Paying Poets: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

It’s International Women’s Day! So, on to a topic that impacts on all artists, but arguably more-so women: payment for our labour.

Pioneers for advocating paying poets include Kate Fox, who started up the Poets Network; Paula Varjack, who is currently doing a show called Show Me The Money; and Vanessa Kisuule, who has been whipping up a storm recently with her response to a recent request for her to travel 4 hours for a 50 minute performance and be paid only £30 plus 30% of the door sales. Ridic. If she accepted, it would mean she was paying to work. Would you expect anyone else to do that in any other profession? No. So, she obviously had to refuse.

Despite my own struggles trying to run events and pay artists fairly, which has always been something that’s been important to me, I also recognise that some people, like me, are also doing low/unpaid work in organising these events, on top of accepting rubbish from trying to be a poet. However, it’s important to address issues of payment as they are integral to the ethos of the event. With She Grrrowls, part of the ethos has been that there’s no hierarchy of performers. However, it’s becoming clear that actually what’s more important is that women are valued for their work in monetary terms. I would still like to aim for equal payment for acts, but in July I am going to apply for funding and hope that it is this way that I can afford to pay artists what they deserve and stop apologising. (Though I’m bringing She Grrrowls to the fringe, I’m told it’s different there and that such nights don’t pay acts, and hey it’ll probably cost me around a grand to go myself, so as long as the acts will already be performing, I don’t think I can help that).

exposure-bucks

It was Bryony Kimmings who reminded me of this issue a few years ago, when she politely declined a gig that I shouldn’t have asked her to do, but did so on the off-chance, too exhausted from my day job and commute to properly reflect on the reality of what I was asking. She told me about  illshowyoumine, which is about getting living wages for artists (please click that link, so worth the read!). It’s just not fair that being an artist is not valued as a profession, that it is something that only an elite few can pursue, that the starving artist cliché is something we are too close to emulating. In August I am going to take a risk and go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and from this point I’m going to be making my art a priority, and getting paid for it will be my focus rather than accepting another full-time job out of fear that I am not worth the money, a message that is implied by everyone from family and friends, to society at large.

With this in mind, without naming names, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly, of my experience being a professional poet over the past decade, albeit a part-time one.

The Good

  • £150 for a performance at a festival
  • £75 for curating a one-off event
  • £100 commission for a 15-20 minute set of poetry on a theme
  • £350 for shadowing a series of workshops and taking part in an event + £85 travel costs
  • £100 to read a poem and participate in a discussion on a topic
  • £100 plus professional mentoring to create new work

The Bad

  • No payment, but the only artist on the bill and able to sell books. Then the gig was cancelled without much apology or offer to reschedule.
  • Lots of unpaid gigs, workshops that are booked and then get cancelled, and awkward gigs where literally nobody showed up.
  • Being told you’re being booked to up the number of women, rather than because of anything else. I think this one paid with exposure too.
  • Being paid, but not realising that the host is taller than you and they’re looking at your breasts instead of your eyes. Well, that was a first. Like, in my whole life.

The Ugly

  • Repeat performances and never offered more than £10 for travel, then treated disrespectfully, being patronised and humiliated by the host.

So, in a few months I will working towards getting more of ‘the good’. For now, unable to afford striking today, I will be teaching English and hustling to get some paid writing work so that I can, like, actually eat whilst in Edinburgh.

WOW (trigger warning: rape)


100_3584I have been very busy these past few months, but on Saturday 9th March I went to something that meant I had to get back to typing at these keys: WOW Festival. For those that don’t know about this, WOW stands for ‘Women of the World’ and is a series of events and discussions at Southbank, in London. But first, a quick catch up. 

I went to Barcelona during my half term holiday. I stayed with my friend, Laura who is working there at the moment. I also saw my cousin (who was on an exchange) and paternal grandfather (who is Spanish and lives there) and ate out with my parents who holidayed there too.

100_3528It was really relaxing and enjoyable, with the rain holding off and excitement at a glimpse of sunshine.

In other news, I have had a poem accepted into Brittle Star magazine. I’m pretty sure I have been rejected from there before, which makes my achievement even more special somehow.

100_3527
I went to see Tim Walker’s exhibition at Somerset House, after the V&A exhibition of ‘Hollywood Costumes.’ The latter was interesting, but honestly, too crowded to enjoy properly. It was like being on a conveyor belt, rather than walking around a gallery. And I was disappointed to see that the red shoes and pinafore from the Wizard of Oz were both replicas. On the other hand, Tim Walker’s free exhibition was fascinating. Showing that fashion is not an inferior art form through his photography, amazing pictures lined the walls of rooms where large objects brought them to life.

Photo0464In the world of poetry, I have been notified of my acceptance to perform at a festival, but I cannot reveal just yet which festival that is, so watch this space!I’ve also been busy organising my latest project: Poetry&Paint. I’m so pleased with the responses I’ve had and excited to launch the anthology at Craft Central’s space, ‘The Showcase’ on Saturday 30th March. There will be performance and discussion from Selina NwuluDaniel Lehan, Greta Healy, Robyn Comfort and Bill Vine. The exhibition is from 3pm and the evening event starts from 7pm.

I have also been working where I am employed, very hard.

