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Gemma Lees

Updated: Wed, 1 May 2013 02:32 pm

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Gemma Lees graduated in 2007 from the University of Bolton with a 2:1 in BA (Hons) Creative Writing and Writing For Stage, Screen and Radio and again in 2008 with a PGDE in Adult Literacy. She is based in Bury and teaches drama for ‘Streetwise2000’, a Bury-based young people's charity. She was also involved in Bury’s 2011 ‘Light Night’, compering a two-hour open mic and performing in Bury Library. Gemma has single-handedly organised and ran two ‘LitaBury’ literacy and learning festivals and several one-off poetry events, including at ‘The Royal Exchange’ theatre in Manchester and on Bury Market. She has performed poetry at various venues across the North West (including pubs, schools and colleges, libraries, theatres and festivals), has been published in some magazines and has won prizes in several slams. Gemma facilitates creative writing and drama workshops at a variety of venues and to a variety of ages and has written and performed in several educational plays/ songs for schools and for a pupil referral unit. She often works with community arts participation charity ‘Cartwheel Arts’ and has produced two books as a result of working with an adult community group, (‘Bury as it Were’ which Gemma also edited) and in a school, (‘Puppet Stories’). As a part of her PGDE, she wrote and illustrated two corresponding Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia diagnostic books for tutors and learners. These are already being used by several other tutors in a variety of settings and have been adapted for use by the police. Gemma has written one short film, 'Blackpool Joe' and has contributed text and illustrations to two Streetwise handbooks for young people which have been widely distributed in the North West. She coordinates and comperes 'Write Out Loud's' monthly Middleton open mic night. Gemma’s first book, a poetry collection entitled 'A Method In My Madness' was published by ‘Chipmunka’ in 2011 and her second book, a children’s issue-based picture book, ‘Smart Stories For Clever Kids’, (which she also illustrated), was published in early 2013. Much of Gemma’s work covers her own personal experiences of homelessness, mental health problems, dyslexia and dyspraxia and her Romany Gypsy heritage. Gemma has worked extensively with young person’s mental health charity ‘Streetwise 2000’ and for Bury’s Pupil Referral Unit on their ‘To Be Me’ project. She has spoken on behalf of ‘Streetwise 2000’ on the subject of mental health at several events and conferences. Gemma has also worked with the arts participation charity ‘Cartwheel Arts’ with community groups consisting of participants from varied backgrounds. These participants have included people who: have learning difficulties, are physically disabled, have mental health problems, have dementia and who have low literacy levels. As a part of her Post Graduate Diploma, Gemma studied dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia in great detail and produced a diagnostic tool for learners with literacy skills from pre-entry upwards with an accompanying tutors’ manual. This resource was later adapted for use by West Merica Police. Gemma’s teaching practice took place in a college which catered for learners from pre-entry 3 to level 2 in Literacy from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. Gemma was a lead artist in the ‘Another Country’ project which explored the issues surrounding asylum and immigration and culminated in two immersive drama performances at the Zion Centre. Gemma has also worked in a prison as part of an ‘Apples And Snakes’ project. "Gemma's writing is invigorating and when performed - sharply executed. She facilitates workshops with generosity, sharing the well-honed skills of her craft and effectively balancing the building of confidence whilst also giving constructive feedback. She encourages groups to critique each other, empowering them as readers and a thinking audience as well as writers and performers. Her administrative ability is a rare bonus too! Dodging the stereotype with ease she is organised, punctual and understands the importance of monitoring. All round one in a million!" - Emma Melling Programme Co-Ordinator for 'Tell Us Another One' at Cartwheel Arts. "Gemma Lees is a superb performance poet, and poetry organiser with Write Out Loud, the UK’s de facto Live Poetry hub. For several years now, Gemma has been the successful, popular organiser of one of Write Out Loud’s famous monthly poetry events, this one being in Middleton, Rochdale; as well as of various other events in the area. Her work has introduced scores of new poets to the live poetry scene and encouraged them to write, improve their work and to share it with others in her friendly, relaxed style. Often described as the female John Cooper Clarke because her work comes directly from the streets, she is an inspirational poet and a powerful performer whose work speaks to young and old alike. I commend her to you." - Julian Jordon, Director, Write Out Loud, "Gemma Lees is a popular, engaging and accessible poet whose work and delivery is always a big hit with audiences. An experienced event organiser, workshop leader and compere/host I have no hesitation in recommending Gemma for many kinds of booking." - Tony Walsh, Poet In Residence Glastonbury 2011.


