I anxiously waited in my front row seat as the force that is Kweku Sackey (of KOG and the Zongo Brigade) entered to the side of the stage, drum in hands, anticipating what was to come. Powerful rhythmical pulsations of African percussion took me by surprise opening this quick-fire poetic monologue from spoken word artist Sipho Dube. Together they told an audio-visual story (with excellent use of stage lighting on the beat of drum gunshots), evoking vivid depictions of a community affected by gun crime, and sadly, in keeping with the current reality, a black man as the target.
The piece, commissioned by the University of Sheffield for the Festival of Social Science aimed to interpret Dr Hartman’s academic research on American gun control into something that could be understood in human terms and most importantly, felt by an audience. It did just that. Did it matter that it was American research? No. The prevalence of violent crime is on the rise in the UK and we can’t kid ourselves that we are that far away from the US in terms of criminal and state behaviours when it comes to the use of weapons.
Reminiscing on convenience stores, pubs and parks, Dube reaffirmed the hope a community holds onto even in the midst of upheaval. “We just want to live somewhere we can trust.” he said looking to us, the audience, for understanding.
Whilst watching Dude, spotlit, afraid and under siege, I was taken back to memories of myself as a teenager, angry, displaced and ready to inflict the pain I had carried for so long on someone else. I was frustrated and tired of the abuse I was facing at home and in school. Insecurity and vulnerability led me to arming myself with a knife, aged 15, in the misguided hope that just its presence would stop continuous bullying and let people know – I’d had enough.
Whilst watching Dude, spotlit, afraid and under siege, I was taken back to memories of myself as a teenager, angry, displaced and ready to inflict the pain I had carried for so long on someone else. I was frustrated and tired of the abuse I was facing…Insecurity and vulnerability led me to arming myself with a knife, aged 15, in the misguided hope that just its presence would let people know – I’d had enough.
In retrospect, I wasn’t looking at the severity of the consequences, only the false perception of the safety and power a weapon could give me as someone who felt powerless. But, young, angry and impulsive as I was, what followed was an attempt to seriously hurt someone.
I am very blessed to not have been charged with attempted murder by the victim’s mother, and from her strength, only in later years did I learn the true power of forgiveness and unconditional love. I often think of how she would have felt had she gotten a phone call to say her child was gone.
Believe me, I look back with regret, but each time I do, it strengthens my passion for empowering and encouraging young people to choose better and to transform their anger or feelings of injustice into art. The medium of Gun Clap itself, poetry, particularly spoken word, has been my saving grace, the means by which I can channel my vulnerabilities in a transformative and powerful way. It’s strengthened my passion to encourage parents to build strong and healthy channels of communication, and relationships with their children – to better understand them. But, more significantly, teach them that pain cannot exist where there is love. Education and empowerment begins at home- this is how we build confident, resilient and compassionate individuals – future autonomous leaders and pioneers.
As the performance continued, I raced to note down the truths and logic spoken by Dube. There was one line in particular that stood out to me the most, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. This reminded me of a reverse of the old folk wisdom often said by my mother, you can’t fight fire with fire, and opened a floodgate of questions in my thoughts – is it actually better for a good guy to apply force? What constitutes a good guy? Can we really fight fire with fire?
…I raced to note down the truths and logic spoken by Dube. There was one line in particular that stood out to me the most, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. This reminded me of a reverse of the old folk wisdom often said by my mother, you can’t fight fire with fire…
We are human, so in being human we are prone to change and volatility – I know this first hand, a bad guy can become good, a good guy can easily change sides, a good cop can easily become a bad cop – so is there any real logic in using violence to bring about peace?
As we have seen in America with Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, to name a few who’ve died at the hands of police fire in the role of the ‘villain’, the stats tell us – let people in a society carry guns or have access to guns – and they will be used. Fear of being shot is the reason police say they fire after all. And I know, only too well, that the stats are against certain people, groups, backgrounds in terms of who holds a gun or knife and why. If we had the same access to guns, police and civilians in the UK, I’m aware my own story of violent crime could have been very different.
But even without guns, there are always knives, as in my own story. We must look at why people pick them up. And let’s not forget, as demonstrated in the racially motivated murder and stabbing of Stephen Lawrence, without the so-called ‘good guys’ treating all people as equal and deserving of justice (Lawrence is our most high profile case of a life failed by institutional racism in the UK) a society, in reality, controls nothing but it’s people. It is how it does it that matters. If the very institutions who protect us cannot be trusted to bring peace – what is the real solution?
