The Norwich Radical: My One Year Anniversary

The other week I wanted to show Bande de Filles aka Girlhood, to 6th Form students in order to get them to come along to the Feminist Club. They had been keen after having Feminista UK coming in to run a workshop with them. Sadly, my efforts at putting colour-posters up, guying popcorn and even buying the DVD specifically to show the film were wasted at this time. It was rather depressing to hear the music at the start repeat in an empty classroom. I guess they’re overworked. And as an English Mentor, I keep giving them extra reading to do as it is!

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I’ve been writing for The Norwich Radical for a year now, where I look at the arts through a feminist lens. Girlhood was a film I highlighted for its Feminist credentials. So, I thought this would be an opportune time to highlight the articles I’ve written thus far. You can get a whole list by clicking here.

In order of appearance:

I’m Sorry You’re Offended

Sirens at Soho Theatre

Soho Comedy: Women, ‘It’s Like They’re Real People’

Emmy the Great: Oslo, Hackney

The Bechdel Test Fest

Women of the World Festival 2015: Part 1 and Part 2

Three Women Poets

Women Fashion Power: Not a Multiple Choice Question

Woman Verses World

The Place for Poetry: Fragment and Process, Visual Culture and Performance

The Last Word

Soon Every House Will Have One

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To Kill a Mockingbird – Is it Just Me?

In Defence of Telling Girls They Can

Let’s Talk About Sex: The Institute of Sexology and Sex in the Afternoon

Feminist Picks: Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Homework: Molly Naylor and Katie Bonna

Arts Funding: Young People, Women and Intersectionality

Suffragette: The Fight is Not Over

The Hollow of The Hand

Hannah Silva’s ‘Shlock!’

The World Goes Pop

Warsan Shire’s Her Blue Body

Richard Yates: An Accidental Feminist?

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The Burning House

A burning house made from sound. Five voices salvage all they can from the wreckage. A navigation of all that we lose, find and construct in times when facing the loss of what we consider home and our heritage.

Over the past few months, I have been working on poetry for an Apples & Snakes’ Home Cooking podcast, produced by Post-Everything, and featuring myself and other Burn After Reading poets. It features tracks from Rachel Long, Will Tyas (read by Antosh Wojcik), Sophie Fenella, Carmina Masoliver, Antosh Wojcik. The production is beautiful, with a great balance between the sound of each poet’s voice, and the musical tones throughout it.

Click here to listen.

It also marks about a year since my own production of a Home Cooking podcast for She Grrrowls.

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Published on Love You Madly

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Illustration by Lance Tooks

After writing about the film Amy, I thought I would share my publication on some poetry I wrote inspired by another iconic jazz musician: Nina Simone.

The poems were curated by Lisa Alvarado and also include a contribution from Toni Stuart, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year and who has since performed at She Grrrowls.

 

You can read the poems on the Love You Madly website.

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Review: Amy

I’m in my room, listening to Amy Winehouse, having watched the documentary about her, Amy, last night. The main tragedy highlighted, aside from her obvious addiction, was the way she was treated by both her father and on-off partner, Blake. That said, relationships are not perfect, Blake was clearly vulnerable and damaged like Amy, and they cannot claim responsibility for her death. What was sickeningly apparent was that the media did have an enormous part to play in this tragedy. Amy never wanted the fame she got, even said she would give it back if she could, and before she reached such heights said that she would go mad and wouldn’t be able to handle it. Such is the fate of those who die at the hand of the paparazzi, and those who buy into sensationalist tabloid journalism, as covered in the poetry of Amber Tamblyn in Dark Sparkler.

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Other than her tragic story, what stood out was her music and talent. Seeing her at her best performing at various stages in her career, lyrics picked out on the screen, provoked a feeling that hit you straight in the gut. Although sometimes not always agreeing with some of the content, for the most part I loved her blend of sarcastic wit, sorrowful heart-wrenching pain, and empowering sentiments such as “in this blue shade, my tears dry on their own”. The songs have always had a slick rhythm to them as well, such as in favourite In My Bed. At the heart of Amy’s music was a desire for connection, and that desire to use music to heal the self and heal others was what kept her writing and recording new material despite the chaos of her personal life. That temptation to self-destruct is also relatable to those of us who have traits of hyper-achievement, for they are two sides of the same coin.