My Grandma painted her eyebrows on And lived in a palace full of gold She had a turret just like Rapunzel And maybe a horse and carriage My Grandma painted her eyebrows on And looked like a lady from a black and white film She had gowns and beads and long, long gloves And grew special purple hair My Grandma painted her eyebrows on And never made me drink flat lemonade Sometimes she had to breathe into a special machine But she was never too tired to play My Grandma painted her eyebrows on She would have won all the glamorous gran competitions hands down Other Grandmas just sat knitting and drinking tea Not mine My Grandma painted her eyebrows on Magic Words My Dad spoke magic words To us at home Our very own Four walls Four wheels And well-worn route Spinning, spitting centuries old Dust into tidy roadside piles Travelling to Number one atchen tan Rows of guitars’ static strings Unsung music wedged between Gleaming discs on tambourines Pitchless forks and violins Stacks of wood and wind and pipe Picks and reeds and polished brass Then we moved to mortar and brick Three up, three down A permanent pitch Lean-to facing Flagged out back Well equipped with patch of grass And primary coloured vardo That were never built to last But we listened whilst it rotted ‘Cause it told us about the past At our last stopping place It felt like we’ve arrived Betterware and Tupperware And three-births pitched up drives Encapsulated plastic Repeatedly discarded neatly A million bits and pieces In tidy roadside piles And my Dad still speaks in magic words Jallin the drom for magic words To us it felt like miles When I was five I wore dungarees Except on Sundays When God said wear a dress instead And holey socks tugged up to cover Over the plasters on my knees Me and my gang of boys Climbed trees, made dens And fought with HeMan toys I wasn’t welcome in the group of girls Who stumbled along The Back Breightling cobbles In their Mum’s white stilettos Net curtains covering rag-rolled curls They wore old table cloths Fashioned into gowns With multi-coloured pegs Chubby hands clasping plastic posies Heels scraping pavements Trying not to fall down When I was thirteen I joined in With the swooning groups of girls Surrounding locker doors And bedroom wall shrines To the pop stars of the time I practiced signing My first name with their last In inky letters on the back Of my Maths book My left hand propping up my head As I stared through the black board Ignoring the teacher And daydreaming instead For the entire time it took For my pop magazines To publish a new pin-up When I was eighteen I fell in love And it’s not the kind of love That encourages kids to kiss on the bus Or twentysomethings With arms entwined To parade through town Their latest love bite Proudly displayed above collar line Or that makes some women fixate On gowns and rings and all the things They see on the front covers Of the bridal magazines in Smith’s He doesn’t have the looks Of a pop mag pin-up But with him I can live that maths class dream And one day try not to stumble While walking in high heels And wearing a real white dress The kind that isn’t fastened With multi-coloured plastic pegs Dirty Norman’s Back in the days when us kids was allowed To eat our fish and chips From newspaper misprints Bought cheap from the local mill Some lucky kids getting a glimpse Of comic or tits printed in triplicate In blue, pink and yellow inks A challenge to read screwed up Beneath chips dripping with grease Our chippy of choice was Norman’s on the High Street Saloon-style doors separated his two shops: One flogging sweets and the other fried fish On each side expectant kids queued Standing on tip toes for 20p mix-ups Or hanging their heads out the door To catch shouted supper orders From the hoards of Mams outside the Shell “Your Dad wants ten penny scraps And don’t you forget to get mine pea-wet!” Norman would swagger through the swinging doors Wiping his grubby paws on the seat of his pants Or through his manky combed-over locks Then stand, legs parted, hands on hips The Sheriff of lollypops Choccy bars and cones of chips Sticky finger-printed glass cases Chip-fat oil slicks, over-flowing bins Grime splashed sink backs His soap-lacking hands gone black And that fly zapper in the corner Buzzing yet another bug to death The Sheriff’s face would twist into a grimace so sour The Mams would always say: “If the wind ever changes, he’ll get stuck that way!” Surveying the lines of kids clutching sweaty fivers He hated our guts, always shouting for us to “Hurry up, I ain’t got all day!” And as soon as we’d paid up “Will you all just go away?” We idolised him, wouldn’t leave him alone All pictured our own future home above A sweetie, fish and chip shop combined Greasy feasts any time, pop on tap Running amok amongst endless treats I drove past the other week Its long-since shut, windows papered, boarded up So I guess that puts paid to our childhood dreams Of being a Dirty Norman when we grew up Home Is They put me in a taxi I wasn’t sad to leave New Hall upon hall Of pressure etched concrete faces Eyes open on uncomfortably sprung beds Sleeplessness encased in dubious sheets Each and every wall ceaselessly penetrated By midnight cries and threats of violence “Get to sleep or you’ll get a crack ‘round the head!” I needed a rest The driver unloaded my life A suitcase and a couple of carriers Dumped on the pavement Behind chained gates Desperate for a rubber stamping Interviewed, approved And shown around by an old hand Who unashamedly relayed his past “Me Mam were on smack Us kids were put in care Oh, and that’s the phone over there.” He pointed to where a girl sat on the floor Matted hair and straight back Her place against the wall Laid constant claim to the cold receiver Clammy hand cradling old plastic From which declarations of absent love poured A tower of ten p’s by her side Each token buying a temporary Release from loneliness Stemming tears, saving cheeks My new room was filthy with memory Free to clean: I scrubbed Every inch stripped of dirt and feeling Inspected weekly, nowt ever found on me Privacy and dignity swapped for bed and board Those little luxuries we could scant afford Bit of cash every Tuesday, skint by Friday A cottage industry invented For lads who couldn’t live without cigs Smoke screen exchanges of grief Hardened ears listening, hearing Whilst well-practiced fingers emptied dimps Into rinsed-out pie tins Abandoned baccy Found at bus stops, surrounding bins Newly skinned, given a second chance They put me in a taxi A sweaty key imprinting into my palm Empty walls, bare floors And a new-found freedom to lock the doors Behind me

