from Nowhere”, my long rambling political poem about the Erewash Canal is in there – as I like it, and it hasn’t seen much light of day. Not too long, I hasten to add!

Holiday news for the year! off to Malaysia for 3 weeks in May – very exciting. Am currently learning some basic Malay and finding out about possible poetry events to go to.

Coming up in 2018? Next year I’m looking forward to the publication of Tales from the Leaking Boot, a collection of travel haiku sequences, one each from Texas, Germany, Turkey and Cleethorpes. They were written over about 10 years, and this is particularly pleasing as it’s coming out with Iron Press, who are the main publishers of haikus in this country. Also delightful as the haikus in it are not traditional  – they break with the form! Hurrah! including lots of humour, satire and scurrilous observation (I hope) as well as more reflective moments.

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Some highlights from 2015, and what’s ahead in 2016

Highlights of 2015 have been: adventures in Rwanda for sure, including working in a teacher’s training college, and travelling north, south and east, and heart and mind experiencing new sights, sounds, feelings and things to witness and absorb. Leading also to a sequence of haikus. In this country, delighted that Iron Press (the fabulous Peter Mortimer) accepted my manuscript for a full collection to come out in 2016 or 2017, featuring haiku journals from Texas, Turkey, Germany and Cleethorpes. Feeling more like a real writer this year, sending work to magazines regularly, and also a good collection of acceptances. A fabulous project with The Derbyshire Embroiderer’s Guild, and Paula Moss, leading to a tapestry to be hung as a permanent hanging in Chesterfield Library. A gorgeous series of workshops at NUSA Academy in Nottingham leading to a book. Memorable workshops with musician Julian Butt commemorating the First World War, a gorgeous time in Birmingham Moor Street Station gathering stories and writing, and an end of year commission writing for the Morris Dancers in Chapel-en-le-Frith.

And 2016 is looking very exciting. Highlights on the horizon are numerous, but top two for me at the moment are writing some poems inspired by an exhibition which will be in Leamington Art Gallery from July to October – The Art of Deception – which celebrates the fact that Leamington was the town where the Camouflage Unit was set up in WW2. Over 250 artists from the Royal College of Art came and lived here, and Leam was called Party Town! And the other highlight is working with Professor Georgina Endfield, at the University of  Nottingham’s Geography Department, who has been coordinating 9 people collecting writings from all over the UK, from the last 500 years, which describe extreme weather. An amazing database is being created, and I’ve been asked to write some work inspired by this, which is a gorgeous job.

Also fabulous are – working with Derbyshire Records Office, and Paula Moss, on their pop-up archive project; plans to celebrate Roald Dahl with Maria and Maya Whatton, in a feast of storytelling, mask-making, music and poetry, including fulfilling a long-held fantasy of mine to make a Giant Beard for Mr. Twit; mentoring the new Warwickshire Young Poet Laureate, the wonderful Harry Jenkins; and being joyfully inspired and reinvigorated by Saturday sessions with Leamington Young Writers.

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Highlights from 2014, and 2015 News and Plans

2014: followed on from being Derbyshire Poet Laureate perfectly, with 2 lovely substantial commissions to write poems inspired by the people, history and landscapes of two geographical areas. First was to write about Erewash, including Ilkeston, Long Eaton and 12 or so other parishes, which led to a feast of workshops, research outings, canal visits, adventure theme park exploration, and cafe conversations, and resulted in two exciting shared exhibitions exploring past and present. The second was to write poems for the fabulous First Art project, mapping and reflecting the areas of North Nottinghamshire and North East Derbyshire. This is ongoing work for a project over the next 2-3 years. These areas are adjacent to each other, and so I’m hoping to bring the 30-40 poems together in some way.

2015: so far is mostly a bevy of lovely smaller projects alongside my taking some time out to do some final polishing work on lots of poems that I’ve nearly finished, from the last 5 years, and get them sent off to magazines, and see if there is a pamphlet or book to come out of them maybe.

Two highlights already, from the lovely smaller projects, have been compèring the amazing Poetry By Heart competition at Rugby Library, which inspired a poem (see poetryonloan.org.uk); and in a more ranty vein, my election campaign Vote For Someone, for which I’ve written a poem which Richard Bolam has very kindly made a video of (Facebook page: Vote For Someone/ or Vimeo

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Derbyshire Poet Laureate/ and Nonsense Olympics

2 top news items for me are – from October 2011 to September 2013 I am Derbyshire Poet  Laureate. Yippee! Derbyshire poems are emerging fast. I am keeping a poet laureate blog, so for news for the next 2 years please visit www.derbyshirepoetlaureate.blogspot.com. This blog will also include the Diary of Julian Durble, an everyday poet.

