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Ty’Laen Residential Course at Ty Newydd National Writers Centre for Wales

I spent the weekend at Ty Newydd National Writer’s Centre for Wales delivering a residential course for young people from Maesgeirchen, Bala and Deiniolin Youth Clubs. The project was a collaboration between Literature Wales, Gwynedd Council Youth Services and Ty Newydd.

The project was facilitated by myself and Y Bardd Plant Cymru Aneirin Karadog. It was a real pleasure to work alongside Aneirin and bring our respective roles together. we share a Hip Hop background, but have very different models of poetry; Aneirin is steeped in the Welsh tradition of Cynghanedd and Eisteddfod and I’m from the free verse school of English language DIY spoken word. Its a productive to share with young people, as the diversity inevitably finds points of confluence in the human action of poetry.

We approached creative writing with the young people from three different stimuli; straight up poetry; writing in response to pics we took on our phones (see above); writing to music. The young people worked well at the tasks, enjoyed the process and the results were spectacular! Click the links below for Audio.

Caress is a Shield

Lift the Cup

Ty’Laen Crew

Poet in Residence @ Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School #2 18.3.14

7 days into the Poet Residency in Archbishop McGrath Catholic School we have already created over 200 poems! I’m so happy to say that every single participant in the residency has written a strong poem, and 117 young people have performed their poem on the mic, on the big stage in the hall to a large, super supportive, audience of their peers.

I keep quoting numbers of poems – young people, keep using big adjectives – because the scale of this project is new to me. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to make an impact on the school’s creative culture with so many young people.

The results are very visible. The process is clearly cathartic for many young people who have shown remarkable  honesty in writing about sensitive issues they face – there have been tears as well as laughter on most days – sometimes even on stage. Its a testament to the culture of the school and the attitude of the young poet’s themselves that people feel safe enough to express their emotions. Its also a clear illustration of how a project of this kind can allow a school to get to know its young people better, providing opportunities for pastoral support that might not have been offered otherwise.

The performances at the end of each day are a big show for a poet. I feel like its definitely “showtime” as the audience come in. The young poet’s have been given some basic performance skills (mic technique, pacing, using pauses, eye contact, body language) and they have a poem they have just written an hour earlier. The immediacy is electric.


Poet in Residence @ Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School #1 10.3.14

Today was the first day of a 2 week residency with Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School in Bridgend. Over the next fortnight I will deliver a 1 day poetry workshop with every class in years 7 and 8 – approx 300 young people.  The workshop schedule works through a self portrait in poetry, becoming increasingly focussed on one key aspect of the portrait.

focusses in on an open mic, and develops into a poem titled ‘Music’.







In this example the process begins with a symbolic object that represents the poet (the guitar), surrounded by words that also represent the poet. The poet focusses in on an experience they have had performing at an open mic, writing phrases that tell the story of the experience and explore the emotions involved. The poet creates a poem titled ‘Music’.

A final edit shapes up into;

I love to sing

its my thing

music is my life

its like I can live twice

performing my heart

the melody in my veins

the rhythm like pure blood

the music floods my brain

this is love

a  happy place

a peaceful place

a place where I’m me

By Lunchtime everyone had written a poem, and the students were given the choice of coming back after lunch for rehearsal and performance, or returning to their curriculum class. At 3pm the whole of the group’s year group (150 people) were audience for a spoken word poetry performance by 9 of the participants from today’s workshop, with a support slot by me. It was a beautiful show featuring some great poems, and a musical finales with Congas, song and spoken word. It was a great feeling to hear the poets being massively cheered by their peers at the end. Every day of the residency will conclude with another 30 min performance by poets from that day’s workshop.

I can’t wait.

Hay Festival Scribblers Tour #2 Aberystwyth 3.314

I delivered a one hour interactive poetry presentation to approx years 7 and 8 pupils from 2 schools in the Aberystwyth area. The event was part of the Hay Festival Scribblers Tour and took place in a theatre at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. There were about 100 people at the event, and they participated in great style, for instance, this is the first time I’ve got a spontaneous hand clap starting in the audience when I do my “Together” poem (available for fee download here  at click audio).

