I didn’t write last week as I was hoping to share some photos of the Poetry Party, but still yet to see them. For now, here’s some pictures of the lovely park. I performed my poem, ‘The Missing Scissors’, twice. The first time, I bombed it and forgot the lines three quarters of the way through. The second time, I smashed it, and could go home with my head held high. It was really fun to take part in the workshops with Simon Mole and Gecko, sharing some fresh materials with the audience/participants.
I really want to do more visual art, and I’m hoping to do an Art Therapy MA (most likely September 2022 by the looks of things), and I have seen that there may be a way for me to get a loan to cover part of the course after all (as I can’t get a government loan, despite self-funding my first MA). So far, I’ve just been working with a student to produce our own Top Trumps cards, which I’ve really enjoyed. And I won the game we played with them!
In other news, I have bulk bought some Montezuma’s chocolate. I will challenge myself to make it last until the end of the year, but we shall see. I also couldn’t resist the Penned in the Margins sale, and bought four books I’ve been really looking forward to getting. Also, watch this space as on Monday I will be one of sixty chosen poets to feature on a Poetry Map of London, as part of the Royal Society of Literature’s ‘Write Across London’ project.
As of last Wednesday, it has officially been a year since I registered as self-employed. I’m in a much better position than I was a year ago when I started. The main battle is with my mind, to stop questioning myself and live how I want to live. I have regular work to keep me going Monday to Wednesday, which spills a little over into Thursday. This means I have between 3-4 days to focus on other things.
The challenge is to stick to this routine and give myself permission to do the necessary creative work, and remember that this is a legitimate use of my time, as well as the work that I’m being funded to do for the She Grrrowls book tour. Yet, there are also times where other things come up, the routine gets disrupted… usually with work, but also with other things like seeing friends and family.
Most recently, I went to Leicester for the She Grrrowls book tour with Joelle Taylor and Esther Poyer. It was a great night and from there I went to see my grandparents in Yorkshire, and my cousin in Nottingham. Last week, I did a week of TEFL work and it was intense. I taught 9am-1pm, had a nice lunch break before leaving to tutor 2.30pm-8.30pm, then did my planning for more tutoring sessions after a quick dinner, leaving just enough time to squeeze in a bit of Spanish and Netflix before doing the same again. It was also National Poetry Day that week, meaning I had an excuse to show a video of Joelle Taylor to the most advance group, tell them about Rallying Cry, and make them do some of their own poetry.
Things eased up towards the end of the week, but as anyone who’s freelance knows… there’s always more work to do be done, so I filled my time with all the other necessary tasks. I ended the week by hosting She Grrrowls at The Poetry Cafe. It was so busy, I was regretfully having to turn people away or there wouldn’t be room for people who had booked tickets in advance… something I’ll have to think about in future in case of no-shows. A much better problem to have than being in a cold room in New Cross with just a handful of people.
I took a train to Norwich with a friend, where we celebrated with a group of our uni friends as it has been 10 years since we started at UEA together. I came home to find that poet and artist Scott Tyrrell has completed his map of poets. I managed to wrangle my way onto the East Anglia section, which I’m not sure I am entirely deserving of, but I am proud to be there. Although back in London, Norwich was where I really grew as a writer, studying it in a couple of modules at university, but also being part of the local scene of live lit events thanks to people like Amy Wragg and Russell J Turner. I got to support acts like Francesca Beard and Kate Tempest, and gradually made connections with poets from Aisle 16 like Ross Sutherland and Luke Wright, that saw me getting into working with young people, getting my first pamphlet published by Nasty Little Press, and performing at Latitude. For these reasons, my poetry career has a deep connection with the East of England.
I don’t get that many gigs to do my poetry, but really this is connected to my ideas of what it means to be a “success”. Really this is a a destination that I will never arrive at, because it doesn’t exist. As a creative, you will always keep striving for more, but really the goal should be continue to make work and do what you enjoy whilst having some kind of stability to enable the work. There are so many ways of doing this, and just because your way is different to someone else’s doesn’t make it any less valid. I want to focus more on creative goals and taking small steps towards bigger things, like the fact I’m going to have two videos from Muddy Feet Poetry in the autumn!
