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Freelance Reflections #18

As previously mentioned, last Thursday was the Roundhouse Poetry Slam. The results are in and Elliot Waloschek won first place, with the runners up being Syd Wilmot, SAF S2E and Amani Saeed. I was rooting for Amani, as well as Ruth Awolola and Oshanti Ahmed. When it came to it, I voted for Amani, but I wished I’d been able to vote multiple times for the others too. But alas, as host Toby Campion said: the points aren’t the point, the point’s the poetry. Though that prize money…

Anyway, I remember hearing Elliot’s first poem about “stealthing”, and it stood out and it was very rich in language, and I immediately wanted to hear it again. I felt like Ruth’s second poem was really joyous, and that is always refreshing to hear. Whilst Amani packed a punch with both poems, her second poem was really bold, a poem that seemed to be partly about white fragility, its ending open to interpretation, but perhaps there to provoke you into thinking about what the difference is between the list of insults given to white people to those of other races, as well as to feel the weight of hate speech, and what it actually means.

The thing about the Roundhouse Slam is that it has heats to go through, so everyone involved is a high-calibre poet. I remember being so upset at my final chance of being in the slam and I didn’t even make the heats. Roundhouse lovely, comedian and (ex)-spoken word artist (once a poet, always a poet…), Jack Rooke really cheered me up about it. I mean, it wasn’t like I was going to win if I couldn’t even get through the heats, was it? I did meet some amazing poets who I’m still in touch with today, such as Malaika Kegode and Ciarán Hodgers, who are doing great things in poetry still.

Meanwhile, this week has been hectic, and filled with admin and emotional upheaval after thinking I would have to self-isolate from the start of the week, to being told my contact’s positive Covid test was void.

Freelance Reflections #17

Last Thursday, I watched R.A.P. Party on Zoom, hosted by Inua Ellams. I was cooking whilst it was on, then treated myself to a drink as the combination of music and poetry lends itself to a tipple. I knew most of the poets in the line-up, as mentioned in my previous post, but I hadn’t heard Gemma Weekes before. I was blown away, and both me and my flatmate said she was our favourite of the night. For me, not knowing what to expect, she really stood out. The content was very relatable for those of us who love hip hop, but remain critical of displays of misogyny, such as ‘Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks’, the Dr. Dre lyric Weekes dissected in her performance. With her arm propped against her knee, her delivery was captivating as the words came out as easily as breathing. This casual posture made you feel like you were literally inside her home, having a conversation over a cup of tea, only with a spoonful of sharp-tongued poetry rather than sugar.

Gemma Weekes

I’ve also had some good news lately, having found out first via Twitter that I’d been longlisted for the Grindstone International Poetry Prize. My poem ‘Computer Generated Images’, recorded by Muddy Feet Poetry, was also in the Top 20 on The Poetry Archive, a competition judged by Imtiaz Dharker, Robert Seatter and Lavinia Singer.

Coming up this Thursday is the Roundhouse Poetry Slam Final streamed online, and it’s Pay What You Can. I’ve just seen the list of poets and know Amani Saeed, Ruth Awolola and Oshanti Ahmed personally, I’ll be rooting for them! There’s also an audience vote, which is exciting!

Freelance Reflections #16

So, I have intended to do weekly posts, but when it came to it, I didn’t know what to write about. I had a think earlier today about what I could share, and I realised that I just need to get into a better habit of making notes of what I could share, reflecting on the previous week. I think I sometimes build things up in my head to be bigger tasks than they need to be, so perhaps this habit will help me to be concise and share some of what I’ve been up to, as well as what others are up to.

For example, at the same time as celebrating Trump’s loss in the elections, I believe this is my first poem in a North American publication, in the first issue of nine cloud journal. As I was wary of submitting this piece, ‘Toy Truck’, written as stated after the shooting of Charles Kinsey on 18th July 2016, it was so insightful to see the commentary on the first page: ‘…it’s okay not to have all the answers and you’re kidding yourself if you think you do know the answers. We can merely ask relevant questions and sit with these unanswered questions for a time until we inhabit the interior world of that question and live its truthful response.’ (Vijay R. Nathan).