We ran through the never-tiring-always-rewarding-transatlantically-expanded-Martin’s Meaning Machine (OOOOOOh!), starting with the word ‘Celebrity’. It was a good choice. The suggestion for ‘Celebrity means……’ was ‘Greed’. Very thought provoking. We then got ‘Hungry’ and ‘Empty’. Working in a whole group we began to play with the idea of ‘Get me out of here’ and then ‘Let me in’. While the pupils worked through their own meaning machines on celebrity I put together a poem on the big screen.

It’s a decent start. We then finished the session with an offer to the participants to read their poem on the stage. 14 young people took the mic and read their poems from the session. It was real pleasure to work with everyone and have fun writing poetry. Further info on The Scribblers Tour is at


The Poetry Slam is a live performance competition. Every poet has 3 minutes. The Slam is judged by 5 volunteers from the audience who are given scorecards. The highest and lowest scores are disregarded, and the winner is the poet with the highest score. Usually running over 3 rounds, Slam events incorporate an open mic to begin the show, a 20min feature reading from an established poet, then an interval (during which the feature sells their books) and then the Slam. Its a well established and highly effective formula for a varied and dynamic poetry show.

The hosts at the Slam are integral to the success of the event. They are witty, commanding, supportive and highly articulate, and they set the atmosphere with an arresting combination of irreverent humour and intelligent commentary on current issues and experiences (the weather, the news, sports, whatever). It is one area where the skills set over here is much higher than in the UK.

The actual quality of the poetry in the USA is fairly comparable to what I’ve seen in the UK, but there is one major difference – audience! Over the last 2 weeks I have been to 5 poetry slams in 4 cities of the USA. Starting at The Green Mill, Chicago where The Poetry Slam was invented by Mark Kelly Smith (its a nationwide tradition now that everyone shouts “So What” at the mention of his name) 30 years ago to make poetry readings more interesting and accessible, I went on to Omaha, Seattle and Portland. Without exception every venue has been packed full of people hungry to hear poetry. The crowd of about 100 in Portland were the most enthusiastic audience I have ever been a part of: they went nuts for every poet regardless of anything they said in their poem. It was almost too much.

Slam has two great strengths. Firstly, the name Slam is a masterstroke of marketing. It sounds so much more exciting that a “reading”, and less pretentious than a “performance”. Regardless of the actual content of the show, it sounds hip and makes it easy to invite new people into the audience. Secondly, it taps into a very well established model of sports competition. People go against each other over a series of knockout rounds and one of them is crowned the winner. However nerve wracking this makes it for poets shy of being judged, it provides edge, structure and celebration to the event.

The success of the formula has created an international movement that embraces local, national and world slam championships. Individual and team slams take place. Youth slams take place. Women of the World Slams take place. Queer Slams take place. Slam is as all embracing as language itself and it is providing millions of people worldwide with a platform and a method to articulate their story.


Creative Wales Ambassador

I’ve been given a Creative Wales Ambassador Award. This means that I will be working in a partnership with Literature Wales and Urban Word NYC to create the first Wales Youth Slam Team who will be competing at Brave New Voices (the US National Youth Slam Championships) in Philadelphia in July 2014 – WORD!!!!! WOOOP!!!!! Fist Pumps etc.

The project is in three parts. Right now I’m in the USA researching Slam Poetry.This trip takes me to Chicago, Omaha, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. In this phase I’m working with youth poetry organisations, world champion slam poets and schools to get inside how they deliver spoken word poetry out here. Its impressive. In Chicago they have a slam festival that features 6000 (yes 6000) young poets from the Chicago area. Here in Omaha, Nebraska Writers Collective are delivering a coordinated slam project in 32 schools. This is the kind of engagement infrastructure that I’m hoping to develop in Wales over the next few years.

