Mainly a reminder this week that this Sunday 4th July, I’ll be performing a new piece for children, alongside Simon Mole and Gecko, at 12pm and 3pm at Stephen’s House and Gardens in North London. I know it by heart now, but will I be able to do it in front of a live in-person audience? I might trial it with She Grrrowls tonight, which is on Instagram at 6pm tonight (in about 20 minutes as I write this!)
I also came third place in the E.H.P. Barnard Poetry Prize, judged by Sarah Smith and presented by Tom Neill, winning £50! I’m really chuffed with myself. You can hear the winning poem online. I’ve found out a teaching placement I have is going to continue with more hours in September, so I’m pleased about that, as coming home for lunch is probably more tiring than going from A to B. I’ve also started going to a Spanish conversation class on Thursdays, so it’s a pretty jam-packed day!
Last week was Camberwell Arts Market and despite the grey weather, it was really nice. A couple of people recognised me, which kind of made me feel like a celebrity haha. I got a few new sign-ups, sold a few books, and even got to read a few pages of a Breathe magazine! I’m considering doing a couple more stall as well. Summer seems to be a big question mark in many ways, so it might be good to do a few. You can also buy my books online.
Next up, on Sunday 4th July, I’ll be performing a new piece for children, alongside Simon Mole and Gecko, at 12pm and 3pm at Stephen’s House and Gardens in North London. I’m trying to learn my poem at the moment, and feel super nervous performing live. I’ll probably print a cheeky palm-sized copy just in case I get a mind blank. It’s the first time I’ll have performed live in over a year, though I did learn the poem for my grandad that I recorded with Muddy Feet by heart.
I also watched the film Fatherhood, which was really beautiful and Kevin Hart was fantastic in it. It was funny in places, and really touching, which is exactly my kind of film. I highly recommend it. I also recently posted up some other film recommendations from the past few months on my Instagram.
This week’s biggest news is that I’ve had work published in The Rialto, with issue 96 launching on the Thursday just gone. My poem ‘my name in an english accent’, is about my name. It deals with the experience of being ‘Othered’ because of it growing up in the UK, and my experience of then living in Spain, where my Englishness was more apparent than ever before, and talking to someone I met there, who I never became as good friends with as I would have liked, but felt an affinity to, perhaps as they were from Norwich, where I went to university, and perhaps also because our conversations were deeper than a lot of others when getting to know new people in a new city.
I’ve tried many times to write about my cultural identity, and my Hispanic heritage, and with this poem I feel I’ve managed to capture what I wanted to say in a satisfying way of which I’m proud. It’s a complex piece that deals with other things aside from being just about me, but I also feel like it’s easy to understand the meaning. The issue features work chosen by Degna Stone, seeking to bridge the gap between the stage and the page. Most poets will know what an achievement it is to be published in The Rialto, but I hope many others will read it too.
I’ve also recently been published internationally in Hong Kong’s Proverse Mingled Voices 5 (The Hungry Caterpillar as a Body Positivity Icon) and Untitled Voices: Issue 3 Volume 3 (Tattooing the Moon). I’m really proud of the poems in each of them. The first two can be purchased online in print form, and the latter can be read online for free.
I read and reviewed Rosie Wilby’s ‘The Breakup Monologues’ just across one weekend, which is very fast for me (I’ve got several books on the go, some of which I’ve been reading for a year or two!) The temptation of sunshine has got me reading more! Keep your eyes peeled for a review in The Norwich Radical soon.
I also went to an Apples and Snakes workshop on first collections with Lewis Buxton, who I’ve not seen for years, but felt inclined to mock his “Yorkshire” accent; I remembered many things about him, including his love for Simon Armitage (hence the impression), his desire for neat stanzas, and the fact Roger Robinson once questioned why he didn’t read poetry books cover to cover (he does now). Now, I just need to get into gear to work more on my collection, which seems to be ever growing as time shrinks.
Next up, poetry-wise, this Saturday 19th June, I’ll be holding a stall at Camberwell Arts Market from 9am – 5pm. I’ll be selling books, paintings, and providing some bespoke poetry at bargain prices! I just have to get organised this week, and dust off my iZettle ready to sell out my stock!
This week I’ve only had one student, and I also did my tax for 2020-21. Let me tell you, ignorance is bliss! It looks like I’ll be paying a third of my income until the end of the year, with the other third on surviving (and hopefully the last third on saving for the next tax bill…) My head is buried deep still. Now would be a good time to buy a copy of ‘Circles’ off me from my Big Cartel: https://carminamasoliver.bigcartel.com.