As I stated in my Instagram post, three years later in 2019: The officer who shot Kinsey, Jonathan Aledda, after being arrested in 2017 and charged with attempted manslaughter and negligence, was found guilty by a jury of culpable negligence. Although fired from the police force, he didn’t serve any prison time. Kinsey could have been killed, and the culprit was instead sentenced to probation and had to write a 2,500 word essay on policing, serving a total of less than 5 months of probation before being released. It won’t even appear on his criminal record.

Whilst looking through a backlog of emails, I came across Laurie Eaves’ post on the Burning Eye Books website, outlining ten tips for writing a collection. It was a great read, and I really recommend it for those who have yet to publish anything. Even though I’ve had a couple of books published, I’m currently working on my first full-length collection. Although I felt finished in some sense, I’ve still been producing work that fits well within my vision for the collection, and I don’t want to rush it, especially as I already have work out there, and other projects going on in the background. One thing I have been trying to do is look at my schedule and how I can make more time for my creative work whilst still keeping everything else afloat.

Although I am largely just trying to get on and ignore the news, I was pleased to have had a negative COVID-19 test, and this was thanks to me doing a ‘freeze and share’ egg collection, as it was necessary to have regular temperature checks and then a test (which I didn’t get the results for, but assuming the procedure went ahead, I assume it’s all good). I had actually had a little cold, which I was paranoid about, but blasted it with garlic, plenty of vegetables and hot honey and lemon drinks, and now I’m feeling better.

Initially, I didn’t think I was coping as well in ‘Lockdown 2.0’, but I think when you compare the fact that my work has increased, and it’s cold and dark, then I’m not doing too badly. I’ve had triggers when it comes to BPD, and within the recent week, I’ve become more accepting of losing certain friends, if only through an understanding that it’s their issues and not me. I’ve actually started the DBP skills workbook I have, and came up with a boss distraction plan. I thought I’d share it below, in case it works for anyone else. I tried to think of things I could realistically do when intense emotions are triggered, as well as some rooted in the five senses (smell, touch, taste, sound, sight).

A friend of mine who has suffered with depression and found living alone in the previous lockdown really tough also has been practising gratitude, which is always a useful trick. Sometimes I can just walk around my flat and feel a wave of joy, and I am so grateful for my living situation now, as even though it’s completely fine to be in your 30s and live with your parents, I realise how much I needed independence as an adult in this stage of my life, and I’m so grateful of my friend who I lived with at university to be reunited in this way once again. It wasn’t healthy for me to be stuck where I was, and feel so trapped, and essentially be trapping myself… when I could have this freedom and form better relationships with my parents as a result, rather than living as a teenager, running home for dinner from the park.

Looking to the week ahead, I’m also excited for The 10 Year Anniversary and 50th Event R.A.P. Party. It’s unfortunate that it’s online, but it also means so many people can bare witness to the incredible line-up. It’s happening this Thursday, and tickets are Pay What You Can, which I certainly appreciated just after my rent went out.  Inua Ellams and Theresa Lola are joined by Breis, Charlie Dark, Zena Edwards, Joshua Idehen, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Kae Tempest, Musa Okwonga, Nii Parkes, Gemma Weekes, and Polarbear. I plan to cook and eat in front of it, so I otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend due to my work schedule (although I live super close to The Albany now, woop!). There’s another silver lining to this surreal situation. And on a final note, I was really inspired and motivated by the four-part documentary ‘The Defiant Ones’, so check it out on Netflix.

Las Chicas del Cable & The Spanish Civil War

I recently finished watching Las Chicas del Cable and so I thought I would share some extracts from my poem on the topic that dominates the final series: the Spanish Civil War.

They greased their rifles with olive oil,
with Vaseline, with cold cream, with bacon-fat:[1]
an opera, with the occasional death.[2]

It was pneumonia they were fighting against, not men[3]
yet some of the voices that cried out in pain were still falsetto,
soon to be broken by the war with thousands dead.

I wrote this at least five years ago after reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which was recently in the news. You can see from the footnotes below, that the poem includes direct references to Orwell’s descriptions. Reading the book provoked me to have a conversation with my paternal grandfather, who lives just outside of Barcelona, after having lived as an immigrant for many years in London. Also a poet, there is tour about him, which the leaflets below are from.

