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

default

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 22.20.28

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! 💪

“Are you doing burlesque?” – “No, I’m doing poetry”

On Sunday 4th March I finally made my first appearance at Finger in the Pie Cabaret at Madame JoJo’s. I did a sound check which was a bit odd as I’ve never really done one before. I then had a long time to wait in the dressing room. My nerves were building in this time, and made all the more intense as the room was bursting with other performers; mostly burlesque dancers. The atmosphere was more intense than other poetry gigs, because there was more of a sense of unity and collectivism – we were putting on a show together, rather than just individually putting on each act. It was a very supportive and friendly environment. Everyone was lovely, but burlesque dancers Shady Lane and Velvet Lune spoke to me the most. Marga, another burly girl, from Italy, made a great effort to speak to everyone. Although not in the show, Annaliza Jennings was also really lovely – she does the marketing side of The Cheek of It!

The butterflies in my stomach, and sudden mind-blanks regarding my act, reminded me of my days at Gemini Dancers shows (Royal Albert Hall baby!) and UEA Dance Squad and Pole Dancing competitions. Before taking to the stage, the hosts (Moonfish Rhumba, reminded me a bit of Flight of the Conchords) assumed I would be doing burlesque when checking my act, and I told them I was actually doing poetry. They were going to mention I had books to sale (Carmina’s Poetry Tease) but sadly didn’t which is a shame because I would have mentioned it myself at the end and maybe would have sold some. It’s not really something you can just mention every time someone compliments you!

I wish someone had filmed the performance as it pretty much went perfectly. I was thrown a bit at one point when I thought someone had been laughing inappropriately, but I remembered all my poems – yay! I felt I performed well and gave a performance worthy of the £10/12 entry (although, as we discussed, none of us were getting paid). I think most of the material I chose suited the environment and I got a few laughs. And although I felt a little less glamorous than all the burly girls, without the glitter, I thought that my outfit gave a nod to the cabaret surroundings, wearing my pink fascinator (which I love). As I stepped out of the backstage area and into the audience, I was surprised by the people sitting directly behind the door. A guy gave me a thumbs up (which I will assume was in approval of my performance) and a few other people congratulated me on my efforts and said they enjoyed it. One girl put it on the same level as Glastonbury performances (organisers, take note for 2013!) Overall, it was a great show and I was really happy to be a part of it.

I did decide to take out one the poems I was going to read as it may have been misconstrued, as there is a line that says ‘I will not wear nipple tassels and knickers and call myself burlesque.’ I had the feeling that this may be seen as a negative statement and I didn’t want to have to explain myself. What I mean by that line is more complicated than a statement about burlesque dancing. It is more about the idea that not everyone can be a burlesque dancer, and is more a reference to girls that go out clubbing in such attire (I have witnessed a picture of one girl where she only had one of the nipple tassels on) and a comic poking at myself for times I may have gone out with too-revealing clothes, where the goal is to attract male attention. It is a statement to say I will not act like that, with an implication that maybe you have in the past but need to embrace the past and what you have learnt.

It is also about the discussions that took place at Madame JoJo’s. The burly girls told me that the clientele of the Proud Cabaret at Fenchurch Street wasn’t nice. I got the impression it had a seedy vibe, and attracted leery men that just want to see naked women, which is not what burlesque is about. If I were ‘Proud’ I’d take on board the feelings of the performers and get stricter with the audience. The point is, there is so much more to burlesque than simply taking your clothes off and I realised that more than ever being in the company of such lovely ladies; witnessing the nerves, the glitter, the hairspray and the huge amount of preparation it takes to get an act polished to perfection.

Here’s the full poem:

Tick the Box

I will buy a Yorkie bar, let it melt in my mouth and drink milk,
ignore the calories and not stick my fingers down my throat to be sick.
I will dream I have a dick
at night in my bed alone, wrapped in Cath Kidson flowers

I will be unattainable, no I’m not available
for you to screw, do what you do, and leave in the gutter
like butter wouldn’t melt.
And any tears I cry are simply for the time I’ve wasted in my life
over those that didn’t deserve more than the stir
of the spoon in my cup of tea,
because life is short and some people you just don’t need.

I will drink a cocktail or a can of lager,
and don’t want to know you if you judge me on the choice.
I will be shy as I am but you will never take my voice.

I will not wear nipple tassels and knickers and call myself Burlesque.
I will not fuck drunk, load each hole with spunk and call myself a feminist.
I will not be a nought
or throw myself over the balcony
or drown myself in the river
or have my tongue cut out by some Tereus
I will not be trapped in the attic
or be called over-dramatic,
or be told to rest, suffocated by yellow wallpaper
until my death.

I will not let you put me in a box of what you think female should be,
all I know is who I am, and I can only be me.

It has been a bit of a Feminist weekend. On the Saturday I had taken the day off work to go to the Million Women Rise march. Sadly, none of my friends came along so I had to go on my own. It was a rainy morning but by the time I arrived at Bond Street, the sun was shining. I got a bit of free cake from the Hare Krishna stand and chatted to a couple of people. We marched through the streets with tourists snapping cameras and filming like we were celebrities.

It was great doing the different chants and making a statement in such a way, that seemed to have more impact than Reclaim the Night due to its central pathway. My favourite was ‘power to the women, women have the power, sisters can you hear me, getting strong by the hour. Power! Power!’ This was because, it felt (needless to say really) very empowering. The rally in Trafalgar Square was interesting, informative and very moving.

Taking advantage of my time off work, I also went with a friend I hadn’t seen in ages to the Hayward Gallery. David Shrigley’s Brain Activity and Jeremy Deller’s Joy in People was showing. I’d only seen Shrigley in books and in collective exhibitions.

It was great to see the variety of work he has done and his 3D work, which is pretty much like walking into a pop-up book of his illustration work. He is known for being very comic, but it was interesting to see the more macabre side.

I was not really that aware of Deller,
however, I really enjoyed what he brought to the show, and found it interesting how
a thread of the concept of obsession in his work. The mining stories reminded me of my Grandad as he is from Barnsley, which was the setting at the point I started viewing from. It was also intriguing to watch the piece about Depeche Mode fans.

It also documented a lot
of the 80s and 90s which gave it a real sense of that era. I especially liked the quirkiness of the cafe installation, and the recreation of his bedroom exhibition. I also liked Pensées, which included extracts from his artist’s book, compiled from toilet graffiti – and in this case, surrounding an actual toilet. When a queue formed, this amused me quite a bit.

I found both artists inspiring in terms of my own work. Deller’s bedroom piece had elements of my own idea for my MA showcase. Shrigley inspired me in the more general sense, about how text and imagery work together, as well as this mixture of comedy and tragedy.

Well, it’s a longer post than usual, so if you’ve made it to here, congratulations. One last note; you can now find my work on Zukuri UnLtd – I have one piece up and running, with the next to follow shortly.

On here, look out for the Artist of the Month for March. As you can see, I’ve been busy, but it’ll be posted soon. Meanwhile, see if you can guess who it might be?! Also, I will be attending Lady Ha Ha  at Norwich Playhouse, to celebrate International Women’s Day. Let me know what you’re doing for it!

xxx