Bad Poet: Sometimes You Have to be Bad, Before You’re Good

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. 

Poet Tim Clare suggested the book ‘Feeling Good’ by David D Burns, M.D. and it was when reading it that I realised I was guilty of pretty much all of the cognitive distortions. Here’s a list:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: I’m not on TV, I’m a failure as a poet.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Disqualifying the Positive: I guess this one is similar to number 6, but my parents’ support probably best explains this.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

shegrrrowls logo crop

Okay, I can’t quite end it there. Here are some nice things to look at for National Poetry Day:

  1. 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!
  2. Jodi Ann Bickley’s animated poem called ‘Brave’ on BBC Radio 1xtra’s Words First. I met her at Bestival last year (I think… the festivals blur!) and I’m so glad to hear new work from her.
  3. Some of my friends and peers on this Buzzfeed list. 
  4. I’m currently reading R.A. Villanueva, Reliquaria, and have just finished Sophia Walker’s Opposite the Tourbus.
  5. Chocolate Poetry Club put up this video of me featuring there and is celebrating its first birthday on Sunday 1st November.

Trauma Genes

I’ve had the honour of being part of Sammy Brough’s ‘Trauma Genes’ Home Cooking Podcast, which you can listen to here. I was interested in the topic as it made me think of Dr Joy Leary’s research on Post Traumatic Slave Disorder, below.

My poem was based on research that I amalgamated in poetic form, using first person, and a ‘telephone’ sound to give a sense of distance to reinforce the idea of trauma being passed through history.

On 1st June, I performed a piece I wrote for You Press on a project called ‘Voices of Redemption’, where artists were paired with ex-offenders to tell their story. My particular story questioned the line between victim and perpetrator, and although I didn’t realise this would be a common theme, it was surprising to see the amount of injustice within the justice system. Yet, I also wanted the poem to recognise the crime committed, to move on from that, and other than impacting the audience, I wanted the person I was paired with to get something positive from the experience. It was a challenging project, simply because it is quite daunting to have someone else’s life and write a poem about it. There’s a recording of the previous project ‘One Story: Our Voice’ I was involved with, and I hope this will also be recorded as it was such a unique and important event.

IMG_7314

I have also performed at The Last Word Festival with Kid Glove at The Roundhouse. It has been a long and difficult few months building up to the show, and we’re yet to decided where we will take the show. Practically, it may be unrealistic to be able to perform it in the way we may have had in our mind at the start, but it has been a massive learning experience and I think we accomplished a great scratch show in the end, being such an ambitious project. I mean, one of us lives in Germany! I think everyone deserves a massive pat on the back for pulling it off and I’m sure we’ve all learnt a lot about ourselves from it.

I’m reading a few books at the moment – one that stands out is The Ice Cream Empire, by Kit Poulson, and it very much reminds me of the writing from ‘Dear Adventure’ and has made me think that we could do something with text, or even sound, as a way forward with the show idea. I’ve also been listening to a few things on the radio…

1. BBC Radio 1Xtra are doing special features on poetry/spoken word and some of my fellow poets have been involved so far. Hopefully more on this later!

2. The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock has been featured on BBC Radio 4 and features lovely people like Kayo Chingonyi and Emmy the Great.

My next performance is at The Chocolate Poetry Club. Thank you to the mystery person who recommended me. I’ve only had one other paid gig this year, so it really cheered me up to have this to look forward to!