Latitude 2014 – New Voices

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This time last year I was performing at Larmer Tree festival, and now I’ve just come back from Latitude Festival, where I performed as part of the New Voices. It will be the first of five festivals that I will be performing at this summer, and considering how nervous I was and how surreal it seemed, it went really well.

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Fellow New Voice: Charlotte Higgins

Some of my highlights from the festival include…

FRIDAY:
Poetry: Charlotte Higgins, Talia Randal and Page Match
(I didn’t see much else but poetry this day)

SATURDAY:
Music: Catfish and the Bottlemen
Poetry: Dizraeli
Other: Josie Long

SUNDAY:
Music: Haim
Poetry: Luke Kennard and Raymond Antrobus
Other: Eric Lampaert and Sophie Wu

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So, Friday I arrived at the performer campsite after taking a mini-bus after my coach and a nifty little buggy (wasn’t quite so swish on the way back). In the glorious heat, I put up my tent and made my way to the poetry stage. I got there in time to see Charlotte Higgins, another New Voices poet. I loved the way she conveyed such powerful words in her softly spoken manner, and I felt this was even stronger on her Sunday night performance as her passion permeated the audience. Next up was Talia Randal and as she spoke of journeys through London, I immediately wanted to book her for She Grrrowls.

I stepped out to watch the end of Kelis and then Crystal Fighters. I was on my own and feeling a bit lonely and anxious of what lay ahead of me. I ate a Twister lolly that was more expensive than my book, but whilst I have employment, I don’t need to worry about that. Bohdan Piasecki was next up and, being the leader of the Roundhouse Collective, I then felt at home. I stuck around for Peter Hayhoe, Raymond Antrobus and Rosy Carrick’s impromptu set (which I was really happy about, so thanks George The Poet). I saw Andy Bennett, who also made me feel at home, and he gave me his food voucher, which I later spent on chilli with Ray and Hollie McNish. My anxieties were fading away fast.

I was told that Two Door Cinema Club were replaced by Lily Allen, who had already had a secret show slot. I waited too long to find out that the rumours were true. She even did a cover of a TDCC as I was walking away. I used to like her, and I liked ‘Hard Out Here’ as a song, but I don’t think her reaction to racism criticism was positive. Also, I find the rest of the album as a whole a tad boring. But, I do kind of feel I cut my nose off to spite my face and probably would have enjoyed the set. I just feel that as horrible as it is to hear accusations of racism, it is important to engage with that criticism and be open to it,because the complexities of race are just as complex as gender and we all need to learn. Just because someone does something wrong, doesn’t mean that can’t redeem themselves. Anyway, I went back to the poetry tent and watched Andy Bennett and Attila the Stockbroker, ending with Page Match, which was all amazing fun!

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Saturday I slumped on a sofa to watch Josie Long, who was brilliant, and I then headed to the Poetry Stage to catch Rebecca Goss. It was incredible to hear her poetry since reading Her Birth. I watched John Osborne‘s New Blur Album for the second time and next it was Luke Wright before me. I was hoping he would do his garage track and he did! I was next up and after expecting to see the crowd dissolve, Rosy had done a lovely job of bigging me up, and there were more people left behind than I expected. The crowd was lovely and I left the stage feeling happy. I sold two books, though when I finally managed to meet my friend despite the lack of phone signal, I was told I forgot to say exactly where I would be. This meant I didn’t meet my friend straight away; I watched Richard Marsh’s show, Wing Man, as I was compelled by the subject matter and wasn’t sure whether my friend was also still in the crowd. I made my way back to my tent, meeting Peter Hayhoe and Dan Cockrill along the way. I shall blame them rather than my brain for not seeing Conor Oberst, who I was told did Bright Eyes songs to and is one of my all time favourite musicians. Still, this is part of the whole surreal experience of Latitude as a performer.

After catching one song from Conor, I watched Chimene Suleyman and then tried to contact my friend, managing to finally get through in time for First Aid Kit. We hung out with her boyfriend and brother (who bought a book – thank you!) and we watched a bit of Bombay Bicycle Club and Catfish and the Bottlemen, who were particularly great live. We saw a bit of Damon Albarn and parted ways. I returned to watch fellow New Voices Ben Norris and Tommy Sissons, Mark Grist and Dizraeli. Ben was on form and the crowd showed their appreciation with a massive queue for his Nasty Little Intro. I had seen Dizraeli years ago, but he was truly phenomenal and his time on stage whizzed by. Beat-boxer, Reeps One ended the show and I left in the middle as the rain started to fall, and after being up talking to poets until 4am the night before, I wanted an early night (in comparison) before my Sunday set.