At Gun Clap, it saddened me that much of the audience were likely far removed from the issues that might lead to violence and weapon use, only a bus ride away, so I was particularly humbled by the presence of young men of colour who ushered themselves in a little late, but nonetheless were ready and eager to take part and to voice their own experiences of violent crime.
We ended the night on a note of hope. After the show, I stayed for a discussion with Sipho, fellow poet, Warda Yassin, Vicky Morris from Hive, Kaltum Rivers the first female Somali Green Party Councillor, the young men I mentioned, their mentor Saeed Brasab and other youth engagement officers from Unity Gym.
We discussed the need for our grassroots projects and what we did. I spoke about Nyara Collective – the project I am forming around the Cinema for All project I’m doing through Hive. I want Nyara to empower young people through community cinema and creativity in Burngreave so we can impact young people to lead positive and healthy lives.
Events like Gun Clap and research such as Dr Hartman’s are important insights into the society that we live in today. It is of the utmost importance to come together to understand and tackle the root causes that force growing numbers of young men and women to arm themselves. There are varying and complex factors as to why violent crime has grown at alarming rates in the UK and around the world in so-called civilised nations. Marginalisation of BAME communities, the cuts to youth services, declining mental health, austerity and many socio-economic factors all contribute.
This is why organisations such as Hive and Unity Gym are so important- they champion young people and tirelessly strive to create platforms for us to safely bring ourselves in our entirety, to give us hope and opportunity to discover our best selves. Moreover, they challenge us to be the change that we strive to see in our communities. I was thrilled to find that both organisations were invited to the performance by the university and I hope that in future the university can consider touring the piece in places where particularly young people are affected by this issue, or bringing school groups together. I’d like to see many more coming togethers and communities working with big institutions like universities to find solutions for a brighter tomorrow.
Words by Danae Ife Wellington
Further discussion – Words by Warda Yassin
It was a night of important discussions where spoken word artist Sipho Dube used his words, body, music and a single red light to capture the current discourse about gun violence and its impact on men. Reminiscent of the video for This is America by Childish Gambino, he used the space to turn himself into a victim, perpetrator, and shooter whilst repeating the ask – do you care? It was up to the audience to decide, the masses, whose apathy creates and ignores this violence.
I was 15 when I first heard gunshots and didn’t register the loud noises (thinking somebody had set off fireworks) until it was later confirmed by locals. My first thought was – this isn’t America. Gun violence has historically been viewed as a problem across the pond due to UK controlled gun laws which prohibit handguns, semi-automatic and pump-action non-rim rifles. But this is not the case. Our friendly and safe city of Sheffield has seen a rise in both knife and gun crime. Over the past year alone it saw 5 people murdered within 13 days in March 2018. Most people I know have either heard of, or directly heard the sound of, some form of gun violence.
I was 15 when I first heard gunshots and didn’t register the loud noises (thinking somebody had set off fireworks) until it was later confirmed by locals. My first thought was – this isn’t America.
Although these issues are increasing, awareness and discussions around them are seemingly not. There appears to be few spaces or events which aim to bring people together into safe discussions (with youths at the heart of it), so Gun Clap was a welcome change.
Malcolm X famously said “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.” and I have found this statement to be true for black men too, particularly in western countries, to this day. They are often associated with crime and at the receiving end of damaging stereotype. It is not unusual for people to clutch their bags in false anticipation, walk a little faster for no apparent reason, and for young black males to be marked before they speak.
So naturally, I’m looking for discussion that looks beyond this false rhetoric and probes into the larger picture, asking the much-needed questions as to why there is an increase in violence in Sheffield. I do not want to be privy to another conversation implicating or blaming young black boys and refusing to acknowledge them as the main victims of gun violence. I want to hear dialogue about the emergence of apathy towards these boys, who are killed in undeserving ways, at tragically young ages, for the statistics in the research to include the young black boys murdered at the hands of police officers who are meant to be responsible for keeping them safe, the lack of justice and the fractures it creates within disillusioned communities who are less reluctant to approach law enforcement for support.
