Freelance Reflections #23

Since my grandad passed away just over a week ago now, I’ve found how difficult it is to experience such close familial loss and try to work at the same time. This week has been a struggle, but when you’re self-employed, there is so much uncertainty about your finances and I didn’t find out about the funeral date until the end of the week, and which days of work would be impacted. It’s hard to even allow for time off, even when it’s so needed. Then again, my cousin has also been in the same position, unable to take time off from her job, despite 3-5 days being the standard, from what I know. It has meant welling up with tears whilst walking to work for 45 minutes, finding more time to talk to family without being able to see them, and writing poems of grief in the early hours of the morning.

I feel like I’m just about staying afloat, whilst wanting to carve time that allows me to realign my schedule the way that is more fulfilling each day. I’m also ordering 25 copies of my book ‘Circles’ from my publisher, Burning Eye Books, ahead of the digital ‘Living Record Festival’, which will be taking place from 17th January until 22nd February, where listeners can buy a copy of my physical book, along with the audio and creative activity. You can now buy £15 tickets for the festival, remembering that this includes a copy of the book, which is worth £10.

I am also waiting to hear the results tomorrow having been shortlisted for the Anthology Magazine prize, so fingers crossed! It would be something positive to hold onto for my poetry career, for sure, but even making the shortlist is still an achievement worth celebrating, something that I forget to do all too often.

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.

Verve Poetry Festival 2018

Well, readers (if you exist, it feels like writing into the abyss), I haven’t written properly her since Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Most of my reviews are written for The Norwich Radical, and I’ve now been writing for them for over three years as a volunteer. I felt the urge to write having recently come back from Verve Poetry Festival (alas, as an audience member, not a participant).

One of my cousins is at university in Birmingham, so I took the opportunity to get her a Saturday ticket and visit her whilst attending the festival. We had a lovely time, and I discovered new voices amongst old favourites. It was a bit overwhelming at times being surrounded by so many familiar names and faces, and by the end of the festival my brain kind of stopped working, but it was well worth it. I’ll go through some of my personal highlights.

Dead or Alive Slam

I’d never been to a Dead of Alive Slam, where actors read the work of past poets, and compete against the alive ones. I was very much in team ‘alive’, who were the overall winners, but I discovered poems by both I enjoyed. It featured Genevieve Carver, Isaiah Hull and Caroline Teague – the first two being new to me, and all of them brilliant.  Team Death consisted of poems by Christina Rossetti, Forough Farrokhzad, and Djuna Barnes (read by Tembi Xena, Lorna Nickson Brown, and Zeddie Lawal). Djuna Barnes really stood out to me, which might come in handy for the workshop I’m going to run with Spread the Word – The Femme Canon.

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City Poems

This section featured six commissioned poets, alongside competition winners, and was hosted by the judge Luke Kennard. What I liked about this section was that there were so many poets, and so much variety. It can be difficult to listen to poetry across three days (even for us poets) so this quick succession of poets was welcome for a morning event at the start of a long day. It featured local poets including Roy McFarlane, Bohdan Piasecki, Amerah Saleh, Jenna Clake, Casey Bailey, and Ahlaam Moledina. Having been tutored by Piasecki whilst in the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, and having met Saleh on a previous trip to Birmingham, it was particularly good to hear both their poetry. You can buy the book of poems here.

Stablemates: Bobby Parker

Chaired by Jill Abram, creator of Stablemates, there was discussion and poetry from Martha Sprackland, James Brookes, and Bobby Parker in celebration of new work from Offord Road Books. Although I wasn’t expecting it, Bobby Parker was my favourite poet in this section. He was open about the criticism he had received from his poem ‘THANK YOU FOR SWALLOWING MY CUM’, of which I wasn’t previously aware had provoked accusations of misogyny. I read the poem myself and although I think it’s horrible, I think it’s the intention, it being an exploration of this dark side of masculinity and the validation that men may place on such an act. It is simultaneously simple and complex, and I like it and Parker’s other word. I didn’t realise the connection between this poem and Thank You For Swallowing, which publishes incredible feminist writing.

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The Poetry Assembly: Romalyn Ante

Although a celebration of Jane Commane’s Bloodaxe collection, the event was also supported by Roz Goddard, Liz Berry, Romalyn Ante, and Matt Black. My favourite poet was Romalyn Ante, with her slow, rhythmic poetry, with vivid imagery, it was beautiful to hear her recite. My only issue with the programming of Verve Poetry Festival is the division of sections labelled ‘poetry’ and ‘spoken word’, when there were examples such as this where Ante knew her poems by heart and was in the ‘poetry’ section, yet others such as the Out-Spoken Press section were labelled ‘spoken word’ when both feature books.

Out-Spoken Press Showcase

In moving on to this ‘spoken word’ section, I believe one featured poet, Raymond Antrobus, has been quite vocal about claiming the title of ‘poet’ as his own rather than solely a ‘spoken word artist’. This showcase also featured Anthony Anaxagorou, Joelle Taylor, Sabrina Mahfouz, and Bridget Minamore. I’m very well versed on the latter three poets, all three featuring the the She Grrrowls anthology from Burning Eye Books and so it was great to hear them all together at Verve Poetry Festival.

