Places of Poetry- The Book

I’m really pleased to announce that my poem ‘An Ode to a Wall’ is featured in this brand new anthology. Places of Poetry was a project that ran last year and collected submissions from all over the country. It was inspired by a 17th century epic poem called the Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayon, which set out to describe the makeup of England and Wales via 15,000 lines of frilly Elizabethan verse.

On the Places of Poetry website, people were encouraged to ‘pin’ their poems onto a digital map to create a living, poetical account of 21st century Britain. As well as this, poets in residence were commissioned to visit 13 locations around the country, to run workshops with locals and write poems in response to the area. The chosen locations included Stonehenge, Ely Cathedral and a scenic little housing estate called the Byker Wall in Newcastle, where I was asked to take up a residency.

I felt in exceptionally good company here. Other poets in residence included Jo Bell, Daljit Nagra and Gillian Clarke. And it was a treat to be able to work in Byker again. The Wall will always hold a special place in my heart, it being the spot where my Door-to-Door Poetry project really took off.

The book itself is a collection of poems created by poets in residence and the general public, selected from 7,500 entries. It’s available from the 1st of October from all good book shops, including this one, and I’m really looking forward to having a read of it.

Mid-Year Roundup in the ‘New Normal’

Second post edit 3

Hello there!

I hope you’re keeping well and adjusting to the episode of Black Mirror we now live in.

To say this year has been a bit weird doesn’t really cut it, does it? When the lockdown kicked in, I was in London, finishing my Door-to-Door Poetry project. It was the end of an adventure that started in 2015 and the fact the lockdown happened at exactly the same time was surreal.

Since getting back to Newcastle, I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to carry on working. The first thing I did was make a film for the BBC as part of their Make A Difference project, which involved taking stories about local acts of kindness and turning them into verse. It was a pleasure to be a part of it alongside cracking poets like Steve Larkin, Gemma Baker and Ben Norris. You can find my contribution here. 

Me and Peader

I’m also really grateful to the Arts Council for offering me a grant to write a show about Door-to-Door Poetry and my trip around England. I’ve started working on this with director Peader Kirk over Zoom, who is an absolute wizard.

It’s hard to say for sure when I’ll be able to perform this, but I’m planning a national tour for next year, so do stay tuned.

Second post edit 2

Lastly, I’m really pleased to say my residency for the National Trust at Wordsworth House is still going ahead. Unable to get to the Lakes, I’ve been doing a spot of Post-to-Post Poetry from home: I sent off some letters to random addresses in Cockermouth, Wordsworth’s home town, inviting residents to write back with suggestions for poems. So far I’ve had 4 responses and have wrote 2 poems. You can read the first one I sent to a woman called Ruth here. 


Stuff that’s been keeping me sane in my spare time has included reading Danny Wallace’s Join Me, catching up on some Nymphs & Thugs Zoom gigs and going on some very long bike rides.

I’m really missing live poetry. I’m looking forward to a time when I can stand up in a crowded room and talk at a very high volume.

Till then, look after yourself and stay safe.

A Deer in a Licence Plate Shop: A Strange and Epic Saga


The following poem is a completely true story. It happened to me two years ago, in Heaton, near Newcastle city centre, while I was on my way to work:

I’ve wanted to take a copy of this poem back to the licence plate shop for a long time. It’s probably the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I felt like the man in the shop might understand. In a perfect world, I would have written it in the days following the event and done it then. But, as I’m sure you can appreciate, it was all a bit confusing, and it took me about a year to really process what happened here.* By the time I’d finished the poem, it felt like the moment had passed.

However, in the year since then, I’ve had a couple of strange encounters that have persuaded me to do it. What never made it into the poem was the fact that, as we were all panicking and wondering exactly what to do, two ladies dressed in multicoloured pyjamas came running out of a café across the road. They went straight into the licence plate shop, one covered the deer’s face with a scarf and the other wrestled it to the ground.

What initially looked quite violent was actually an amazing act of heroism. The deer lay there, still kicking, but in relative safety. Without those ladies, I don’t know if it would have been alive by the time the rescue team arrived.

Last March, I got commissioned by Radio 3’s ‘The Verb’ to perform a new piece in front of an audience at the Sage Gateshead. The night before, the producer got in touch to ask if I had a second poem they could record at the end. I picked the one about the deer. After the show, a man came running over to tell me his wife, who was also in the audience, WAS ONE OF THE LADIES WHO HAD RESCUED THE DEER! But in all of the post-gig commotion, I never got a chance to go and find her.