All poems are copyright of the originating author. Permission must be obtained before using or performing others' poems.

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<Deleted User> (11485)

Fri 27th Sep 2013 17:05

I liked "Home Is" very much.

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Charlotte Henson

Thu 23rd Jun 2011 20:23


just dropping by to say i think your poems are wonderful accessible and easy to relate to <3

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Michael Scott

Sat 23rd Oct 2010 21:13

Hi Gemma,

Love 'We Watched It Live' especially after hearing you perform it, interesting that Al Jazeera do 'as is' news and we have to wait for Wikileaks to find out the truth.

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Tomás Ó Cárthaigh

Tue 24th Aug 2010 00:27

Once more reading your grandma poem makes me smile :-)

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Sat 24th Jul 2010 10:41

Hi Gemma,
I commented on your "Grandma" poem a while ago and have just been reading through a couple of your others."Norman's Chippy" reminds me so much of a chippy/toffee shop in Wigan I used to go to as a kid called "Josie's".She lived above it in a flat,and I also remember pea-wet and and scraps or "scratchings" as regular tea-time treats.
It was the toffee counter down the left of the chippy that fascinated me though! This brought back really strong,vivid memories of my own childhood.

I also loved your "Blackpool Rock" poem as well! I still love the place,but it's funny what you notice as you get older,isn't it?I worked in Blackpool three years ago,and what you see daily is an eye-opener!
Will definetely be having a look at your stuff again!

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Sun 14th Mar 2010 10:52

Hi Gemma,
Loved My Grandma Painted Her Eyebrows On!It's brilliant when someone stands out from the norm!

Rachel Bond

Sun 8th Nov 2009 03:25

hey gemma...loved your grandma poem. My grandma drank whisky and guinness then puked in the sink at night before bed...she was not quite so glamorous as yours:)

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Jeff Dawson

Thu 4th Jun 2009 23:17

Hi Gemma, well done at the slam, great stuff as ever, hope the sunburn has cooled off!! Glad you enjoyed 'Old Trout'! Jeff X

<Deleted User> (5646)

Wed 3rd Jun 2009 13:42

Hi Gemma, congratulations on coming runner up in the slam, you'll get that elusive one yet yo just wait and see. :-)

Janet Ramsden.x

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Tue 2nd Jun 2009 21:29

Wow jus been reading thy CV my god when do you breathe woman you sound very dedicated hope we get to meet and converse at a gig soOon
warm vybz till then.x ps soz 4 jamming ur coments section

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Tue 2nd Jun 2009 21:26

hey gemma tiz Chris Jam here I didnt get achance to compliment you on your performance yesterday very strong and distinctive in both content and delivery.

