Hi you lot. Sorry for the radio silence. I’ve been incredibly busy with loads of exciting projects brewing and the launch of my book. More on all of this soon, after I’ve moved house. Promise.
Below are some books from what’s tried to be a fairly female and feminist reading list over the past couple of months. This is everything that springs to mind as worth mentioning, worth recommending.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs The climate by Naomi Klein. This certainly has changed everything for me. I took it on holiday where I was depressed by it and struggled. Before I started reading, a couple of friends told me that they’d read two-thirds or three-quarters of it, that it was good but she went on a bit. In the early days of holiday and the book, I could see what they meant. It was interesting but also depressing and dense and hard work. But I ended up doing that thing that happens a lot with books, I got over the hump and all of a sudden I was reading it all night until 5am in the living room, unable to put it down. One of the most compelling arguments in the book is when Klein draws attention to the climate crisis as a racist crisis, one that disproportionately affects people of colour. Watch this video by Black Lives Matter UK to get the gist.
Klein writes rigorously, no idea is left stranded, everything is backed up by statistics and research. She also writes emotionally, in a way that you are constantly horrified by what’s gone down and what’s still going down. Read this, it will change you.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lourde I bought this book from an anarchist bookshop in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco having (shamefully) never heard of Audre Lorde before. This is a seminal work of black feminism, a collection of essays and speeches by this amazing poet. Many of the things Lourde discusses are (thankfully) now more widely accepted, at least in some circles, but with racism a continuing problem, and particularly in the current climate, it’s fascinating to read the black feminism of the 80s.
I was reading this book on the circle line recently and made a friend who got excited that I was reading it. He told me it was his favourite book, that he’s taken it around the world with him. This book operates as a call to action too, it repeatedly speaks of the value of anger and the danger of silence. For a taste of this book read Poetry is not a Luxury, eye-opening and true.
Unspeakable things: sex, lies and revolution by Laurie Penny. This is good. Laurie Penny is angry and rightly so. This book tackles gender and class and race, cybersexism and desire. It’s a really angry book and her anger is inspiring and unapologetic. Not that I often forget, but it did a great job of reaffirming my anger and my right to be angry on behalf of all women, especially those less privileged than myself.
Reading it quite soon after Klein though made me truly appreciate Klein’s rigour with her subject. Massive respect to Penny though, I like her fire a lot and just in the introduction comes out with a line I particularly enjoyed perhaps more than any other in the book. Penny tackles the commonly held belief that now we can work and vote, feminism has achieved its aims and we can all go back to normal, arguing that popular feminism only benefits the privileged few “Public ‘career feminists’ have been more concerned with getting women into ‘boardrooms’, when the problem is that there are altogether too many boardrooms and none of them are on fire.” Word.
First published in 2011 at the height of ‘chav-bashing’, this book looks at the the class war waged in the UK on the working-classes by the elite, with a strong focus on how it all began with Thatcher and de-industrialisation. This book is tightly argued and shocking, I found the content about the media’s portrayal of the working classes particularly fascinating, all-pervasive hatred and spite and mockery. This book also made me think much more about the lack of representation of people from less well-off backgrounds in powerful jobs: lawyers, journalist, doctors and, of course, MPs. A lack of those people in those jobs leads to a lack of understanding and unfair policy being created, unfair news stories being run. The 50:50 parliament campaign recognises this and does great work trying to get more women into parliament.
Many of this countries tensions around immigration hinge on the lack of housing, the fact that recent governments have continually failed to build new, affordable homes. Building new, well-insulated, homes would activate the workforce (the majority of whom are not lazy, the jobs just don’t exist), reduce unemployment and aliviate the constant struggle for the most basic of provisions, a home. This episode of File on Four about the Hidden Homeless is worth a listen too.
So all of the fiction I’ve read recently have been coming of age tales in one way or another. It makes a pleasant change to read a woman/girl’s experience of discovering the world, rather than a man’s. I feel so much more able to identify, to latch their ways of thinking about things, of seeing things on to my own experience. Also I feel as if I’ve rediscovered that when you carry a good story around with you, your life is infinitely improved.
Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson. This is (also shamefully) the first Winterson I’ve read. I found it completely absorbing. The alternation between the fairytale, mythical style and the frank account of a young life in rural Lancashire is executed beautifully and gives an impressive, stylised edge to the work. I know these bleak Lancastrian towns well and Winterson gets them just right. The book is all pain and confusion, all longing and discovery. It’s great, I read it in half a day. Found two more Winterson’s in a charity shop.
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazan. This had got to be one of the best books I’ve read of late. Sarrazan has a quite simply magical way with words. The images are rich and dense, just the way I like ’em and the story is thrilling, romantic, young and simultaneously hopeless and gorgeously hopeful. It’s small but very powerful, just like the protagonist who we can’t help but love, her determination, her resilience and her courage are written so beautifully. All of her other books are out of print so proper expensive. I can only hope this reprint of Astragal sells well so more of her work is reprinted soon. Buy it if you can!
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. This book imagines the prior life of the woman in the attic in Jane Eyre. It’s a vivid and vibrant exploration of the abuse colonial power, sexual and romantic power and ways that we perceive and develop mental illness. This book casts a very dark and unforgiving shadow on Mr Rochester and is just so relentlessly urgent.
Tons. I’m in a bit of a hurry now so I’ll just chuck them out there. I find it really tricky to write about poetry somehow too. So beg, borrow or buy them and have a read for yourself.
In the last couple of months I’ve had a fair few commissions to write. Writing commissions is great fun and really excellent for your writing skills. It’s great to work to a specific subject, it can really help you train yourself, to write about things that you wouldn’t normally.
My first commission was for BBC Arts. My brief was to write a poem exploring why the Tate Modern is a cultural hub for young people. The poem had to focus specifically on the Switch House, the new Tate modern extension and was to appear on the BBC 2 as part of The New Tate Modern: Switched on, which you can watch here. It’s a really interesting show and I suggest you watch all of it. If you just want to watch my bit, though, skip to 53: 40 and hear Andrew Marr saying my name too!
I was also asked by some friends to write a poem inspired by Bob Dylan, now this was much easier ground for me as a) I write a lot of poetry inspired by music and musicians and b) as anyone who knows me will know, I love Bob Dylan. I decided to write a poem for him from the point of view of a teenage me.
I’ve had the The Times they are a Changin’ poster above my bed in every bedroom I’ve ever had since I was about thirteen. Partly because it’s a great album, he’s a fantastic lyricist, he inspired me, sure, sure. But also because, as I’m sure you’ll agree, he looks absolutely smoking in it. I’ve uploaded the poem to Soundcloud so that you can listen to it here if you so wish.
Then came the hardest commission of all…the amazing organisation Index on Censorship asked me to write and perform a poem for the launch of their 250th issue. They asked some of their contributors to provide me with an article or an issue of the magazine that they thought was particularly important in the magazine’s history. My task was to write a poem that celebrated Index’s work and some key moments from the magazine’s history.
So I found myself trying to tie in diverse themes and stories into one piece; from Ken Saro Wiwa’s struggle against Shell to Ariel Dorfman‘s amazing play Death and the Maiden, which was first published in English by Index on Censorship in 1991. I highly recommend you read it, you can do so here – it’s powerful stuff. The night was a great success and I performed the piece to a really appreciative audience. Before the party started we filmed the poem in the park, you can watch it here. I think it was truly the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write. But all excellent practice and development! Moddi, a Norwegian singer-songwriter, also performed at the event, he’s a great artist about to release an album of 12 banned songs from 12 different countries. He’s well worth checking out.
Latitude Festival! My third year running! I was originally booked for Melody (which I performed on the poetry stage) but then the amazing Nabokov Theatre asked me to write a poem for a project they were doing called Reformation Nation which would combine raving and activism. The brief was to write a poem on a political issue of our choice that we’d perform over a set by the wonderful DJ Sweat Pea.
