Freelance Reflections #2

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Another couple of weeks have passed, so I thought I’d write a bit about what I’ve been up to during this time. I’ve not been earning much the last few weeks for a number of reasons. Time has been taken up with family celebrations for both Easter and a cousin’s hen party. Secondly, the majority of my time has been taken up with planning workshops that won’t even nearly cover my costs in terms of the amount of research and planning that I’m doing. I’m also planning a book tour for She Grrrowls, which I will be attempting to get funding for so that it can go ahead.

I attended the Out-Spoken Press Prize and I really enjoyed all the incredible poetry there and avidly Tweeted about it. I was feeling pretty shy and anxious that night, but I said hello and/or well done to around five people, so I didn’t feel so bad. I’d been long-listed for the performance category, but I didn’t make the shortlist, so felt it was important for me to attend, resisting the urge to hibernate. She Grrrowls was a couple of days later and the turn out was much better than the last two (though still not enough to cover my costs) – it was a really lovely evening as always and I enjoyed it as much as a headless chicken can enjoy such a night.

So, this week I’ve been trying to work as much as possible, but I did manage to schedule a day with my friend and artist Natalie Cooper (she did the illustrations inside the She Grrrowls anthology). She introduced me to Salsa 98.1 (I like to listen to Spanish/Latin music when content writing), cooked me a Cuban-inspired dish with kidney beans, and provided me with tea. I wrote some of my spoken word show It’s Always the Quiet Ones without getting too distracted by the music, so felt really pleased with my production levels!

On Saturday I facilitated the first workshop as part of The Femme Canon monthly series with Spread the Word at The Albany. I really enjoyed it and the participants were not only insightful in their readings of the work we covered, their reading voices were delightful, and their poetry was incredibly powerful. I’m looking forward to the next one and although I have all my own materials at the ready, I have asked participants to send me a poem of their choice to make the workshops a little bit more collaborative. With that in mind, if you’re reading this, please feel free to comment with your own favourite writers who are women or non-binary.

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I’m really excited about my Saturdays, even though I’m working a lot of them! On 28th April I’m running a one-off workshop with The Poetry School aimed at writers wanting to develop work for the page who regularly perform their work. I’ve also got a few sessions where I’m covering someone as part of the tutoring agency I work at delivering creative writing workshops to kids. These sessions, along with the rest of The Femme Canon workshops – there’s one ticket left and at £30 for all sessions, it’s still a bargain for six hours of workshop time! The reason why I’ve been aiming to work Monday-Wednesdays with regular work is partly to be able to do one-off workshops across the rest of the week (as well as to try to give myself time to write!)

As for today, I’ve done a bit of admin, as well as person writing, NaPoWriMo writing, and a bit of writing for my show. I’m going to do a bit more admin, as well as revise my maths a bit to brush up whilst doing 11+ tuition. I’m actually enjoying the focus these exercises give my mind. Yesterday afternoon I met up with a friend called Ella Daniels (also a writer, I’m incredible excited for what she has planned!). We spoke about making time for doing the things we love, so I’m planning to get into better reading habits by slightly changing how I schedule my time.

 

Lastly, next week, Joel Auterson – fellow Kid Glove member and Roundhouse alumni – is having a book launch. I’ve already read his book Unremember from Bad Betty Press and it’s pretty special. There’s a great list of poets supporting on the night, including another Kid Glover, Antosh Wojcik, She Grrrowls poet Aisling Fahey, and another fave Laurie Ogden. Also, Poet in the City have a series of events at Wilton’s Music Hall on Women Poets Who Changed 1968, looking at some of the poets who we cover in The Femme Canon – Maya Angelou and Adrienne Rich.

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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).

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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! 💪

Sex Work

I’ve been avoiding writing about this topic, because I know it is so sensitive and I am, quite frankly, afraid of putting a foot wrong just to speak my mind.

It is something I am undecided on, and that I find it so difficult to be decided on. I figure it’s partly a good thing, as it maybe means I’m more open to listening than on topics where I have vehement opinions.