I want to hear dialogue about the emergence of apathy towards these boys, who are killed in undeserving ways, at tragically young ages, for the statistics in the research to include the young black boys murdered at the hands of police officers who are meant to be responsible for keeping them safe…
The audience was a mixture of students, academics, community workers, poets and some really proactive youth who volunteer in their communities. It was their insights and our after discussion with the latter that gave me hope. In it, one shared his voluntary role as an intermediary volunteer with health officials on how to talk to victims of violence. This young person revealed how he coached them to not immediately coerce them to share information and to show more compassion. He stressed how they might not be ready, and about how they may fear repercussions of what might be perceived as snitching. It highlighted the generational gap and how those in power must listen to the voices of young people when they are showing them how best to support them.
One asked “Do you think there is a correlation between the closing down of youth clubs and the rise in violence?” another asked if “data in gun violence and its research somewhat dehumanised people.” as it did not focus on these individuals or communities. Dube was warm as he encouraged the audience to speak to local politicians, write to academics about their research and be proactive in the change we want to see in our communities.
An older youth mentor poignantly ended the discussion with a reminder: we need to teach our children to love and to fall in love with softness so they can spread this love out into the world. He was brave and honest as he shared his past transgressions and how he raises his son to see the goodness in everyone. I left the event different to how I entered, less pessimistic and sheepish about how gun violence might be explored, and more hopeful about how the younger generation were teaching each other and if given support, they can change things.
Words by Warda Yassin
Danae Wellington & Warda Yassin are emerging young writers working with Hive through the Hatch programme.
Thank you to all: Sipho Dude, Dr Hartman, Amy Carter, Lynette Hodge, all who came, particularly the young men and their wonderful mentors from Unity Gym, and the University of Sheffield for hosting such an insightful event.
Gun clap is a powerful and thought-provoking spoken word performance commissioned by the University of Sheffield bringing together the research on attitudes towards gun-control by Dr Todd Hartman and the artistic voice of SMI student Sipho Dube. To encourage debate and discussion around gun-control and highlight the value of quantitative social science research to the big challenges in society.” If you wish to read the research paper by Dr Hartman click here
Event photos courtesy of John Seddon | click image below to view gallery >
We were delighted that the lovely folks at the So Africa Festival 2018 invited four talented and emerging Hive young writers of African heritage to perform at the Crucible Theatre on the Friday and Saturday of their weekend-long festival in October.
They were: Silethokuhle Sibanda (Zimbabwean), Warda Yassin (Somalian) Salma Lynch (Moroccan), and Danae Wellington (Jamaican). The stage was situated in the busy foyer area of the Crucible so attracted a wonderful mix of audiences of all ages, from those who had just wandered in to see what was going on, to family and friends coming to support.
Organised by Utopia Theatre and Sheffield Theatres, this was the first Spirit of Africa Festival, (So Africa) that took place over a lively weekend in October. The festival aimed to immerse Sheffield in cultures of Africa celebrating the whole African continent and the African Diaspora – bringing people of all ages together to enjoy the traditional and contemporary from music, theatre and film to poetry, dance and visual arts.
Music headliners included hip-hop artist, writer/poet and historian Akala and Nigerian musician Seun Kuti leading his legendary father Fela Kuti’s former band Egypt 80.
Big thanks to John Rwoth-Omack, Moji Kareem, Tchiyiwe Thandiwe Chihana, Annalisa Toccara and all the great team at So Africa who were a pleasure to connect with for this and a previous October event with Verse Matters. Here’s to another great festival next year!
Leave a Comment · Posted on December 5, 2018
During the Off the Shelf Festival of Words 2018, writers Stacey Sampson and Warda Yassin led Hive community workshops with young women aged, 14 to 24, around empowerment and voice.
The workshops, commissions by the festival, mark 100 years since the first wave of women being given the right to vote in Britain. The idea was to work with and encourage young women who might not normally come to a creative writing workshop to explore ideas of empowerment, belonging, female identity and leadership, through spoken and written word, and to encourage them to access writing opportunities in the future.
Emerging poet, Warda Yassin worked with young Somali women, and act and novelist, Stacey Sampson worked with young people through Sheffield YWCA.
Enjoy some of the work produced.
Thanks to Off the Shelf Festival of Words, Warda Yassin & Stacey Sampson.
