Feminist Poetry

One funny (aka annoying) thing about identifying as a Feminist and being relatively vocal about it as a poet (like putting on an event with women-only features) is that you get put in a particular box.

The thing is, the whole point of Feminism is to not be put in a box; it’s about dismantling binaries of gender, and dichotomies such as the infamous virgin/whore one. I guess that’s why lots of people have been sharing comment from Maisie Williams about the label “Feminist” – reducing it to the simple catchy phrase that anyone who isn’t Feminist should be labelled “sexist”. I don’t want to go too far into this part, because the statement that is being shared is reductive and denies the nuances of sexism and misogyny, but it also denies the complexity of what Williams was trying to express, which was actually about trolling and shame, rather than Feminism (in fact the idea that women can be just as nasty as men is Feminist). Her words have been taken way too far out of context,now having read the original interview. One critic I have is that by labelling people “sexist”, you’re actually perpetuating the culture of shame (I haven’t read this yet, but I think it will be really eye-opening when I do).

Red tick in box

I’m categorically not interested in arguing about whether we need the label “Feminism” needs to go, or whether it needs a rebrand. It is a type of activism related to gender, acknowledging the systematic oppression of women throughout history. And personally, Feminism needs to strive to be intersectional – how can you care about women if it’s only one type of woman? This means that you listen to people from other oppressed groups and take on board what they say, taking into account some of your own privilege. I strongly believe that patriarchy damages men and boys, and this is something that is very much a part of my Feminism, yet within this an understanding that men and boys have also tended to benefit from the system. If people want to know what Feminism is today, my recommendations are:

bell hooks – everything
Laura Bates – Everyday Sexism
Michael Kimmel – his books, but also him speaking

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But anyway, I’ve got carried away. What I really wanted to say (moan about) is about the conflict I have between my Feminism being an important part of my identity and yet people sometimes have the trouble to see that this means that I am a person, a human being, and not an object or a number to get a certain quota. It’s important to me to write poetry on Feminism and it’s something I’ve been doing for around 9 years, since I started to take my poetry to the microphone. When I was younger I wrote about being a Feminist who waxes (and a guy in the audience asked me if I was really a Feminist – shock, horror!) and about the beauty industry. Recently, I still write about these kinds of topics, but also about female genital cutting, rape as a weapon of war, and dismantling damaging notions of masculinity. However, when I started writing poetry, it was sickeningly and overwhelmingly about boys. I look back now and I laugh (cringe) because I can’t even remember who the hell I’ve written about so emotively. I mean, I once wrote a poem about a guy I fancied at a club who had a broken arm. I won “Best Loss Poem” at Glam Slam in 2011 with a tale of heart-break, after a string of unrequited love/lust/infatuation. Things aren’t always easy just because you’re in a relationship, so I still have a few sombre poems, but also a whole host of lovey-dovey poems, which are really hard to write well!feminism-is-the-radical-notion-that-women-are-people-quote-1

The point is that about 5% of my material is overtly Feminist, but Feminist lines and themes will slip in because it is such a big part of my being. And let’s not get me started on the comment (insult) that one guy made about my work being “very feminine”. It was the only comment he said, and he spoke with a sneer, out of his judgemental, condescending nose. However, there is also very little I don’t write about as I play with different forms and get inspired by different things. I guess it’s difficult because when you become a brand to market – as sadly you do when you put yourself out there in the creative industries – people want something like “Feminist poet” to cling to. Perhaps what concerns me is how others perceive me, and I worry that there may be any negativity surrounding this. But is this real or imagined? A certain poet has seemed to change their mind about sexism being morally wrong, but it seems to be going well for them. Like, my hashtag below was a joke, yet the “joke” responses that followed weren’t at all funny in my opinion… but then, Feminists have no sense of humour, so… I didn’t know how to respond to someone who is meant to be a peer, and who I expect to be respectful, so a simple sarcastic “lolz” was all I could muster.

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Anyway, I guess I need to remember what Benjamin Zephaniah once told me – that if you are a black woman who is a lesbian and in a wheelchair, you have to write some poems about other things than those aspects of your identity. So, there’s only so many poems I can share about Feminism before people will think that’s all I do! So I guess I need to be aware of what I put out there, and share every part of my writing more widely, not just the more political pieces. Maybe it will make up for all my Feminist ranting. But one thing’s for sure – I will never give up on Feminism or on myself! I’ve been through a tough time recently, but Destiny’s Child and Christina Aguilera and Nirvana have helped me through it! And now I have been writing for so long, but I feel good getting it out! 💪

Wellbeing: World Bipolar Day

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I’ve never been properly diagnosed, because I’m sure it would be more official, but a doctor once told me I have cyclothymia. It’s a mild form of bipolar disorder, and means that my functioning isn’t as impaired as those who have bipolar type I or II because it consists of mild depression and hypomania. Interestingly, I have had a diagnosis of GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), and below it states that 62.9& of those on the bipolar spectrum also have an anxiety disorder. I feel like a lot of the time my mood is an internal thing that fluctuates, just as anyone’s does, but it means the extremities aren’t always visible. It can then get to a stage where, not necessarily feeling like I bottle things up, but, it can feel like things have built up to boiling point.