The plus side, I’ve been sticking to having at least an hour of poetry writing each day, and have started workshops with Simon Mole to produce poems for children and families, alongside the ongoing Red Sky Sessions with Apples and Snakes. This week we had Adam Kammerling, and it was nice to see fellow Roundhouse Collective (Kid Glove) member, Antosh Wojcik get a name check.
Muddy Feet Poetry also put out my video ‘Grandad’ out on Tuesday. As I said in my Instagram post, poetry has always been my way of processing difficult things. I am nowhere near processing this, but it felt good to honour my grandad in this way, in a poem that is sad, but also joyful in that it touches on fond memories. I hope others grieving in this time especially enjoy this piece and that it allows you time to grieve.
I ventured out this week for a meal outdoors, trying to balance between the overwhelm of unfinished to-do lists and enforced relaxation. I’m a little worried that summer may still be bad work-wise, but even if it is, I can comfort myself that I’ll still have some savings and at least I’ll be able to focus on some creative projects. And hopefully sunshine.
I’m actually writing this on my phone in a park in between my second vaccine appointment and a massage (to support the beauty industry y’know). Some kids just walked past and one asked where I got my “Jordon’s” from and I said I couldn’t remember, “some vintage shop”. One took the piss two steps away and I realised what a middle-class hipster wanker I must have sounded like, all the while they were probably from eBay.
Remember this Saturday is the free exhibition Free Spirits: Loss in Lockdown, by Jo Sharpe and poet Rachel Sambrooks at Studio 9 Oaks Park Studios in Carshalton on the 17th and 24th April, which you can register for online on Eventbrite.
One of the perks of being self-employed is that sometimes it’s possible to change around your schedule. Why might you want to do this? In the middle of a national lockdown that feels like all there really is to do is work, when it hits 20-degrees, that’s the reason.
I worked all Sunday, with my eyes to the weather forecast, and met the necessary deadlines. If anything, I wish I had made the most of that sunny Tuesday even more. I did some work until around midday, then headed out to Brockwell Park to read and sunbathe, after having been there for a sunset stroll the night before, and a morning jog. My partner has a balcony, so after lunch there, I continued reading and eating ice-cream until I needed to leave for work.
The next day, I expected at least another couple of hours of sun, but sadly it was more of a grey day. Still, I went for a read and walk in Dulwich Park, and did a little skateboarding too. I also have a lot of the next couple of weeks to catch up with stuff, and begin to put into action some of the writing and studying routines I want to implement into my daily structure.
I attended the first Zoom workshop for the ‘Red Sky Sessions’ by Apples & Snakes, with Bohdan Piasecki, featuring Malika Booker. She spoke a lot about writing routines, so I really have no excuse to not get started this week. Although Bohdan did also say that my diary writing is a valid form of writing!
I also have some good news about a project that I’ve been accepted onto, which feels really great but I’m unsure if I can reveal the details right now. It’ll involve creating and workshopping new material for a show in the summer months, likely at an outdoor venue.
I’ve also managed to memorise the poem I am recording next week, so I just need to keep going over it to really ingrain it into my mind. I don’t find memorising poetry easy (even when it rhymes, as in this case), but it’s something I want to do more, and really requires daily practice to do. At least, for me, like Malika Booker was saying, having such routines means I actually do it, whilst it’s when I slip out of the routine, or at least that intention, that the danger can be to just NEVER get anything done.
Today, I’ve managed to do the work I wanted to do, and will be exploring a new park for a walk, as well as seeing some family outdoors this weekend, despite the disappointing weather. Next week, I’ll be catching up on emails and my many open tabs, as well as making sure to carve out some time for writing projects, whether that be editing or writing.
Tonight is also the next She Grrrowls Instagram Live show. So far, only one person has signed up, which is my fault for putting the word out too late, but hopefully more messages about signing up with come in today. Either way, the show must go on, and I will be back from my walk in good time to get going with it! I did my Instagram Live ‘Poetry Slumber Party’ on Monday, and if anything, it’s funny seeing my face as I get interrupted by my partner accidentally speaking aloud whilst playing a game, and by a knock at the door!
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.
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.
Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay – just a quick one to say hello, your feelings are valid. Poetry can be a powerful tool for healing, but it is not therapy. Your audiences are not therapists and you do not have to give everything you have every time. Find joy in your writing. x
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
The past couple of weeks, work-wise, I’ve done a mixture of exam invigilation, tutoring, and content writing. It feels like I’m slowly building something with more regularity, but work has taken over a bit from a lot of focused writing time.
