Your kiss was like a lightning bolt,
knocking me off my feet
blistering my lips
stopping my heart in a millisecond.
As I struggled to rise
I began to smoulder
then eagerly I braced myself
for the thunder.
Prior to her headline appearance at the Southcart Books and Walsall Poetry Society open mic, I took some time to catch up with local poet the multi talented Scarlett Ward and chat with her about how what she’s been up to and more.
Q. Congratulations on getting published by Verve Poetry Press in two recent books (The Leon Priestnall collection and the Beatfreeks anthology) and performing at the book’s launches, how did all that come about?
A. I started going to a lot of Birmingham poetry events because I felt that there was a lot going on in the heart of the city that I really wanted to be part of. I’d seen videos and Facebook events of these spectacularly lively crowds that were joining together in a way that I hadn’t experienced in my own small town. I started getting the train up to brum after work and everyone was so friendly and welcoming. Then I saw a call for submissions from poets that had performed at Beatfreeks poetry night so I submitted and am happy to say I was chosen for the Verve anthology and was invited to perform at Birmingham town hall at the poetry jam. Leon has become a good friend that I look up to and respect very much so please go buy his book ‘Bennetts Hill Blues” and show support because he is a fantastic poet and wonderful human! I also want to shout out to Verve Press because they are doing brilliant things for midlands poetry scene, they really care for their poets and about the diversity and representation of all writers.
Q. I think everyone was very pleased to see your open mic at Caffe del Nino get shortlisted for a Saboteur Award would you mind telling everyone about the event and the award nomination?
A. Thank you so much! I am so proud of everyone that is involved with Ninos for helping get us shortlisted! I had seen online calls to apply for the Saboteur awards, and I thought it was worth a try- what I didn’t expect was for everyone to really pull together to vote for us, the support we received was incredible, and we were in the top 5 poetry nights in the UK up against huge cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and London! I was over the moon to say Cannock was recognized in the poetry sphere by making it to the final round of voting and my heart literally exploded with pride and gratitude.
Q. How long have you been interested in poetry, when did you start writing, what are your influences and who are your favourite poets?
A. I was a bit of a loner emo child in my final years of high school, I was pretty embarrassed by my existence and so used to squirrel away in the library where the other girls wouldn’t find me to tease me. As a result I would devour books and write as much as I could whilst listening to very lyrically rich emo music haha. I got all A’s and A*’s at GCSE’s though so I can thank my bullies really! I’m really into American poets at the moment because I think there is a lot to learn from their blunt way of stating things that really hits the gut. Check out Kaveh Akhbar’s “Calling a wolf a wolf” his book has really changed the way I approach poetry in terms of nailing the bold and raw aspects of life. I’m also reading Melissa Lee-Houghton’s collection “sunshine” at the moment it tackles very hard hitting mental health issues whilst maintaining the personal and unapologetic approach.
Q. Now I know you’re not only a poet but I would class you as an artist as well, what made you start to combine art and poetry?
A. Thank you that’s very kind! I’ve always loved art, my mom and dad were huge influences as they are both artists themselves and always encouraged me to draw and to imagine magical scenarios. I’ve always loved experimenting with the visual aspect of art and poetry and have kept a doodle/scribble journal since 2015. Often, the way a poem is consumed visually can emphasise or augment the meaning of the words. I held a solo-curated art x poetry exhibition last year where I invited artists to create visual poetry or poetic art, whichever they wanted, and held a spoken word open mic alongside the exhibition. It was so much fun I hope to do another one again soon!
Q5. I couldn’t let the question pass without asking what’s on a lot of folk’s lips, do you have a poetry collection due out soon?
A. I have been in talks with a publisher because I definitely know where I want my collection to call home… However I think it’s too early to talk about it yet and I don’t want to get in trouble haha BUT I do have a manuscript and a title and it has always been my dream to bring a book into the world… so I will say more when more is confirmed!
Q.Thanks for answering my questions, if folk want to see what you’re up to where can they find you online?
A. My Instagram is @scarlett.ward
You can buy prints and zines of my poetry at www.etsy.com /uk/shop/SWPoetry
I will be running a poetry stall at A5 Live festival the 3,4,5th of August in Chase town so come say hi!
Thank you Scarlett for the fantastic interview, details on the next open mic at Caffe del Nino can be found here.
I’m very pleased to have three poems in the charity poetry collection Further Within Darkness and Light, compiled by Walsall poet and author Paul B Morris. Sales of the book go to benefit the charity Mind and you can get a copy via the link below
Some days I feel like a neurotic pigeon,
pecking out a meagre existence,
surviving on my dumb luck alone
in a world full of cats.
I constantly walk on eggshells,
while all around me the
sleek fat chic pad confidently by,
their lips curled in sneers or snarls.
I’m an endangered species
with no defence except
my novelty value.
Which is no real protection for a neurotic pigeon
whose dumb luck could ruin out at any time,
constantly scrabbling to exist
in a world full of cats.