Supported by the University of Sheffield Alumni Fund via Off the Shelf Festival of Words
In September Hive young poets were lucky enough to perform on the opening night of the Ted Hughes Festival 2018 alongside the amazing Afro-futurist musician and poet, Moor Mother, all the way from Philadelphia USA. Ten emerging young writers aged 15 and upwards performed in Mexborough with young rapper and spoken word artist Dominic Heslop hosting.
Feedback from the night was a wonderful boost for all involved. Comments from the post-it wall confirmed that people were blown away by the talent and bravery of all.
Our performers were: Danaë Wellington, Salma Lynch, Warda Yassin, Dominic Heslop, Georgie Woodhead, Sile Sibanda, Vertaa Lune, Tixxy Bang and Kiran Malhi-Bearn (also of Verse Matters) and doing a longer set just before Moor Mother was 16 year old spoken word artist and rapper Fionn McCloskey, (aka Hythyn), who first performed in 2017 at the Youth Word Up even with Hive and Off the Shelf Festival of Words.
On the Saturday, young writers enjoyed an afternoon workshop with Mike Garry, and Hythyn freestyled with Moor Mother. On the Saturday night, the wonderful Sile Sibanda, a Hive young spoken word artist hailing from Rotherham, did a stellar job of hosting and introducing some fabulous acts including big name poets Mike Garry and Kate Fox. Sile says she’s now got the hosting bug.
Thanks to Michele Beck and all at Ted Hughes for inviting us and given young emerging writers an exciting platform to be heard. Thanks to Warren Draper for the amazing photos!
Moor Mother is an international touring musician, poet, visual artist, and workshop facilitator from Philadelphia, USA. She has performed at numerous festivals, colleges, galleries, and museums around the world.
As a soundscape and visual artist, her work has been featured at Baltic Biennale, Samek Art Museum, Vox Populi, Pearlman Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art Chicago, ICA Philadelphia. As a workshop facilitator, she has presented at Cornell University, MOFO Festival, Moogfest, Black Dot Gallery and others. Moor Mother is co-founder and curator of Rockers Philly Project a 10-year long running event series and festival focused on marginalised musicians and artists spanning multiple genres of music.
Her debut album Fetish Bones was released on Don Giovanni records to critical acclaim. Fetish Bones was named 3rd best album of the year by The Wire Magazine, number 1 by Jazz Right Now and has appeared on numerous end of the year lists from Pitchfork, Noisy, Rolling Stone, and Spin Magazine. Moor Mother was named by Rolling Stone as one of the 10 artists to watch in 2016 and named Bandcamp’s 2016 artist of the year. Moor Mother released a 2nd LP called The Motionless Present commissioned by CTM X VINYL FACTORY 2017. Moor Mother has appeared in the Quietus, Interview Magazine, The Guardian, Crack, Pitchfork and others. Moor Mother’s schedule has included Berhaign, Borealis, CTM Festival, Le Guess Who, Unsound, Flow and Donau Festival, Rewire, Boiler Room and MOMA PS1.
Leave a Comment · Posted on October 4, 2018
Huge congratulations are in order to 15-year-old Georgie Woodhead, one of the 15 winning poets of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year 2018, and to Maya Williams-Hamm, 16, highly-commended in the competition.
Judges Daljit Nagra and Caroline Bird (herself a former winner) chose 15 winners and 85 commended poets from a whopping 6,000 poets and nearly 11,000 poems. Writers from 83 different countries entered the competition, from as far afield as Trinidad and Tobago, Sri Lanka, Uruguay and Malaysia. Selecting just 100 winners was a tough job – Daljit Nagra has spoken about “the maturity of the work we read; so many of our young poets showed a keen awareness of serious issues such as identity politics, environment issues and the global tensions currently between nation states.”
The Foyle Young Poets 2018 anthology will see the top 15 poems in print, with the commended poems being published in an online anthology.
Both poets went to London on 2nd Oct to receive their honour. Georgie also recorded her winning poet for The Verb with South Yorkshire’s very own, Ian McMillan (airing on Radio 3 at 10pm on Friday 5th Oct). You can listen below.
Massive thanks to The Poetry Society for all you do to support and encourage poets of all ages!