I absolutely loved watching Las Chicas del Cable, and the parts that were about the Spanish Civil War touched me even more because of my familial connection. The ending was so moving and powerful, it brought me to tears. I highly recommend it.

A granddad I’ve never named as such, now through phone-lines
brought closer, he tells me at the end of the conversation

how proud he is to have another poet in the family. I smile,
as my bloodline extends back in time. My family, I think, with war wedged between them, yet in the end, they remained intact.

To read the full poem, you can sign up to my mailing list.

[1]  George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 37 [2]  George Orwell, (Georges Kopp), Homage to Catalonia, p. 34 [3] George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 37

Poetry Slumber Parties

When we went into ‘lockdown’ in London, I started doing weekly poem shares via Instagram Live as a ‘Poetry Slumber Party’, called such because you can watch it in your PJs. I shared brand new material and I was writing weekly through a prompt group called ‘Poetry in a time of being alone’ on Facebook. This was a lifeline to me at times, and I enjoyed being able to connect with people watching, who would sometimes send me messages about certain poems they related to. As the world got back into motion, I have started doing these on a monthly basis.

This is just a short post to say to tune in via Instagram Live (@carminamasoliver), which is where I have found it easiest to share my work. It’s every last Monday of each month, when I figured maybe people are staying in more now there are less restrictions, as it’s near many people’s pay day. It can also be viewed later on IGTV. It’s very off the cuff, and all new material, where I chat around it, and sometimes the chat is longer than the poems.

I like it, as I feel YouTube videos need to be more polished, whilst on Instagram Live, part of what can be lovely is that it’s a little bit messy and raw. A couple of weeks later, I also host an online open mic on the She Grrrowls Instagram account (@shegrrrowls). It’s a strange time now as the rules are continuing to change, yet some people still are at home with very little human contact, whilst others are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m somewhere in between. I really enjoy doing these little streams anyway, so if even one person gets some enjoyment out of it too, it’s worth keeping up!

Freelance Reflections #15

It’s been over a year since I wrote a freelance reflection, and my 3 year anniversary of being self-employed passed by just recently. Although the current pandemic impacted my work, and meant I had to sadly cancel planned and potential tour dates for my book ‘Circles’, published by Burning Eye Books at the end of 2019, I am now back to my usual work.

I spend mainly my mornings content writing, and my afternoons tutoring. There’s not as much time for creativity as I would like, but I love being freelance and I’ve now moved out of my parental home for the third (and hopefully final) time, living with a friend in South East London. I’d moved to SW around the age of 4/5, so prior to that I had lived around Herne Hill and Norwood, so I feel very at home now, more than I did before.

Part of why I love being freelance is being able to create balance in my life, in a way that isn’t always possible being employed (though it should be, and I think this pandemic has shown how flexible the workplace can truly be). I wake up between 7:30-8am, and after listening to a guided meditation in bed, I’ve started doing my Spanish apps for 15 minutes whilst having breakfast. I digest my food whilst writing my journal, then do some exercise. This has been at home (dancing, hula hooping, skipping, lifting dumbbells, and Nike Training) or outside (jogging, skateboarding, rollerblading), but I’m thinking of joining a gym. After 2-3 hours of content writing, I have lunch and then I have some time for other activities like submitting poems, and studying Spanish. I come home from tutoring between 6:30-7:30pm, depending on the day.

After making my feedback notes, I have dinner and try to spend the evening doing less work-focussed activities. I’ll mess around on my phone, probably a bit too much, watch some sort of programme, and then ideally have some time to do some varied activity, which could include listening to a podcast or music, drawing or colouring in, playing games, chatting, or writing. I also love baths, which I like to have before watching a programme, so this free hour sometimes (often) goes out the window, and then ideally I would read for an hour. I do tend to self-sabotage in the evenings, rebelling against my own structure of the day, and some evenings I’ll go out and do none of these things I plan, but I know when I do follow the structure roughly, it can be really fulfilling.