A pigeon who realises that his problem is
he’s that bloody stupid he’s forgotten he’s got wings.
Prior to the release of his debut poetry collection “Cacophony of Stardust” this weekend at Southcart Books in Walsall I took time out to sit down with one of the most well known and respected poets on my local poetry scene and beyond Al Barz, to ask him some questions about the new book and more.
Q.Congratulations on the publication of your new poetry collection Cacophony of Stardust, what was the inspiration behind the title and what can readers expect to find within the book’s pages?
A. I’ll start by saying how I appreciate your generosity with time and attention you give to local poets including myself, with events, Walsall Poetry Society, and these interviews. It means a lot especially from a very popular fellow poet. So thank you for that!
Last year, in late December, I was ‘strong-armed’ (their phrase) by Matty Cash, together with Paul B Morris as his henchman, into putting together a collection. Without their push it wouldn’t have been done. Not yet anyway! I’m thankful for them giving me that push and for their publishing skills.
I tend to hear poetry in my head when I’m reading or writing; the music, intonation and rhythms of lines are an embedded experience. So when I was selecting, from several hundred, these 150 or so, to me it seemed to represent a cacophony; a mixture of sounds creating dissonance as they rub shoulders.
‘Stardust’, well because that’s what a book is, what I am, what we all are, shaped into our human existence imposing our order on the universe’s struggle for entropy….. and also because it’s in one of my poems ‘Moonshine Over Monaco’ which borrows from Joni Mitchell’s song, Woodstock. “We are stardust, we are golden…”
I am truly grateful to Gary Longden, who reviewed this book for me, saying there is something for everyone. My subjects, styles and emotional attachments range pretty widely and I tried in vain to shoehorn them into ‘chapters’ according to subject matter, but these are porous categories.
Being rebellious when confronted with boundaries, I’ll blur the edges, drag in other concepts and kick holes in boxes to let them breathe. My poems have musicality and well defined poetic structure… or not at all, and some reject the concept of ‘genre’.
So you’ll find pieces that are light, dark, horrific, tragic, gleeful, cerebral, some that rant and some that chortle. It’s a bran tub for you to delve a hand into and whatever you pull out will be different each time.
Q. I’ve read and enjoyed the book immensely it’s a great collection of your work, what are your favourite poems within the book and why do they appeal to you?
A. Thanks for that. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. I am quite pleased with it myself. As for favourites, in Desert Island Discs I always think eight is not enough tracks, but I’ve drawn the line at five here.
Leandra, about a teenage crush, is one of the first poems to get a musical backing. Leandra, the poem, the recording, the CD album (long out of print) occupied a lot of my attention, to the disgruntlement of my wife. I mean, how can you be jealous of a poem?
Patina Paternus, ‘a dish of my father’ is a personal, simplified slice of my lifetime without having a dad around. I knew it would be hard writing about my father but making it about my missed experience, it almost wrote itself. Hardly ever did I juggle with it or strain over lines.
Two Minutes I choose because 11th November could easily be just another annual ceremony with old people and soldiers marching and talk of war, and I wanted to write something more accessible, for a child to grasp.
SJ is about a brilliant young woman, Sammy Joe, about to embark on a Masters Degree who became afflicted with mental illness with brutal episodes of psychosis, and who eventually took her own life. I still mourn her, that wonderful, creative life lost, and am sad for the daughter she left behind. It took ages to be able to set down my feelings of loss of a friend and a friendship, and I am pleased at the beauty that appeared within its form.
Calm Down! gives me a little freedom for fun in performance, to add expression and humour – and I’m pleased with the backing track I created on GarageBand.
Q. As a veteran – I hope you don’t mind me using that word – of the poetry scene in Walsall, the West Midlands and beyond I’m interested to know how and when you started writing poetry and what inspired you to pick up the pen?
A. How did I get to be a veteran?? But it’s true, and it’s a long time since I was ten. My writing was atrocious then, I couldn’t be arsed, and I always got poor marks. Then I came across a piece of advice – ‘find a word you don’t know in the dictionary and use it’. I became obsessive about it. I wove into my next essay four bloody good words for a ten-year-old and it got me top marks and high praise from Miss Love, my English teacher. My opening phrase… “I had become listless with life….” I can’t recall what that was supposed to mean, but hey!
My mum gave me ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ by R L Stevenson, and others. I read it over and over, and composed poems way back then, but nobody really noticed. When he died, I raided granddad’s bookcase for more material before they dumped his hundreds of books and I ferreted away a couple of dozen classic poets, which I still have.
Teenage motivated me to develop a devastating style of writing letters to girls I’d met. I practically orgasmed from the endorphin rush in my brain with every letter I posted, often including poems I made up. (See? It’s all about getting the girl!)
I had four poems accepted for an anthology by a Welsh publisher when I was twenty-two, the first I ever sent off, and I still have the royalty cheque. (It was never about the money.) it was so easy that I assumed anyone could get published anytime. I didn’t see it as an achievement so I didn’t bother much after that.
