Books I’ve read recently – Four books by women in 2015

Red Rosa by Kate Evans – I got this wonderful graphic biography for Christmas and devoured it straight away. It is a deeply moving and hiRosa Luxemburgghly informative account of the important life of Rosa Luxemburg with gorgeous illustrations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s so much less research and writing on Rosa Luxemburg than on her male contemporaries and this is a really valuable and beautiful introduction to her life and work. It’s both a sad and incredibly inspiring story and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Marxism, labour movements and revolutionary history as well as to anyone in need of a bit of inspiration from a strong female character. The book is punctuated with extracts from Rosa’s diaries and these are expanded on in the notes section. She had a truly wonderful way with words.

Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe – I’m part of a poetry book club with a few of my friends that I made in the writing society at the University of Manchester. This month we read and discussed Loop of Jade. Our meeting was the day after it (very deservedly) won the T.S Eliot prloop of jadeize so we felt pretty on the money in our choice and we all really enjoyed it. Loop of Jade is a vivid and emotive exploration of place and identity packed with beautifully balanced and well-structured poems. Some  people out there were upset with the collection’s success and attributed it to the poet’s gender, youth and ‘presentability’, I’m sorry to say that this is the sort of argument that’s habitually groped for when a young, clever woman wins a prize.

Personally, I thought it was inspiring and exciting to have a young woman win a prize usually reserved for the likes of David Harsent whose (not all that good, in my opinion) Fire Songs won in 2014. Loop of Jade is a well-crafted book that balances intellectualism and heart in perfect proportions. Oliver Thring’s interview with Sarah Howe in the Sunday Times was sneering and dismissive of her work and achievements and caused outrage online from women he branded ‘deranged poetesses.’ There was a hashtag, something poetry-related actually began trending on Twitter. It was all quite exciting. And it was great to see the poetic community out in force defending one of our best young writers who is getting the recognition she deserves.  You can find out more about the whole debacle in this Guardian article. You can also watch Sarah performing Crossing from Guandong (one of my favourite poems of the collection). My only criticism of Sarah is, as a performer, I think she comes across as stilted and slightly wooden in a way that lets her lyrical poetry down somewhat. Of course, her poetry is meant for page rather than stage so thankfully this aspect is not too important.  

Honourable Friends? Parliament and the fight for change by Caroline Lucas. What a woman! To say Caroline Lucas is inspiring is an understatement: to soldier on in the face of so much bureaucracy and willful ignorance is just incredible. Most of what she writes about the inefficiency and corruption of parliament was sadly all too familiar to me but there were two big shockers…

1. MPs are actually holding us back on climate change, their opinions are not as progressive as ours. Caroline writes of Parliament’s unrepresentativeness that

[Parliament] has become a break in our collective response, rather than a way of enabling it. Part of the problem is that in many cases MPs are selected by a very narrow group of people. Conservative MPs in particular are detached from public opinion on climate change… three-quarters of people in Britain believe the climate is changing because of human activity; but among MPs, this falls to half, while a staggering 71% of Conservative MPs think that induced climate change is either unproven or C lucas‘environmentalist propaganda.’ So those who should be leading the country on this issue are actually dragging us backwards.” That really shocked me, perhaps I’m naive but…I mean SHIT.

2. Caroline also tells us that she was “Alarmed to discover that there were not less than twenty-three policy advisers in the department (of energy and climate change) who were employees from outside organisations including Centrica (owners of British Gas) and the German energy company RWE. This is a pattern across government and reflected in the number of civil servants seconded to business, and whilst the government claim that it is important that civil servants understand the perspective of business, there is no similar push to ensure civil servants understand the charity or third sectors…our civil and political masters should act in the interests of the country as a whole, not one section of it. What is good for UK Plc, as business leaders like to call our country, is not necessarily good for the rest of us.” Well, quite. This huge amount of seconding of business people into the civil service and vice versa came as a complete surprise to me and, in my opinion, is pretty damaging.

All in all, this is a great book that provides an excellent insight into the workings of parliament. It’s slightly dispiriting, though, when she keeps on looking hopefully forward to an end to Conservative coalition rule come the 2015 election, telling us that another five years of Tory rule will be a disaster. Well we all know how that one ends…

JutlandJutland – Selima Hill – This is a wonderful book and another T.S Eliot Prize shortlister. Jutland uses a surreal distancing and absurdity as well some structures of nursery rhymes to tackle some dark and uncomfortable subject matter. I found the surrealism a really interesting way to deal with tricky topics. The book is split into two contrasting long poem sequences ‘Advice on wearing animal prints’ and ‘Sunday afternoon at the gravel pits’. It’s bold, unusual and adventurous and does one of the things that, in my opinion, poetry does best absolutely brilliantl. It condenses experience and feeling down into neat, intense little units that really pack a punch. I found it fascinating how the poems within each sequence related to one another as well and it’s inspired me to have a go at long sequences of poems myself. Have a read of the Poetry Book Society’s review.