Second main news item is that I have a pre-Xmas publication now available. This is The Nonsense Olympics (Upside Down Books), which is a tribute to Edward Lear (1812-1888) for his bicentenary. It’s for adults and children and includes the backwards race, high-jumping camels, the ancient Worcestershire sport of Shniblobs, how to be good at sports by relaxing, pig-tig etc. and has fabulous illustrations by Jackie Prachek. Our motto: “Lie down and enjoy the Olympics.” To buy copies, or for more information, go to www.matt-black.co.uk/publications. This is the illustration for “dodo pogo” from Animal Olympics no. 3.

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Sheffield Crucible: performing Hedgehog Nation

Just a quick update on recents, to coin a term – as “Laters” seems to be the new way of saying “see you later”. I got the chance to perform to a full house Crucible a few weeks ago, and performed a fairly new piece, Hedgehog Nation, with the help of 2 wonderful musicians, Adam White on fiddle, and Plinio on percussion. I loved the whole experience. I’ve performed at the Crucible once before, alongside a boy band and Berlie Docherty, but this time I had longer and really enjoyed myself. Hedgehog Nation is a 10 minute story-poem of the hedgehogs who were brought to South Uist by some gardeners, to get rid of their slug problem – but the hedgehogs multiplied quickly, and there were no natural predators to keep the hedgehog numbers down; and as they were eating lots of the birds’ eggs on the island, and birdlife is a large part of their economy, much hedgehoggish trouble then ensued! My version is mostly telling the true story (which does have a positive ending, thankfully for the hedgies) in serious and comic style I guess (see Hamish McTavish and his neeps) but there is a fantasy section where 5000 hedgehogs swim to the mainland, and drive on little hedgehog motorbikes, all the way down the M1, to see the Prime Minister, and pogo-protest around the streets of London. Anyway, it was great fun. I’m planning to turn the whole poem into a book and CD sometime over this year, and I’ll put up some clips of the poem once it gets recorded, and some pictures. Ciao for now.

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Goblin in the Fridge chosen by PBS; a small but nice moment

Yes, delighted to say that Goblin in the Fridge has been chosen by the Poetry Book Society as one of its’ two Children’s Bookshelf Summer Choices, which means they will be sending copies out to their members. It made my day for sure, and I hope it will inspire me to get on with writing some more poems for children. Or to get on with writing some poems that might work well for adults and children, which to me is one of the perfect kinds of poem…

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24 hour non-stop Shakespeare in 8 minutes

thanks to time-lapse photography, watch this year’s 24 hours in just 8 minutes – see those pigeons move so fast — and check out the dude with the twitchiest legs since Charlie Chaplin -

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Just finished 24 hour non-stop Shakespeare….

Lovely weather, and the bard responded, as ever, with great words. This is the 3rd year we’ve done it, and more people joined in than ever before. The full company was 257 actors over 24 hours and 17 minutes (we over-ran) (though there was a quiet midsummer night’s dream that happened in the middle of the night for a short while). Quite a cast really, most of whom never expected to be performing Shakespeare that day. Which is why I do it. For the surprise, and the highlights,  and the buzz, and the magic of watching people carried away. Highlights were: the beginning scene of The Tempest, read at ten to seven on Friday morning, by myself and a young grinning and laughing Brazilian, who is now thinking of moving to Sheffield. Lots of readers with English as a second language, bemused and enjoying the richness. Fab work from schools. Shakespeare insult battles. The wonders of the 1623 theatre company Shakespeare aerobics workout – with the lovely Ben Spiller and his team. Joyous and hilarious renditions by late-night revellers. Top of the bill performance goes to 2 brothers, quite intoxicated with the evening, who surprised themselves by putting on wild and flowing robes and reading with big grins for 7 or 8 minutes, when I went up to them and mentioned, to much hilarity, that they were in fact reading from different plays – without realising. Othello meets Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare mash-up hotch-potch mingle-mangle. Of course, he would ov loved it. Kwl.

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24 Hour Non-Stop Shakespeare

Yes, we’re here again – forsooth! From Thursday 1pm to Friday 1pm – no rehearsal needed! to join in or not to join in. I usually find it’s better  to…..

Outside  the Town Hall, with marquee, a rack of furry and funky costumes – for  you  to wear – or not! as you choose. So, ever fancied strutting the bardic boards – it’s all very relaxed – hope to see you there.

Shakespeare aerobics at 1.30pm on Thursday

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Careless Smiles

Here’s a recording I made a while ago with the guitarist Adam White.  Enjoy!

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