Months later, I was sat in the café across the road from the licence plate shop. I was explaining the whole event to a friend, when a lad working there chipped in: “I wasn’t there but I heard about it,” he said. “It’s become like an urban legend.” A customer on the table next to us then joined in and said he’d also heard about it.

It made me wonder how many people still talked about this. Maybe it wasn’t too late after all? Last Wednesday, I had a day off and I decided it couldn’t hurt to try. On a cold winter afternoon, I printed out some copies of the poem and set off down the road.


Some people find it hard to believe that there’s even such a thing as a licence plate shop. There is. It’s called Alidrew and it’s on Heaton Road. As I walk towards the door, I feel nervous. My head is filled with questions. Will the same shopkeeper be there? Does he even still work here? What if he’s left the job and there’s no way of contacting him? What if the new shopkeeper has no idea what I’m talking about? If it turns out they don’t know anything about this, I couldn’t make myself look more insane if I tried.


I open the door and step inside. It’s a little space, no bigger than a kitchen. It’s quiet. There’s one man stood at the counter in a black jacket, waiting to be served. After a few seconds, a lady with long brown hair comes out from the back. “Hello, do you know anything about a deer that ran in here about 2 years ago?” I ask.
“Were you there?”
“Yes!” By this point, a young man has come out of the back as well.
“I was there!” he says. “I was the one who helped wrestle it to the ground!”

This is Louise, and her son Connor. She’s run this family business along with her husband, Paul, for 40 years. I explain that I was there too, that I did a poem about it on the radio. “My Grandma heard that!” says Connor. “She phoned me to say ‘Remember when the deer ran into the shop? This lad has just done a poem on the radio about the exact same thing! It must have happened to someone else too!’ I was Googling it and searching for ages but I couldn’t find anything.”

I’m now very pleased I decided to do this. They begin to fill me in on the story from their side of the glass. “We didn’t know what to do,” says Louise. “We couldn’t get anyone to take it. We phoned the police. They said ‘Can you describe the deer?’ I said ‘Yeah, it’s got ears… and hoofs. Y’know? It’s a deer.’ They said ‘We can’t take that. It’s not our job’ and told us to try the RSPCA. The RSPCA said they were too busy and told us to try the vets, but the vets all wanted too much money. In the end, it was a policeman across the road who helped. He was getting a sandwich and he came over and radioed for the police vet.”

Then Louise breaks the bad news. “Do you know what happened to it? Well… it got put down. They said it was a brain hemorrhage.” This is really hard to hear. I can’t help but think that, if I had of ran in and done something, it might not have happened. But then, nobody really knew what to do. And Louise explains that one of the ladies in the pyjamas who did help turned out to be a veterinary assistant, hence why she seemed so incredibly skilled at dealing with the situation.

I wonder what the odds are of a veterinary assistant being nearby at such an unlikely event? It’s got to be a million to one. And I can find some solace in the fact that the deer probably got as lucky as it was going to get in this respect.

“There was blood all up the walls,” says Louise. “You can still see the marks on the door. The thing that got me is, there was a lady with a dog who was trying to get in and buy a licence plate when all this was going on! I said ‘You can’t fit in the shop’. She complained and said ‘Fine, I’ll have to come back later then!’”


The conversation turns, as it usually does, to where we think the deer came from. “I think it came from the park,” says Connor. “But it was running from the other direction. So maybe it went down one way and then turned around.” But what’s confusing is, in the whole 10 years I’ve lived in Heaton, 5 minutes from the park, I’ve never once seen a deer. I ask Connor if he’s ever seen one there. He says no. It’s all still a bit of a mystery. “It was the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “I reckon I’ve got more chance of winning the lottery than that ever happening again.”

I read my poem out and offer them both a copy. They seem pleased. “Thanks for that,” says Louise. “I’ll show that to my Mam, she’ll really enjoy it. The only bit I don’t think she’ll enjoy is the swear word,” she laughs. To return the favour, Connor gives me an Alidrew branded baseball cap, which I doff as we get a picture together.


I say goodbye and head out of the licence plate shop. It’s been good to talk to some people who were actually there when this happened. I feel like I’ve been to a support group for freak events. I head home, with the distinct sense that something has come to a close.