Photo0465
Yet, I have also been organising Photo0467 something else. On Thursday 7th March, myself and Emily Prichard kicked off the International Women’s Day celebrations with the first ‘She Grrrowls’ Feminist Group meeting. We made some promotional hearts out of card and have scattered them around London.

I must also add that I treated my Mum to seeing Bridget Christie at the Purcell Room in Southbank on Friday. I felt very privileged to be attending her biggest show thus far, and both my Mum and I enjoyed her Feminist comedic commentary on our society, including a hilarious physical display demonstrating why we females should be so thankful for the Bic pen ‘For Her’.

The great shame for my Saturday activities at WOW was that I had no company. Not because I didn’t want to be on my own, but because none of my female friends were their for their own interest.

I have managed to visual document the presence of Ruby Wax, one half of Feminist men duo who co-wrote ‘The Guy’s Guide to Feminism, and Bidisha with Lisa Appignanesi. There were such a range of amazing events, but alas, I could only be at one place at a time.

The introduction to Saturday’s WOW was called ‘The Keys to the Castle. One of the most interesting speakers for this section was space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and I immediately thought how great it would be for her to talk to the students at my work (I work at a school). It was really inspiring and I even learnt things that I didn’t really know about space. Well, 96% of space is undiscovered, so there’s a lot of work to be done in that field!

Next, I went to Michael Kaufman’s talk on The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. He read extracts from the book he co-wrote with Michael Kimmer, and commented on these extracts in an interesting and amusing way. Part of this intention must have been to promote the book – an easy-to-read A-Z of Feminism for the male reader – and it certainly made me want to get it for any male friends and the boyfriend! I highly recommend it, and I haven’t even read it yet.

The next talk that I went to was so powerful and emotive that nothing to follow could be more important to attend. This talk had the simple title: Rape. Chaired by Southbank’s artistic director, Jude Kelly, it began with Joanna Bourke’s revelation of shocking facts and statistics surrounding the subject matter. These things included:

1/ Marital rape was only made illegal in Scotland in 1989 (the year I was born).

2/  The rest of the UK followed suit in 1992.

3/ 1 in 3 films contains rape.

4/ Also reported by The Guardian: “one in three people believes that women who behave flirtatiously are at least partially responsible if they are raped.” (2005)

5/ There are more convictions of rape nowadays but 85% of rape cases go unreported.

6/ 1 in 5 females will be raped in their lifetime. If you know over 5 females, you do the maths.

7/ Some myths about rape: ‘no’ can mean ‘yes’, you can’t rape a resisting woman, some rapes aren’t serious, women ‘ask for it’ and women lie. Do not believe these things.

8/Research into false accusations shows a risk of just 3%, which is in line with all other crimes. 

9/ We need to talk about rape and educate young people about it.

10/ A woman’s biggest risk of rape has little to do with stranger danger. Most rapists know their victim; they are either friends, boyfriends, family or work colleges. This is why men need to speak out about things like rape jokes, and casual misogyny. If you don’t, you just placate those that do and normalise rape, deeming it acceptable. If you are male, you can make a pledge to fight against violence towards women through the White Ribbon Campaign.

whiteribbon

The audience then listened to the stories of real victims of rape (although none of them like to think of themselves as victims). One woman sent her story by email because after nine years she did not feel ready to tell it. I was shocked not just by the horrific atrocities these women had suffered, but the poor state of the legal system, where visible physical injury, and an eyewitness lead to a judge telling the jury to consider if they wanted “to ruin this young, talented man’s life” before making their decision, then to be acquitted of the charge. It also pained me to hear journeys they had been through to come to this stage and their determination not to let this incident define them.

One major point to come out of this discussion was the need to talk about rape and to educate young people about it.

After this harrowing topic, I contemplated a talk with teenagers about the term ‘Feminist’ but then decided to go to ‘Aint I A Woman’ which saw a panel of women discussing black women and popular culture. Speakers included Hannah Pool (chair), Kieran Yates, Angelique Kidjo, Miki Turner and Shirley Tate. It was really interesting, and I found Kieran Yates to be particularly on point throughout. The statement that sparked off the talk stood strong to the end: the struggle to end racism and the struggle to end sexism are intertwined. Although this is something I like to aim for in my brand of Feminism, I feel that, as a white women, the involvement of other races is necessary for Feminism to truly reflect the experiences and problems of all women.

The penultimate event I attended was Ruby Wax’s ‘Out of Her Mind’ which was the perfect blend of tragedy and comedy, about a topic that interests me: mental illness. The importance of communication was expressed again. Wax concluded that now at her dinner parties, when asked how she is, she explains ‘the same as you: dealing with heartache, death and loneliness… Hors d’œuvre?’

Lastly, I listened to women such as Bidisha and Lisa Appignanesi read extracts from ‘Fifty Shades of Feminism’ (another must-have read). I then rushed home for a nice big dinner and discussed the day with my Dad, who talked to me about all the topics, giving me some historical background (being a history teacher) and revealing that he is a Feminist… though not in those exact words, the conversation still had me beaming with pride to have such amazing parents. I then re-told and re-discussed with my Mum on Mother’s Day over a game of Scrabble.

xxx

“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