No. 2.

Entrance Area 5 @ The Old Courts. Poetry Rehearsal for Frontline Arts, Stoke.

Friday 15th March 2024

Entrance Area 5 at The Old Courts opens onto a small, ground floor, easily accessible, creative space in Wigan, that's part of The Old Courts Arts Enterprise. It may sound like the home of a part time-UFO-enthusiast-and-barrister but it’s actually a bright, multifunctional, welcoming space. It can be booked for events and as Wigan is my hometown, I already come here for Clay Club, run by Everyday Arts. Clay Club is a weekly pottery group run for both adults and children. From a personal point of view, I love the fact that apart from a small lip before the door, I can drive my chair straight in without any hassle and therefore come and go as I please. There is also a reasonably sized disabled toilet as you leave the main classroom. As a wheelchair user, the rest of The Old Courts building, where I’ve attended a ‘once a month’ open mic poetry night and a few music gigs over the years, sadly doesn’t have this easy independent access, so that's all the more why I enjoy coming into Entrance 5. (More on the Open Mic night here in future blogs.)

It's just after 1pm as the secrets of Entrance 5 are carefully unlocked by caretaker and all-round good bloke, Degsy. Over those years, even though the access has been tricky, I’ve got to know Degsy well. He’s a fixture of The Old Courts and always got time for a chat. We go inside the Grade II listed building through what always reminds of a medieval castle door. My friend and creative producer, Louise Fazackerley, who’s also a poet performing with us on the day, greets me cheerily and asks if I filled out the festival form and do I have an idea of the poems I’d like to do?Natasha Tingle is our other fellow performer and friend joining us in Stoke too. I enjoyed hearing Natasha’s rehearsal pieces as she sounded very comfortable, has found a natural voice when reading and is beginning to make wider connections in the arts that was sometimes difficult for her in the past. It was also really good just to hear what new poetry circles she had been working within.

At the risk of stating the obvious, as a poet performing the poetry, rehearsals have value in that you still need to learn the words and the tones, lessening the chances of being rusty. This is especially more so with myself and other disability performers as due to building issues and health reasons. Realistically we’re far more likely to just be missing from those places for longer periods of time so in that way too, rehearsal with other poets acts as a top-up for our confidence.

Everyone probably puts some differing levels of importance on rehearsals and the other side of that coin is, I’m not good with too much instruction, and if we’d practice the life out of the poems I’d feel more nervous and less natural about it which defeats the point, so I’d also saying knowing when to stop there is good. Rehearsals with other poets are a chance to learn. Nobody can claim to know all things, so sitting back and hearing a viewpoint you’d never heard of is not only encouraging, it expands us. It’s not only hearing disability views either, I find it interesting hearing all able bodied ones too.

We’re not that different anyway when you get down to it. However it often does feel like a separate world to mine and it’s as if I’m being shown into the inner circle and secondly to remind me at the times when I feel too emotional about access issues, to pull back a bit because everyone in the whole, massive world has something to deal with, it’s very rarely an intentional thing to ignore completely an issue I think, and it’s just in that moment, we’re all absorbed in our own lives and if my response is too angry, too gung ho all the time, then who’s gonna actually want to connect?

Working with other poets especially disabled poets, like Natasha, always shows me just how wide and complex disability is. It gives me pride that we’re all possessing strength to get up and trying to say things to make a life better. This is helpful in those moments when you feel you’re the only one as thoughts can overlap. You realise, ‘Hey that was me too.’

As part of an Arts Council funded project, I’m doing a book tour called Redundant Butties, so I’ll be out and about in various parts of the country to perform poems from my new book ‘Redundant Butties’ and a few selections from my first and second poetry collections too.

The grand finale to the project will be an online symposium led by disabled poets in October 2024. If anyone has seen me perform or just enjoyed reading the blogs then, it would be a pleasure to have you there.


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