I decided to write a poem inspired by the book I was reading at the time, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. For any of you who’ve read it, you’ll know it’s a bit of a tome! Far-reaching and wonderful and horrifying, so I’d really set myself a challenge. By the way, I borrowed that life-changing book from my local library which thankfully hasn’t shut down. As soon as I got up on the stage (at 2am on the Saturday morning of the festival) I realised that it was all a bit wordy and heavy to speak over Drum and Bass so I sort of improvised and sang parts of it and it was really, really fun. I was shit-scared but I surprised myself by managing fine! I’m not going to put the poem up but if you’re in London on 6th August then Reformation Nation will be repeated on the National Theatre River Stage at 7:10pm
In and around all of this I was really happy to be performing Melody three times in the space of four days. As part of Luke Wright’s Stand up poetry club in Diss, at the amazing Pumphouse in Aldeburgh as part of the music festival there: the Pumphouse run an alternative fringe festival and the line-up was incredible, I very much hope to go back next year. and as part of the brand new OffBeat Festival in Oxford also with a great programme which I hope to rejoin next year.
I had really amazing experiences in all of these places but I particularly enjoyed my time in Aldeburgh, the venue was magic, I’d never been to the beautiful town before and, despite it being really quite nippy, I ate delicious smoked prawns on the beach! I also spotted Melody cottage!
These intense few days of touring the show solo were really lovely, they made me feel independent and it struck me how great it is to have something you can tour around to show people, all on your own, self-reliant on your own two feet.
I also went to Glastonbury Festival for the first time in my life, to say it was incredible would be an understatement. I utterly loved it! I would say Glastonbury’s worth visiting if only for the incredible amount of time, money and artistry that goes into the set. They create these truly wonderful worlds which you can get completely lost in. It was, however, a pretty strange time to be there. The Brexit vote cast a bit of a sour mood to begin with but we all still managed to come together and have a good old party… (it was also my 27th Birthday!)
I realise I’ve not talked about what I’ve been reading at all recently and I’ve been reading some absolute corkers. I’ve read some really great fiction, non-fiction and poetry by women (and a couple of blokes snuck in there too) The next blog post will be dedicated to that! Next week I reckon.
Hiya. I’ve had a really enjoyable couple of months welcoming spring in. I’ve been touring Melody in April and teaching a lot in May. Here goes…In April Melody visited Newcastle and the amazing, fairly new, Alphabetti Theatre. This is a hidden gem of a venue right in the middle of town. When you descend the stairs you find yourself in a shining and magical world, the decor is beautiful and their programming is exciting and varied. While I was there, I really fell in love with Newcastle. Both the architecture and scenery are beautiful, the people are friendly and unpretentious and everything is very cheap (especially compared to our capital). The day after I performed Melody, I ran a creative writing workshop with the Scratch Club Tyne – they all came up with amazing poems that incorporated songs that are special to them. I also visited Leicester twice. And I really like Leicester too! Unfortunately, I was there just before they won the Premier League so the atmosphere was tense rather than the wild celebration that followed the day after. I took Melody to the great theatre-pub Upstairs at the Western and the lovely and brilliant Jess Green (check her out) asked me to perform on the Find the Right Words stage at the Handmade Festival.
And Melody also showed at it’s birthplace Clapham Omnibus. This is a wonderful place that has supported us so much by giving us free rehearsal space whenever they can.Space is a scarce and expensive resource in London and we had no funding at all for Melody so the generosity from Clapham Omnibus has been hugely valuable. Our first full draft of Melody was presented at Clapham Omnibus in May 2015 so there was a nice sense of returning home.
Melody also visited the Welsh town of Llanelli and the Ffrwnes Theatre, I wish I could have spent longer there. I never consider the lack of friendliness in London at all and like to think it doesn’t exist but when you visit Llanelli and Newcastle, you really feel the difference.
Enough of Melody. I spent a lot of time teaching and delivering workshops in the last couple of months. I’ve found it really rewarding and enjoyable. I delivered two workshops at the London Metropolitan Archives as part of their amazing Lost & Found festival. Not that many people know about the archives, they have interesting exhibitions on all the time and anyone can go in, sign up for free and explore the history of the city in their huge collection. Do it!