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In 2008 I was 19 years old and I wrote a poem called Blanket; as I watched the documentary, I remembered it writing it in response to Amy’s rising success since she moved from Frank to Back to Black, and the pitfalls that were well documented in the media. The poem went as follows:

I want to build myself up to the highest height,
just to look down at the fall and be filled with fright.
I want to be, the best I can be,
prove them wrong about my poetry.
Yeah, I want that pretty face, with the tear stains on show,
mascara up my eyes, just so that they all know.
I want to be perfect, to be a success,
I want to be one of the best.
I want them all to read my lips, read my mind,
then drink myself to destruction at the end of the night.

I want to fall in love again with a good boy,
just so he can break my heart,
because if I’m in a mess, feel my life is destroyed
then it at least provides more material for my art.

And I can just pick up my needle and thread,
scrub with soap, the sheets on my bed,
try stitching my life up to resemble what was,
continue the search for the Wizard of Oz,
pray for a change to a non-existent God,
click my heels together,
come home.

It was about how I could relate to the apparent dichotomy between success and failure, construction and destruction. The only thing I can do is to keep following the path to better myself, and that includes trying not to obsess about what success is and striving for it at the expense of my health. Because it’s a combination of both working and playing hard that can lead to exhaustion. I’ve come a long way since being a teenager and going to university, where getting off-your-face is standard, even on Sundays.

Nowadays, I rarely miss a roast dinner, I make sure to exercise regularly, and although work is always at the front of my mind, I make an effort to carve our significant space for maintaining relationships. I may joke about this being to do with me “getting old”, but actually it’s just finding out more about who I am and what’s important to me. And the fact that I feel it the next day when I’ve only had two pints, probably shows that I can’t take much more. But I often relate to the idea of the “death-wish” as at times there is a flicker of desire, a kind of magnetic pull, to be destructive.

Tony Bennett says in the film that “life teaches you how to live it—if you live long enough.” It is and always will be a tragedy that we don’t get to see Amy prosper, that her bulimia meant she was too weak this last time to fight against the alcohol poisoning she inflicted on herself accidentally. What urged me to write about this was the relatability for young women, and so as this has become self-reflective, I’m sure many others will feel that it could have been anyone, had they not had the time to recover from such a series of events.

The best I can do to take on board Amy’s story is to take inspiration from her creative drive, and keep focused on this. And to not let anyone stop me from doing what I want to do, whether a parent or romantic partner. I’ll never be able to listen to Rehab in a club, but I will listen in my room, or sing along with my mum in the kitchen.

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Book Review: Talk you round till dusk by Rebecca Tantony

I received a copy of Rebecca Tantony’s Talk you round till dusk by illustrator Anna Higgie, who I met last year when I performed at BoomTown. You can have a peak inside the book to see the beautiful illustrations here. You can also buy some of her work from the book at her Etsy shop.

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I fell in love with this book after reading the first piece and it’s become one of my favourite books from Burning Eye Books.  The pieces flow between flash fiction, poetry and short stories, each piece with strikingly vivid imagery and captivating stories. Slipping between third and first person, placing a ‘you’ between lines of poetry, leaving you wondering where the stories lie between autobiographical and fiction. This use of the lyrical ‘I’ is something I always find fascinating, and enjoy the element of play this offers.

Much of the work deals with relationships and searching, love and travel. At times it’s heart-breaking: ‘he only liked women who felt safe without colour and peroxide to hide behind.’ At other times it’s liberating:

‘What did you do that for?’

‘I did it for me,’ she said, before the wind set her hair free, spilling it across the sky.