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winston plowes

Tue 17th Mar 2009 01:13

Hi Gemma
Feeling rather sheepish... Posted a comment 1 year late the other day... I thinks it's obvious which one! Sorry.. but the sentiments still apply (It was late). Win Baaaaa

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Tony Walsh

Sat 21st Feb 2009 23:20

Hi Gemma

Congrats on a great gig at ShangriLa last night. Impressive stuff under a lot of pressure!



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winston plowes

Wed 31st Dec 2008 03:03

Hi Gemma
Read your Blackpool Rock poem today. Great stuff. I also have a seedy side of blackpool poem on my Myspace prompted by taking my 8yr old daughter there recently (had to use selective hand blinkers!). Can I tell you what really amazes me however... And that is the fact that twice now I have seen you scribbling words shortly before reading! how does that work? Take it from me that everyone was shocked to silence at the Bolton performance course when they found out you had just written the "star fish - bed" poem you performed so well. (sorry can't remember the actual title) Cracking stuff,

<Deleted User> (4442)

Mon 28th Jul 2008 19:37

Hi Gemma

It's a pleasure, I'm so happy you like the poem, hope Chris liks it too.

I love the way you perform your work. I'm there in the poem, carried along by your words.

Lynda x

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Jeff Dawson

Mon 28th Jul 2008 13:20

Hi Gemma, great to meet you briefly last night, really liked the 'Bolton' poem. Enjoyed your performance of it too, thats something I'm just learning at the moment!

Enjoyed my first time and appearance at the Old Boars Head and will be there next time.

Enjoyed reading your work on here, love the 'Blackpool Rock' poem brilliant.

The poem I've got on my profile about watching people that I mentioned is in my samples called 'I know you're there'.

If you have a look at that and any others would appreciate your feedback, cheers see ya soon Jeffarama!

Mysty Brett

Sat 5th Jul 2008 14:12

Hi Gemma. All the above are strong poems you know, but the Grandma one stands out so much for me personally, and I really love it. It's so evocative of a really fun grandma, and also of past eras ideas of glamor that many a grannie would have resonated with, although, not many would have emulated like the inspired and inspiring grandma of the poem. If it's really about your grandma I expect she feels really flattered!!

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Katie Haigh

Fri 2nd May 2008 08:13

Gemma your an excellent poet. You are one of the greats and I never get tired of reading them so hurry up and get a book published of them so I can read them all the time

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Louise Fazackerley

Wed 23rd Apr 2008 20:06

i really enjoyed 'new location'.

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Tomás Ó Cárthaigh

Sun 13th Apr 2008 01:36

I loved the Grandma poem.

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Val Cook

Tue 11th Mar 2008 20:26

Hi Gemma
As always you blow me away,Love your poems love your accent.

<Deleted User>

Wed 14th Nov 2007 12:20

'Course you don't know these peopleses! Long time ago now as the nose flies - and a Completely Different Course!!!
Not only that, you're a Bury gal! I know how particular these towns can be.

Best wishes all the same, in a cosmopolitan vein

<Deleted User>

Fri 9th Nov 2007 19:44

Good old Bolton, eh. I did a degree at Bolton Uni when it still was Bolton institute of Technology. Is Malcolm Pittock still there? Barry Wood....
Bolton once had the best public library I have ever seen.
I worked for quite a while at Bolton Area Resource Centre running the Volunteer Bureau. Best job I ever had.
I'm telling you all this cos I think yer fab. An Moxy do too.

Malcolm Saunders

Sat 27th Oct 2007 10:38

Went to the Chinese last night. Ate crap. Talked about the fine plastic furniture endlessly. Chin highly polished. About to be divorced.

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Darren Whitehead

Mon 1st Oct 2007 01:26

Love these poems. I heard you perform Dirty Normans and the "When I was five I wore dungarees" and I think they are brilliant.

<Deleted User> (7790)

Sat 28th Jul 2007 13:58

Hello Gemma! It was fantastic meeting you and hearing you read your powerfully evocative poems. Litbury was amazing, you created a wonderful, unique and friendly word-based family event. My dad thoroughly enjoyed himself, despite hating poetry. As soon as he got home he phoned his friends and said, 'You'll never guess where I've been all afternoon....' Thank you.

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