A brand new UK tour of poetry & performance – from Lydia Towsey, Shruti Chauhan and Jean Binta Breeze MBE

Three the Hard Way in Leicester…

Hello!

Before we go any further, we thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about how we all came together and turned to words in Leicester. So here are our three stories – and some old skool pictures from way back when…

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Alison’s Story

My but it seems a long time ago. In the early 90’s I was part of a performance poetry duo ‘Gas & Air’ who did comedy/feminist poetry at a variety of city venues such as Kaos Club at the Charlotte and The Magazine. Mid nineties I was headhunted into Literature Development for libraries and East Midlands Arts (as it was then) by the esteemed Debbie Hicks. My first job, based at Central LIbrary on Belvoir Street.

I worked as LDO for 4 years before launching off into a speckled career of arts development, self employment, tutoring in adult learning in a number of challenging environments including a lifer’s prison (HMP Gartree) and other communities such as Gypsy Roma and Asian communities.

I always wrote.My writing and the literature world of Leicester seem indivisibly entwined. In the mid noughties I came back into the Leicester Lit scene via freelancing for Leicester Libraries on the Book of the Year project. From there I moved back into lit dev but this time as Reader Development Manager, again based at Central Library on Belvoir Street. I also became involved with Word! at Bambu and then moved with it to the Y and had a part to play as Book Doctor in the Lyric Lounges of 2009 – 13. Fittingly I met my partner, Steve, at Word! at the Y where he was grumpy looking but nevertheless sweet, tech.

Since austerity measure squeezed almost everything out of public services, including me – made redundant with a pop in Dec 2012 – my life has expanded. I’ve had loads of freelance work, specialising in areas of mental health & wellbeing using writing and ukulele playing to connect people and make them feel less isolated and more happy.

Writing wise, since becoming involved with 1448 Leicester at The Y, by accident in 2013 I have become possessed by play writing. I have taken part in a further 1448 in March 2014, been asked to develop one of my plays to full length for a company to tour in 2015 & have also expanded another of my plays which was staged as part of Curve Theatre’s Inside Out Festival. I’ve also been selected as one of 3 writers to work with Original Ink and Scufflebox Theatre Company on a new collaborative play “Simon’s Birthday’ which will be staged at Upstairs at the Western in June 2014.

What with this and the sheer pleasure of touring Three The Hard Way with fellow Leicester poets and friends, Lydia and Jean, I’m having a good writing year!

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Lydia’s Story

I have always written but not always exclusively as a poet. In the early noughties, on a fairly tolerant Art Foundation, I remember casting myself in bread – then laying out the body parts along with the literal skeleton of a poem, each letter chiseled from an individually plaster cast ice cube. The poem was about death. I was a bit of goth.

Since art school, I’ve written as response to life, to make sense of and explore it – and have always appreciated it’s democratic aspect – that it can be there for everyone, at the best and the worst of times.

Around 2002, WORD! – a brand new poetry night, began running, initially coordinated by Apples&Snakes and taking place after hours in a Leicester city centre based cafe bar. I went along and started sharing some of things I’d been writing – and listening and listening, and meeting other writers and artists – then going back and sharing more. Five years on, and following the departure of the fantastic poet and Coordinator, Steve Carroll, I found myself running the event, along with a small team of other volunteers.

Seven years (three flats, one house, five hair colours and a devilish cat called Jones) later, every molecule in me swapped for another, WORD! continues and is now the longest running poetry night in the Midlands. It now runs as a voluntary organisation with a dedicated team and me as Chair and one of several comperes. In the intervening time I’ve been involved in a number of other things – from reformed ‘Charity Mugger’ to Arts Coordinator for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust – a part time role I continue to hold, directing projects like Showcase Smoothie (www.showcasesmoothie.com), LookALady-Ukulele, facilitating writing workshops and raising funds to involve other artists too.

In 2009 I was commissioned by the then just formed Writing East Midlands to design, develop and artistically direct a brand new festival of poetry and spoken word, ‘The Lyric Lounge’, which continues to both run and flourish today. In between and in the course of all the above I’ve been blessed (gush, gush) to encounter Jean and Alison and of course some of the other artists and organisations that are part of this tour.

I met Alison, in the first instance at WORD! – more than 8 years ago – hearing her share her brilliant work. Afterwards at the bar she told me she’d read my blog and I was reminded of the knicker drawer nature of such online spaces (ahem..).

I met Jean as part of my first professional commission, writing and performing as part of a thing called the ‘Freedom Showcase’. She was the Patron of the project and from that point on I found a second a home sitting in her kitchen, drinking tea, sharing poems, telling stories of broken love affairs and new encounters.

Later in this tour, at the Omnibus in Clapham, we’ll reflect on the writer and poetry evegelist, Josephine Hart – who once said that without poetry she would have found life ‘..less comprehensible, less bearable and infinitely less enjoyable.’  I can only, whole heartedly agree…and as for poetry, for friends.

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Jean’s Story

I came to Leicester some ten years ago, thought I’d found a quiet place to write my first novel which I’d been granted a Nesta fellowship to do. Well, Leicester didn’t turn out to be very quiet! First of all I ran into Carol Leeming and spent the first year in and out of African Caribbean bars. I found I could write best at about 2am in the morning as the bar closed. I went to Noise in Zion, a poetry night hosted by Serena Cole and then onto WORD! where I met Lydia. Thus began my journey in poetry through Leicester. This lead to me being Patron of many things – The Freedom Showcase (where I met Lydia as a poet) – then onto a touring NHS Open Art Show, Showcase Smoothie and The Lyric Lounge. The Lyric Lounge in particular brought me closer to Lydia and to Alison, who was the ‘Bookdoctor’. I had asked for a bar tab as Patron and could be seen wandering round each day with a glass of rum and a new poem, so it wasn’t a surprise when a few years later I sat in the bar at the Phoenix with Lydia and Alison and said to them in typical Jamaican slang: ‘Aren’t we just three the hard way?!’. Hence, our tour. As usual I had the idea, but Lydia and Alison did the work. I moved back to Jamaica two years ago, and now here am I again, on tour with Lydia and Alison, as Three the Hard Way. Thanks to the Arts Council!

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