From the statement ‘women don’t normally drink pints,’ I could immediately relate. When the next page spoke of Andalucia, I recalled fond memories of Nerja. Tantony managed to capture the feeling of the place, and its pages fuelled my excitement to carry out the same path and live in Spain: ‘Instead of breaking up we had moved to Spain’ hit me with its poignancy, and yet its humour. With orange blossoms showing the direction for discovery at the end, there is a perfect balance of reality and romance.

Different pieces are intercepted with short poetic descriptions and musings, like notes in a travel journal, such as ‘I found your at sunrise and fell in love with a combination of body parts’. The collection takes the reader across the world, from Spain to India, Cyprus, San Francisco, through a Californian road-trip, to Paris, to Mexico, and ending back in Bristol. Through the turbulence of many characters, of wanderings and wondering whether ‘we might not make it back together in one piece’, at the end of one year and the start of a next, bubbling with excitement with the journeys we might go on, it seems apt to end on the sentiment of We are Braver This Way. In it we find the title quotation: ‘I’ll talk you round till dusk and when the final countdown/comes we’ll be dancing, won’t we?’ Whether we get the happy ending we long for is up to you.

Talk you round till dusk is available from Burning Eye Books (2015) for £9.99.

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11.01.16: Burn After Reading Presents…

Talia Randall and Caleb Femi

10 minute set as part of the Burn After Reading community

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Why I Don’t Believe in Diets

So, the video above is from a poem that was published by Nasty Little Press in the Podium Poets #1 anthology, in partnership with Spread the Word. We’re all familiar with the “New Year, New You” cliché and I wrote this poem after being sick of the post-holiday obsession over weight, perpetuated by adverts that play on our insecurities.

This year we saw the epitome of this came with Protein World’s advertising campaign, below. Now, it’s not so much as this is anything new, but it was more that it’s the last straw. These kinds of messages are so insidious and as much as I refuse to let them get to me, they do. Please, come up with a new way to sell your shitty weight-loss products. I mean, the product in itself is something I loathe.

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I’m even embarrassed to admit that I was conned into getting some “free” weight-loss tablets that ended up giving me heartburn and a hole in my bank account instead. I really paid for my stupidity as I could only get half the cash back after telling them what awful human beings they are. But really I think this shows how difficult, but imperative, it is to rebel against these kinds of campaigns.

So, when I was on my second membership to Move Your Frame and saw them post the same rhetoric, but this time linked to exercise, I vowed not to go there again. I mean, at least a weight-loss product is all about unrealistic expectations and isn’t trying to be something it’s not. But for a company whose message is meant to be about keeping fit, being healthy and being active in a fun way to jump on board the body-shaming bandwagon, it’s just a whole other shade of wrong.

Kate Tempest & Hollie McNish: Reclaim Touch from RANDOM ACTS on Vimeo.

One of my favourite poetry videos is the collaboration between Kate Tempest and Hollie McNish ‘Reclaim Touch’. I think more of this honesty is needed in our rebellion against the diet and weight-loss industry.

This was meant to be a short post, but I also wanted to mention Juliette Burton who spoke about Protein World during a panel at Feminism in London. I had already come across her on the Twitter-sphere, but hearing her in person was a privilege. She spoke about her experience with eating disorders, where at her lowest weight she was just 4 stone and a UK size 4, or the infamous US size 0. She was a month away from dying when she was the size that it is said that 11-17 year old girls are encouraged to desire, stating how advertising is the wallpaper of our lives. She also became an overeater and increased her weight to 19 stone, at a size 20, which had an impact on her mental health and resulted in feelings of suicide. She was able to find a healthy medium, but also suffered from bulimia. Here you can see why this matters.

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I write this as I’ve been too busy to go to the gym over the last few months. But I decided not to make myself feel guilty about it, and accept that I would get back into a routine when the time was right. Being so busy, I spend a lot of time walking anyway, and on New Year’s Day, after a lot of guiltless indulgence, I went on a 3/4 hour walk from Kingston Hospital to Kew Gardens and around the illuminated trail. Tomorrow I plan to do some dancing in my house, I’m going to a spa with my mum on Saturday, and then on Sunday I plan to return to the gym. But I will continue not to diet – the idea in itself an illogical concept where it’s a known fact that any weight loss is put back on. Instead, I will eat healthily, treat myself to nice things like chocolate, and exercise regularly to keep physically and mentally fit!