So there we are: four books, all by women, all published in 2015. If you do decide to give them a read, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

 

January (part one)

I got straight back into it on January 6th when I was asked to appear on Soho Radio’s The Dojo with Chris Redmond – it was a lovely little studio and I had an ace time there. I’m still getting used to being interviewed,

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with Chris Redmond on Soho Radio

feels bit strange just having a chat but knowing it’s going out live and that people are listening. I spent the whole time trying not to swear but then said ‘shit.’ Shit. But I got to play a couple of tracks I really like and perform a couple of recently written poems. It’s on mixcloud ‘for all eternity’ as Chris put it, so if you want to have a listen you can do so here.

Next it was up to Birmingham to perform in the Rep as part of Level-up: Season IV, an incredible and inspiring event run for young people by young people. It was an amazing night and I saw honestly some of the best open-mics I’ve ever seen! Really, really high quality… Birmingham is a city with a fuck-tonne of budding poetry talent it seems. I was honoured to join the line up.

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Performing at the Green Party’s South London Social

Later that week, a friend asked me to perform at the Green Party’s South London Social where I heard Rashid Nix and Sian Berry (Green mayoral candidate) speak. There are some characteristically logical and fair policies coming out of the Green Party for a better London and it was fascinating to hear some of them that night.  A particular favourite that struck is flat fares across the city, basically a abolition of the zone system: no more penalties for living outside of the city centre as, of course, more and more people on lower incomes are.

The very next day I hopped on a 4 hour coach to Leeds and then across to my beautiful home town of Hebden Bridge that was badly battered and bruised by the floods around Christmas-time. I’d had about half an hour’s sleep so it wasn’t the best journey… But what a night when I got there! There were fantastic bands, delicious food and friendliness which is all you should ever hope for I reckon. After much Flood relieftrying to stay awake, I performed my set. The night was at The Trades Club which is a fantastic venue, well worth a visit. I was pretty worried because there’d already been so much dancing and lively music, I wasn’t sure how well the audience would react to poetry. I was also standing in for the popular and amazing Captain Hotknives (have a listen!) who had a sore throat. It was really great though, seemed to go down a treat! Hebden Bridge have done an amazing job bouncing back and supporting each other through the devastating floods. I’ve started to write a poem about it…

There seemed to be so much going on in the first three weeks I thought I’d do a blog post now – but more is always happening, so more soon! I’m also going to start briefly rounding up and recommending books I’ve read etc so watch this space…

Chin up!

Love, Mim

 

 

Twenty-fifteen round up!

So here we are! A new year with hopefully many more exciting things on the horizon. I have resolved to be better at telling you all the exciting things that are going on, what I’m up to, what I’m reading and listening to. It’s probably a good idea to start with a  round-up of 2015, I feel pretty overwhelmed and lucky for everything that’s happened in the last 12 months. It’s been a corker! So here we go!

2015 really got exciting in January when, to my surprise, I found myself on the shortlist for the Arts Foundation Fellowship for Spoken Word alongside amazing poets Sabrina Mahfouz, Hollie McNish, Rob Auton and Ross Sutherland. We got to perform in the South Bank centre’s Purcell Rooms (there’s a write-up of the night here) which was probably the biggest gig I’d ever done at that time and I was really excited but very nervous too!

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The Arts Foundation Spoken Word Fellowship shortlist with MC and judge Mark Grist

It went really well though and was a turning point, I now knew that when there was a lot riding on something, a lot of pressure, I could rise to it -hooray! Then there was a fancy award ceremony the next day the likes of which I don’t think happen very often in the poetry scene: free booze (which I drank far too much of) and posh dresses. The wonderful Hollie McNish won the fellowship but I took home £1000 runner-up prize, an excellent experience and loads more people knowing who I am and what I do!

I started gigging more and more and actually getting paid (!!)  Performance poetry heavyweight Luke Wright asked me to come on tour with him as his support act. I loved racing up and down the country, preforming in all sorts of places to all sorts of audiences an generally having a gay old time.

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Me and Luke Wright post gig

Next! Melody. The show! In the closing months of 2014 my shithot director/editor/all round invaluable collaborator Lucy Allan and I started working on a short scratch of what would become our full-length poetry play Melody. October 2014 saw us present 15 minutes worth of stuff at the South Bank Centre and in March 2015 we presented 10 minutes of different stuff at the Battersea Arts Centre. It was beginning to happen, we had 25 minutes of material so in theory only another 25 to go. In reality, only about 6 minutes of this original stuff ended up in the “final” piece. I say “final” because we are still developing and (we hope!) improving it! The scratches were great though, they provided really useful deadlines (nothing like a deadline to get you working), opportunities to experiment and play as well as really useful audience feedback and encouragement. More on Melody later….

Women who Spit

Women Who Spit shoot

In the spring I got an email and a phone call from the BBC! I was invited to participate in a new and really exciting project called Women Who Spit. Five, young female poets were commissioned to write poems on different topics – I was asked to write about body image – and the BBC were going to make films out of them to be shown on iPlayer. This was my first real commission and I feel honoured to be in the company of tiptop poets Megan Beech, Vanessa Kisuule, Cecelia Knapp and Deanna Rodger. The project was called Women who spit and you can watch the films here. They came out proper good!