*It was on an Arvon course in Shropshire last year where I was encouraged to write a poem about this. I’m really grateful to everyone who was there for giving me the support I needed to do it, especially Caroline Bird for the advice, and Matt Miller for helping me edit it. In fact, Matt and Eleanor Penny, who was also on the course, wrote their own response to the story. I leave you with those words:

13 Ways Of Looking At A Deer In A Licence Plate Shop

After Wallace Stevens (

A man panics at a deer in his licence plate shop. A deer panics at a licence plate in the forest – the unattended scent of man.

Officials on the scene declared officially that physics disobeyed would have vengeance on D33R.

I will hold my cool hands to the rough of your forehead. I will buy for you a whole world of licence plates, if that will heal you.

Oh poet, why do you stand aghast astride a bicycle at such an ordinary thing? You have flown here. Do you not see here too a creature ramming its face into the destiny of its limbs?

Tasked by the homing wilderness to return triumphant with a torn off piece of human worlds – or not at all.

Metal. Rivet. Fur. Paint. Tooth. Glass. Blood. I will take a handful of these things and close my eyes and cast them up into the air so that they land exactly as they must.

It wanted numbers to say ‘you’ to its rust brown back, unseen in the indifferent forest.
It wanted numbers it could understand.

Must a deer have a licence plate to shop? Is a licence plate shop a shop without a deer?

I did not know the licence plate shop until I saw it buck and scream. I did not see the deer until I saw it flown again and again into the licence plate shop windows, bucking and screaming.

Life contains multitudes. The licence plate shop contains a deer, the eye of which contains a deer in a licence plate shop.

Among all things, a licence plate shop. Among all licence plate shops, a deer. Among all deers, the eye in which you stand, amazed.

Sometimes I feel like a deer in a licence plate shop. Sometimes the deer in the licence plate shop feels like me. Sometimes the licence plate shop feels like me in a deer. All eventualities are eventualities.

Do you not see how the deer in the licence plate shop
Is soothed under the multicoloured scarf
Of the hippies about you?

Matt Miller and Eleanor Penny

The Trip to Work 22/11/17

A taxi driving through a suburb near Newcastle City Centre.

TAXI DRIVER:           Where you getting the train to like?

ME:                               London.

TAXI DRIVER:            Is it business or pleasure?

ME:                                Business.

TAXI DRIVER:           What do you do?

[ROWAN tries to avoid the question.]

ME:                               [Pauses.] I’m making a film.

TAXI DRIVER:           In front of the camera or behind it?

ME:                               In front. I’m a poet and it’s National Poetry Day. Someone’s paying me to go down and do a poem and they’re going to film it.

TAXI DRIVER:           [Suddenly very frustrated, his hands gesticulating wildly.] A poet? A poet?! Well you’re going to hate me then mate! See: I only think it’s poetry if it rhymes.

ME:                                A lot of my stuff rhymes actually. But I’d still disagree.

TAXI DRIVER:           I’m sure you would, mate, I’m sure you would. But I only think it’s poetry if it rhymes. Otherwise it’s just a lecture, isn’t it? See, I like classical poetry me, ‘Tiger tiger burning bright’, that sort of thing.

ME:                               Well, you know, if you read Blake’s later stuff, it was a lot more experimental, he didn’t use rhyme at all and-

TAXI DRIVER:           Yeah but I’m not talking about that. See, for me, it’s like art. I hate Picasso. I don’t want to see a nose on the side of a face. What’s the point in that!?

ME:                                Have you ever seen Picasso’s early work? He painted for a long time in a very traditional style and-

TAXI DRIVER:            Yeah but I’m not talking about that. See, I’ve got this friend, right. We always get into big arguments like this. He goes to all the modern art galleries and that. And I say to him, how is that even art?! I mean, take this cloth here [TAXI DRIVER pulls out a grease stained cloth] I could put that down there and I could say that’s art, couldn’t I?

[The sun beams onto the grease stained cloth on the dashboard, as the council blocks zoom past beyond the motorway.]

ME:                                Well I suppose you could. Maybe everything is art.

TAXI DRIVER:            You can’t say that! You can’t just say, ‘Everything is art’. That’s ridiculous.

ME:                                 OK then, look, in your opinion, what makes a good painting?

TAXI DRIVER:             Something that looks like real life. Something that looks like a photo.