Feminism in London (2015) took a stance on the issue by giving a platform to women who support the Nordic model, including ex-sex workers, and women who have been trafficked. When I saw this, although I didn’t agree with 100% of the methods, I was completely convinced.

At Women of the World this year, they showed both sides through performance, but didn’t try to have a panel on it (due to past occurrences I think). In turn, this meant it didn’t take a position on the issue. And I got the impression that Founder and Artistic Director, Jude Kelly, didn’t really know where she stood on this matter either.

I recently watched this video below and I couldn’t recommend it more.

It runs through the following options when thinking about sex work and legality:

-Full criminalisation: seller, buyer, third parties.

-Partial crimination: selling and buying legal, but other activities (e.g. selling on streets, in brothels) banned.

-Nordic model: criminalising buyer, not the seller.

-Legalisation: all legal!

And what do sex workers want? Decriminalisation. 

One of the issues FiL picked on with this, was how it differs to legalisation, and they argued that it doesn’t (but have a read of this). Whilst I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for people trafficked into sex work – including one speaking at this event – Toni Mac makes a good point that people are trafficked into other industries and nobody calls for a ban on the entire industry itself. But then again, I read that 95% of victims of trafficking are forced into sex work. Needless to say that most of these people are women. So, it shows that this is to do with women’s position in society; the fact that it’s a gendered issue is obviously going to provoke ideas that all sex work is a form of violence against women. But some women do choose it, so where do they fit in? Often people point out the issue with capitalism and that sex work is simply another form of exploitation. It begs the question of whether it matters whether its sex work or not.

What I find difficult may be a process of unlearning. As much as I don’t want to add to the stigma against sex workers, I am uncomfortable with what I have heard  about legalisation in Germany, where sex has been marketed within a deal where you also get a beer and a hot dog, dehumanising the women involved. That this advertising will be seen with young children, that on family tours these children will see themselves reflected differently. I really hope that decriminalisation won’t mean the same thing happening. As someone who works with young people, I can’t see myself promoting sex work as a viable career choice to those that I work with, especially when wanting to encourage young women not to limit themselves or see themselves as objects. Women are already objects in advertising for tech job recruitment and more, so how, in an unequal society, with women making up a majority of sex workers, can we make progress so that fewer women are exploited for their bodies?

For me, sex work is like no other work, which is what makes it so difficult to get my head around. However, if this is to do my relationship with sex as an act that is uniquely intimate, then perhaps what is needed is better understanding, more voices from sex workers, about the work they do and how they negotiate it with other aspects of their lives. At FiL I heard statistics about the mental processes of sex work, the disassociation, that it takes 3-7 years for sex workers to see themselves as being exploited, that many will tell themselves they enjoy their job etc. It is also where I heard the term “prostituted women” and thought I understood the phrase, only then to read something that argued that by saying that of all sex workers, you take away their agency.

Part of what I’m uneasy about is the idea that if we decriminalise sex work, that we are accepting that we can’t do anything about its existence. FiL argued “we don’t want a reform, we want a revolution.” But when that revolution appears to be impossible, it seems to make sense to do whatever it takes to protect those most in danger of suffering at the hands of these four failed models. After all, Toni Mac states that “Prohibition barely makes a difference to the amount of people actually doing those things, but it makes a huge difference as to whether they’re safe when they do them.”

She goes on to say that “you can’t simply legislate a better world into existence.” You simply can’t disagree with this statement because so much of this is cultural, and changing attitudes is massively challenging. I can see everyday with my work with children how ingrained sexism and misogyny (as well as so much more) is on this young people. Again, Toni Mac makes a very powerful point about the question “Would you want your daughter doing it?” which has been my thoughts, not necessarily in terms of my daughter, who doesn’t yet exist, but more about the young women with whom I work. But Toni Mac turns it around and gets you to imagine that she’s already doing it, asking “How safe is she at work tonight? Why isn’t she safer?”