The last couple of days I’ve gone from mild depression to hypomania. I would say that today has been close to “normal”, but it can be hard to define what that is, and I’m currently writing this past 11pm, knowing that this will mean a late night, but also feeling anxious about how it will impact on my day tomorrow. I want to exercise in the morning and have time to fit in washing my hair in time for me to be able to go out later with dry hair. I have a CBT appointment and I have no idea whether I’ve been doing what I was meant to be doing.

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So, yesterday my mood was sent spiralling after feeling upset about a conversation and that relationship, and had a stressful time after I booked a train ticket to arrive at home when I’ll already be in another city. I had expected to do a whole load of things that afternoon and ended up only just getting through my emails. I was meant to cook for my mum, but after falling into a deep sadness, combined with incredible rage and sense of hopelessness, I had lost my appetite. Anyone who knows me will know that I very rarely lose my appetite. I felt guilty about what little I’d done, and the hassle with trainline.com had me feeling pessimistic about recovering any positive feelings that night. So, what helped? The cooking I eventually did helped, talking to my mum helped, and so did accepting things the way they were. I had a bath, ate chocolate, watched a film and a reasonably good night’s sleep, though disrupted by waking early. I did also write some poetry for pleasure before I went to sleep, and it was a really important, cathartic experience.

Today I was lucky to have a main focus for my attention, which was a poetry commission I’m working on. I had a doctor’s appointment, and I have to walked through a field of horses to get there, which always seems bizarre to me. I felt really irritable throughout the walk – towards dogs, towards children, towards everyone – but I also felt empowered by taking ownership of the day, and I think the walking helped. The sun was shining, I had shades on, and I was listening to Destiny’s Child. I returned to my poems when I was home and combined research and writing. I didn’t finish, and I didn’t get to write any of the novel, but I was glad at my focus and what I had achieved. I was also able to fit in a couple hundred words of that novel in between getting injections and getting some soup at EAT before attending a poetry workshop. My focus on these creative pursuits enabled me to move on from how I was feeling the day before, and also to take the focus away from the relationship, personalising the conversation I’d had, so that when I talked to that person again, the conversation was good for both of us.

So, other than the parts highlighted in bold in both of these passages, I thought I’d write a list of things that have helped me in my own wellbeing. I thought it was interesting to describe about it in terms of these two days, but it’s also worth noting that it can be outwardly more extreme from cartwheeling in public spaces to crying lots and self-harming (although anxiety might have a bit to do with this too). So, some things:

-Meditation
-Relaxing baths
-Massages
-Playing sad songs/watching sad films (or uplifting ones)
-Singing
-Exercise
-Good support system – talking to friends and family, or online forums
-Being creative in a cathartic way (as opposed to professional/work stuff)
-Cooking (cleaning and gardening may be similar for others)
-Reminding yourself of positive qualities and who you are
-Making fun plans to look forward to
-Chocolate/treating yourself

Things to avoid:
-Long internet sessions without purpose, especially when comparing self with others
-Not doing anything or wanting to do too much – focus on one goal at a time
-Pushing away loved ones
-Drinking alcohol excessively

So, these things are just touching the surface, but for me it was important to make a list, to remind myself that all these things are as worthwhile as ticking things off my to-do list. It’s really hard to listen to what you need in the moment, and I don’t really know what my own patterns are in terms of cyclothymia, but that’ll be something I figure out. With or without such labels, these things are important for everyone to remember.

Oh, and for poetry, play the video on here – Emily Harrison, open about her own bipolar disorder, and also an excellent poet.She also has a book out.

World Poetry Day: Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

For my friends and loved ones, the Year 11 girl whose grandma passed away this weekend, and for anyone else this may comfort.

Here, have these blessed things,
carry them with you as you journey home.
This knowledge will make you feel safe,
though you don’t really have that kind of faith.
It is spring now, and though you are alone,
soon you’ll be a pair of birds spreading wings.

Sometimes life leaves you standing in the wings,
and you can’t think of your lines, amongst the many things
going on around you – so many people, yet so alone,
and you’re sure what to call “home”
and all these months you’ve had faith,
but they were the one who made you feel safe

and you’re old as slang saying good is “safe”,
ending nights out with chips, fried chicken wings,
garlic bread, the echo of dance tracks from Faith-
less, swimming through the airwaves, thinking things
would always be this way, that home
would always be there, with family, not alone.