ME:                                  Yeah but the camera lens bends everything though, doesn’t it? So it’s out of proportion. Photos don’t follow the laws of perspective like real life. And there’s loads of things you can’t capture with a camera either. Like a sunset. You either photograph the sun, and lose the view around, or you photograph the view and you lose the sun. And everyone sees the world in their own way, anyway. Like, in Russian, there’s two shades of blue which are classed as two completely different colours. So one person could be looking at a picture and say it’s all one colour and another might say it’s two. Everyone sees things differently.

TAXI DRIVER:             What do you mean everyone sees things differently!!? Everyone sees things exactly the same! [Long pause.] Unless there’s something wrong with you.

Red is the New Blue Returns!

Red is the New Blue with stars website resizeI’m really excited to say that on the 10th and the 12th of February, the play I’ve wrote with Matt Miller and Matilda Neill, Red is the New Blue (or ‘Big Brother in Space’) comes back to Live Theatre. It’ll be directed by Graeme Thompson and will again star the amazing Lewis Matthews as ‘Rhino’, Matilda as Jane and me as Baz. It’s part of a double bill called Live Lab: Elevator which has also got a show called Heartbeats and Algorithms in it as well. Red is the New Blue was performed to sell out audiences in June of last year which made me immensely happy because it was the first play I’ve ever written and the first project I’ve ever collaborated on.

Red is the new blue 2In it, we follow Jane Winter, Baz Richardson and Rhino Sanders, three members of the general public who are on a spaceship on their way to colonise Mars. If this wasn’t a hard enough job in itself, the whole journey is being filmed for a reality TV show as well. The idea is based on the Mars One project, which plans to do this for real in 2026. From the start, we were really interested in how the idea is a meeting point between humanity’s desire for technological advancement and its need to watch horrifically dangerous things on reality TV. As the play goes on, we watch the crew’s relationship disintegrate, partly due to a clash between these ideas of Science vs. What Makes Good Telly.

We started working on it in January 2015 and there wasn’t really time to go into how it was going then. In fact for a good 5 or 6 months I didn’t really have much time for anything else at all. I think, without ever saying it in so many words, we decided that it was going to be ‘hard sci-fi’- in the sense that everything that happens in terms of the plot is scientifically plausible while still being completely fictional.

Red is the new blue 3There’s a problem with this though: It involves a lot of research. Months and months of our time was spent looking up everything from spaceship engineering to terraforming new planets. I don’t think any of us really realised how big of a job this was going to be. Because of all of this, the actual writing of the show was pushed right to the deadline and there was never an opportunity to test it out on an audience first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely proud of what we did with the time we had but there was always going to be bits that needed some work, sections that were working against others.

Having had some time away from it and a good few months to make changes, the first thing that comes to mind is how insignificant the technological stuff seems now. It doesn’t really matter that there is food that astronauts would actually eat in there, or a gravity anchor system for artificial gravity designed by head of The Mars Society Dr Robert Zubrin. They all seem believable but could easily be pure fantasy, the point is that they help build up a clear world for the characters. (Although I would like to stress that they are all entirely scientifically plausible, if for no other reason than a smug sense of self-satisfaction.)

Red is the new blue 4What instead came to the fore was how this, I think, is a really well written interaction between three very different, ordinary people. A lot of audience feedback was about how accessible the show is despite the fact that it’s sci-fi. At times it’s almost a farcical comedy- feeling how much the audience laughed on the opening night in June surprised me because I’d almost lost sight of how absurd the whole situation of the plot is. But what I think really makes me proud of it is that it’s not just a straight up comedy either. Without all the sciencey stuff clouding our heads, we could really focus on this narrative journey, as the sitation gets more and more tense.

What we’ve got now is something that’s much more refined, funny and hard-hitting while still being really accessible for anyone- whether you’re a massive fan of gravity anchor systems or not.

Live Lab: Elevator, 10 Feb + 12th Feb, 7.30pm @ Live Theatre 

The New Home of Door-to-Door Poetry

SS100088NEWS. As the whole door-to-door poetry thing is starting to take on a bit of a life of its own,  I’ve made a fancy new website for it!

What better way to celebrate than a post about what happened on my second trip out: How I went to Wilf Stone of Pikey Beatz street, my run in with the long arm of the law and the near death experience of a scuba diver. Just click here.


