Josie Moon

Poet, Musician and Educator

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Finding the Words

The Big Sea

August was going to be the big month of novel writing. I had such plans. This book has been percolating since 2017 and it feels important and pressing. Getting to it is not straightforward as I’ve discovered. All manner of things get in the way of having a long run at writing, from laundry to projects out in the world that just need attention. I feel as if I am almost getting to things that need to be done but not quite and that includes the novel.

There are about 40,000 words of novel in existence. there are chapters, notes, fragments and plans. There are lists, drawings, mind maps and associated novel paraphernalia. I am confident that there will be a novel.

It’s just gone 4.00 pm, the tide is low and it’s perfect weather for swimming but I know I won’t. Swimming is another thing to get to; it requires preparation, including 20 mins of wrestling with wet-suit and sea socks. It has been on my plan of what must be done every day this week – it is yet to happen.

However, the sea is calling and I will answer, even if it is only to go and observe it. That might be enough today. And who knows, tonight, when the sun goes down and the world goes quiet, I might find the words and write some of that novel.

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A Requiem

A Requiem, the poetry collection available now for £9 inc P&P. Email Josie Moon msjosiemoon@gmail.com

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A Requiem alongside A Soldier Through Time

Monday was a monumental day. A great team assembled – better than the X Men, better than the Avengers, even better than Charlie’s Angels. These were real heroes; champions of music and children. Something spectacular happened.

Around 800 children under the direction of the inspirational Caroline Gooch performed A Soldier Through Time, supported by the La Luna creative team, a wonderful live band and a crew of staff who held the day together and made it deeply moving and immensely successful. The children sang their songs so beautifully and with such conviction and the story of Monsieur Perdu, a young French cartwright living in 1915 and facing war came to life for an audience of rapt parents and friends.

It has been such a pleasure to run this project in partnership with NEL Music Hub and to work with such a committed and engaged team of artists and teachers.

Here’s one of the songs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8-jB6cexDk

Below is one of the stirring images from the work by artist Darren Gallagher.

The day continued with the first performance of the official tour of A Requiem with the Alan Barnes Octet and featuring the Great Grimsby Community Choir and Youth Voices, once again under the direction of Caroline. It is a challenging and wonderful work to perform and we were all delighted with how it went. The choirs added a further depth and dimension to an already rich and moving work.

The tour continues with two further gigs in July; Alford on July 20th and LLandudno on July 28th. The full details are below in the poster

A Requiem the book is now available to purchase direct from me for £9 inc P&P. Email msjosiemoon@gmail.com to order.

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Prizing our Teachers, Prizing our Children

Illustration from A Soldier Through Time by Darren Gallagher.

Over the course of June, the La Luna team has been working in schools in NE Lincs delivering A Soldier Through Time, a music and drama workshop exploring the impact of war on individuals and communities. The project has allowed us to work with around 800 children and will culminate in the Key Stage 2 Singing Festival on July 8th at Grimsby Auditorium.

The workshops have challenged children to explore a dilemma; the choice of a young man from a French village in 1915 who feels the call to war but has fears and reservations. Together children have explored the dilemma and worked out for themselves what they think. They have shown compassion, empathy and maturity beyond their years while tackling one of the most complex problems human beings face; war.

It has been moving and uplifting to work with the children and to hear their thoughts and opinions. They have surprised us, made us laugh and brought tears to our eyes.

We have been welcomed into the schools, looked after with endless cups of tea and thanked effusively for the work. We appreciate that enormously. And that leads me to the heading of this post. Our teachers are wonderful. They work incredibly hard, are committed and dedicated and they really value the children in their care. They are underpaid, overworked and still standing and I salute them. If it were up to me they would all be getting 200% pay rises and at least another three well paid assistants to help them in their classrooms. They would be prized, trusted and applauded for all they do.

And the children are wonderful, all of them. They are a joy to work with and they deserve so much more freedom and creativity to explore and learn in a non prescribed way. When you trust children to explore and present their ideas they produce glorious work. Creativity should be at the heart of learning and we have seen clear evidence than when it is, results are remarkable.

Thank you teachers and children of NE Lincs, we really appreciate you.

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The Gauleiter and His Pig

With the European Elections tomorrow and our politics so sullied and divisive I am sharing this poem from Poems from the Swamp, my 2018 collection.