New Zealand is the only place that has decriminalisation in place, written in collaboration with sex workers, and I guess all we can do is see what happens and hope we finally have a solution. So far, things seem to be working well. I admit, I have been guilty of seeing sex workers as either victim or privileged, and this post itself definitely isn’t perfect. But I’m trying to understand, and where I can, to learn about sex work from all voices who have the experience to speak; I will listen and try to be a better ally.

“If you care about gender equality, or poverty or migration or public health, then sex workers’ rights matter to you.” 

Feminism in London: Engaging Men in Feminism

Last year at the FiL conference I went to a similar workshop about men and Feminism. This year, The Great Initiative came to deliver the workshop, which went through a some of the activities they would do with school children as a way of engaging them within discussions on gender and equality. Although the focus is on men and boys here, it is a far cry from the misogynist MRAs one can get used to trolling online. The men who are serious about addressing gender do so in a pro-Feminist way. Through ‘Great Men’, they aim to disrupt gender stereotypes and engage participants in the movement towards gender equality. The diagram below shows how they go about this.

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In the workshop, we started with word associations on big pieces of paper connected to men and women. The main bulk was in groups, where we discussed pros and cons men being engaged with Feminism. Our initial reaction to the task was that there simply aren’t any cons to men being engaged with Feminism. We then thought more about it in terms of either the act of engaging men itself and what are essentially maybe teething issues, so things like feeling men are to blame rather than it being about a system of power, but arguably paradoxically having to think about being in a position privilege and how that can be used for making the movement stronger. Yet, in terms of men who are engaged in Feminism, there may be a resistance to, in some ways, giving up power, and in turn a danger to dominate rather than listen and try to understand how life is coloured with experiences of being a woman. I managed to take a photograph of our notes on the topic. When the discussion was opened up, we managed to summarise, and there were moments where it descented into debate, but at the end we were left with this list to keep in mind, and some tools and approaches to engaging men and boys in Feminism.

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Body Hair: Armpit Alert

Dr. Breanne Fahs has been quoted to say that when a woman shows her armpit hair it “becomes an act of political resistance because it highlights the presence of an otherwise silent or erased aspect of women’s bodies.” It’s winter, so it’s been an act of political resistance that has been easy to embrace. The picture below is probably the closest I’ll get to exposing my hairy armpits to the world. When not on show, I’m happy to grow! But if I’m honest, there’s a deep-seated attitude ingrained in me that probably underlies just why I will continue to shave in the summer months, despite the fact the hair grows back within what seems like minutes, and with such sensitive skin, it’s near impossible for it to be smooth unless the optimum amount of time is left in between shaves.

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How more hippie can you get?

It’s not complex to work out why I’m embarrassed to bare my hair on the beach. I think it’s around 90% of women who remove armpit hair. It even feels a little silly that messages that are so obviously articulated are still able to influence me so powerfully. I remember when I was about seven years old, in Italy, I thought I saw the armpit hair of an older, American girl. It seemed like such a shock to me. I remember telling my Mum, who has, of course, handed down body-hair shame to me like a precious heirloom.

When I started to grow hair there myself, I was still at primary school. A girl saw that I had hair there. It was almost like I hadn’t noticed it myself. I don’t remember thinking anything of it growing there until it was pointed out to me by another girl. This was obviously accompanied by an “urgh!” All it took was these two experienced, strong enough for them to stand out in mind mind all these years later, to form this idea that I’m not presentable in my natural state.

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Maybe one day, I’ll become brave enough to step out in the real world like this. But for now, this is as Feminist as my armpits get. Meow. Just had a massive curry and going to have a bath, eat chocolate in front of telly, half wishing I was dancing to Beyonce (but only half, because I’m like 26 now, getting old, staying in for NYE etc). #Iwokeuplikethis #flawless

One-Liners: Edinburgh Fringe Festival Reviews

I’ve written more detailed reviews for The Norwich Radical on shows by the Kitten Killers, Luke Stephens, Kate Smurthwaite, Pole and Hannah Chutzpah. Here I’ve included some smaller reviews to give you a flavour of some of my other many highlights.

