This is Jason. He’s a performance poet, and works with vulnerable people in Stoke-on-Trent in his role in the probation service. Jason is also a member of City Voices and a former prisoner, and was described at a recent poetry slam as 'the busiest man in poetry' The image is of Jason at the BBC, recording for National Prison Radio, a radio show broadcast throughout prisons within the UK, which airs a show called, 'Outside In.' This is a radio show that brings together people with lived experience of the criminal justice system, to talk about leaving prison – and the highs and lows, opportunities and frustrations associated. It’s produced monthly by BBC volunteers, although it goes out exclusively to people currently in prison. It’s an informal roundtable discussion with 3 guests and 2 presenters. Thursday 16th May sees Jason N Smith share his experience and how poetry has helped. Recording for the show will take place at BBC Broadcasting House London.
Jason has published a book of poetry, and is involved in numerous events across the UK. City Voices will be blogging more about Jason N Smith soon, if we can keep up with him!
City Voices are delighted to announce that this year’s annual poetry competition has been judged by the former Poet Laureate of Staffordshire Bert Flitcroft, who will announce the winners at our meeting on 6th July 2019.
This year will be different, as nobody, including committee members have any idea who the winners are until the big day. We are thrilled that Bert has agreed to judge the competition, and announce the winners who will receive cash prizes. In addition he will be leading a Poetry Masterclass after ALL the poets who entered the competition have had the opportunity to read their entries to the rest of the group. (This is not compulsory) The Masterclass will consist, for those who wish to take part, in a critique and analysis of all the poems. Bert will lead this, but would like all poets to join in discussing the poems and their content with a view to highlighting the parts and structures that really work, and also what can be improved or edited. I know it will be a really positive experience for those who wish to improve their poetry.
City Voices always welcome newcomers to the group – we are friendly and inclusive – so if you are a poet or writer of any genre you may find it interesting to drop into the group on 6th July and meet the gang, or come along to any of our fortnightly meetings. We have spaces available for new members and lots of exciting plans for the year. Don’t forget to bring some of your work along if you wish. We can be found on Facebook ‘City Voices Creative Writers Group’, or our website WWW.CITYVOICESSTOKE.ORG.UK There is also information at City Central Library in Hanley.
So sorry the City Voices Creative Writers Group web-site has been unavailable for a few days. Normal service has now been resumed!
It is with very great sadness that I write about the death of long-standing City Voices stalwart Lily Meigh, who passed away on 12th December 2018, aged 84. On 8th December Lily and her daughter enjoyed the City Voices festive meal, so the shock of her demise for Lily’s family and close friends can hardly be imagined. Lily suffered from Parkinson’s disease and like everyone “senior” had some health problems, but this scarcely ever prevented Lily from attending City Voices meetings and events, and lots of other social activities with her great friend and fellow CV member Anita Oxford. It might sound like a cliché to describe someone as “a lovely lady” yet that is exactly how Lily was – lovely and a true lady (albeit with a wicked and rather naughty sense of fun!)
Lily was modest about her writing, but always read with great expression and often with humour. Her contribution to the CV anthology of short stories “Telling Tales” was a rather risqué tale of two old Stokie men discussing their past and present whilst being a bit the worse for wear. “Outside the Slug and Lettuce” made everyone laugh, as did her never-to-be-forgotten performance in “Under Milkwood” which we read at a meeting last year. For some of CV members, Lily will forever be Mrs. Cherry Owen.
In her own words, Lily says that as a child she I remembers her father reciting short nonsensical poems and stories which were made up as he went along. Lily was just 12 years old when her father passed away, and says that although she was never encouraged to talk about him she wrote down her thoughts and memories of the time spent together. This proved to be the start of Lily's interest in writing, and credits two English teachers for her love of the English language. ‘That Boy’ was the title of Lily's first attempt at story writing, at about the same time as a poem called ‘My Mother’.
After reading about City Voices in the local newspaper Lily went along to her first meeting, and says she was very nervous! Our founder Paul Williamson and other members "put me at ease and I was made to feel welcome. With guidance and encouragement from the group, I like to think my writing has improved, I know my confidence has!"
The thing that most people at CV have said about Lily was that she was the first to make them welcome when they, as new members, crossed the threshold into our (rather large) meeting room. Lily was universally popular, and I guess we were all a bit guilty of taking her presence for granted sometimes. However I have vivid memories of her enjoyment of meetings, of her always joining in, and in particular how much she relished meeting guest poets and writers. I think she was particularly charmed by a Welsh/Italian poet who shall remain nameless!
Lily always said she did not like to write “ad hoc” or on the spot; nevertheless she did. Eventually she was persuaded to put her writing together in a book entitled “Billy Big Feet”.
Below is an extract from Lily's story “Outside the Slug and Lettuce”
Five minutes later the pair were still standing in silence both of them unsure which way to go.