You can read Georgie’s and all the winning poems here
Georgie Woodhead Bio
Georgie Woodhead is a young writer from Sheffield who attends Hive’s Sheffield Young Writers. She was one of two highly commended young poets in the Cuckoo Northern Writers Award 2018. She was a winner of the Foyle Poetry Prize 2018 and came 2nd in the young people’s category of the Ledbury Poetry Competition 2018. Georgie has been published in Hive anthologies, halfway smile and wild poetry. She’s performed at various young writers’ events, and festivals including the Ted Hughes Poetry Festival 2018.
Top/bottom photos: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society
Leave a Comment · Posted on September 16, 2018
Hive Fiction programme for writers (18-30s) – take your writing to the next level
Writing can be a lonely and a tricky business to navigate, even for those who’ve been doing it for some time. It’s difficult to know where to get feedback, or if what you’re writing makes the grade. And then there’s what to do with a story or novel once you’ve finished.
If you’re an aspiring short story writer, or novelist, keen to take your craft to the next level, Hive is running the Hive Fiction programme offering an immersive set of workshops over several months providing the help and guidance to get to where you want to be. Join prize-winning author, editor, and short story writer, Nik Perring, for all things fiction, and:
Who’s the Hive Fiction programme for?
The programme is for fiction writers, aged 18 to 30 in South Yorkshire, at any stage of their writing journey who would like to get more serious. You might lack direction, sticking power, or confidence. You might have a project you want to get stuck into, or want to sharpen your skills, or focus on honing your work.
All levels, genres and interests welcome | Meet like-minded people | Refreshments | Where: central Sheffield near trains/buses
Intro session TBC – Regular fortnightly sessions – day and time subject to majority interest in the first meeting (likely a weekday evening or Saturday afternoon)
Cost: The programme is subsidised by Hive South Yorkshire meaning a cost of just £55 for 12 sessions, one to one tutorials and support at key stages (around £3.50 a session). If cost is a barrier, please let us know in your application. Places are limited.
To Apply: Send up to 4xA4 pages of work (Times/font size 12), and up to 600 words saying what your interests are, where you are with your writing, and how you’d like the programme to help you to email@example.com (also include your age, date of birth, town you live in and postcode)– by midnight 31st Oct (before the pumpkin turruns into November!)
Nik Perring is a short story writer and the author of five books. His work has appeared in many fine places all over the world including Smokelong, Word Riot, 3 :AM Magazine, and The Fiction Desk. It’s also been read on the radio, performed on the stage, printed on fliers and appeared, with Dave Eggars’, on a High School Distance Learning course in the US.
Nik is also an editor and a teacher of writing, working with both adults and young people, everywhere from primary schools and high schools to universities and the BBC. He’s a key facilitator for Hive South Yorkshire and writer in residence, for First Story, at Leeds West Academy, and Melior Academy in Scunthorpe.
Hive Fiction is part of the Hatch programme – next step opportunities for young and emerging writers aged 18 to 30
Leave a Comment · Posted on March 25, 2019
It’s not every day you wake up to find you’ve been offered a new title. In my case – Young Poet Laureate for Barnsley! An honour bestowed on me by the lovely arts people from the Hear My Voice project in Barnsley. But what does it mean you might ask? Needing some insider tips, there was only one thing to do – sit down for a good chat with Barnsley’s first Poet Laureate, the magnificent Ian McMillian.
Ian was kind enough to answer all sorts of burning questions I had and give some of the best advice for young poets starting out. He was warm and funny and told me some very odd stories about men in capes and Dosestos bleach and said blimey a lot. What a role model for me to get started on my young Laureate journey. I hope you enjoy reading or listening as much as I did spending time with the Bard of Barnsley!
Listen to the interview in full here or read highlights below>>
Someone said to me the other day – do you maintain a base in Barnsley? I said, yeah, I call it my house.
How did your writing journey start?
I was born in 1956 and, in the 50s into the 70s, Darfield was called West Riding. It was a separate education authority that had a Chief Education Officer called Sir Alec Clegg, who was a genius. He said that all children are creative. In my school, Low Valley County Primary, we just wrote all the time. We’d have a lesson, then we’d sing about it and dance about it and write about it. It just felt like the most natural thing in the world. Writing was not something that other people did and you didn’t do.
Sounds like paradise.