Phase two takes me to New York in April where I will be working with Urban Word NYC as they develop the New York Youth Slam Team. The skills set of the poetry tutors in NYC is stellar and I know I will learn a lot of new tricks from them.

Then I’m working in Cathays High School, Cardiff to form the first Wales Youth Slam Team. This year is a pilot project so we are just working in the one school as we test out our methods. For 2015 our aim is to deliver a nationwide schools slam project that will enable us to to truly form a representative Wales Slam Team.

We finish the project at Brave New Voices in Philadelphia. Of my three trips to the USA on this project, this is the one I’m looking forward to most. Its a huge priviledge to offer those 5 young poets – whoever they may be – the opportunity to travel overseas and represent their country. We will all be learning a great deal from the experiences we will share.

Introducing the youth slam model, that is going viral in every city in the USA at the moment, to Wales was one of my main ambitions when I began my tenure as YPL, and with the assistance of Arts Council Wales I am so pleased to be making the ambition a reality.

Hay Festival Scribblers Tour

We had a great session today with The Hay Festival Scribblers Tour today. We were in Trinity St David’s University working with a very able group of year 9 and 10 students from Ysgol Dyffryn Amman.


The plan was;

1.Interactive performance of 3 of my poems (Together, B.F.A.S.E, Under the Slates)

2. Freestyle on the theme of “Creativity” using a vocabiulary given me by the group

3. Martin’s Meaning Machine on the theme of “Imagine”


It went like this;

To Imagine Means To Think

To Think means To Believe

To Believe means To Faith (we used faith as a verb)

We began the poem with a preposition – this time its is before.

Before I imagine myself – I think of you

to believe you’re still with me

to grieve my faith that we will be again

The vocabulary got me thinking about my late Dad, how I would love to see him again, and how I believe he lives in on me.

While the young people worked on their own poem, I drafted the poem twice and arrived at;

The King is Dead (Long Live the King)

Before I imagine myself

I think of you

think that you were

before I was

think that I am

after you were

these tenses relax now that you’re past

Before I imagine myself

I believe you’re still with me

grieve my faith that we will be again

anchor my truth to what is real;

my heart beats your name

my name holdsyour legacy

my legacy to heal your wound(ed) soldier

take him home

I imagine myself a feather gurney

an Avalon barge to cry the King to rest

The King is dead

Long live the King x 3

I’m happy with that for a morning’s work.

Literacy initiative in Llanfair Caereinion #2

The last session of the Llanfair Caereinion literacy initiative turned out be one of the most rewarding I have ever delivered. I love the way this workshop developed. Let me explain the process.

At Ysgol Gynradd Llanfair Caereinion, we worked in the Neuadd/Hall with 54 year 5 and 6 students to deliver a 2 hour session with the aim of engaging the students in literacy and inspiring them to write creatively – Same day same glorious opportunity to have some moments of real meaning. We followed the same session plan as in the previous sessions;

  1. interactive poem
  2. freestyle by md
  3. Meaning Machine exercise
  4. sharing our work
We chose to put the theme of Literacy into our meaning machine, and got literacy means thinking means questions means answers.
We chose the preposition inside to go before literacy, decided to change literacy to words, and then developed the following piece through group oral composition;
inside these words
there is thinking
questions to be asked
answers to be found
knowledge to be revealed
truth to be spoken
served up face to face
in your face – we mean it
Board from Ysgol Gynradd Llanfair Ceireinion
The statement we mean it was the key to inspiring the workshop to step up to whole new level. I asked each one of the students to think of a short statement to articulate something they really MEAN – something that if they could only write one thing that everyone in the world would read, what would it be? Oh My Gosh – 30 of the students came up with some of the most beautiful, human, wise, empowering statements I have heard – it was a wonderful experience to direct the performance and recording of this poem. The poem is called We Mean It (please, click on the link to listen to the students perform the piece). Enjoy.
Don’t let anybody control your life – you own it
Nobody can make you do something you don’t want to
It’s your decision – don’t be afraid of who you are
You choose what you want to be in the future
You’re family always loves you
Your family means the world to you
Do what you always want to do
Be whoever you want to be
Make the most of life
Always be yourself
Life may bring you to the unexpected  - but its where you’re supposed to be
Enjoy life while you can
Choose your own path
Everyone makes mistakes its important that we learn from them
Everyone’s there for you
I like Pizza and I mean it
Be true to yourself
Believe in hope
Never give up hope hope
We’re all worthy of something
Respect life
Be the best you can be
I love life
Be yourself
Believe in yourself