North East Rising at The Fringe

It came to my attention that I haven’t written anything on here for over a year. OK… look. Don’t look at me like that, with those sad eyes. I have been thinking about you… I have, I promise. I’ve been busy with lots of exciting things which I’m going to tell you about one by one, in small manageable chunks. I’ll start with the most recent, which was spending two weeks doing a run of North East Rising at the Edinburgh Fringe. I can honestly say I’ve walked away from it feeling like a new person.

Out of the many complicated ways of putting something on at the Fringe, I decidedGeordie Cultural Ambassador to go with PBH’s Free Fringe because it’s the only one that’s free for everyone. It’s entirely volunteer run and there is a proper feeling of comradery, other PBH-ers frequently asked how I was doing and gave me advice. I did the same whenever I could.

I went with quite a simple mission. My main objective was to meet some great poets and try to coax them down to the show in a vain attempt to get some recognition. I wanted a couple of good reviews and I also wanted at least 4 people to come every day.

I was put in Clerks Bar, a trendy hipster/sports bar round the corner from the Summerhall which was billed as the new ‘Home of Spoken Word’. As a new venue, it had no reputation to fall back on as a place to see poetry. Everything me and the other performers did there was breaking new ground. I made a sign out of gaffa tape and an old ‘for sale’ sign which I found behind my local pub. I flyered people outside, occasionally making them laugh, until 5 minutes before I was due to start. Then I’d dash down, put ‘Revolution Rock’ on by The Clash and pray for the best.

Actually the very first flyer I gave out, after 5 seconds of standing outside, was to someone who had heard of me before. He’d run a seminar on my poem ‘When Cheryl Cole Got Old’ and explained that it was a pity he couldn’t find a written version of it. I replied that, luckily, I was selling books and then he bought one! Not every person was that receptive, but things definitely got off to a good start.

Without the perks of a ticket office it’s hard to say exactly how successful I was in terms of people on seats. All in all, I estimate an average of 8 people per day, which is double the average for the whole fringe and I’m very pleased with it. The review situation was more difficult but I did get a brilliant 4 star review from SG Fringe so it was still a part success. The ‘coaxing brilliant poets’ thing, on the other hand, went brilliantly. A number of famous people came and bought books and seemed to really enjoy it. Making those connections and having the chance to share ideas was really eye opening, it was like living on a little island entirely populated by people on your wavelength.

The crucial thing was that having the opportunity to perform, day in and day out, has really sharpened me. One day a stag do from London decided to pop in. I knew it was going to be a tough gig when one of them asked me outside if I heckled. I then had to explain that a performer isn’t the one who heckles… But despite one of them completely ruining the show by talking all the way through (and getting a telling off by some other audience members) another gave me a tenner at the end and, making sure he was out of ear shot of his mates, said he loved the poetry, had never thought about it before and wanted to know if there was any poetry nights in London!

The whole run taught me that, to a great extent, a lot of how a gig goes is completely out of your hands. You can’t force a good audience and, as in life, a lot of it is about doing the best you can with the hand you’ve been given. I went to the Fringe feeling like a poet and I left feeling like a hardened performer.

Some great things I managed to catch while I was there were Luke Wrights first theatre piece ‘What I Learned From Jonny Bevan’, ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ and Matt Abbott’s ‘Skint and Demoralised’ which reminded me why I do poetry. A set of loosely connected material, from fun ones about a Wakefield Pie shop to hard hitting pieces about street workers, it was a classic extended poetry set. I’ve seen the style before, but no one could have rekindled my passion for doing it more than Matt.

A poetry show is a difficult thing to pin down. As soon as the word ‘show’ is mentioned, many poets veer towards creating something that’s essentially theatre. Directors are called in. Impetus’s are considered. In one fowl swoop Matt reminded me that, yes, I can choose to use a narrative structure with a connecting story such as what I did in NER. But I can also choose not to do that, because I’m a poet.

Free from the restrictions of the storytelling element of what I was doing, I watched as Matt put his sovereign encrusted Wakefield fist straight through the fourth wall and warm the audience. The kind of thing I enjoy doing night after night at guest spots, when the word ‘show’ isn’t mentioned at all. The show becomes ‘a poet is doing some poems’ and it’s an approach I’ve considered a few times before. I think next time I’ll give it a go.

All in all I had a great time and really want to do it all again next year. Edinburgh is a strange beast and a number of times I wanted to give up. But there’s a place that sells Macaroni Cheese Pies till 1am and, in the end, isn’t that what life is all about?