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New Year’s Eve: Resolution Time

I had a mini-meltdown last night after a syncing error deleted five notes and I could only remember two. However, I knew the most important one was the one about my goals – a refreshment from my five year plan, which I created back in 2012.

I achieved some of the things on it, such as getting published by Nasty Little Press, and performing at festivals like Latitude and Bestival. However, I have to say that working in the job I’ve been in the past three and a half years has kept me from achieving some of the things I might have done had I worked on a more part-time basis. Arguably, I could have made better use of holidays, but you can’t be productive all the time, and relationships need nurturing, holidays need to be had.

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I’ve made a detailed plan for what I want to achieve in the first half of the year:

  • Save £2,000 more
  • Start learning Spanish regularly (Duo Lingo, Rosetta Stone, Hive Meetings)
  • Volunteer to teach English at work and outside of work
  • Roundhouse project
  • Writing: more poems, novel and show
  • Prepare manuscripts for publication in 2017

In August/September I hope to apply for jobs in Spain. Some may argue that I should just keep plodding on, maybe ask to go part time, find a more suitable job in the creative industries, or just jump right in and go freelance. However, I’m still relatively young and have friends who have done similar things, or are doing similar things. I’ve always tried to push myself out of my comfort zone, and if I land somewhere like Madrid, maybe I could end up making my poetry more global. I may move more slowly than others, but that’s okay. In some ways the things I want to do go against my nature, but more than anything I need to enjoy the journey, appreciate the present and manage to keep the future in mind without that being my focus.

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I am a creature of habit, but new habits can be made and old ones can be broken. I’m thinking that my priorities for 2016 will look a little something like this (aside from the day job):

  1. Reading and writing
  2. Volunteer work (running clubs, EFL/EAL teaching)
  3. Physical and mental health
  4. Learn Spanish
  5. Performing/recording new poems

So, a Happy New Year to all!

I plan to have a quiet one with my boyfriend Matt, having a take-away and walking to a quiet patch to maybe have a drink on a picnic blanket if the weather is nice. I’ve also booked us tickets for ‘Christmas at Kew’ on New Year’s Day!

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CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

So, I passed my CELTA course! From mid-September to mid-December I went to International House every Monday and Wednesday after work, plus some Saturdays. I expected it to be a lot of work. It certainly was hard work, but there was a lot that I didn’t expect. It wasn’t a walk in the park – it wasn’t simply a case of getting on with it and putting the hours in. The worst lesson I had was when I had planned for ten hours! The fact that progress wasn’t linear meant that it ended up being quite an emotional journey, and finishing on my final TP (teaching practise) was anticlimactic, because it wasn’t my best lesson. I wasn’t yet perfect.

By the end, I had managed to pass all my assignments the first time, had bounced back from my #weak lesson – managing not to fail any – and had saved lessons when I had made them too difficult for the learners. I’ve always had high expectations of students, but by the end of the course I definitely learnt when I need to lower the level of challenge! Although you accept the fact you’re being observed by five people every lesson, there must be an underlying nervousness that comes from that, and I 100% feel confident and relaxed about moving forward into this new profession. Initially I was a bit disappointed not to get a “Pass B” grade, but I’ve since understood just how hard it is to get them – with these trainee teachers getting Above Standard lessons, what was I thinking?

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The move itself is a sideways one. I work as an Academic Mentor for English, so I teach language skills every day, but in a very different context. I see it as a another string to my bow, but, like any, one that needs honing and developing continually. In the future, I hope to have this as part of what I can offer whether tutoring or teaching. After volunteering at work and after work next year, my dream at the moment is to find a job in Spain in September/October. Having a Spanish name and not being able to speak Spanish is a constant disappointment. I admire my grandmother for learning so many languages, and feel that with enough dedication and some time actually living in the country, maybe I’ll be able to grasp enough of the language to at least hold a conversation.