Literacy initiative in Llanfair Caereinion #1

This week has me delivering YPL workshops to 1 High School and 8 Ysgolau Gynradd in the Llanfair Caereinion/Newtown area. The work we are doing is the first phase in the creation of a central online hub for creative literacy in the area where young people and educators from the different schools can share their work.

Its been a massive pleasure to work with the schools and find fun ways to develop creative thinking with words. Of course, the Wales renowned soon to be Outernationally Exploded MARTIN’S MEANING MACHINE is in full effect boyeeeee!

board from Ysgol Meifod

This is the breakdown of the sessions;

We say hello

We do an interactive performance of my piece together (video here )

I do a freestyle inspired by words relating to literacy the class give me

We do Martin’s Meaning Machine in phases that we work on the board first, and then on our own individual sheets;

  1. explore the meaning of one word e.g. book means read means learn means teach
  2. make a list of prepositions ( definition here
  3. make a strong statement for the first word, beginning with a preposition (to give the piece a spatial/temporal context – word!)  e.g inside this book horizons break
  4. make a strong statement for each of the other words e.g the word read themselves / it where we teach to dream / to grow into ourselves
  5. turn the statements into a coherent poem using identified poetic techniques e.g.
Inside this book horizons break
take us to the future
where these words will read themselves
teaching us to dream – again (and again)
so we grow back to back
to ourselves in front of this page
In the above example we would identify 1 x image, 3 x assonance, 2 x rhyme, 1 x repetition, 1 x opposition, 3 x alliteration and also a smooth use of rhythmic time – nice!
The young people of this very beautiful area of Wales are showing great ability and we are having lots of fun performing my piece Together together, doing silly Game Show noises for each phase of the meaning machine, and generally having fun at work. It makes me so happy to see the young people engaging with their creativity – it reminds me just how lucky I am to do this for a job!


Residencie La Generale D’Imaginaire #9 2.12.13

We did it!!

3 solid weeks living with Les Compagnons in Emmaus Dunkerque and Camille Faucherre and myself created a 40 min sound poetry theatre piece called ‘Une en Trois’.

The project wrapped Friday night at L’Entrepot (the university’s main music/theatre venue in Dunkerque). IMO it was a strong show; dynamic, original, well performed and socially and geographically relevant to Dunkerque.

The audience were great – about 100 people really engaging with some out there sound poetry theatre. Full audio of the show is  here

I have to thank La Generale D’Imaginaire for facilitating the residency, in particular Donatella, Celine and Valerie who have been so supportive and helpful. Also Camille Fauchere who showed an incredible confidence, strength and creativity in his work on the project. Lastly I would like to offer my humble and sincere gratitude to Les Compagnons of Emmaus Dunkerque – merci beaucop mes amis – bonne chance/bon chant

I’ve learned so much artistically from this residency in terms of how to create sound poetry and techniques to create a theatre piece. It has also challenged my political thinking as to what a society is – at the end of the project I ask myself how can I conceive of one coherent organism that can support the human truths of all the people in the places I have visited – Les Compagnons, the migrants in Calais, the celebrated Poets being hosted by The Queen in Buckingham Palace, the Roma Gypsies about to be evicted from their village in Dunkerque. Its deep territory, and while I am perplexed by my attempts to make sense of it all, I am very much enriched as a poet and a person by the process of asking how to find the one truth of how to make all this work – the closest I’ve got so far is ‘with wealth comes responsibility’ – WORD!