The exam invigilation hasn’t really been worth it financially, but I’m going to give it a go at a school more local to me over the next month or so. It takes me 35 minutes to walk there (and just as long going on public transport), so that will tick off my exercise that day.
The last couple of weeks have included a lot of arts events. This started with Poetry Pioneers celebrating 35 years of Apples & Snakes, which was incredible – I enjoyed seeing those poets I know and love, as well as The Upper World, fusing music and poetry. She Grrrowls was a success this month, and I also saw 4.48 Psychosis and reviewed it for The Norwich Radical.
I had the privilege of attending a workshop with The BreakBeat Poets. Sadly, I had to leave early to cover a creative writing workshop for work. The fantastic Jemilea sent me notes on what I missed, so next time I carve some writing time out, I can return to this!
The following week, I saw Florence + The Machine at the Royal Festival Hall, went to my wonderful friend Sarah K. Perry’s book launch for her debut novel ‘Let Me Be Like Water’, and have generally commenced with my birthday celebrations, with the big day being on Monday!
I tried to balance work with sunshine time since we had a little heat-wave, which meant a lot of drinking beer in pubs and parks with picnic food. It also meant I got a lot of my maths revision done. Now, I just need to be careful I’m not burning the candle at both ends too much, focus more time on writing, and make sure I have enough time to do all the paid work I’m committing to do.
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.
Today, in case you hadn’t heard, is National Poetry Day. I’m feeling like a bad poet because I’m not attending any events to mark the occasion. At the most, I’ll probably watch and listen to all the stuff that’s happening online, trying to understand the mixture of pride, envy and joy at watching/listening to poetry by my peers featuring on national television and radio.
As I write this, I’m on my way back from my day job, where I work as an Academic Mentor for English. This morning I played Year 10 ‘Origin Story’ by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, whilst trying to convince them to come to my Creative Writing Club. This is something I will do again no doubt, and in fact, I ended my day going into a class to hand out letters with permission slip. One student took one. There are currently two members in my club. Replacing First Story is going to be harder than I thought. But still, it’s early days. Last year, two Year 8 students – a boy and a girl – made their own version of ‘Origin Story’ and, along with my new Feminist Group, my main goal this year is to make this a success.
That goal applying to my day job. By night, I used to be able to go to events like National Poetry Day Live at the Royal Festival Hall, which is where I was this time last year. However, tonight I will be largely writing an assignment for a CELTA course I’m studying part-time. This means I’m doing two 13 hour days each week (because, you know, full time job), plus attending some Saturdays. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I rise at 6.30am and go to sleep at 11.30pm. On top of this, I have to do these assignments, thoroughly plan lessons for the course, observe others teaching, and be observed myself… By five people (I was less than happy when informed I’ll be observed twice in my day job too, but hey, I should be used to it, at least!)
Tonight I’ll also try to fit in a rehearsal for a poem I’m performing on Saturday night (details below), and if I’m lucky, I can work on the poem I started writing last night when I should have been sleeping.
If I sound like I’m being negative, I am. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, plus some mild symptoms of depression. I’ve had six weeks on CBT, and been offered to take part in a trial. However, I find it too stressful to go to my “local” service provider, so we’ll see what happens with that. Sometimes it just feels like another thing to tick off the to-do list.
All-or-nothing thinking: I’m not on TV, I’m a failure as a poet.
Overgeneralisation: This can be really bad, it’s like when things pile up so much that one thing sets off a continuous stream of negative thinking and it’s like there’s no way out. These days are usually a write-off, and the best thing is forced relaxation and an early night.
Mental Filter: I hate making mistakes, so whenever this happens, or if I say something stupid, I will thinking about it constantly for multiple days. Sometimes if I feel like I’ve been talking “too much”, I have to just not say things I think of saying because I overthink what I say so much.
Disqualifying the Positive: I guess this one is similar to number 6, but my parents’ support probably best explains this.
Jumping to Conclusions: a/ Mind Reading: I haven’t heard from members of my poetry collective; they must not like me anymore. b/ Fortune Teller Error: If there’s a slight indication of a problem I have to nip it at the bud. This is probably how this one manifests itself as I worry about the outcomes of things so much that I do everything I can do to prevent the disaster in my head to the extent that I don’t seem to care how others perceive me in that time, until afterwards when I feel immense paranoia about how I’m viewed.
Magnification or Minimisation: Like I said, links to 4, but I will focus on not being picked for one thing, and minimise the success of other things, such as recently being emailed about an opportunity linked to a project that saw my poetry played at the Southbank Centre, where the individual described a new poem I sent as”Visceral and shattering. Hard to hear but necessary.”