It was. But it didn’t prepare you for the world and I went to Wath Grammar School and the teachers weren’t West Riding. We had one fantastic teacher, Mr Brown, who got me back into writing. I was so thick I thought essay was spelled S.A. and I wrote, ‘my S.A. by Ian McMillan, future Nobel Prize for Literature winner.’ He took me to one side and said, ‘Ian, Nobel Prize Winners don’t come from Darfield.’ Which I disagree with, I think they can. But he was great. If we could point to one teacher who really got us going, he was the one.
What were your influences when you first started writing and what are they now?
When I first started, they were comics. My mum used to get her hair done once a fortnight in Great Houghton and, when she came back, she’d bring me this brown paper parcel with comics in: Dandy, Beezer, Victor, and what she called a Commando Book which was a little one. At the same time, I was getting books out of the library. I never saw any difference between them, they were both exciting writing.
Then I started reading John Steinbeck, he was my favourite. And, in terms of poetry, I didn’t read a lot. Then Mr Brown gave me Crow, Ted Hughes’ 1970s book – here’s a book of jokes by comedians. I read them and they made laugh and he said, by the way they’re not jokes, they’re poems. And I thought, blimey. Then we were doing this book called Nine Modern Poets so it’d have people Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin, John Betjeman.
I went to college in Stafford and I was still reading stuff, and standing up and performing it. In those days, there was a network of folk clubs where they had these singers’ nights like open mic nights. They were so welcoming. You’d read your stuff and they’d go, good lad. Me and my mate Martin used to work together and we’d do comedy and poems, and that’s what got me started in enjoying being a performer.
These days, I read all the time – books just keep arriving. When I get home tonight, because I went out at seven o’clock, there’ll be two more Jiffy bags full of books. It’s great. My wife says – why have we got all these books? And I’ll just go – I’ve been presenting this show on the radio about books for sixteen years so they’re going to keep coming in. At the moment, my favourite in terms of performance is John Cooper Clark, partly because he has a northern accent. Whenever he sees you, he knows you vaguely but he always says, alright lad, how’s the project? So then you go, I’m still writing, John.
My favourite poet of all time is Roy Fisher. One of the first readings I ever did, in 1978 in a pub in Toddington, he was the headliner. It was the weirdest gig. The organiser was drunk and he kept standing up and selling vegetables. We’re doing this poem and he stands up saying, get your carrots! This other bloke goes, I’m going to kill that fella for interrupting the poets, the drink has destroyed him. I was a teenager thinking, god, this is great. This is how the literary life should be. Then this man ran in, Jack Trevor Storey who was a novelist, with a cape and a flying helmet and goggles and he ran round the room shouting, I am the president, then he ran off.
There was a Doncaster Literature Festival years ago and I saw a reading by Ted Hughes, and he stopped halfway through. I can’t do anymore, he says, I’m spent. Those were my influences but, I’m also influenced by every book I read. I’m just reading Louise Gluck, she’s one of my favourites, an American poet.
What draws you the most to poetry?
I think the way that it’s democratic and anybody can do it. Even if you can’t read or write, you can speak it. I like theatre and I like art but, to make these things, you’ve got to have a space and other things. But, to make poetry, all you need is a blank sheet of paper or your voice. It feels like a universal form that’s been going on forever and, whatever happens, it’s not going to break. It’s endless resilience. When I first started, I thought it was a precious vase and, if I dropped it, it might shatter but it’s not. I think people turn to poetry at times of either great personal or national and international turbulence, like we’re having now.
How did the radio work start and what do you like the most about presenting The Verb?
A mate of mine, Dave Sheasby, was a radio producer in Sheffield. He rang me up and said, I want to interview you about your writing. So he interviewed me and I made him laugh, and he said, can you make me laugh every week?
My advice to people is always say yes, at least to great adventures. He said, can you write me a thing every week called A Letter from Barnsley, just a little 15-minuter? Not live, recorded. And that’s where it started. Then they invited me and my mate Martin to review the papers on Radio Sheffield, and that was a live thing. Then Dave said, do you want to present a show on Saturday mornings on Radio Sheffield from nine until twelve?’ So we said yeah, and that was so exciting. Then Dave moved to Radio 4 and he said, ‘have you got any ideas?’ And I said yeah – I had no ideas. So he thought of some ideas. He had The Blackburn Files, which were just like a detective story set in Barnsley, and then made documentaries.