Suddenly Albert piped up “You know Harry, I’ve still got the hots for our Maud. Do you think she would say yes if I proposed to her?”
“You must be crackers if you think you can keep up with Maud, she‘s a fast mover” laughed his friend.
Albert glared at Harry and asked “Are you trying to tell me you’ve been dating her?
“Don’t be such a nunky head, I prefer a woman with a bit of style”
Lily will be missed by all at City Voices. She was a modest, fun, and truly beautiful person. She was a writer.
Rest in Peace, dear Lily.
Jason Nicholas Smith had a good day at the last City Voices meeting of 2018, on 24th November. His short story “Sankofa” won the group short story contest, with a cash prize of £50 and a certificate presented by our judge Jayne. After the meeting Jason dashed across to Shrewsbury Festival for the Poetry Slam, which he only went and won! Congratulations to Jason who has been called “the busiest man in poetry” - if he is not poeting, slamming or working, he can be found volunteering or giving inspirational talks to schools, prisons, church groups and even being a bit of a star in that London.
Now for the story, which Jason has kindly given me permission to post here. If you are wondering about the title, Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to "Go back and get it" and also refers to the Asante Adinkra symbol represented either with a stylized heart shape or by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth.
My ancestors stand amid the smoking embers of what was once home with their eyes
seemingly to silently sing sad songs. My wife is there among them too, all dressed in white.
Their lips are moving, but I cannot hear. Then they shake their heads and point to the tall
palm tree I once climbed, just like the royal high priest did as a boy. They point to a rock
from which I made carvings, and then they point to a golden Sankofa bird that speaks to me
without sound telling me it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.
The Sankofa bird moves to stand under a 'Kum' tree with its roots protruding into a tributary
of the River Nile. The Sankofa birds' feet are planted facing forward and when it turns its
head backwards to pluck an egg off its back, I begin to understand that along times passage
the knowledge of past must never be forgotten. We must reach back to gather the best of
what past teaches to go forward.
My wife reaches out then and with her touch, words spoken by my ancestors wash over me
like an eternity of waves. The weight of their stories causes me to fall to my knees, but I
continue falling downwards until the chains enslaving my consciousness release me to rise
up from sleep and back among my people in captivity on the slave trader ship.
Chains disengaging hatches drags loud cries from the mouths of those amid delirium of
disease and trauma. Slavers descend with clanging bells like farmers calling cattle to feed,
and those refusing to eat are force-fed, while the dead are unceremoniously thrown
overboard to meet with the Goddess of rivers and Justice.
Under heat's oppressive hand I begin to chant and give thanks that my wife has visited the
sacred lake in our land of Ashanti and sang goodbye to its God, before ascending up over
the hill and beyond.
A scurrying sound whispers over wood and I feel a sharp bite, but it cannot compare to
watching my son bludgeoned, my wife being led away with her screams echoing along the
deep gash in my psych, and the foreknowledge of the pain yet to come.
I am thrown about as giant waves toss the ship. My peoples screams almost causes me to
let loose tightly reigned rage, but I grip my tongue with my teeth, gain control, and begin to
sing ancestral songs about a strange land.
©Jason Nicholas Smith
City Voices member Steve Osbourne has recently re-launched his children’s book “Harry the Penguin’s First Flight”. It is available on Amazon. If you buy the paperback you’ll get the eBook for free. It’s aimed at 2-6 year olds. Steve was inspired to write this book, by a little six-year old called Harry, who came to live with his family. He is now eleven years old and is thriving. Steve’s family planned to go on holiday to Italy. Harry had never been on an aeroplane before and had lots of questions about it.
The book is about an orphan penguin who dreams of flying like the other birds. If you buy a copy could you please write an Amazon review - it really helps lesser-known authors.
I think the cover is adorable – Ed.
Forget Bonfire Night – come along to City Voices last meeting of 2018! No explosions, no fireworks, just great poetry in the warm atmosphere of our group – described by one of our guest poets as like being in “the comfort of old friends” and by one of our members as “sitting around the warmth of a campfire telling stories” Not that we never have explosive performances! In addition to our guest poet, the multi-lingual David Subacchi, we will also be (hopefully) hearing the winner of the City Voices short story competition read his, her or their entry. The winner will be announced at the start of the meeting 11.40am, and will receive a cash prize of £50 plus a laminated certificate. So if any person wants to know whether they are the winner, plus enjoy some poetry and a workshop, then schlep up ‘Anley duck, and get to the library on 24th November.* New members always welcome.
*City Central Library Hanley, in room 1 (J R R Tolkien suite)
Photos taken at the Leopard Inn in Burslem six years ago today - City Voices did not have a web-site then nor a FB page! It was a brilliant night and wish I'd taken more photographs. The very scary Peter Salt features here (still a member!) but there were terrific performances from Paul Williamson and Liz Mills as I recall, but everyone made their contribution to a great night at a genuinely haunted pub!