What I really wanted to write about here is my journey through the course, and other than the certificate that should arrive in a couple of months, I gained so much from doing the course. I wanted it to be a good investment, so opted for the CELTA, which is around £1,600. I worked out the most convenient location and time, and it happened to be one of the most reputable places to do the courses. International House has centres all over the world, and though it may be unrealistic to expect to work within the organisation any time soon, I was particularly inspired to know that many people who work there also have creative practices they do alongside ELF teaching.

As so much of my time was taken up by the course, I could no longer attend poetry events I wasn’t featured at or running, and couldn’t visit my boyfriend all the way in Norwich. It meant we took some trips to half-way points like Colchester and Ely. What started as a seed that was planted by my boyfriend’s desire to live abroad has blossomed into a dream of my own. Now I’m left hoping he still wants to travel with me on my mission to see the world and to soak up some Spanish sun, or anywhere I can learn Spanish and be in warmer weather than the temperamental UK.

The past three and a half years I have been so focused on attending events that I had been doing it out of obligation rather than feeling I had a choice in the matter – a feeling shared by others in a similar position. Not being able to attend events has given me a renewed perspective. I now I feel I am able to prioritise other things, like actually writing, and taking care of myself both physically and mentally. Since Christmas Day I have been participating in an online challenge to write a poem per day for 12 days (The 12 Days of Form) and I have so far been able to rise to the challenge. The rollercoaster ride of the CELTA has shown me what I can achieve within the space of a few months, and I feel I am able to set myself practical goals, and writing is a lot more tangible than performing at random events.

Lastly, I saw a couple of members of Kid Glove, and after a difficult period leading up to our show and some time apart, it was good to reconnect as friends over a pint, new MAC make-up and pub grub. On the course I also met a great bunch of people, and we had a massive celebration on the last day of the course – great Korean food, and drinks at good old ‘Spoons. As much as I try to make time for friends, I want to be more flexible to see them too. Let’s see if performing at less open mic’ nights will give me more time to do other important things!

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I do still want to perform, but hope I can be more free to attend events on my terms, rather than feeling like a puppet to whatever voice in my head. I want the time to write, to work on memorising newer pieces, and my boyfriend Matt has a fancy new camera he is keen to use to record a piece. Working and commuting take so much out of me, people in the same role are surprised that I manage to go home and be productive. So, by going out less I needn’t feel like a failure. I’m an introvert at heart, and I think it’s about time I embrace that and finally get a good lot of writing done. It’s still cold outside after all.

Now, onto today’s form: the ballad.

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Feminism in London: Engaging Men in Feminism

Last year at the FiL conference I went to a similar workshop about men and Feminism. This year, The Great Initiative came to deliver the workshop, which went through a some of the activities they would do with school children as a way of engaging them within discussions on gender and equality. Although the focus is on men and boys here, it is a far cry from the misogynist MRAs one can get used to trolling online. The men who are serious about addressing gender do so in a pro-Feminist way. Through ‘Great Men’, they aim to disrupt gender stereotypes and engage participants in the movement towards gender equality. The diagram below shows how they go about this.

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In the workshop, we started with word associations on big pieces of paper connected to men and women. The main bulk was in groups, where we discussed pros and cons men being engaged with Feminism. Our initial reaction to the task was that there simply aren’t any cons to men being engaged with Feminism. We then thought more about it in terms of either the act of engaging men itself and what are essentially maybe teething issues, so things like feeling men are to blame rather than it being about a system of power, but arguably paradoxically having to think about being in a position privilege and how that can be used for making the movement stronger. Yet, in terms of men who are engaged in Feminism, there may be a resistance to, in some ways, giving up power, and in turn a danger to dominate rather than listen and try to understand how life is coloured with experiences of being a woman. I managed to take a photograph of our notes on the topic. When the discussion was opened up, we managed to summarise, and there were moments where it descented into debate, but at the end we were left with this list to keep in mind, and some tools and approaches to engaging men and boys in Feminism.

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