And then, about sixteen years ago, (I love Radio 3 but I always thought it was elite) the Radio 3 boss rang up and he went, ‘would you like to do a pilot for a show on Radio 3?’ I felt like, I’m with the big boys here. Scary. So I did the pilots originally going to be called Saturday Speakeasy and then Pure Verb, because that’s a line of a Seamus Heaney poem, and then they said, we’d like you to present this thing called The Verb.
I’ve been doing it for sixteen years now and there are so many good things about it. On Radio 3, you can stretch out and do what you want. You can ask people difficult questions, you can get people to mesh with each other. I’ve got a fantastic group of people. For ten years, it was down in London and then they said, ‘Ian, good news, we’re moving to Salford.’ And I said, ‘you think the north’s a small shed and Salford is just there and Barnsley’s there.’ It takes me twenty minutes longer to get to Salford than it does to get to London.
Every week is an absolute joy. Last Saturday we recorded one of the last nights of The Proms, so we had Michael Palin talking about his new book. We had Jason Singh beatboxer, Anne Dudley who wrote the music for The Full Monty and American slam champion Mojdeh Stoakely. Before the show I always give the guests apples and, after, we have cake. We try and make it like a party and, at the end of it, I’m buzzing with ideas and excitement.
You must’ve met some interesting people in your career – who stands out and why?
Very early on, there was a poet called Harold Massingham who was in the same class as Ted Hughes at school but has always been a bit forgotten, and he was such an interesting fella.
He came from Mexborough, wrote these amazing poems that were really difficult and, when I met him, he had a real odd charisma. I saw him do a reading at Lumb Bank at the Arvon Foundation – he turned up with a white shirt on and a goatee beard and he said, I am a complete sensualist, I drink Lager and I take snuff. I was a young man and I thought – this is fantastic. There was a guy called Ken Campbell who was a theatre maker and writer, and we had him on The Verb a lot.
He was an amazing person, his thing was improvisation. He set up these improv-a-thons where he’d just get people to improvise for twenty four hours. He said – you’ve got to get your lizard brain, stop thinking. He did these fantastic things for us on The Verb. One of my favourite people is Liz Lockhead who’s a wonderful poet from Scotland and she was one the first people I met in terms of performing.
Has being northern and having an accent ever affected how you’re seen or how you work as a poet?
It’s never affected how I see myself but often people think all kinds of things, like they think you put your voice on. He talks like Prince Charles in the house. Can’t stand that Ian McMillan, professional Yorkshireman. Someone said to me the other day – do you maintain a base in Barnsley? I said, yeah, I call it my house. They didn’t believe that someone could live here and be cultured and interesting and intellectual. Sometimes I know that I’m picked as the token northerner for things, when they’ve got a panel.
I’ve being doing voiceover on Channel 4 for this show called The Dales and Lakes and I had to keep going, ‘Later in The Dales and Lakes,’ before each advert break, and this fella on the train the other day came up to me and asked me to say it. So I said it. And I went, ‘oh, great.’ Then Sean Bean who’s in Sheffield did a voiceover and they thought he was me. ‘I thought I’d hear you on the telly.’ I said, ‘no, you didn’t. It was Sean Bean, a blade. I’m a Barnsley fan.’
Is there anything young writers have now that you wish you had when you were starting out?
The internet. You’d write a poem and I’d get my mum to cut up cornflake packets to fit an envelope so my poem was flat. Then about five weeks later it might come back. And you’d have to think, who was that person who wrote diddly-dee? So you’d go down to Darfield Library, you’d look, you’d ask your mate. Nowadays, it’s all there. Also I like Twitter so much and I wouldn’t be able to tweet all the time.
And is there anything you had when you were starting out that you wish young writers nowadays had?
It’s the other side of the coin we just talked about. I quite liked the mystery of not being able to find things, which will never happen again in human history. You’d think, what was that thing? Where was that? Who wrote that book? What is that tune? Who said that? Knowledge was a mystery whereas now knowledge is a very practical thing that you can find anywhere. Sometimes I wish that young people had that sense of things that you can’t quite grasp.
Is there anything that you would say to the young poet version of you if you could go back in time?
I’d say, take more opportunities. I’ve took plenty but I remember getting third prize in a competition in York and I won something like ten quid. And the idea was that I was going to go read my poem and I was so nervous that I daren’t go. I remember, on the morning, saying that to my mum and going and sitting in Darfield Library. I wrote to the woman because we didn’t have a phone, and she wrote back saying – you silly boy. And maybe – work harder at school, McMillan.