Emotional Reasoning: For this one, I guess it’s mostly in terms of relationships with other people. I find it hard to keep up with my friends because of lack of time, and distance with certain people, but they’re so important to me. However, when I don’t hear from people, I assume because I feel sad about it that they’re not as bothered about seeing me.
Should statements: There was something in the book that was a bit of a revelation. By expecting too much of myself, I obviously end up exhausted and unable to keep up, but in turn I also place those same expectations on others and I become “bitter and self-righteous” when they are not met. This was something I realised was really harmful to my relationships with others. Communication is the key here.
Labelling and Mislabeling: I feel like I don’t do this as much, but it could be because it can be quite subtle in a way. The automatic thought of “I’m so stupid” etc. is so familiar that it’s hard to even be conscious of it. The last time I did this, I cried and felt bad on my journey home from my Gran’s, where I’d stayed with my boyfriend, as I’d left chicken and fish bones in the bin because I didn’t know where to put it outside.
Personalisation: This happened on a project where everyone was so positive about it, but the person I was working with said they couldn’t wait until it was over. I took their honesty as being about me, and saw it as a failure, when really they had a lot more going on that was nothing to do with me.
I hadn’t intended this to be so long, but this seems to be what happens… I write nothing for ages and then ramble on for so long that people will inevitably get bored before the end! But if you’re still with me… I guess my point is that I have been feeling disappointed in my progress within the world of poetry, but that part of me knows that I need to enjoy the journey rather than be so focused on an essentially imaginary end-point. I’ve been working on overdrive since I started working full-time, to the point where I don’t know what a normal existence looks like. Now I’ve taken on this CELTA course, I know that I won’t be able to participate in the poetry world as much as I would like to… including my beloved Burn After Reading events (now on Mondays) and The Writing Room Presents… Jawdance (Wednesdays). Recently, I wanted to take more care of myself. My goal was to give myself the time that normal people have to unwind, to make it Sundays. But, I need my Sundays now to work as I have such little time to do so otherwise. Maybe a New Years Resolution then.
I was inspired by one of my tutors on the course, who now works freelance. This was my aim over three years ago, and I’m now making plans to launch my career properly. I’ve been performing my poetry for nine years now. I count it from my first open mic’ event, and why not? There are poets out there who have achieved more than me and haven’t even been doing it a year! Is that the negative voice talking? Maybe.
Anyway, my plans – or my hopes – for the future are to use this CELTA course to live abroad for around a year, a year and a half. I then hope to come back having saved enough money to move out of my parents’ house (that was why I’ve been in this job for so long) and buy myself some time. I’ll try to get some part time work that will allow me the flexibility to truly focus on my passion. I’m hoping that with time to devote to my artistic practice, that I will start enjoying the journey more. I’m also hoping that my travels will allow me some perspective that I simply can’t seem to get when I’m exhausted on the 7.25am train towards Waterloo. And as fellow poet Sophia Walker pointed out, that other than just thinking about what I can offer the countries I go to, they will also have much to offer me and I will grow as a writer and as a person in ways I won’t know now.
So, these will be the last few things I’m up to this year, but I reckon it’s the max I can afford to do time-wise:
-Feminism in London Evening Party
-Working on a Burn After Reading project
-An event on Superheroes and Supervillians
-Homeless Not Hopeless event
Hopefully I’ll catch some weekend events and open mic nights, and, of course, there’ll be She Grrrowls… I don’t want to end it so soon, so maybe I’ll do a January goodbye party… I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be going, but January seems like a good time for a bon voyage!
Okay, I can’t quite end it there. Here are some nice things to look at for National Poetry Day:
Selina Nwulu won the prize for Young Poet Laureate for London. Since working with her on Word’s a Stage (Apples and Snakes), we’ve shared pre-poetry food, post-show feminist discussions and dressed up in 1920s gear to see Laura Marling. She’s a fantastic poet, has featured at She Grrrowls, but is also such a lovely person. Representing the shy girls!
Legendary spoken word promoters Apples and Snakes present an epic line-up of raising stars, and new voices from the Writing Room programme share the stage with the most dynamic wordsmiths the capital has to offer. Poetry with bite.
Spoken word, storytelling and live performance on the road…
The Roundhouse is a breeding ground of spoken word talent, producing some of the best poetry stars on the scene today. Join us for an afternoon of fresh emerging talent, featuring new voices and rising stars. Not to be missed!