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Write up in the Observer New Review

Very high production values I reckon and a pretty great job all round from BBC Arts. The Observer New Review also said a good thing which I now have pinned to my wall to stop me being lazy and procrastinating… I better get on with stuff otherwise they won’t have owt to watch!

Women Who Spit has been watched tons of times by people up and down the country, I got a lot of love for it: strangers emailing me saying how much they enjoyed it and I was busier gigging than ever! It was all kicking off!

Rehearsing at Clapham Omnibus

Rehearsing Melody at Clapham Omnibus

Back to Melody. Lucy and I had been given rehearsal space and an opportunity to perform a full-length scratch of the show at the wonderful Clapham Omnibus. It was just what we needed – space, time and a wonderful and supportive audience to share it with after three days of intense theatre making. It was an amazing experience and working with Lucy was so valuable. We were gearing up for Edinburgh and it was going pretty well.

June! June brought something pretty crazy at it’s end. I performed in the Barbican Main Hall (1943 capacity!) as part of Doug Aitken’s Station to Station with what felt like all the famous people. Incredibe poets Simon Armitage, Don Paterson, Sam Riviere, Lavinia Greenlaw, Paul Farley and Luke Wright (who suggested me for the gig, cheers Luke!) were all there doing their thing.

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Me and Beck

The whole night was curated by Beck (a personal musical hero of mine) and Thurston Moore performed too. It was all a bit much!

It felt like I was in another world really and it was great to be given the opportunity to be part of such a great evening. Read the Guardian review here. I also chatted to Lynn Gardner on BBC 2’s Arts Night about the whole thing, my first appearance on television as myself. The team at the Barbican and Station to Station invited us to show the most recent version of Melody at the Barbican Art Gallery where they took this action shot!

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Performing Melody at the Barbican Art Gallery

Of course, it was summer now. And summer means festivals! Between July and September I performed my poems at Brainchild, Latitude and Festival Number 6 – all of them life affirming, joy-inducing, messy and magical festivals. I took different companions to each, we had a blast!

Latitude

Performing at Latitude

But really the summer of 2015 was all about Melody, first Lucy and I took the show to the Buxton Fringe where it won the Spoken Word Award. This cheered us right up and gave us newfound confidence for Edinburgh that was drawing ever closer. After some more very much appreciated free rehearsal space from Clapham Omnibus we were ready to go…

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Feature in the Scotsman

I performed Melody at the 2015 PBH Free Fringe for 21 days in a row to audiences of 1(!!) – 40+ (all that could fit in the venue)  an amazing experience which was incredibly intense. When people told me doing a run at the Edinburgh festival was an emotional roller coaster I thought they were exaggerating – they weren’t!  The whole thing was a great success though and we got really great reviews from The Stage, The List and Broadway Baby. I also appeared in the Scotsman as part of a feature on spoken word shows at the fringe!  You can read a Broadway Baby interview with me about the show here. The success of Melody as a full-length piece is my proudest achievement to date, so huge thanks to everyone who made it possible for Lucy and I to make this work and the biggest thanks of course to Lucy herself. Without her sharp eye and brilliant mind the show would not be half as good as it is today.

Then there was Cheltenham Literature Festival where performed with Hollie McNish and Erin Fornoff I stayed in a fancy hotel and got to hang around to see lots of interesting talks and readings and eating yummy food.

At the end of October I performed Melody in the beautiful Wainsgate Chapel in my hometown of Hebden Bridge. I’ll be performing Melody all over the country over the next year but more of that in future posts…

Drunken Nigh

Performing at the George Tavern

In November I wrote three poetic monologues from the perspective of three different women in the same fictional pub. These monologues saw me experimenting with complicated audience participation for the first time. Whilst in Edinburgh, I saw Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing and was inspired to have a crack at something similar with regards to involving the audience. I was lucky enough to perform my new monologues in the famous George Tavern, East London for the amazing production company Drunken Chorus. The experiment worked much better than expected and I’m looking forward to developing the idea further soon and hopefully working with Drunken Chorus more extensively in the future too.

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Performing at the Tate Britain. Credit: Dan Weill

I said goodbye to 2015 with a performance at the Tate Britain at their Late at Tate: Celebrity event. The Tate Collective invited me to write and present new work inspired by the collection and by the theme ‘celebrity.’ I spent a full day walking around the Tate getting really inspired by the collection and then began to write. This commission marked a big step forward for me as I decided to branch out from my comfort zone and use a loop pedal. I recorded phrases of songs I’d written, looped them and then harmonised with myself to create a live backing track to speak over. It was very exciting! You should be seeing a lot more where that came from in 2016. I also delivered two workshops where the participants wrote and performed haiku about celebrity as well as performing a song I taught them and all this in just 45 minutes. Very brave! Very impressive!

So that was that for 2015. An incredibly thrilling ride!! I’ve got a number of exciting projects and collaborations in the pipeline too, so watch this space! There were, of course, many more fun gigs and amazing experiences with lovely people but because I’ve not been keeping a blog I just can’t mention them all right now. This post is far too long already, if you’ve got down this far, well done!

I’m going to try to post a bit more regularly now – at least monthly or something eh?

Love and successes to you

Until next time!

Jemima