And I spent the last two weeks in May at Huddersfield university helping the first year Drama students develop and rehearse their end of year show along with the incredible IOU theatre. It was a bit of a baptism of fire, I suddenly found myself directing a 32 strong cast in an interactive, devised (and frankly bizarre) theatre piece. I’ve not worked so hard in a long time. At the beginning of week one, I delivered some poetry workshops there with Cecilia Knapp and it was really great to see how the students got so into it and how some of them developed their poems further to incorporate into the final piece.And finally, a few more fun gigs & interesting things…
I did One Track Minds at one of my favourite venues ever, Wilton’s Music Hall, I was honoured to stand on that stage. One Track Minds is a new idea from film producer Kristian Brodie. A hybrid of Desert Island Discs and TED talks, it asks creatives to tell a story about the track that changed their life. I chose the Spanky Wilson cover of Sunshine of Your Love and talked about my teeneagerhood in Hebden Bridge, fronting a band and discovering funk and soul music. They also chose me as their poster girl!
I also performed at Chocolate Poetry Club, a really nice night at The Roebuck in Borough. It’s a lovely, friendly night and you get free chocolate! I’d highly recommend it if you’re in London, especially if you want to try out new material at the open mic. You can watch a video of me trying out a new poem at Chocolate Poetry Club here.
I did a shift at the Poetry Takeaway (a great organization) at the Roundhouse, writing bespoke poems for dinner guests.
I chatted with Lunar Poetry Podcasts and read a few bits for them, you can listen to the podcast here.
And I performed at the Free Word Centre at the finale event for the London Metropolitan Archives Lost and Found Festival.
I’ve also begun the practice of trying to write every single day, even if it’s just one line or an image. As everyone says about this practice, it is really good to flex your writing muscles to keep them in shape.
More news coming soon. Lots of love and writing. X
Hello! I’ve been asked to make a playlist featuring all the songs that feature (however briefly) in Melody.
I’ve put this together mainly as a resource for people who have seen the show and want to place/remember certain songs. Songs are in the order they appear in the show. Songs from the show that do not appear on this list are my own, if you want to hear them again then do get in touch.
WARNING: Some of the songs are in there deliberately to be shit. Do not try to impress your date with this list!
Note: The original version of Bob Dylan’s Spanish Harlem Incident seems to have been removed from YouTube, so I’ve given you a rather nice alternate take instead.
And yes, I did try making this playlist on Spotify first but there’s no Newsom on there because the ever-eloquent Joanna says Spotify “is like a villainous cabal of major labels. The business is built from the ground up as a way to circumvent the idea of paying their artists.” Her work is so important to me and the show, I could face not having here in the list, so YouTube it is.
Recently, I got quite involved in the Carnegie Library occupation. A group of local residents occupied their library to protest against its closure and conversion into a private gym. Lambeth council argue that the library will reopen in 2017 but the majority of the building will be a private gym with limited library facilities in just one section of the building which will be staffed by volunteers rather than highly skilled and trained staff. The occupation lasted for 9 days. There’s a great little piece in the Guardian by one of the library’s younger occupiers here.
Carnegie library is about 25 minutes walk from my house so I went down to the occupation on a couple of days to show my support and see what was going on. The level of support shown from the local community was completely overwhelming. People inside the occupation were actually giving food to supporters outside (they’d been brought so many supplies and gifts from people supporting their action that they were giving it away). People from all walks of life came by to make signs and write their memories of the library in the visitors book. One woman, Wendy, was there day after day, all day, standing out the front with her ‘honk for the library’ placard. The air was vibrating with car horns.
There’s a common misconception that libraries are out of date, defunct and that any fight for them is an idealogical and middle-class preoccupation, that we love the idea of books and reading but nobody does it anymore anyway.
From my personal experience I can say that libraries are about so much more than books. Most importantly, for me, libraries are about space. I am a freelance artist pretty early on in her career, I have very little money and frequent cash flow issues. I share a room with my boyfriend in a shared house with 5 other people, it’s the only way I can afford to pursue my career and live in London (where it’s useful to be to pursue said career). I love my home but it is in veritable chaos, I can’t work there. I lounge around, distracted and consequently depressed. I certainly can’t afford to sit in a cafe all day nursing cappuccinos. When I’m in London, I use my local library at least 3 times a week and I have to make sure I get there as soon as it opens because otherwise I won’t get a seat. That’s how well used it is.