Never has the word held more weight: alone
like scissors to the nets that kept you safe
and in the truest sense of the word, you’re not home-
less, but it’s like being forced to fly with clipped wings.
Trying to remember how you dreamt of so many things
and you know you have to embrace fear, have faith

that this life is possible with enough self-belief and faith,
that you will have to build walls of arms, so you’re not alone
and force yourself to remember all the things
that seem so painful now, that you will be safe
because there are angels spreading wings
to guide you, and where you land will be your home.

Follow your heart home, and you won’t be alone.
Papier-mâché your faith, and you will be safe
as you spread your wings, you’ll see so many things.

Poetry Rivals 2013/14 Winner: Paradise

It’s been a long time since I wrote my poem Paradise, and nearly a year since I won first place in the Poetry Rivals competition. The poem was inspired by the No More Page 3 campaign, placing judgement on society, the newspaper, and not on the models.

Thanks to all those involved with Poetry Rivals, including host and mentor Mark Grist, judges Hollie McNish, Mixy and Tim Clare. A massive thanks to those at Poetry Rivals HQ who have had to put up with my emails, drawing out the filming with ideas of parks, fish and chips shops and newsagents. There was a moment where my local newsagents from my childhood may have been involved, but to my relief, they stopped responding (more on that when I write my one woman show!) Thanks also then go to the Roundhouse for being able to film the poem there. Lastly, a big thanks to Guy Larsen for his fantastic filming.

If you liked this poem, please buy a copy of my poetry pamphlet from Nasty Little Press. There are other poems too, and you might like them. It’s signed, limited edition and just £2. Themes touch on topics such as multiculturalism, education, love, the pursuit of happiness and having a digitally native childhood. Or else come to a gig; my next performance is at the Festival of Ideas as part of Open Generation on Saturday 11th April. I’ll bring some books along so you don’t have to pay P&P.

To Endings and New Beginnings

On Wednesday 22nd August I organised my first solo poetry event called ‘Carmina’s Poetry Tease’. Featuring alongside me were Catherine Woodward (the emerging artist) and Rosy Carrick (the inspirational professional). It all managed to run rather smoothly and I was very pleased with how it turned out.

I had been building up my nerves all day, waiting in Craft Central with just a couple of people wanting to look in (to be fair the chairs were all laid out expectantly). I was there from about 10am, so by the time people started arriving, just before 7pm, it was all a bit surreal. The room ended up being packed out, with around 30 people, the 26 chairs ran out and people were forced to stand.

This was great but I felt incredibly overwhelmed by it all, and probably said ‘thank you’ a tad too much. Other than inevitably talking too fast when on stage (a small white ‘soapbox’) everything when just as I had imagined. It looked just how I had visualised (the power of the mind, eh?)
So, all in all, it was a great evening. I am currently uploading the video recording onto YouTube and will post that in a separate update.

As you can see from the pictures, there was a strong visual element to the event as well. I managed to sell a few things and get a bit of money from that and possibly by some donations as well. I obviously made a loss but I wanted to do this event as a kind of celebration for completing my poetry collection (the print of which has come in the post and I love it, need a publisher!)

Like I said at the event, I was once told by a history teacher at secondary school that I would never be the ‘life and soul’ of the party. Well, this was my party, and I hoped the audience could find both life and soul during their time there.

I wanted to showcase my work, but also present a poet who inspires me, as well as someone to represent the future of poetry as an example of those who are just starting out, like myself.

Another important aspect of the event was my desire to pay the artists, in order to show that I value their work. I’ve now launched a project called ‘Poetry & Paint’ where I hope to do more of the same on a much larger scale. I will need quite a bit of funding in order to do this, and most of the money would be going directly to artists that get involved; again these would be a mix of both new-comers and established artists. I have started up a funding page at We Fund to raise money.

xxx



Reasons to Live in Norwich

1.
My boyfriend, obviously.

2.
I did a gig at The Birdcage. I tried to do my set off by heart. I’d practiced intermittently the last couple of weeks. I stumbled a few times but I did not reach for my paper (not concealed in my boots this time, I admitted that it was the poems that were peaking out of my cardigan pocket). Host, Andy Bennett, compared me to Dockers MC which was cool. It’s actually the second time that’s happened, so I’m thinking of starting to market myself as “a posh Laura Dockrill” or “a shy Laura Dockrill”.

Ben Smith eased us into the night with laughs that played on prediction and expectations, leaving me to be the filling in a comedy sandwich. It was a fine evening of entertainment, including comedian Alex Holland who I could really relate to with his tales of walking through groups of teenagers in fear. I was excited to see Lewis Buxton who I’d heard was similar to Luke Wright and I could see why people would say that; with his confident manner, his way of delivery and use of narrative and skillful use of rhythm and rhyme.