During the last few months, I’ve been doing some Instagram shows, including with She Grrrowls, my own channel and a couple of other online shows, including Spork, which can be listened to on Spotify, and The Word Bin, where I just talk about why I would bin the word “needy”. I was also commissioned to write a poem about small acts of rebellion during the current pandemic and lockdown, as part of the Royal Museums Greenwich’s Museum From Home series.

I had the urge to look back at my last 5 year plan from 2017 and made a new one. I find it interesting how overly-ambitious I have been, and I’m not sure if I’ve done the same with this new one, but it’s funny to think I had put ‘think about children’ in 2021, and now in 2020, I’ve changed this to ‘freeze eggs’, which I really hope I can do through the donor scheme as I have donated eggs three times now, so this would be my last chance. I’ve included career goals alongside personal goals like this, and imagining I may be able to save for a deposit on a place by the age of 36, and think about children around that time too. I have no idea what situation I’ll be in then, and though it’s a nice idea that I may have a partner to do these things with, in 2017 I had also hoped to move in with my then-partner, and I’m much happier now living with a friend, so there’s no saying that any of these things will make me happy, which really is the most important goal of all.

Is Poetry Therapy?

It was recently World Mental Health Day, and I wanted to start writing this blog again. I made a note in my calendar to try to do it weekly, but even then I’ve ended up pushing it back to three days later. It’s been over a year since I actually wrote a proper freelance reflection, so I guess things are going well in that respect, but for my next post, I hope to catch up with that.

So, the topic of this post was the question as to whether poetry is therapy. My short answer is no, but that’s not to say poetry and other forms of art can’t be used for therapeutic goals. Over a year ago now, I made a new friend through other friends and he challenged me to write something everyday, and he would do the same. He wasn’t a writer, but wanted to be more creative, and he told me in this time that it was something that really helped him. After a year, I had a lot more material that I would have had otherwise, and I think the process was therapeutic for both of us. 

Poetry is cathartic for me, and it is naturally how I process things. I aim to write my diary each morning, but it is writing poetry that gets to grips with certain issues, delving into them in a way my simple prose writing often doesn’t. Fellow writers may also have the same experiences, whereby the same themes will reemerge time and time again, haunting you, as if each time you return to it, you are attempting to exorcise it from you. There is something about getting it down on paper in a poetic form that allows you to distance yourself from it somehow, as you then try to craft it into art, and shape it into something that can then also connect with others and help them too.

Helping others is what motivated the artist Rich Simmons to create the project ‘Art Is The Cure’. He explains in the short film how art has helped him with autism and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. He talks about how visual art can help as a means of self-expression, and how it can be a positive release, even going as far as saving his life. Throughout the last few months, experiencing lockdown, I have also recounted how poetry has saved my life, in response to the way the arts are suffering and how they continue to be devalued. He talks about how other kinds of art can help us, and that it is really creativity as self-expression that is at the core of what is therapeutic in this sense. 

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This concept was also summed up in one of my favourite podcasts (before they moved from Spotify to Luminary, which isn’t available in the UK), ‘Guys We Fucked’ by ‘Sorry About Last Night’, made up of comedians Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson. They would repeat the phrase ‘comedy is therapy’. After Tweeting about a show I’d listened to that made me both laugh, cry, and heal, on a train, they repeated this phrase again when retweeting me. Likewise, Apples and Snakes shared poet Inua Ellams’ ‘Art as Therapy’, where he discusses the topics, stating: 

“Any seasoned poet will concur that more time is spent editing than writing. Involved in that process is the going-over of memories and instances, of emotions and images, the combing-through and the filing-down-to-their-smoothest-most-ergonomic-shapes our creations. It involves meditation, introspection and inspection. This for me is where poetry becomes therapeutic, when the created serves the creator, when the feather serves the bird.”

All of these points are true, but it was this Tweet from Burning Eye, which put the state of mental health in UK today into perspective: when it comes to talking about mental health, things are getting better, but when it comes to funding and enabling people to have access to therapy, we are a long way off.