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I wanted to see Michael Rosen, but despite being up hours before, I didn’t leave early enough and the tent was full by the time I got there. Instead I watched Eric Lampaert and Sophie Wu on the Cabaret Arena and I was glad I saw them because I loved them both. I watched RSC: Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again after seeing a bit of Selena Godden. I enjoyed bits of it, but I was insanely tired after having four hours sleep, and had my prescription sunglasses on, so I nodded off now and again. I heard other people saying they didn’t quite understand it all, so maybe it wasn’t the brief few seconds I missed before I jerked awake. It was interesting and quite poetic in its expression. I wanted to see The Molinogroup, but I ended up needing to swap signed copies with non-signed copies of my Nasty Little Intro. On my way back I caught some of the film about Amanda Palmer, which I enjoyed as I’ve loved her since The Dresden Dolls. I then saw Andy Bennett and was excited to hear some of his epic poem, to be published by Nasty Little Press. Luke Kennard was amazing to watch; at first I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was just as entertaining on the stage as on the page. Next I saw the lovely Deanna Rodger before heading off to watch Parquet Courts who were great. So great, in fact, that a drunken man came on stage thrashing a chair to the floor, jumping around in joy, and left waving his cock at the audience. I wished I wasn’t on my own and tired and standing on the edge rather than in the mosh pit. Oh to be young. I felt very old looking at all the teenagers, despite being told on my return at Tesco in Wimbledon that I looked sixteen.

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I walked over to the poetry stage via Woman’s Hour, annoyed at my disappointing noodles, but happy to catch some Roger McGough. I watched Haim who were incredible live, and got ready for my final set whilst watching Lemn Sissay and Jonny Fluffypunk from backstage. I felt nervous again, and I think I built up my expectations and left the stage not feeling as good. I didn’t get a big queue like Ben, but I hold on the the moment where one of the audience members asked for a hug, saying thank you in a way in which it was clear something I said had moved him. I clung onto that to make myself feel better about not selling as many books, not realising how much I wanted people to like me and my poetry and validate me by buying my book. I told myself that this hug was what poetry was all about (and not because he fancied me, Ben!)

I didn’t bother coming out for The Black Keys, and watched James Grady, Tim Clare, Charlotte Higgins, Ben Norris, Raymond Antrobus and Scroobius Pip. I hadn’t seen James before, so it was great to see him. I had seen part of Tim’s show, but seeing a whole hour was fantastic. I got a bit emotional at one point… strangely identifying with Tim’s anxiety but in a very different way as he is more extrovert and I’m more introvert. I’ve said Ray was one of my highlights from that day because he really stepped up the the pre-Scroobius slot and it went perfectly. We all stood up for the final act of the night and enjoyed the familiar spoken word until he was played out with ‘if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.’ I failed miserably at talking to Scroobius Pip, unsure how to say ‘remember when I judged you at that slam…’ a story I regularly drop into conversation when the man in question comes up. Instead I spoke to some merry Northern poets, introduced myself to John Cooper Clarke, and hung out with Ben and Bodhan until I couldn’t face dancing awkwardly anymore, and had an early night at 2am.

I ended my time at Latitude with a 40 minute trek, with my camping gear, trying to find where to get my bus from. The directions were very very poor. I should have waited for a buggy and told it to take me there. I set off at 7.50am and didn’t get on the bus until 9.35am and being the last one on, they weren’t even sure if there was room. ‘Er, that’s my coach, I am getting on,’ I thought. The journey back was fine and I nodded off a bit, unable to read Caroline Bird’s beautiful poetry as I had intended. Overall, it was a brilliant weekend and couldn’t have gone much better! I was so tired each night, I even managed to sleep through thunderstorms. I am truly thankful to Luke Wright and Tania Harrison for putting me on the bill, as well as all the many poets who made me feel part of the family.

Long Walks

Recently, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Southbank Centre hosted an event called ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’ based around Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It was an incredible evening of poetry, music, video and readings from the book. I was excited to listen to Shingai Shoniwa’s acoustic version of ‘Never forget You’, to be hypnotised by Inua Ellam’s poetry and to see Lemn Sissay – who performed a song by Gil Scott Heron. Although those were the acts I was familiar with already, I could not have picked a highlight. The people performing were diverse in terms of both gender and race, and there was a real feeling of unity between the acts, as well as the audience. The whole show left me feeling hopeful, inspired and positive.

Then the other day I saw an article by Lemn Sissay about a recent visit to Shetland, where he was featured at a literary festival called Wordplay. This article was about coming across a tourist shop that displayed an array of golliwogs. He also wrote about it on his blog. The Shetland Times also wrote a piece on it, seeming to sympathise with the shop-owner. What sickened me were the mass of comments taking the shop-owner’s side, the ignorance and implicit (at times explicit) racism embedded in their words. I can’t even comprehend the woman of African heritage who advised that Sissay ‘read a bit’ and insulted his literary status. Whilst I don’t imagine the non-poetic will have always heard of him, these comments were ridiculous.