Then Life crowded out Poetry but she is a tenacious mistress. She lay in wait around corners, naked, enticing, beckoning for me to spend days in her arms. If I didn’t, the earth would no longer sing, clouds would drape themselves over trees and love would die. So I relented.
You give birth to a piece of art when it comes together, surprising yourself with the power and beauty of your muse. You may say to yourself “Wow! That’s absolute genius, man! Where did that come from?” And it’s not conceit, it’s delight.
How can you not keep returning to a lover that makes you feel like that? But I never forget that every brilliant poem is surrounded by piles of unusable snippets and plenty of mediocrity.
And my handwriting is still atrocious.
Q. As well as being a poet, many of the times I’ve seen you perform I know you’re not afraid to whip out your organ and perform your work to a keyboard accompaniment. When it comes to writing poems how do you determine which ones work better to a tune and what goes into your music writing process?
A. Haha! I joined Poetry Wednesbury in the 90’s which got me back to working on my writing more. I had a Yamaha keyboard sitting idly by and thought one or two of my poems might work with some music, so I sat down and picked out chords, added preset rhythms and so on. It worked quite well and gained added interest from poetry crowds, even at Birmingham Arts Fest, for several seasons.
Whether a poem is suitable usually depends on it having a consistent rhythmic structure throughout, to fit with a regular music rhythms. It is an aesthetic extension of the performance rather than a song. Blurred boundaries. I create the poem, create the track, alter the poem to fit with it, adjust the track to suit, and so on. Pondering and frustration play a part and hours of staring blankly while the brain filters the cacophony. 😜
Nowadays, iPads and GarageBand app have become my go-to for backing tracks. They’re getting more complex, too, and it can take several months to develop. Some tracks break free and refuse to support their poem. I abandon those to the Internet. Some are cantankerous, like If You Were Birmingham which underwent a personality change after I married it to its track (I Would Hug You). They have since divorced.
Q. After the launch of Cacophony of Stardust what’s next for you?
A. You think I’m organised, don’t you? The mess of creative impulse in my head will throw up a strand of something that may lead somewhere. I have thousands of words of a novel written and lying dormant, hundreds more poems that could turn into another book, some music looking for a poem and vice versa, and a continual list of events that I want to attend.
Video is what I’m veering towards. On my website, before I ditched it in preparation for a redesign, I had posted a very raw piece of animation to Leandra. It depends on health and home commitments, but I want to stretch into video more. However, I never want to lose the performance gigs where concrete has set around my spiritual feet.
Q. If folks want to find out more or listen/read some of your work where can they find you online?
A. As a bit of a computer boffin I’ve had an online Internet presence for over twenty-five years and built a dozen websites. It may take a while, but there’s a redesign of my main website started. In WordPress, my poems have now been depleted but I occasionally add more. SoundCloud has recordings of poems and music tracks and there’s some on Reverbnation and a scant selection of YouTube videos.
My website :: www.albarz.uk
WordPress :: https://albarz20.wordpress.com
SoundCloud :: https://soundcloud.com/al-barz
Reverbnation :: https://www.reverbnation.com/albarz9
FaceBook :: AlBarz Twitter :: @AlBarz
LinkedIn :: Al Barz Google+ :: Al Barz
Once upon a time I was the only Al Barz on the Internet, but now loads more Al Barzes have sneaked in… and a Persian mountain… but there’s still only one me.
Thanks Al for that great interview, if you can’t make the launch you can buy a copy of Al’s new book on Amazon here.
Fly on the Wall Poetry Press:
For charitable anthologies
Submissions are now open!
June 10th – September 10th 2018
Guidelines: I am looking for poems which respond to this theme in any way which you see fit. I am expecting there to be a wide range of interpretations – that’s exactly what I want!
For example – you may interpret ‘outsiders’ as the homeless, the lonely elderly, sexual abuse survivors, ‘the undesirables’, the uneducated, the bullied – you name it, if you can make it fit, I want to read it.
You may like to think about a cause you would like to fundraise for as you write. This anthology will be much more fluid in that I want the charity (or charities) we raise money for, to be inspired by YOUR ideas. This means that you are in the driving seat.
If you feel passionate about something in society which makes you, or others, ‘Outsiders’, I want you to write about it.
How To Submit: Go to http://www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk and follow the below!
• You can submit an unlimited number of poems, credited where previously published. However, please do just submit once.
• There is a £2.00 fee to submit to Fly on the Wall Poetry Press – this is so that I can give my contributors a free copy of the book only. The paypal button below will take you to pay – if you don’t have paypal please email email@example.com
• Send your poems in a word doc – one poem on each page, to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject as follows: ‘Your Name/Submission’. Please enclose a short biography also of your writing credits. Past experience will not sway my decision but is useful to add context to your work.
• If your paypal email is different to the email you use to submit to me, please state this in your email.