Megan Ford: Feminasty

Satirical, character sketches and comedic speeches on gender, Ford switches between characters to connect comedy to more serious issues. We get a cool, informative zine on the way out, and a badge.

Shazia Mirza: A Word In Progress

There were moments I wasn’t sure about: the mention of ‘political correctness’, jokes about fat people, and Jewish people, and the upset at the mention of the girls who left Bethnal Green Academy. I work at the school down the road, and it’s something that directly impacts on the students I teach, but perhaps the point was to create discomfort. The theory that they went “for dick” seemed sadly poignant once the laughter died down and we were told that “epilator, knickers and body lotion” were on the top of their packing list. This is a slightly longer review, because I’m interested to see where the show will go, because, although funny, the ending – a commentary on Islam and so-called “ISIS” was momentous and powerful.

Bridget Christie: A Book For Her

There were at least three acts who mentioned the tax on sanitary products, but Christie suggested the ingenious idea of sending bloody knickers with “END VAT’ on them to George Osborne. In this show, she gave an ironic definition of what being a Feminist means and turned to politics in the UK and USA, with an intersectional focus on race issues.

Katherine Ferns: Conscious Incompetent

I disagreed with points made about “manspreading”, which is simply indicative of patriarchy, and as much a part of it as anything else, I didn’t like jibes at Beyoncé, and I didn’t like the use of the word “retarded”. However, she also made the obligatory tampon tax joke, and her ability to touch on taboo subjects such as incest, rape and pedophilia was both clever and somehow funny (and not in an offensive way). She spoke frankly of what difficulties in her life, from depression to drugs, and weighed up whether decisions she’d made were brave or stupid. Well, I’d say the brave outweighs the stupid.

Jack Rooke: Good Grief

He probably won’t want his youth commenting on, but I left Rooke’s show in awe of what he is doing. Not only has he created this wonderful show, which has the perfect balance of comedy and more sombre moments, but he is symbolic of how the personal is political. What goes on with the government directly impacts on our lives, and through The Good Grief Project, he is challenging current changes to the Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

Harry Baker: The Sunshine Kid

You couldn’t help but smile throughout this show, as Baker took us through his life prior to university to now through his poetry, which can be found in the book of the same title by Burning Eye Books.

David Lee Morgan: Building God

An intense show about revolution and communism, Morgan’s voice kept audiences captivated through his ways with words and the beat of the music he played as a backdrop.

Stephanie Laing: Nincompoop

A show about shame that started with not letting an old lady sit down, and inevitably went on to talk about drunken behaviour, bad dreams and sexual antics. With songs and a flute, Chesney Hawks, and a serious note about shame and self-harm, what’s not to love?

Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

I gave this show a standing ovation. I’ve never been made to cry from watching dancing before this. I bought the play text, but I wish I could relive the experience as I read. Bryony Kimmings and her real-life partner Tim Grayburn use comedy, dance, and spoken word to speak about mental health more honestly than I’ve ever seen before. It was incredibly touching and I wanted to cry a lot more than I actually did.

Sophia Walker: Can’t Care, Won’t Care

An insight into the care industry through a legal battle between the state and the carer. This shows as in with such jobs, there is minimal pay and agency for those who truly care about the individuals they work for, the service users. It was honest and passionate, and so heartbreaking.

The Kagools

No words and a whole lot of audience participation. I was thankful to do no more than eat a Hula Hoop. The best part was their use of pre-recorded material on the screen, and that whilst it felt like each part was a random act, it tied neatly together by the end.

Elf Lyons: Being Barbarella

I loved the Feminist angle of wanting to be this confident person, and wanting to be empowered sexually and otherwise. Lyon’s mis-matching accents was especially funny, as well as her use of costume.

Ben Norris: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Family

Ben Norris explores his relationship with his father through a hitchhike through all the places his dad had lived, proving an interesting story that explored masculinity as a whole and was sure to connect with many men in the audience.

