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Posted on July 1, 2020 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (1958)

The impact the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown upon the cultural sector is critical. Of all areas of industry across the country, none has been more devastating. Major UK arts and museum venues will remain closed until late 2020 and in many cases later. Current realistic estimates for re-opening vary from October to spring of 2021. The Southbank Centre has stated it will not reopen until 2021 and faces ‘catastrophic losses’. Sir Cameron Mackintosh has confirmed major venues and productions such as Les Miserable will not reopen this year. Numerous internationally well known UK venues are known to be facing crippling, possibly terminal, financial losses including ‘big players’ such as the RSC, Old Vic and Globe. Several venues have already declared insolvency including the Nuffield in our neighbouring city. The impact on individuals most of whom work on short term or zero hours contracts has already been enormous and sector unemployment is likely to be high for the next couple of years. LW Theatres, the Young Vic and Selladoor are just some of the prominent companies who have told the DCMS that we need clarity and action from the government. Julian Bird SOLT/UK Theatre CEO has stated that the next few weeks are crucial to the survival of the whole sector. And Rufus Norris at the National has opinioned that 70% of theatres will be closed over the Christmas period!



Whilst we have no specific data regarding the city it is not difficult to postulate the position. Portsmouth Festivities and Victorious Festival have been cancelled. The financial surviva of many of our performance venues depends upon the lucrative Christmas period. Our arts venues are closed and the consequences of this for many which struggle financially in the best of times and are maintained by charities is likely to be bleak. Similar problems exist for galleries, arts clubs and educational organisations and our museums and heritage venues. In a city with many problems and significant pockets of poverty, we cannot contemplate the long term social impact of a loss of culture and non-statutory educational provision. Additionally, culture, heritage and the arts are essential to the economy of a city heavily dependent on tourism.



In a recent One Show interview Sir Kenneth Brannah expressed his deep concern for the survival of the arts reminding the audience that they are crucial for social and mental welfare as we attempt to recuperate in a damaged economy and that the arts more than pay their way in job creation and tax revenues. Prince Charles has called for the government to commit to ongoing financial support to prevent the sector being devastated describing the losses as “a total, utter tragedy”. Last week nearly 100 leading theatre figures including Olivier nominees Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Andrew Scott warned that British theatre is “on the brink of ruin”. This view has been endorsed by The Stage in an article by the editor warning of devastating redundancies. Research published by The Stage indicates that the creative industries are ‘heading towards a “cultural catastrophe” with losses of £1.4 billion a week and more than 400,00 jobs under threat of redundancy! In an interview with the Stratford Herald yesterday, Gregory Doran of the RSC warned “my fear is that the government will keep the flagships and then leave everyone else to look after themselves / Sitting where I am now at the RSC I wouldn’t be here without the huge and now very fragile ecology (of regional arts)” []



Whilst we must remain positive and the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has pledged to work with the industry to develop “innovative ideas” enabling venues to reopen; previous experience locally and nationally over the past 50 years has shown that the arts are too readily dismissed or overlooked and there is little concrete indication so far that the government will rise to this challenge.



In Portsmouth, we cannot afford to wait for the cavalry to arrive. We need to take positive action if our creatives, venues and the communities they serve are to be protected from outcomes which this city cannot socially or economically afford.





Write to both the city MP’s and the Secretary of State (DCMS) to remind them of the catastrophe facing the sector and the social, health and economic benefits it brings to the city and encourage them to actively encourage the government to include culture in its planning and financial provision. (Addresses below / feel free to cut and paste from this document if you wish)


Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State, DCMS

[email protected]

Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) [email protected]

Rt Hon Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) [email protected]




That you sign the ‘Public Campaign for the Arts’ petition now being circulated by 38 degrees [] and encourage your friends and colleagues to do likewise.



Posted on November 11, 2016 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (1412)

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash”

I have written too many obituaries. Eulogies for people I loved. The last grace and compliment as we say goodbye. When a life touches yours it’s not just that it bruises the soul. It’s a debt and these must be repaid, no matter how poorly.


For me, Leonard Cohen was an inspiration, a guide, a mentor and a friend I never met. That, in brief, is what poets are. They speak for us because they speak to us. Poets trade in common truths. This is how they reach us. And so, poets unite us through our shared humanity.


Cohen is a profoundly spiritual poet by which I mean not that he was some fatuous hippy or a 20th century mystic rather that, in a world increasingly superficial and secular where a cynical dismissal of the sacred is easily fashionable , he dared to write and sing of the eternal and the carnal together. He explored and praised our frailty. He examined the darkness into which we fall and the ladders by which we can climb out.