Adam Warne wove between poetry and comedy and appeared very naturally, taking away the microphone and telling us of Facebook anecdotes in between sonnets. John Osborne read us some lovely new poems about seaside towns and afterwards I got a nice message of compliments about my set which made me very happy. To round off night night, Cielo performed with a female violinist to add to the mix. It was a great set and my boyfriend loved it to so I’m glad he saw them, especially as they have some motivational songs, which he’s always on the look out for!

3.
Ross Sutherland – Comedian Dies in the Middle of Joke

4.
Molly Naylor and The Middle Ones

5.
John Cooper Clarke

6.
Latitude Poetry Club

7.
Again, nights at The Birdcage. Clunge Collective the other night, and headCRASH – where my next gig will be on June 20th.

xxx

Shake the Dust: East Regional Finals

Friday saw the East Regional Finals for Shake the Dust. I was working with the Netherhall School in Cambridge as a Poet Shadow with Ross Sutherland. I had never done anything like this before so was quite nervous but very excited too! For my first workshop, it was going well as I was over an hour early. However, I got the bus from the wrong stop and ended up being 10 or 15 minutes late. Typical.

As soon as I entered the classroom I had to introduce myself and perform a poem. I hadn’t brought any material, but thankfully my memory didn’t fail me and I did Cinderella (which you can preview here from my book/eBook). It feels like a long time ago now but at the same time it went so quickly. It was great hearing the poetry the students generated and as the first workshop was based around autobiography it was nice to feel like I was getting to know what they were like already.

Although it doesn’t feel like that long ago that I was their age, I am nearly 10 years older than them! At the same time, I did feel a lot older than them, especially when I encountered some rudeness from a couple of girls from the non-competing team. All a learning experience anyway! I also didn’t expect how easily distracted they were, especially as the two hour sessions went so fast. That said, they produced their final poems with great timing.

After celebrating turning 23 I was back at the school and the students had mostly memorised their poems, and by the final session were all performing their pieces really well. Ross and I had swapped the groups we’d been working with and so it was amazing to see the transformation of them both from the mish-mashed bits of texts they had started out with when they were forming the poems. I learnt so much from shadowing Ross, and was also given lots of opportunities to share my ideas and work independently with some of the group. One girl had to join the group for the last session and she picked up the poems fantastically, and ended up being given the “Most Changed” award.

The day of the final was a long one, but an amazing experience. the excitement started at 10.30am when we picked up our t-shirts. The schools started to arrive and it wasn’t long before we headed into a studio for the first workshop with half of the students. The workshop I was in was lead by Tim Clare and consisted of different drama games. It was quite nerve wracking due to the fact that being in a position of authority it was vital I showed that I was experienced and confident through the games. It was really fun and useful in terms of my own pre-performance preparations.

At lunch time I lost Ross and didn’t realise I was to stick with the school, who had already headed off to Chapelfield Gardens with their lunch. I managed to find them but Ross wasn’t with them. Still, I sat down and began to eat. However, mid-meal, there was a big ‘SPLAT!’ sound and we all wondered what it was. I looked down at my leg and I had been POOED ON BY A PIGEON! They all freaked out and one girl was sent into a panic that it had landed on her. No. It had landed on me. Yuck. I sat there in shock for a while, then scraped it off with a twig. Still in shock, I stood there whilst the others moved themselves further from the tree. Luckily, it didn’t land in my hair or anywhere else so I just went back to The Garage to take off my tights and wash my hands. Then it was onwards and upwards as I tried to tell myself that it was good luck…

We did the same workshop again but with different people and it was good feeling more prepared about what was to come and hearing what different people came up with on the spot. I spent our dinner time mostly with Catherine Woodward, who I knew from university, who had taken my place as Peer Mentor and was doing a great job. I’d met quite a few great people that day, including Lara who was from the Writers Centre Norwich, and sounded like she had a most enviable job! We had a quick warm-up with Drew Taylor and then took our seats.

The show itself ended up being fantastic. All the pre-show nerves were turned into adrenaline and everyone gave amazing performances. Although The Garage team were not included in the competition, their pieces throughout were inspiring and moving. As were Drew and Tom’s joint piece about the friendship they formed through the project. My team ‘Can Everyone Get Up And Leave?’ did a great job. Though one of the guys berated himself for forgetting a line, he pulled it off so smoothly that nobody else in the audience would have noticed. They went away with the ‘Best Line in Poem’ though the judges (Luke Wright, Charlotte Higgins and Francesca Beard) asserted there were so many great lines they couldn’t really pick just one! We also got inside info from Luke that he was rooting for us to win the competition overall, but didn’t quite make it to first place.

The National Shake the Dust Slam Final is held at Southbank between July 5-7th.