Aisling Bea: Plan Bea

I loved this and was laughing constantly. She had good accents and I liked the reclaiming of ‘girl’ as a word of complexities, and there were slight political points, but worked in a subtle way. Again, this was about confidence and owning your own “shame” (her being in this heavy metal pirate video)

Mark Watson: Flaws

A show about flaws, obviously, and lacking self-esteem, mental health issues and turning to alcohol. Watson is such a warm character that you can’t help but warm to him (unless you were one of the three women who left after fifteen minutes).

Paula Varjack: How I Became Myself (By Becoming Someone Else)

A really interesting piece, as well as in terms of subject matter – the idea of changing your identity – but also in terms of how this was done visually – mixing front performance, through the camera and on screen. 

So It Goes

Another show with no words spoken aloud, but written on white boards, using props and dance to illustrate the story of Hannah’s dad, dealing with his death, and her friend David helping her to tell this story. There was laughter, and many, many tears.

Sara Hirsch: How Was It For You?

‘I can’t rhyme you,’ Hirsch proclaims, asserting why she can’t write a poem for her then-boyfriend, in the middle of what is almost a long love poem to the ex in question. But it was also a love poem to herself, and for everyone out there searching for love and the meaning of life.

Jemima Foxtrot: Melody

Beautifully intricate language, so poetic and mixed in, as the title would suggest, with a’cappella song. Foxtrot plays with humour and the unexpected in this wonderfully crafted piece.

Kirsten MacGregor: Hello Cruel World

I couldn’t believe this comedian was just 18 years old. It wasn’t only her grumpy persona that made her seem mature, but her confidence and comic timing.

Michael Burdett: Strange Face – Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording

Really interesting true story of… well, it does what it says on the tin. There’s a book with lots of people, including well-known people, photographed whilst listening to the a rare recording of ‘Cello Song’ with their stories.

Mark Stephenson: Amsterdam

A hilarious story about an absent father, a beautiful marriage and selective mutism. Or it is? Very much recommend.

Izzy Tennyson: Brute

I find it difficult to create characters that exist beyond binaries of good and bad, yet Izzy Tennyson managed to do this in the creation of ‘Brute’. In the classic conversational style of Tennyson, she embodies a teenage girl to tell a story that is familiar in the sense of going to a single-sex state school, but looking into why girls can be bullies, exploring the complexities of a psyche so often dismissed.

Dan Simpson: Nerdsmith

Reading poems from his Burning Eye Book, Applied Mathematics, Simpson attempts and admittedly fails to get to the heart of an emotional provocation. But at the end, it’s okay, as the audience enjoy his playing with language, from puns to extended metaphors. I bought his book in hope of some poetic inspiration!

Tim Renkow: Kim Jong-Un, Mohammed, Jesus and Other Power-Hungry Maniacs

Renkow was knowingly provocative in his comedy from the onset, warning the audience that his record number of walk-outs is nine people. However, I was most offended by the implication that, in telling an anecdote to illustrate negative attitudes to disability, his erection was due to the woman’s “fear”. There were certainly other moments where I questioned where he was going, but you didn’t have to wait for long to see that he was mocking injustices he sees in society.

So, it was pretty much all amazing…

There were some I enjoyed more than others, but the only show I was completely disappointed by was Tony Law. I’d seen him before, but a majority of this improvised show I didn’t find funny, and on top of that I was worried about him, especially when he started to drink a pint after telling the audience he’s quit drinking. I hope he’s okay…

News: She Grrrowls and Audio Book Radio

She Grrrowls is settled into its new home at Apples & Pears – it’s crazy to think that half a year has gone, and 16th July will be the last event before the summer break (all being well, returning in September). Check out what you missed last week:

In other news, I’m currently working on an anthology of ten poets from the She Grrrowls alumni after receiving funding from Ideas Tap to commission some new poems. I just need a publisher now! I’m hoping to get it out for December to have a launch event.

I’ve also been listening to this radio documentary, with poetry by Kate Tempest after having listened to lots of clips shared by Falling Tree. Again, you can listen to it here:

Speaking of radio, I’ll be having some poems featured on Audio Book Radio. Tune in on Friday 26th June at 2pm, 10pm and Saturday 27th at 6am.