While the pop and folk singers of the sixties were warbling about love and freedom, Leonard Cohen’s rasping voice talked of the flawed human effort to grasp a state of grace that must elude us, “I have tried, in my way, to be free”. And that effort put clearly in its place by being shared with drunks!


Always dapper, everyone who knew him testified to a man who was courteous, self effacing and generous. He chose to live in a drab part of New York and later in a modest apartment above his daughter and grandchild. He regretted admitting that Chelsea Hotel No.2 was written about Janis Joplin. Doing so was ungentlemanly.


I saw him perform some years ago on the world tour that brought him out of self imposed exile. He was magnificent. No theatrics, just a band of magnificent musicians he was clearly proud to be working with and who felt the same way. Every song was presented as if it were as new and as important as when he first wrote it.


Leonard Cohen was unquestionably one of the greatest modern poets sitting comfortably alongside Eliot or Auden. He wrote the most covered song in Halleluiah and, less often recognised, was the author of two novels. The autobiographical “Favourite Game” brought immediate recognition but it was indicative that he chose to start performing his poetry as song in order to make up for the lack of income it brought in book form. Few, if any, ‘stars’ are that honest and modest about how they came to our attention.


Of the many poets who have accompanied me through the decades of my life, the two I turn to most often were Leonard Cohen and Dylan Thomas. Not surprising then that they should have written to examine our meaning and our worth, that their work should be disparaged in their lifetime and that they should have exposed the inspiration that drives all human enterprise.


I woke this morning to find I’d lost a constancy but then “there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.


Stree Art Project / My Dog sighs

Posted on June 15, 2016 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (3670)

Reviews from local digital media:

Poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke performs at New Theatre Royal

Punk icon and people’s poet Dr John Cooper Clarke brings his biting, political, and hilarious verse to the New Theatre Royal as part of Portsmouth Festivities 2016.

Clarke’s career spans over five decades, and uniquely makes its mark across poetry, music, TV, film, radio, literature, and fashion.

He shot to prominence in the 1970s as the original punk poet, and emerged as one of the leading voices of youth culture. Thanks to his satirical verse, delivered in a unique rapid-fire performance style, he became a seminal influence on the punk movement.

His acclaimed live tour is back on the road, with a mixture of his classic verse, extraordinary new material, hilarious ponderings on modern life, good honest gags, riffs, and chat.

He’ll be supported by comedian, actor, and writer Simon Day, who is famed for his brilliant character invention, including his alter-ego for the New Theatre Royal: Geoffrey Allerton, ‘Yorkshire’s foremost poet’.

Also supporting on the night are two rising stars of the increasingly popular performance poetry circuit, Clare Ferguson Walker and James Massiah.

Clare Ferguson Walker is an accomplished sculptor and talented poet who wowed audiences with her award-winning one-woman show at last year’s Edinburgh Festival.

James Massiah is a poet, musician, and DJ whose previous performances before coming to the New Theatre Royal have included shows at the Southbank Centre, Tate Modern, QE Olympic Park, and Houses of Parliament.

Tickets for the performance, which runs from 7:30pm to around 10:00pm, are £24.00, with £22.00 concessions and an offer for students of £15.00.

Poetry-inspired street art coming to Portsmouth

A new piece of street art is coming to Portsmouth City Centre this month to mark the start of a new effort to engage residents with poetry.

Portsmouth Poetry and Portsmouth City Council are teaming up on a 15metre piece of art on Marketway, celebrating the work of acclaimed poet John Cooper Clarke.

The piece forms part of Portsmouth Poetry’s new initiative, led by internationally-renowned street artist My Dog Sighs, to produce poetry-based artwork to engage a wider audience.

John Cooper Clarke was chosen as he will be performing at this month's Portsmouth Festivities. The artwork will feature My Dog Sighs’ signature realistic eye, reflecting an image of the poet and lyrics from his piece I Wanna Be Yours.

Josh Brown, chair of Portsmouth Poetry, sid: “It’s a way of beautifying and cleaning up some dreary parts of the city and engaging people in poetry who wouldn’t normally be exposed to it.

“I’d like to thank the council for arranging this location — it’s fantastic. The main thing was getting a site with good footfall, which this has, and the more people who see it, the more it achieves.”