The Gauleiter and his Pig

The Gauleiter and his pig reside here

in the swamp, a septic, infected sty,

poisoned with wormwood for false prophecy.

Their respectability has that stink

of swill that clings like thin grease, that chokes throats,

an insinuation of rancid filth.

They can wash their hands, insipid Pilates,

and never know what it is to be clean.

The people have spoken, so it is claimed

across this newly grim, unpleasant land

where mandrakes strangle healthy plants,

fervoured tendrils spread amidst the sane,

sanguine folk of once fair-minded islands

made pestilential and sabre-rattling

when pigs and Gauleiters take command.

This pig and Gauleiter feed on censure,

patrol the streets, sniff out the shunned,

hunt the dreamers, the effete, the forceless,

poison the water, spread lies, deception

that find keen reception in willing ears.

These guardians of now lost Albion

with pig battalions in eager service

goose step, relentless over small town swamps,

spread venom and violence with every tramp.

People need their pigs in lipstick, patsies,

apologists, pimps and panders.

These quiet and not so quiet fascists

impose spurious jurisdiction,

shift civilisation’s paradigm

spawn bleak new dawns of moral disaster,

bring terror, trauma and catastrophe.

This Gauleiter and his wallowing pig

inhabit the swamp imperiously,

belching obscene absurdity.

The cowed folk quake and scuttle with truffles

to sate and satisfy lusty tumescence,

with Destroying Angel, Fly Agaric,

to avoid the cosh, the Taser, the mace.

But nothing placates appetites like these

where only the hunger, the greed is fed.

The sty turns seamier, with deepening stench,

while mists from the quagmire writhe and hiss,

meander in serpentine gyres and twists,

layering the space where once light fell

with impenetrable shadows from boundless Hell.

Once before, in still living memory

the fair-minded folk of a place like this

thrilled in denouncing friends and neighbours,

those whose faces no longer fit.

Trucks rattled the bones of human cargo

along tracks destined for nightmarish swamps.

Pigs and Gauleiters wallowed in loss,

caroused at perdition and extermination,

a Saturnalia of uncountable cost. 

This Gauleiter, pig, and the onlookers 

are droghers who’ll carry the weight of the swamp,

a shipment of shame beyond all atoning

long after this tale and its tellers are gone.

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Pisagua

It is 40 years since Thatcher became PM in Britain. Her election ushered in change that damaged the fabric of society, destroyed communities and began the steady dismantling of the country’s infrastructure. I have a strong and abiding loathing of her and all she stood for.

It is arguably not widely known that Thatcher regarded Pinochet of Chile as a good friend and ally. I am currently re-reading Andy Becket’s excellent book Pinochet in Piccadilly which details the strange, fascinating and disturbing story of Thatcher and Pinochet.

When I first read the book I wrote the poem below. The poem returned to me as I read comments fawning over Thatcher and as I picked up the book again.

Pisagua

1973

The trucks began to arrive

and cries rang from those

who dragged themselves

naked

up the glass-strewn nitrate slopes.

No visitors.

No Red Cross.

Executions took place

beside the cemetery.

Now an unscarred monument

in black and blue and red

guards the place of the dead.

Vultures still circle overhead.

There is a memorial to the dead in Pisagua, pictured above; a solemn and frightening piece of wall art that tells the story of those taken, tortured, murdered and left in a mass grave under Pinochet’s orders.

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A Requiem – A World Premiere

On Friday 15th February myself and the Alan Barnes Octet premiered our brand new collaboration, A Requiem, a brand new suite of music and poetry, commissioned by Grimsby Jazz Projects and supported with funding from Arts Council, England.

Having worked on the poems from the autumn of 2017 to a final tweak the day before the premiere, I was full of nervous excitement and anticipation – especially as I had not heard a note of the music and truly had no idea what to expect.

The beginning of rehearsals with our fabulous director Gill Wilde looking on

It was wonderful to be reunited with the full band again. I had been looking forward to seeing everyone again and have so many happy memories of outstanding gigs on our previous Fish Tales tour. This is truly an all-star band and each musician brings his own particular signature, which becomes apparent during the solo sections.

As we got underway with the rehearsal it was soon clear to me that the music was extraordinary. Full of twists and turns with complex rhythms and nuances; the music felt like a journey through time and through the story of war across a century that I was also telling with the poems. The music was full of drama and intrigue and I found it incredibly moving and intense.

