York Literature Festival: James Montgomery Performance. “For books, my friend, are charming brooms”.


By Nicoletta Peddis

On Wednesday the 22nd of March, as a part of York Literature Festival, Dr. Adam Smith guided the audience through the life and poetry of James Montgomery delivering an engaging performance combining readings of Montgomery’s poetry with interesting insight of the biography of this complex historical character.

Trailer for Adam Smith's performance on Montgomery at Sheffield's "Festival of the Mind" in 2016.


Montgomery was born in Scotland, the son of missionaries of the Moravian Brethren. He was sent to be trained for the ministry at the Moravian School at Fulneck, near Leeds. At Fulneck, secular studies were banned, but James nevertheless found means of borrowing and reading a good deal of poetry and made ambitious plans to write epics of his own. Failing school, he was apprenticed to a baker in Mirfield. After further adventures, including an unsuccessful attempt to launch himself into a literary career in London, he moved to Sheffield to work at the Sheffield Register, directed by Joseph Gales. At the Register, a newspaper of radical ideas, Montgomery rediscovered his passion for literature and started to write inflamed poems in the poetry section of the publication, the “Repository of Genius”, regarding themes such as the abolition of slavery and the conditions of the working class. In 1794, Gales left England to avoid political prosecution and Montgomery took the paper in hand, changing its name to the Sheffield Iris. These were times of political repression and Montgomery was charged with sedition and treason for the publication of a poem that he never wrote and imprisoned in 1975 at York Castle prison for three months. He continued to write poems that were sent to the Iris and to which readers responded. A pamphlet of poems written during his captivity will be published in 1796 as “Prison Amusements”. After his release, Montgomery is charged again in less than a year for criticizing a magistrate for forcibly dispersing a political protest in Sheffield. After this experiences James Montgomery’s life started to change. He turned away to politics and activism and turned to business. He carried on writing poems and started to write hymns. He later was decorated with the title of Poet Laureate and became a Tory MP.

Did James Montgomery become the establishment he was fighting against? Did he turn his back to his ideals? He was definitely a complex and fascinating character and, as Dr. Adam Smith reminded us, even though his political views changed the theme of slavery always remained extremely important to him and Montgomery definitely never turned his back to literature and poetry.

The performance that Dr. Adam Smith delivered at York St John’s University as part of the York Literature Festival is part of a wider research regarding the connection between poetry and radical protest in Sheffield between 1790 and 1810. The focus on James Montgomery is one of the results of this broader research ending in “The Wagtail Poet Prison Project”. It is possible to find out more about this project at https://yorkwagtailpoets.wordpress.com and it is also possible to respond to James Montgomery’s prison poems either creatively or critically getting in touch with Dr. Adam Smith at a.smith3@yorksj.ac.uk .

Lit events for York LGBT History month

York LGBT History Month 2017 runs from 31 January to 28 February, and is packed full of great events. With support from the School of Humanities, Philosophy and Theology, and the YorkYSJ Staff  LGBT Network, we’re running two events:

6 February, Eagle and Child Pub, 12.30pm

Dr Adam Stock (lecturer in English Literature) and Dr Kimberly Campanello (lecturer in Creative Writing) are hosting “Lunch Poems”.

Taking its name from gay New York poet Frank O’Hara’s celebrated collection ‘Lunch Poems’ (1964), Kimberly and Adam will host a lunch time discussion and reading group of poetry on LGBT themes, over lunch. Poems will be circulated in advance to ticket holders, but you do not need any previous experience or knowledge of poetry to take part in the discussion. Tickets are free, but do NOT include food.

Please register here to receive the poetry pack and menu in advance of the event.

13 February, Fountains Lecture Theatre, 6pm.

Kimberly and Adam host a film screening:

Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger

Trailer – “Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger” from sam feder on Vimeo.


Meet Auntie Kate.

Trailblazing performance artist-theorist-activist Kate Bornstein takes us on a mind-bending quest through her world dismantling gender and seeking answers to the age-old question: What makes life worth living?

An award-winning documentary by director Sam Feder

 Click here to register for free tickets

Free refreshments for all ticket holders!


Say Owt! Slam #11

By Jessica Osborne



At its first event two years ago York’s very own Say Owt Slam had to turn away over forty people after unexpectedly selling out. Last Saturday people were still scrambling for tickets at the last minute only to be disappointed.


Run by local poets Henry Raby and Stu Freestone who described the slam as “an embracing of the [poetry] scene” the slams held at the Basement seem to always be filled with enthusiastic poetry fans. The slam’s hosts go out of their way to advertise other poetry events around York such as open mics or readings and also set up workshops with their guest poets for those hoping to get inspired, all in an effort to embrace the scene.

say owt slam

Each slam brings old hands and new comers alike to the stage, allowing all writers the perfect platform for building confidence in their writing and even just making their writing known. The most recent slam was no exception to the rule; the room was jam packed with bodies cheering and clicking along to the rhythmic beats of the local poets, booing the harsher judges, and ultimately celebrating spoken word.


In recent years we’ve seen poetry sales falling, with sales of the novel rising. With some publishers (such as Salt) dropping single authored collections, why do poetry slams and readings seem to flourish? Has poetry really been usurped by the novel? Or has it simply moved from page to stage, bringing with it a new generation of poetry fans?


Tickets for Saw Owt Slam #12 (12th Nov) can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1302007043182788/ (Facebook Event for Say Owt Slam #12) Be sure to book early before they sell out!

Say Owt! Poetry Slam

By Jessica Osborne


This weekend sees the return to York of the popular Say Owt Slam #11, featuring Scott Tyrell and hosted by local poet Henry Raby.


Shure mikrofon 55S


Poets will have three minutes to win the votes of judges in the audience. With two rounds of performed poetry it’s sure to be an electric and exciting evening for new comers and returning fans alike.

The slam will take place at The Basement at City Screen on Coney Street.

Be sure to pre-book tickets for only £7 from the link below!

http://www.thebasementyork.co.uk/say-owt-slam-11 (Tickets link)


https://www.facebook.com/events/600806336757534/ (Facebook event link)