Writer of the Month
May – Carol Leeming
A poet and playwright, Carol Leeming was born in Leicester, where she attended De Montfort University (formerly Leicester Polytechnic). A mother of three children, she worked in the Youth and Community sector, as well as in creative business development. Carol had a successful career as a singer/songwriter in the 1990s before becoming a freelance writer. From this time onwards she performed her poetry at open mic sessions and joined Apples & Snakes, England’s leading performance and spoken word organisation. Carol has written and produced drama for theatres in Leicester and performed her poetry in festivals, regional theatres and on BBC Radio as well as training a new generation of regional performance poets.
Carol’s first radio play, Reality Check, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and shortlisted for the Richard Imison Award for the best radio drama script by a writer new to radio. She has received Arts Council funding for a dramatic monologue called The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diva, a Choreopoem which premiers at the Curve Theatre in Leicester as part of the Cultural Olympiad 2012. Carol curates poetry for performance and writes for local arts cultural magazines.
Writing East Midlands chatted to Carol about her writing and upcoming projects:
Tell us about your upcoming cross arts choreopoem, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diva.
Our Stage Performance at Curve, with live poetry, music, physical theatre and digital still and moving images, is the first of three events this year in Leicester. The other two are a Music Concert at the Peepul Centre and a Digital Installation at Phoenix Square Media Centre. All these art works are led and/or informed by the poetic narrative of the choreopoem. The events are also part of the Cultural Olympiad London 2012 Festival.
What is a choreopoem and how did you arrive at this form?
The choreopoem, combining poetic language with physical theatre/movement, was pioneered by African American writer, Ntozake Shange in her play, ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf’. This work has become part of the USA Literature canon, also across African Diaspora and has had a great influence on myself. I have since discovered that Black British Poets/Writers, Jackie Kay and Dorothea Smartt have both previously produced and performed choreopoems of their own. London Poet Chanje Kunda in London, is also now developing one.
The choreopoem is an attractive form for a multi-artist like myself, having previously worked in performing, visual arts and media. It is also a strongly afrocentric form, i.e. orating with and through body movement. As my studies and travels in West Africa demonstrated, culturally there is no particular separation in art forms, e.g. all are equal – poetry, music, dancing etc. As such they can be combined as a mode of expression. My research also shows this was very much the case in Ancient Greece, so it is appropriate for the Cultural Olympiad. In an age of increasing sophistication in communications, the ability for me to be a transliterate artist and produce quality works of transmedia is key in order to engage today’s audiences. It also provided the perfect vehicle to create a strong, contemporary, Black female character from Leicester to ‘mythologise’.
Your work will be featured in the upcoming anthology, Out of Bounds, published by Bloodaxe Books, what themes does the anthology cover and when will it be launched?
The anthology is about a ‘sense of place’. It will be like an alternative map, around the UK, as charted by the poetry of Black and Asian Poets – established and famous alongside emerging poets. The anthology is published later in May 2012 at a Literature Festival in Newcastle. I am thrilled to included, alongside a number of my very own poetry heroes and heroines. My own brace of poems feature Leicester where I was born and have lived most of life. Broken only by short periods – living in Jamaica, as a child and later as a grown up in Maidstone, Kent, Preston, Lancashire, Brixton and Soho, London, New York and Los Angeles, USA.
Can you tell us about the themes you like to explore in your writing and why these interest you?
I am interested in a wide range of themes, some recurring ones are about the natural world, metaphysics, spirituality, science fiction, politics, sexuality, eroticism, gender, ethnicity/identity. I have always been more of a renaissance woman, in the sense that I am keen to find and meld the connections between art, science and metaphysics and how this interacts with our everyday lives/experiences, in particular the interior of ourselves, and to be able to convey this, from my own unique perspective. My own voice, as such, is multi-layered and richly intercultural. To paraphrase Angela Davis: ‘We are a loud minority we are therefore a force for change’.
Which writers and books have most inspired your own writing and why?
There are so many! I have a wide range of tastes – Tolkien, Flaubert, Balzac, George Sand, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Sylvia Plath, Audre Lorde, Joan Riley, Alan Sillitoe, Andrea Dunbar, Marge Piercy, Ursula Le Guin, J.G.Ballard, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze , Louise Bennett, Andrea Levy, Ben Okri recently Kerry Youn – to name just a few ! They are all the type of storytellers that have been able to draw me completely into other worlds.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Which aspects do you find difficult, if any, and how do you overcome this?
What other projects are you involved in that you’re excited about at the moment?
I will be at Pinngggg.K .!!! Poetry Night May 2012 Celebrating Jamaica’s 50th year of Independence. I am booked to read at the Manchester Book Fair stage, managed by Comma Press on June 9th 2012. This will be videoed and included in a Comma Press EBook Poetry Anthology. Later on August 17th 2012, I will be the ‘Madame Host’ – as the Poetry Brothel UK returns, to Summer Sundae Music Festival in Leicester .
For 2013 I have completed my debut collection of my poetry and I am looking to get published a chapbook of couplets titled ‘Chameleon Dreamer ‘ And the following plays:
‘The Twisted Plait ‘ – a strange urban meets rural tale.
‘Teller Man ‘ – shenanigans between a middle Antiguan man and a dour woman Crofter ‘The Devil’s Dandruff Trilogy’ – dark tales about a legendary drug
How do you prepare for a performance?
I select the poems when in the venue i.e. feel the mood. Other than that relaxation is key and quiet space beforehand.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting to write poetry?
Keep going!!! My early poems ended up in a box under my bed. I did not think they were that good. One day I found the courage to share them. They were still not very good but had something! I went to see lots of poets, talked about poetry with poets. I did some poetry workshops and of course read poetry. Do Open Mics when you can, they help you develop an audience and their response is useful. They help with reading, performing, developing your voice and technique on the microphone. You may not be noticed, booked, commissioned or included in anthologies for what seems a long time, however, if you keep on writing, doing the best you can and continue to improve, someone important will eventually take notice. This is what happened to me as I did not promote myself too much, I just kept writing and performing when I was invited to and patiently and quietly growing more confident as a writer, receiving feedback from appropriate critical literary friends. This led to my poetry and plays being published and broadcast regionally and nationally, with my current choreopoem creating international interest as far afield e.g. South Africa and Canada.
To view Carol’s profile on the Writing East Midlands Writers Database please see here.
To read Carol’s poem ‘Highfields Fantasia’ please see here.