9 writers perform at 9 events over 9 days. Organised by myself on behalf of the grassroots literary association Paris Lit Up (aka PLU). This is my write-up, previously published on the Paris Lit Up website, with a bonus poem at the end.
When not specified, photos by Ed Bell/ParisLitUp Instagram
PLU on Tour, England 2019
This year’s Paris Lit Up tour was an exciting leap forward. Where, with previous years and collaborations, I have often felt a need to convince fellow poetry organisers of our worth, this year was different. The infrastructure was already there, networks worked, communities wanted to perform with us and create magic. Particular shout-outs go to Oliver Cable (London), Rhys Ashton-Tucker (Bath Spa) and Niall Munro (Oxford Brookes) who replied to my never-ending messages with breathtaking speed and efficiency. I must also thank the artists who dared to join me on this roller-coaster of experiences…
This year’s PLU tour members were diverse, intelligent and full of creative surprises. What an immense pleasure to feel simultaneously so stimulated, proud and humbled by those around me. Also to laugh. It’s not something I put in the PLU Tour description, but laughter is one of the cornerstones of the experience (for me).
Our giggling gaggle consisted of: myself the Lady of Logistics; right-hand man/media manager and host par excellence Ed; Matt, master of making his audience cry, cringe and cachinnate; Elia the eloquent with his voice of fiery power; Malik of Mysticism and candid magnificence; Helen the splendide and Queen of the Imagination, Isabelle for her third and final tour; Blake the beatboxing thought-provoking gentle Californian; and Benjamin the howling explosion of heart. It was quite the artistic recipe!
Where did we go during the PLU Tour to England in 2019? I recommend you read the different write-ups to appreciate its real flavour, but here’s a summary to give you a taste:
London, Friday March 22: Oliver Cable (of Cable Writes) has organised a busy PLU and music showcase at Stour Space in Hackney Wick. Great crowd, receptive atmosphere and an ideal space that gives our debut a boost of confidence for the days to come. Performances over, our chariots arrive and we are whisked back to our shared dorm where it is later confirmed I snore like a comforting train.
London, Saturday March 23: The PLU ladies (Emily, Helen, Isabelle and friend Pomme) participate in the weekly Xenia workshop for women, where we discover an art exhibition then move outside into a courtyard, build a fire and bake bread over it, sampling delicious snacks, all while chatting with other women from around the world. Shivering in the late Hackney morning with my fingers twisting around a steaming mug of tea, this is the gentlest reminder of social responsibility I could have wished for.
Oxford, Sunday March 24: Goodbye London! Goodbye fire alarm! Goodbye cold showers (this would later prove to be untrue)! Hello to the Fairy Cottage and its sun-soaked patio in Oxford’s Jericho quarter. And hello the Old Bookbinders – who had been wonderfully welcoming in their communications but failed to specify that theirs is predominantly a music open mic…and that they stop serving food at 7pm. Trying to find logic in the face of confused foreigners, the Brits shrug. Then, a key is forgotten. Luckily we are saved by Benjamin’s cat burglar skills and late night pizzas.
Oxford,Monday March 25:
It’s a big day for Malik, as I’ve enlisted his intellect and innate charm to be on a panel about Cultural Diversity in Literature with novelist Karin Amatmoekrim and writer/Professor Elleke Boehmer. He is, of course, fabulous. They all are. Bursting with ideas about breaking doors or building better, we skip down to the Common Ground where the Oxford Writers’ House has helped us organise a PLU showcase and open mic. It’s a non-profit community space that we immediately feel at home in. Mike the manager ends the night on one of the most heart-warming speeches about bad poetry I’ve ever heard. With our honorary tour member Karin in tow we head home, polish off some wine and talk late into the night about art, love, front doors and back doors.
Bath, Tuesday March 26:
Fuelled by appreciative ooohs our train took us through the gloriously English countryside between Oxford and Bath Spa. She always looks her best in the late afternoon sunshine, and the views from our rooftop terrace over the city are as agreeable as a pair of soft slippers. Suddenly it is time to perform again, so we jump on a bus and rumble through the country estate that makes up the Bath Spa University campus where Rhys is waiting for us. There isn’t much of a crowd but media opportunity suggests Rhys, and go weird encourages Ed. The video footage will speak for itself… Eventually the students do emerge from the shadows, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they hadn’t. We feel weird and wonderful and brave.
Bath, Wednesday March 27:
A well-deserved day off allows us time to breathe, bathe and discover Bath. Also, the Bell Inn. Speaking of Bells, ours shows his culinary skills and produces a fine English Roast Chicken with which to digest the day.
Southampton, Thursday March 28:
Every time I organise the PLU tour I try to seek out at least one loopy location. And, as Southampton happens to be perfectly located between Bath and Brighton, and used to have a regular open mic at a Hobbit-themed pub, the choice was easy. Contact was made with the organisers, and the open mic was resurrected for PLU. On the night, Helen is the perfect host; the marmalade to our toast. Later, minds lost in the magic murals of the fairy pub garden, we order takeaways and get the last bus back to our shrine shed in Southampton.
Brighton, Friday March 29:
It is supposed to be Brexit Day, but it’s not. Or is it? No-one is sure. In any case there is tension in the air of Brighton. Loud, colourful tension bubbling from the streets as soon as we step off the train. We are to perform at the pro-Europe Take Back Control event held at the Rialto theatre. Our AirBnB host asks if he can come along (he does, and stays throughout). Pastries are provided for the Surrealist Games, which are carried out to shrieks of laughter and a happy Philosopher Queen. Next the Paris Lit Up showcase: it is clear how our performances have grown over the week. We’re a well-oiled machine now. Music, networking, and then it is time for the walruses to dive back into their existential drama. The crowd is elsewhere, mismanaged, but we are proud and fiercely protective. We are PLU and we can do this on any rock.
Brighton, Saturday March 30:
Matt is a good student. When I had told him we’d been invited to participate in all the seminars during New Writing South’s “Writers’ Day”, he signed up for all of them immediately. So, while the rest of us are dreaming of walruses and throwing stones, from 8am Matt is taking notes on how to make it as a writer in this difficult industry. I wonder what he will say if anyone asks to copy his notes later. Gradually the rest of the PLU troupe arrive in preparation for his performance, alongside Helen, Malik and two Brighton-based writers, as part of the concluding Strong Words section of the day. We go home and Helen conducts us in the construction of a vegan extravaganza. More words. We wake separately and drift groggily back down our own tributaries, to meet again in Paris.
Through all things
What is sewn will grow:
Up, a nebulous monolith;
Down, the earth of our experience.
(though all things growth)
Train times and turbans, tequila and Smaug.
Beat-boxing, chair throwing, howling aloud.
Harmonica, dissonance, chicken and socks.
Stones in our shoes and empirical rocks.
Chronos vehicles us cross-country
where words among – to – strangers,
tangible babbling, lost books and beer
burp new stories, break in.
Hobbits and heroes and dear Hackney Wick
Walruses, busses and lipstick too thick,
Women, wandering, wondering and words,
Mural of magic and chorus of birds.
Break in and light up the gas,
guard the fire’s hazard and heat
search the flames to see the shadows
see the shadows to somewhere sleep.
Microwaved omelettes, love on the tracks,
Thoughts on a train of alternative facts.
Backpacks and bookbinders, amber and pathfinders,
Sewn in our stories a Something has grown.
Sewn in our stories a Something has grown.
Grown into a Something our stories have sewn.