And of course it’s not just people like me who need space. Teenagers who need a quiet, distraction-free place to work completely fill London libraries after school and libraries are particularly vital for those who often find themselves isolated: new parents with young children and older people. The positive effect of getting out of the house should not be underestimated. With the new and welcome focus on mental health issues, councils (and the government that is imposing austerity upon them) are being bafflingly short-sighted by making cuts to services that contribute so positively to so many people’s wellbeing.
Anyway, I bang on about all of this in the poem I wrote in support of the Carnegie occupation and the movement to save libraries in general.
On Saturday 9th of April, the occupation ended with an incredible rally and march down to Brixton via Minet library which has also recently shut down. Over 1000 people showed up which is absolutely incredible for a local protest. I felt honoured be asked to perform my poem at the final rally in Windrush Square.
There is now going to be a government investigation into Lambeth’s plans for its libraries, there is hope for Carnegie library yet. I left the experience with a new faith in community and the importance of fighting for our services, of fighting for libraries as community hubs. If a community in London can occupy and put council cuts under scrutiny then other communities can too. For these people, occupation was a last resort: they tried petitions and responding to consultations but their concerns fell upon deaf ears. Whatever happens to Carnegie Library, the occupation did an excellent job of raising awareness of the importance of libraries and their significance to so many people in the communities they serve. It was also thoroughly heartwarming to experience the friendliness and kindness of the occupiers and the supporters. London isn’t as unfriendly as some might think…
To find out more about libraries that are under threat and to support them, check out The Library Campaign and Voices for the Library. If you’re in London, check out Defend the Ten for news of the fight to save Lambeth Libraries.
I urge you to get involved. At the very least, appreciate and use your libraries while they still exist.
It was recently pointed out to me by a good friend that, as a reader of this blog, you can really tell that I find writing a bit, well, boring! Pow, Bash, Kablammo! I’ll do what I can to spruce it up! But unfortunately it’s true, I do find blabbing on about what I’ve been doing somewhat boring, I prefer sharing the books, films and music I’ve enjoyed so this bit might get phased out eventually. Until then…
I’ve been doing some pretty exciting stuff recently!
One of my favourite recent excursions was to Stanza Poetry Festival. My friend Joey and I went up to beautiful St Andrews for the whole weekend and I was honoured to perform Melody to a sold out audience! The show got fantastic feedback. We were also lucky enough to hear these wonderful poets read: Kirsten Luckins, James Arthur, Jo Bell, Clare Best, Meg Batemen, Jo Shapcott, Lemn Sissay, Don Paterson and Nora Gomringer. I’d suggest you look all of them up. Of course, there were many more fantastic poets reading too, explore the Stanza website to find them.
We were particularly impressed by the huge variation in poetic styles programmed by STANZA, from Gomringer’s experimental sound poetry with jazz percussion to Paterson’s brilliant sonnets. The whole vibe of the festival was fantastic too: we had lots of sunshine, lots of drinks and we were looked after beautifully. If you ever get the chance to go there, do!
Going back in time a bit… In February I flexed my Melody muscles at the fabulous One Festival. The One Festival is an annual festival showcasing solo shows at The Space in East London. I’d highly recommend making the journey to The Space. It may feel a little out of the way on the Isle of Dogs but it’s a beautiful venue with a great programme and a bar like an oasis where they’ll serve you nice drinks and delicious food in chunky quantities.
February also saw me perform a really fun gig supporting Luke Wright at Ipswich Library. The turnout was great and the audience warm and receptive. It was lovely to be back on the road with my old pal again! This was also the first time I’d sold my homemade CDs. I was sick of never having any merchandise and remembered I had an old recording of some of my earlier material. If anyone wants to buy a 12-track CD off me, whack me an email. They’re a fiver!
For most of March, I’ve been working very hard on my debut collection of poetry, due to come out with Burning Eye Books in July. I’ve really enjoyed combing through all of my work, selecting poems and editing them into what I hope is going to be a good book! It’s been really nice working on poetry for the page too.