My Dog Sighs helped launch a street art festival around the construction of the Somerstown Hub in 2013, and since the community space opened, he has been a regular visitor to the Brook Club at the site, along with other street artists including Fark, Dharma, and Lex, all working with children and young adults on workshops and displays.

One of the most recognisable sights in the Somerstown Hub is a 38ft-high mural depicting another of My Dog Sighs’ trademark pieces — his Lost and Found stickman (pictured left).

Councillor Donna Jones, Leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: “I’m delighted we have been able to support this project. Portsmouth has some fantastically talented artists and we are very keen to work with them by providing an outlet for their talents and supporting artwork in key locations.

“Street art is a growing industry in the city and can attract visitors. Properly done it helps create a vibrant atmosphere for an area and is something we want to encourage. I have been in contact with My Dog Sighs and we are going to meet to discuss other projects and opportunities in the city and across the UK.”

Jeeves Williams Team Locals []

See also - Strong Island,, about my area

Poetry on the Streets

Posted on June 9, 2016 at 7:45 AM Comments comments (7158)

“To find extraordinary things, go to the ordinary streets!”
Mehmet Murat ildan Turkish Playwright & Novelist

Inspired by similar projects in Boston and by Opieme (the Italian 'Banksy'), Portsmouth Poetry and renowned local "street artist" My Dog Sighs are collaborating in a year long project to bring poetry to the streets in the form of murals illustrating poets and poetry.

Work begins on the first of these on Thursday 16. This will depict Dr John Cooper Clarke and some of his work ahead of his performance a week later at the New Theatre Royal.

The site is a 20m wall on Marketway (A3) at the entrance to the city opposite the Cascades car park. The site has been kindly supplied by Portsmouth City Council.

Our sincere thanks to Stephen Baily [Head of City Development and Cultural Services] and Jo Bennett & Sarah Lindley [Housing & Property Services] for their generous support and assistance.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davis CH CBE

Posted on March 14, 2016 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (1915)

"An audience shouldn't listen with complacency"

It with sadness that we learn of the death today of the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davis. A delightfully unpretentious and courteous man, "Max" had to face controversy throughout his career. In 1971, Ken Russell commissioned him to write an additional score for his film adaptation of Sandy Wilson's The Boyfriend filmed in the New Theatre Royal Portsmouth. It starred Christopher Gable and Twiggy in her first acting role backed by an ensemble cast. In 2010, Max returned to the theatre for a reunion with Russelly and cast members to start the £4.5m fundraising to rebuild the lost stage house destroyed by fire a year after the film. His most recent piece A Torrent of Gold, with words by his old friend the poet George Mackay Brown, was premiered in January. His "Fanfare for the New Theatre Royal" premiered there on Friday evening.

portsmouth poetry

Posted on January 24, 2016 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (1383)

“I suppose for me as an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work; I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture I was living in.” David Bowie


There is a perception of Portsmouth as a rough uncultured city. Sadly, many people locally believe this misperception. The truth is that Portsmouth is a vibrant place with hard edges. It boasts two beautiful Victorian theatres within a comfortable walk of each other. A music venue that can claim to have headlined the majority of up-coming bands and performers of the last two decades. A university whose last two Chancellors have been respected cultural divas. A unique music festival with a national profile and an established and respected broad range arts festival.


Most, if not all, of this has been developed in the last 20 years. There has been a delightful renaissance in the city driven by individuals who have been prepared to do something to develop and improve the cultural offer assisted by a council sensible to the economic and community importance of the arts for the regeneration of the city.


In 2002 I was invited to join the board of the New Theatre Royal. I helped devise the project to rebuild the stagehouse lost to arson in 1972 and, as Chairman, oversaw raising £4.5m funding and completion of the reconstruction.


Having completed this personal ambition for the city, I needed another challenge to occupy my time. Poetry has always been my preferred art. So I set out to build an annual poetry festival.


We are a small but impressive team. Sam Cox is the city’s poet laureate and talented performance artist. Maggie Sawkins is an award winning poet. Liz Weston is a respected figure in education and outreach work with a talent to harness the arts in inspiring projects. We are assisted and supported by Portsmouth Festivities thanks to the generosity of James Priory at PGS.


We intend to work within all art forms. The project to fuse poetry and street art demonstrates that we are not committed to stuffy notions of culture with a capital C and involves one of the most vibrant and creative talents in the region in MyDogSighs.


Watch this blog for further developments. If you want to comment, make suggestions or get involved pleae use the Contact Us page or email to [email protected] Alternatively, place your poems, comments or favourite work on our Facebook page