Conversation during rehearsal

The rehearsal day was given an extra layer of excitement as Radio Humberside were broadcasting live from the Central Hall throughout the afternoon and several of us gave brief interviews in which we talked about the work and the project as a whole. Friends and colleagues also came in to give short interviews about the work they are doing in the cultural sector in the town and so the rehearsal had the feel of an event in its own right.

It was a long day and the work required considerable concentration from everyone. After only a short rest for tea, showtime approached and I really felt the nerves kick in. I now have a better understanding of my ‘gig-zone’ and my need to have some space to mentally and physically prepare for performance. It’s an odd place where in equal measure I do and do not want to perform, where nervous energy builds and I have to turn inwards in order to find the right mood for delivering outwards to an audience.

A backstage self portrait, in the ‘gig-zone’

Before I started writing A Requiem I never thought that war would be a subject I would want to work with. I spent a great deal of my undergraduate degree studying the world wars and the literature of war of the twentieth century. But it was not an area I ever wrote about in my own creative writing so when this process began I was taken aback by how I was gripped by the subject and how urgent it felt for me to write and to read and to go back to some of the literature that had so absorbed me when I was younger.

And it was not just the literature of war and the nature of conflict and its impact that gripped me, it was also the processes and rituals of commemoration and the artistic expressions of remembrance that I wanted to explore. I heard in my head the words of the Libera Me of the Latin mass for the dead;

Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna, in die illa tremenda
Quando cœli movendi sunt et terra
Dum veneris iudicare saeculum per ignem.

I couldn’t quieten the words, words I had sung over years of on-off membership of various choirs. I had the sense that the words were telling me something and I had an obligation to listen.

Using the structure of the Requiem mass for the dead gave me a clear starting point and an over-arching theme to work with. Alan and Pat liked the concept and so we all worked towards the production of words and music that would culminate in a work to both honour the dead and call for peace. I didn’t want to write a religious piece and worked carefully to ensure that my words would acknowledge all the dead of the century past regardless of creed, colour, gender or nationality and see every victim of war as first and foremost, human.

The work proved challenging to perform on Friday night. It is emotionally charged, powerful and in places bleak and dark. The subject matter is solemn and serious and I felt that solemnity around me as I delivered my words amidst powerful, strong and stirring music. However, one of the central motifs of the work is light, lux aeterna. The light always returns, however dark it has been.

Light always returns after darkness

I am now looking forward to recording the work and publishing the poems. I am also excited about touring A Requiem later this year and taking it to audiences across the country.

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A Requiem

I am delighted to announce that A Requiem will premiere at Grimsby Central Hall on Friday 15th February at 7.30 pm. Tickets are now available from the box office, call 01472 355025 to reserve in advance at £13.

A Requiem is a collaboration between Alan Barnes, Pat McCarthy and myself and is work that examines the impact of a century of warfare across the world and which asks questions about the possibility of peace. The idea germinated on a dismal late autumn evening in 2017 when I was thinking about what remembrance means and what progress we have actually made across a century in terms of understanding and attempting to stop war.

With a great deal of hard work, commitment and energy, the indomitable Gill Wilde and I put together an Arts Council application to bring the work to life. Happily our bid was successful. Not only has this new work been commissioned, it will be recorded on CD and the poems will be published in a new collection. Venues across the UK have booked A Requiem and it will be seen by a national audience. Dale Mackie has produced the artwork for the project and internationally renowned artists will perform together to create a moving, memorable and ultimately uplifting tribute honouring all who have died in conflict.

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It’s Been A While

sun & planets

The Solar System, by Vivienne May 

I have made New Year Resolutions, and perhaps one of them should have been to write more frequent blogs and to keep people better informed as to the progress of projects and work.  However, there are only so many hours in a day and it has been an intensely busy time in terms of simply getting work completed and projects up and running.

Let’s Go To Space!

The first big project of 2019 has -pardon the pun -now taken off.  Let’s Go To Space is launched – you can see the theme here. The book, songs, Youtube channel, workshops are all ready and the La Luna/Grimsby Jazz Projects team will be in NEL primary schools from Monday 14th January with the story of Cosmo and Carrie and their exciting space adventure.  With original artwork from Vivienne May and a range of fun props, sound effects and surprises, this project promises to be a magical treat for the area’s 6-7 year olds.