Nymphs & Thugs: Maria Ferguson

The penultimate event I went to featured Salena Godden, Matt Abbott, Maria Ferguson, and Jamie Thrasivoulou. Whilst they were all great poets, Ferguson was my highlight here, and is always completing captivating. After her show ‘Fat Girls Don’t Dance’ (which I have seen and bought a copy of the book of the same title), she is now working on a show called ‘Essex Girls’. As well as her usual fantastic poetry, in the second half of the two hour slot she gave us a sneak peek into some of her writing from the show.

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Luke Wright & Ross Sutherland

Tom Chivers of Penned in the Margins presented the last section I could attend before hopping on my newly booked coach (otherwise I would have been on night buses from arriving by train 1am the next day in London). It think it was actually Tom Chivers who introduced me to the work of Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland just under a decade ago as an awkward undergrad on an internship at PITM whilst studying at UEA. I have since worked with Ross Sutherland during Shake the Dust, and Luke Wright kindly published my small selection of poems with Nasty Little Press and put me on at Latitude Festival, and I have kept following both their work. It was, as always, great to hear their stuff, especially having recently read and loved The Toll by Wright, and listened to some of the Imaginary Advice podcasts by Sutherland.

All in all, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my recommendations (I has taken me a couple of hours of writing after all). Hopefully next year I’ll be writing as a fellow participant! I’ve been officially freelance since October 2017, so stay tuned for when I find time to write about what that has meant for me thus far (clue: I’m still very much settling back into the UK since my return from Spain in July).

 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Book Group

Before leaving my place of work last Friday, I wanted to share a piece on what happened when we had a book group on The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The demographic of the group was mainly British-Bangladeshi students in Year 10 and 12, with maybe one or two white students, and four white members of staff. I feel this added an important dynamic to the group, with a book centred around race. There was no passionate argument asserted with regard to the book, perhaps because, although about race, the students were able to distance themselves from the plight of the African-American characters rather than see white supremacy as an obvious oppressor.

It is also true that the white members of staff, despite wanting to encourage an open discussion on race relations, would have had an influence on the discussion merely by being present as figures of authority. Within that position, I created a Power Point that brought up questions to challenge their initial gushing positive comments. Nobody doubted that Stockett is a talented writer – I read it over the Christmas holiday period (2015), and also agreed that I felt engaged throughout it. Hence it was a best seller at the time of publication, and was made into a film, which I had seen prior to reading the book.  However, when it comes to authenticity, did Stockett have the right to publish such a work of fiction?

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Through the discussion, students reacted at first that the characters were realistic, but were able to consider this thought when asked to think further on which characters were fully developed, who was driving the narrative etc. We didn’t touch on the fact that Stockett had also been in the middle of a lawsuit on just how real her characters were. A tale of a coming together of black maids and one white outcasted woman, I would say that the target audience is white women. That is to whom the feel-good factor appeals. As we went on, we gradually began to touch on deeper issues in terms of Stockett’s benefiting financially from writing of the oppression of a group that is not her own.

The students gave a balanced view and were comfortable with the greyness of enjoying a book, yet being able to critique it.  We connected it with another successful book depicting a similar “white saviour” narrative, written in the 1960s – that is, of course, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. So, overall, yes, we can enjoy reading such books, but we must remain critical of them too. I haven’t read the sequel Lee wrote, though am interested in the perspective that Atticus turned into a racist. Because over 50 years on, surely we should know more about those such as Anne Moody and her autobiography written before and during the Civil Rights Movement, and stories should move beyond the depiction of black people as subservient to white people, and authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie should be the kinds of writers we read when book groups meet to discuss works of fiction (whose Americanah I suggested before my departure).

Hello 2015

I’m currently typing up notes from BARcademy, a writing and professional development week with Burn After Reading that took place in August 2014. That was 6 months ago. There’s a little indication of how my life is going.

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So, I think it’s about time to have a look at the previous year and what I’m currently up to. One of my greatest achievements of 2014 (and my life) was being published by Nasty Little Press, and this was followed by an incredible summer of performing at a total of five festivals. I performed at Latitude, Secret Garden Party, Camp Bestival, In the Woods and Bestival. I also managed to fit in a sneaky four day holiday to Spain. I was ill for at least three weeks because of all this activity – just in time for the new term at work. I graduated from the Roundhouse Poetry Collective programme and formed Kid Glove. We now have a logo too – designed by Matthew Dickerson. We’re currently working a Twitter and a website… and on a show about adventure! This will be scratched at the Roundhouse’s Last Word Festival on Sunday 31st May at 1.30pm. Tickets are free, so book yourself a spot now. We’re resident artists at the Roundhouse this year, which is really cool.

KIDGLOVE_FINAL1-01This year has seen a bit of success so far (though I would like to be booked for more features, please). I am delighted to have had a poem accepted into Popshot Magazine! This will be available from 1st April and I’m thrilled to be in it after a lot of submissions in the past. I have also filmed my ‘Paradise’ poem with Guy Larsen, and I’m currently waiting to see it and show it to everyone, which should be by the end of the month – exciting! I will also be working with Joelle Taylor to produce a political poem in the run up to the election, which will be performed at the Festival of Ideas 2015 as part of Open Generation on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th April.

Lastly, make a note in your diaries for the next She Grrrowls event, taking place at Apples & Pears on Thursday 19th March. It will feature Maria Ferguson, Natacha Bryan, Kitten Killers and Cat Bear Tree. Join the event here. Please support these next two events – if we get a good turn out we will be able to confirm the next few months.

She Grrrowls Spring 2015-01