In other news, an interview with me about the life of and the path into being a performance poet has recently gone up as part of the amazing She Works project which I feel honoured to be a part of. Read it here!
I also did a few gigs in March:
I performed a couple of poems for the London Young Greens to support their event about the housing crisis. Go on Young Greens!
I was on the line-up for the amazing Frau Welt’s Masterclass at the excellent Hackney Showroom (a new discovery for me). I was proud to share the stage with such great people: if you like drag acts Frau Welt’s your Frau, if you like dance then I’d highly recommend Impermanence Dance Theatre.
I was also completely inspired by the dancers at the Women Go Live event I performed at on International Women’s Day. I love watching dance and it was an honour to share a stage with such innovative women making great work. I particularly loved the show from Counterpoint Dance Company who are doing a fantastic job of challenging stereotypes about age and producing high-quality contemporary dance while they’re at it!
Little Girl Blue. My friend and I decided to go to the pictures to see the new documentary about the life and music of Janis Joplin, Little Girl Blue. The film explores all aspects of Joplin’s too-short life with interviews from friends, old lovers and her siblings. What really makes the film are these amazing sequences where Cat Power (as Joplin) reads Joplin’s letters to her family, each of them filled with moments of such gut-wrenching and naked pain, that exact shade of desperation that comes out in her voice.
She adored performing, she adored being adored – so much so that she seemed to just put up with the rest of the dull times when she wasn’t on stage.
Her story is a sad one, as we all know, and this film confirms that Joplin really was a fragile young woman hiding behind that belting voice. Still, she remains an inspiration. She gives an incredible vocal. Joplin’s been there with me from the start (I even had a teddy called Janis). I urge everyone to go and see this film. Oh and listen, again, to Pearl. It’s an absolute blinder.
The London Review of Books. A few months ago I decided to get an introductory subscription to the London Review of Books. I’ve known people who’ve read the LRB for years, always people who I considered to be far more intelligent and academic than me and so I had the impression that I’d find it too taxing, too dry.
I think my decision to get a subscription was influenced by the cheap price (never been one to turn down a bargain!) and by some sort of vague desire to kick myself up the arse and try a bit harder to be ‘clever’. I was expecting to plough my way through a couple of articles and give up. I’ve been so surprised, it’s a joy.
In the past few months I’ve learned about everything from UK Dance Halls and their cultural importance after the war to the rise of modern finance, I’ve learned lots about Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, about William Empsom and so much about the complicated situation in Syria too. And I’ve just now read the best and clearest explanation of the sorry mess that Jeremy Hunt has got Junior Doctors into.
And it’s done something really great for me, it’s made me feel clever again and not just because I can ponce around the country showing the world I’m reading the LRB (although I reckon that helps). No, its articles do an excellent job of explaining, sometimes pretty complex, ideas in a way that manages to be easy to follow without being patronising.
I often feel that I’ve lost the ability to focus on things for long as a result of pinging around the internet skimming articles posted on Facebook or Twitter. The LRB has long, clear and interesting articles that draw you in and keep you there. Also, there’s loads of them in each issue so they last for yonks (I’m weeks behind). It’s my new favourite train reading! At £1 an issue for the 1st 12, it’s worth giving it a try.
She is another just incredible, deep, rich, gut-wrenching, world-weary vocal. I’m really interested in the quality of her voice and its texture, there’s something about it I can’t quite put my finger on. If you’ve not heard her before, have a listen to this beautiful song. In fact, even if you do know her, listen and remember how great she is.
I have a feeling the refrain from It hurts me too is going to find its way into one of my poems pretty soon – gloriously heartbreaking yet understated. I can’t believe she’s been around all this time and I’ve only just discovered her. What a treat!
What I learned from Johnny Bevan by Luke Wright There’s still plenty of time for you to catch this at Soho theatre, so do it! If you’re not in London, it’s touring the country.
It’s me old mucker Luke! Last night was the first time I’ve seen this show (it clashed with Melody up in Edinburgh) and I was not disappointed. It’s a story of class and politics, the heady hope for change, a story of future and youth and friendship.