Poetry Cafes and Events

The La Luna Poetry Cafe plus the various open mic evenings, workshops and library events are underway and between now and April we have local, regional and national poets performing in Grimsby and Cleethorpes , thanks to grants from Arts Council England and The Society of Chief Librarians.  All dates will shortly be visible on the calendar page of the website.  I am particularly excited to be welcoming Andrew Graves, Antony Dunn and Patience Agbabi to Cleethorpes over the next three months and look forward to their performances.  It’s a real privilege to be in a position to be able to bring such great talent to the area.

patience agbabi photo - wife of bafa

Patience Agbabi 

Antony Dunn Reading

Antony Dunn on his last visit to Grimsby

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A Review of Poems from the Swamp

With grateful thanks to Rob Etty and the team at The High Window, an excellent online poetry magazine:  https://thehighwindowpress.com/

In the intriguing Preface to her pamphlet (which is, appropriately, green, with semi-translucent endpapers) Josie Moon writes: The swamp is never wholly negative but is a useful metaphor for experience, some hidden, some mundane, some to be discovered … Certainly it is dangerous, certainly it can be unpleasant, but it is a place of great psychological imperative and creative impetus. … It is a place of origin.

The pamphlet is itself a place of origin. It is a poetic foretaste of a novel set in Grimsby, the author’s hometown, and the poems are voiced by four mystical and prophetic characters. These poets know there is a higher state of existence beyond the town’s dereliction, and are seeking justice and redemption for the swamp’s forgotten people, to whom the poems are dedicated.

The authors and titles are listed in the Contents. In the voice of artist, poet and editor George Lydda, whose Eliotesque ‘The Rising’ is the second poem, Josie Moon impressively creates the tension which underlies the sequence’s movement:

Hum, hum, shhh, shhh, listen, listen.
There is rain out there, still far away
but pattering off sea and estuary 
bringing wet stings for morning.
There is ice in night’s kiss riming the street,
the sleeping street.

Deep, deep beneath the street, far away and fast asleep
dreaming begins as shadows gather on the corner
where the police station squats.

The next poem, ‘Carnival’, crosses from authentic Grimsby into fantasy. It reminds us that we are listening to successive voices, and is an early demonstration of the author’s versatility. Alisha Autrey’s aabb quatrains introduce the use of the first person, as the speaker reacts to a mysterious car driver who claims to be from 1949:

He points a long, green bony finger:
My dear, I really mustn’t linger.
The tune he hums is menacing, dark,
more the raven, less the lark.

I abandon thoughts of staying near,
turn to you and see no fear.
I say The Lord of Misrule is here.
You smile and simply disappear.

As the Preface reveals, the ideas for the sequence swam from the cracks in the pavements in the East and West Marsh areas of Grimsby, whose origins are in their names, and the sinewy phrasing, driving rhythms and intermittent rhymes of ‘The Gauleiter and His Pig’ maintain the reader’s unease about what lurks below:

The Gauleiter and his pig reside here
in the swamp, a septic, infected sty,
poisoned with wormwood for false prophecy.

The sty turns seamier, with deepening stench,
while mists from the quagmire writhe and hiss,
meander in serpentine gyres and twists,
layering the space where once light fell
with impenetrable shadows from boundless Hell.

And so we are guided through, enjoying shifts in form, tone, person, and a breadth of language that heightens descriptions and narratives. The closing poem, ‘Ursa Major’, in the serene unrhymed triplets of George Lydda, expresses a resolution. The lyrical final stanzas, especially, lodge in the memory.

No doubt in the forthcoming novel battle will play out across many more pages, but a cosmic spiritual conflict with mythological and Biblical references rumbles through these twelve poems: alongside broken lives lived among shopping trolleys, abandoned sofas and branded houses that sag exhausted against each other, we encounter an unseen hand that pushes a fool, a pirouetting jester and a blue-faced king, a lost lioness, Santa Maria and the Witch of the West Marsh. Josie Moon shows herself to be a wide-ranging, inventive, musical poet, and her live performances will lift the words vividly off the page.

Robert Etty lives in Lincolnshire. His latest collection is Passing the Story Down the Line, published by Shoestring Press in 2017. He is a member of Nunsthorpe Poetry Group, which meets in Cleethorpes.