What have you enjoyed most about being Barnsley Poet Laureate?
I resisted the name for ages. I said – can I be Barnsley Poet Champion or Barnsley Poet Tsar? I don’t like that word, laureate. Because I’ve been here a long time they all know me so, when I’m walking about – he’s here. Don’t say anything, he’ll write a poem about it. Or – Put that in a poem.
What’s good about it is – here’s a poem I’ve written. I get a lot of that when I’m at the football. I like being a public person. There used to be a fella going round Barnsley who’d stop me and go – I’ve got a quick one for you, Ian. I thought that Laureate felt like you were distanced from that. What I’ve enjoyed about it is that it’s legitimised what I do anyway. Also, it’s concentrated the mind wonderfully because they’ve gone – we’d like you to write a poem about this, or about the Tour de Yorkshire.’ What I’m writing is not aimed at people who read poetry, it’s aimed at everybody. I did like the word in the end – my mate drew a picture of me with a lorry on my hat because I’m Poet ‘Lorry Hat’. That’d be good, wouldn’t it? Or a hat made out of a lorry.
You’re judging Hive’s Young Writers Competition early next year. What do you look for in a competition poem?
With a competition poem, it arrives and it’s got to stand on its own two feet. It’s got to say, here I am. There’s no point sending in a poem that might just be one of the ones you’ve written. If you’re entering a competition, you may as well try and win so it’s got to be the best thing you’ve ever written and the most different thing. So, when the judge reads the first line, they think -I can see what’s coming next, then they say, wait a minute, I was wrong. Blimey.
It shouldn’t be your first draft. Maybe you should look at it and really polish it. I know that Hive have got some fantastic hints and tips on how to edit poems, because it’s not an easy skill. But, if you look these, that’ll show you how to do it. I wish I’d had people giving me hints and tips when I was younger. Send me something that, if you were a judge, you would give a prize to.
Is there any advice that you were given about poetry that’s really stayed with you?
I asked somebody what poetry was and he said it’s the music of what happens, and that’s what I like. Wherever you go, whatever you see or hear, whatever you encounter is a possible poem about to happen. Absolutely anything can have music in it. That’s my favourite phrase.
Write as you talk. Just use everything that happens to you as the idea for a poem. Hugo Williams, fantastic poet, writes very much about his life. He wrote this poem about splitting up with a girlfriend but then put, ‘even as we leave the room, I’m working out where the line breaks are going to go in the poem I’ll be writing about this.’ Also, carry a notebook. Write stuff down. Something’ll happen to you and if you don’t write it down, all you remember is you had a good idea.
Any pearls of wisdom to young and emerging writers in South Yorkshire – or anywhere?
I would say always believe that you can do it. Believe that it’s not an exclusive club, it’s an inclusive club that everyone can join. Write poems all the time, read poems all the time. Find out where things are happening. Hive will tell you where things are happening. If things aren’t happening near you, maybe try and start something. Maybe get together with other people who write because you often think that you’re the only one. And, in fact, there are lots of people writing everywhere. So I would say keep your eyes and ears open, keep your notebook open, and keep your book of poems open.
With big thanks to Ian McMillan
Leave a Comment · Posted on September 7, 2018
Hive’s new young writers’ steering group met for the first time on Wednesday. It was so lovely to have great conversation with young and emerging writers that have come into Hive via every route in and have benefited in different ways and taken different paths, and are now wanting to help shape and support Hive’s next steps! Thank you all for coming and contributing to a great discussion. New plans are hatching!
Leave a Comment · Posted on September 2, 2018
From September 2018, we are so pleased to have been granted funding from Arts Council England to pilot a new programme – Hatch – offering a number of next step opportunities for young writers from 18 to 30, including training and development opportunities and an enabling fund allowing emerging writers to progress their practice, explore new skills and experiences, and shape content, audiences and approaches to producing and accessing writing.
We’ll also be working with community partners on new projects and kicking off a Yorkshire-wide magazine/journal online that with involve young writers as guest editors and creative journalists, and of course be open to all (14-30 years) for submissions at key dates during the year.
Watch this space!
Hive South Yorkshire is funded by Arts Council England