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.

Larmer Tree Festival 2013 & She Grrrowls

Before I get to the juicy stuff, I’d like to point a couple of things. Firstly, check out my profile of the Spread the Word website as part of the ‘Spoke’ project to find the first Young Poet Laureate for London, for which I was shortlisted. Yep, I made the final twenty ‘Podium Poets’ but sadly didn’t make the cut to the final six. Secondly, I found a link to the Guardian website where there is a picture of me! Gillian Wearing picked my picture as one of her favourites and said ‘I relate to this, having done various jobs myself when I left college’ at my photo, taken in Sainsbury’s uniform with the statement ‘the artist shouldn’t be stacking shelves.’

The major news is that I’ve performed at my first proper festival, you know, with fields and camping and stuff. The festival was Larmer Tree in Salisbury. I went with my friend Natalie and we had an amazing time! The weather was perfect and made me so very happy. I hope to come back the next year and for the weather to be as good! I saw such a range of music, including the lovely Saturday Sun, and a boy playing a pop-up gig who was around 10 and incredible (who was later gutted to miss my performance of ‘Circles’ which was nice to hear). We also made things like insect brooches, necklaces and mosaics. We learnt some hula hoop tricks and now I really want to take it up! I also hope to take up the ukulele, re-inspired by the band there.

I saw some great poets, including Angie Belcher, Edson Burton, Nichol Keene and Toby de Angeli, Joelle Taylor, Poeticat, Scott Tyrrell and The Antipoet. My first performance had been extended to half an hour, which meant that I ran out of material (oops) and had to read from my book. It actually felt good to take my time and read like that, and people got to listen to pieces which I don’t do as much. I probably should have taken my time earlier. My second set was ‘Circles’ the epic-poem I produced with Apples & Snakes as part of the ‘Word’s a Stage’ project. I had memorised it but didn’t quite know it well enough to avoid looking at the paper stuck in my prop (the Metro). I also ran a workshop which I thought went well as most of the participants were lovely and one told me that I should be confident in what I do. Honey, if I knew how to do that, I’d be a more successful poet by now.

Just kidding, I know I come across as a bit shy and softly spoken… but well, I am. I’m growing to accept myself this way and believe I can still be successful being who I am. I lack confidence now and again (don’t we all?) but some people can see my inner-confidence. I’ve been having a bad week so far. I’m not sure where it stemmed from, but I’ve been in a bad mood and felt like I work so hard and don’t have much to show for it. Typing away at a laptop all the time when it’s sunny outside can be a tad depressing. Especially when videos won’t upload. This video by Jodi Ann Bickley helped a bit and it is inspiring to see her work with one million lovely letters. And here I am, still writing this and not knowing if anyone is reading it and if any of this will amount to anything.

So, we had our pilot event for She Grrrowls at Kingston’s Ram Jam Club at the Grey Horse as part of IYAF. How did it go? It was a bit of a disaster but I think we pulled it off. On Thursday night the headline act pulled out, on my return from Larmer Tree on Monday, another act was forced to pull out, and whilst the event had started, another act pulled out. Only two out of our five acts actually was able to make it. Luckily, we had Sam Neele replace our headliner for the music, who gave a lovely other-worldly set, and I filled in with some poetry. Bisha Ali gave us some hilarious comedy, and I’m gutted I can’t show you a video or tell you some of the jokes but we will definitely have her at She Grrrowls again. Andi Michael gave us extracts from her novel, proving her not only to be an amazing writer but one with a unique style that makes use of poetic language. In addition to the line-up we had on the spot performances from Hannah Rose Tristram, Becky Dennis and Cherry Godiva, who were all amazing. We hope to see everyone again at future She Grrrowls events.

Which brings me to the next point on the agenda. Dates.

Number 1: Wednesday 11th September. The She Grrrowls Spoken Word Launch at The Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green. Future events every first Wednesday of the month.

Number 2: My next gig will be August 8th at Red Door Studios, 120 Masterman Road East Ham E6 3RW. I will also be delivering an all-day workshop there on Saturday 14th September.

Number 3: August 13th at RichMix in Shoreditch I will be performing a show as part of a writing group through Apples & Snakes.

I think that’s about all anyone’s brain can take in this heat.

xxx