It’s expertly written and performed and Luke takes on a number of characters with ease, I’ve never seen him with an acting hat on before but it suits him and he’s utterly convincing.
Ian Catskilkin of Art Brut provides a rich soundtrack which is used perfectly to underscore and punctuate the text, adding accent to the action. The piece is particularly pertinent at the moment when we’re stuck with a Conservative government, all of us willing change. There’s a foreboding sense, though, that history repeats itself in politics. In 2016 we’re back where Luke’s characters were back in the early 90s.
Luke also looks wryly at the fetishization of poverty by setting a festival Urbania in a abandoned council estate. I found this aspect of the show particularly affecting. Luke uses an image of Balfron Tower as his abandoned council estate. I lived in Balfron tower for 18 months as a property guardian when I first moved to London.
Towards the end of my time there, a theatre company took over a couple of floors to stage an immersive production of Macbeth. This was while original council tenants were still living there. 90 theatre goers traipsing through their building every Friday and Saturday night, gawping at the run-down council estate. It was fucking disgusting. I overheard one cast member saying to another “it’s so cool but can you imagine actually living here? Eugh!” Needless to say I protested, needless to say I got evicted. I’ll stop before I go off on one, another story for another day perhaps… But What I learned from Johnny Bevan really taps into this disgusting trend of poverty porn. Go see it!
That’s it for now, I hope you’re all happy!
The second half of January was pretty exciting too. There were quite a few things to focus on. Lots going on at once! I’ll talk about the couple of gigs I did first. I performed my audience interactive poetic monologues at the Hackney Attic as part of a great night called The Salon, all money raised went to L’Auberge des Migrants. I’d only ever tried this piece once before and it relies heavily on a willing and focussed audience to fill in lots of the gaps. Luckily, I had one! It went really well and I was generally pretty pleased with my performance. There was a fantastic all-female line up on the night and a particular highlight was Sherika Sherard who is fucking boss. Give her a listen.
The next night, I did Tongue Fu at RichMix. Great Night, great venue. Tongue Fu is a long-running and very successful experiment where poets read with a live, improvised soundtrack by the house band and improvised VJ visuals. I was absolutely terrified! The way I like to tackle performance is to be really well rehearsed so that I feel completely in control, any sort of improvisation scares the living daylights out of me. After a scary moment or two in the first poem though, I felt as if I relaxed into it. I was pretty worried about the sections of song: would the band be able to pick up the key I was singing in an adapt their improvisation to the melodies I was singing? To my absolute amazement, they did! They were so talented and responsive to changes in the poetry. I was seriously impressed. I also felt honoured to share the line-up with the amazing Kayo Chingonyi, Debs Newbold and Dan Cockrill. I’d never seen any of them perform before so that was a real treat.
A quick round up of other projects…
The end of the month saw us back in the rehearsal room for Melody. Huge thanks as always to Clapham Omnibus for providing us with the most valuable thing possible- free space! I had forgotten how much fun I have in the rehearsal room with Lucy. We’ve had a great few days and Melody is in it’s best shape yet. Melody’s little tour begins at the Space in the Isle of Dogs tonight (!!) as part of their excellent One Festival. If you live in London, please come and watch (Melody is also on on the 17th and the 20th) – you can buy tickets here.
A book, a book, I’ve written a book! My debut collection of poetry is due to be published this year in July. I’ve got a deadline of the 31st of March so I’ve been pulling lots of my poems together, editing like mad, writing new stuff. It’s hard! But then I suppose writing a book should be hard… I’ve really been enjoying the process and have just sent a first draft off to a few poet pals to cast their sharp eyes over. Watch this space for more news on the book soon!
And extremely excitingly, just before Christmas, I bought a loop pedal. Oh my, oh my it’s the most fun thing to play with in the world. It’s very portable and I’m working on a few new performance poems using it now. You can see a little sneak preview here. The person who inspired my to start experimenting with a loop pedal is Hannah Silva. If you’ve not already heard of her then please check her out, she’s excellent.
That’s all for now.
Red Rosa by Kate Evans – I got this wonderful graphic biography for Christmas and devoured it straight away. It is a deeply moving and highly 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 prize 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 ‘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…
Jutland – 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.