For me, the fact that the white shop-owner, Mrs Leask, dismissed the “rare” complaints she had received (which Sissay tentatively enquired about) and refused to stop selling them, to the degree that she would close the shop before she stopped selling them, means that she is not someone to sympathise with. Whilst I would not condone Sissay’s emphasis of the word ‘old’ in his piece, I’m not going to chastise someone who has had to fight racism his whole life. I find it hard enough myself to imagine the hurt, anger and frustration at seeing a golliwog as a black person. The golliwog is a well-known emblem of racism, and serves as a reminder for a horrific past. To sell one in a shop as fun, toy memorabilia is ignorant. Mrs Leask has made the choice to ignore the complaints, and as Sissay says, she is making a statement with her display in the same way that writers may do with words. You can decide who is right and who is wrong.

It is such a shame that this can still happen at a time where such a celebration of progress at the Queen Elizabeth Hall has taken place. Whilst I can understand that someone is going to get defensive about their actions when being accused of being racist because they think they are “not a racist” – supposedly indicated by the Mohammed Ali photograph Sissay mentions was also on display – it would be better if people could admit such mistakes and be open to learn how to right their wrongs. Otherwise, the photograph of Ali and polite exchange with Sissay simply becomes nothing more than a pathetic reasoning such as “my best friend is black”. This reasoning may make Mrs Leask feel better about herself, but it doesn’t promote positive change and is a backwards movement in the fight for equality for all.

xxx

National Poetry Day etc.

Last Tuesday I went back to Hammer & Tongue at The Victoria in Dalston Junction.  I had just been to Nando’s with my friend Hannah and went to the slam on my own.  I ordered a tap water, as I am on the “cabbage budget” as my course leader, Ian Chance, calls it.  I settled into a comfy sofa at the front and watched the likes of Keith Jarrett and Henry Bowers, competing in the slam in between.  I was the only woman competing and there were only a couple of women even at the event. And I came second place! Representing!! Only missed the top spot by 0.2 marks, so I’m progressing. After all these years, thank God.  I spoke to a couple of people, including the host of the night, Steve Larkin, and even gave out a business card, though the guy hasn’t been in contact, I hope he will do because I wanted to tell him about my own Jack & Jill poem (though not nearly as good as the one he performed).

On National Poetry Day I went to Southbank and listened to loads of poets from 1pm-6pm.  There were so many, but my favourites were Michael Rosen, Laura Dockrill, Richard O’Brien, Catherine Labiran, Lemn Sissay, and Simon Armitage.  The Foyles Young Poets winners were there as well, which made me feel very inadequate and old.  At only 22.  I feel I am behind and trying to catch up with these youngsters.

I went to another slam and got a good score but was beaten by a couple of people.  I was feeling a bit messed about by the host beforehand and it rang true that artists are taken advantage of by event runners etc.  I calculated that with around 50 people showing up, charging a fiver-a-head, the artists themselves should really getting paid more than £10 for “travel”.  There are plenty of venues that are free to hire, so it is something that really needs changing.  I was asked… or rather, just told, that I would be the sacrificial poet and then as I accepted this and made my way towards the stage, I was made to look a fool by the host announcing into the microphone that I was actually going to compete in the slam after all and someone else was going up.  I was also told that if I got one of the prizes that cost £5, to put it back… I thought wait a minute, why am I not entitled to get the prize?  Because I asked to be on the guest list?! Come on, poets that compete in the slam shouldn’t even be paying anyway.  I spoke to a couple of men, one of which I had met a couple of times before, and he has expressed the event is ‘for poets’ rather than ‘for everyone’ so maybe that’s part of the problem as to why the slammers also have to pay.  Also!  Some of the features hardly had five minutes!  It should be 10 minutes minimum really, I reckon.

Anyway, this irritation made me reluctant to want to go back, which is why I’m leaving the event unnamed.  I felt aggravated before I went on stage, and that’s just not how it should be.  There were plenty of events to choose from that night, so I could have gone elsewhere but I didn’t.  Maybe next time I will think about it harder.

Anyway, overall, it was a good week.  I am getting used to working at Sainsbury’s (although I had a nightmare about uniform and turning up late and clocking in, last night) and my nerves are getting lesser.  I am loving my MA course, although I stayed up doing work until 1am the night before it was due, only to find out half of it was actually due the week after, silly me!  Things are looking up and I’m thinking of making this WordPress site into my website (part of my coursework) but there are things I need to think about.  Life is busy, but it is good 🙂

xxx