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Poetry, art and any kind of creative self-expression is certainly therapeutic, but it is not in itself the same as therapy. CBT and mindfulness are also great tools to tackle mind anxiety and depression, but even with CBT, I would argue that it is pushed because it is often cheap. It is often delivered in groups, and can even be DIY, but it is not a miracle cure. Really, what is needed is a holistic approach, that gives value to both therapy and medication, which can often work best in tandem, rather than it being a case of one or the other (though I’d argue sometimes therapy alone could work, I’m skeptical about medication alone working, but that’s more to do with my view that everyone would benefit from therapy).

At the start of this year, I saw a psychologist who said I had traits of BPD; she phrased it ‘Emotional Intensity Disorder’, but this is just one of the many alternative names for Borderline Personality Disorder. I tend to use the term ‘BPD’ because it is more well-known, though I do feel that EID does capture a large part of the characteristics of my own experience. What others may deem to be “too sensitive” simply refers to my lived experience, and whilst there are negative points to feeling so intensely, I am thankful that at least these experiences of emotions has given me greater empathy and compassion for others.

Although I see it as a kind of neurodivergence, because of the fact, I often feel I really need the support of therapy, whether one-to-one, or a support group. Unfortunately, the support I was given previously was inadequate, essentially due to lack of funding and not being suicidal enough to get proper therapy (though ironically, that changed over the last few months, when it has been impossible to get anywhere). After moving, I found a support group that would have been free to attend, but I was in the wrong borough, and I haven’t had much luck finding anything beyond the £75-100 BPD therapy sessions. If there was a way to pay a fraction of the cost, and for the majority to be covered, it may be doable, but I’m not aware that this framework exists. Previously, I had paid for one-to-one counselling at a cheaper rate, but it didn’t meet my needs.

I know I need to do more self-help work as well, and part of me is using other (sometimes unhealthy) coping mechanisms rather than delve into the DBT book I have, for example, which is meant to be good for those with BPD. Aside from that, poetry, amongst other things, has saved my life, where the system has failed me, and so many others. The less fortunate are no longer with us.

Suicide rates are continuing to rise, and our mental health is bound to be the collateral damage of the current pandemic. Writing, drawing, walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, dancing, singing, cooking, playing games, and having a good support system have all helped me and continue to do so. But when things are okay, I still don’t feel I have the right tools to cope when triggered, where I might turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, whether manifesting as an “episode” of crying inconsolably, screaming in a rage, or self-harming (in its many forms). When these moments happen, I’m reminded that I do need help, but at other times when I reflect on my instability in relationships, it can dawn on me how much I need support in unlearning certain patterns (one of the biggest I think being related to elements of emotional abuse, whereby I have grown attached to receiving comfort after either being ignored or treated poorly emotionally in some way, meaning I am finding myself becoming attached to those who use such manipulation tactics or simply behave in an avoidant way due to their own attachment issues, for example).

Where the system does fail us, we have art to reflect our experiences when we consume it, and we have this fantastic ability to create, where talent and skill doesn’t have to matter, as it is something that everybody can do to feel good, whether it’s as a means of self-expression, an attempt to heal from pain, or simply to get a buzz from creating something from nothing.

If you want to know more about BPD disorder, I stumbled upon this video, which I’ve found accurately describes most of my experience. The fears of abandonment, interpersonal issues, and difficulties with regulating emotions are described here as the main characteristics. The only thing I would say, is that I have a strong sense of identity, though I can relate to the idea of having different personas within myself, but in a way that I feel is somewhat “normal”. I also feel like to say a reaction is “too much” is difficult to fully get to grips with, as it is in response to real emotions, and whilst I fully acknowledge I need to take responsibility for the ways I cope with these emotions, more often than not, a little empathy and compassion goes a long way too.

In the video, Dr Ramani also emphasises that diagnosis is a tool to drive treatment, rather than labelling someone, which is also a great point to remember.

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. I have also personally found CALM’s chat function helpful, because phone calls with strangers can also provoke anxiety.

2020 – Circles Tour

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05.02.20 – Tongue Punch

Tongue Punch, Tom Thumb Theatre, 2A Eastern Esplanade, CT9 2LB Cliftonville, Kent

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31.01.20 – 3Cs Open Mic

3Cs Open Mic – Burns Special at Corstorphine Community Centre, 191 St John’s Road, EH12 7SL Edinburgh

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