Well, readers (if you exist, it feels like writing into the abyss), I haven’t written properly her since Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Most of my reviews are written for The Norwich Radical, and I’ve now been writing for them for over three years as a volunteer. I felt the urge to write having recently come back from Verve Poetry Festival (alas, as an audience member, not a participant).
One of my cousins is at university in Birmingham, so I took the opportunity to get her a Saturday ticket and visit her whilst attending the festival. We had a lovely time, and I discovered new voices amongst old favourites. It was a bit overwhelming at times being surrounded by so many familiar names and faces, and by the end of the festival my brain kind of stopped working, but it was well worth it. I’ll go through some of my personal highlights.
Dead or Alive Slam
I’d never been to a Dead of Alive Slam, where actors read the work of past poets, and compete against the alive ones. I was very much in team ‘alive’, who were the overall winners, but I discovered poems by both I enjoyed. It featured Genevieve Carver, Isaiah Hull and Caroline Teague – the first two being new to me, and all of them brilliant. Team Death consisted of poems by Christina Rossetti, Forough Farrokhzad, and Djuna Barnes (read by Tembi Xena, Lorna Nickson Brown, and Zeddie Lawal). Djuna Barnes really stood out to me, which might come in handy for the workshop I’m going to run with Spread the Word – The Femme Canon.
This section featured six commissioned poets, alongside competition winners, and was hosted by the judge Luke Kennard. What I liked about this section was that there were so many poets, and so much variety. It can be difficult to listen to poetry across three days (even for us poets) so this quick succession of poets was welcome for a morning event at the start of a long day. It featured local poets including Roy McFarlane, Bohdan Piasecki,Amerah Saleh, Jenna Clake, Casey Bailey, and Ahlaam Moledina. Having been tutored by Piasecki whilst in the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, and having met Saleh on a previous trip to Birmingham, it was particularly good to hear both their poetry. You can buy the book of poems here.
Stablemates: Bobby Parker
Chaired by Jill Abram, creator of Stablemates, there was discussion and poetry from Martha Sprackland, James Brookes, and Bobby Parker in celebration of new work from Offord Road Books. Although I wasn’t expecting it, Bobby Parker was my favourite poet in this section. He was open about the criticism he had received from his poem ‘THANK YOU FOR SWALLOWING MY CUM’, of which I wasn’t previously aware had provoked accusations of misogyny. I read the poem myself and although I think it’s horrible, I think it’s the intention, it being an exploration of this dark side of masculinity and the validation that men may place on such an act. It is simultaneously simple and complex, and I like it and Parker’s other word. I didn’t realise the connection between this poem and Thank You For Swallowing, which publishes incredible feminist writing.
The Poetry Assembly: Romalyn Ante
Although a celebration of Jane Commane’s Bloodaxe collection, the event was also supported by Roz Goddard, Liz Berry, Romalyn Ante, and Matt Black. My favourite poet was Romalyn Ante, with her slow, rhythmic poetry, with vivid imagery, it was beautiful to hear her recite. My only issue with the programming of Verve Poetry Festival is the division of sections labelled ‘poetry’ and ‘spoken word’, when there were examples such as this where Ante knew her poems by heart and was in the ‘poetry’ section, yet others such as the Out-Spoken Press section were labelled ‘spoken word’ when both feature books.
The penultimate event I went to featured Salena Godden, Matt Abbott, Maria Ferguson, and Jamie Thrasivoulou. Whilst they were all great poets, Ferguson was my highlight here, and is always completing captivating. After her show ‘Fat Girls Don’t Dance’ (which I have seen and bought a copy of the book of the same title), she is now working on a show called ‘Essex Girls’. As well as her usual fantastic poetry, in the second half of the two hour slot she gave us a sneak peek into some of her writing from the show.
Luke Wright & Ross Sutherland
Tom Chivers of Penned in the Margins presented the last section I could attend before hopping on my newly booked coach (otherwise I would have been on night buses from arriving by train 1am the next day in London). It think it was actually Tom Chivers who introduced me to the work of Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland just under a decade ago as an awkward undergrad on an internship at PITM whilst studying at UEA. I have since worked with Ross Sutherland during Shake the Dust, and Luke Wright kindly published my small selection of poems with Nasty Little Press and put me on at Latitude Festival, and I have kept following both their work. It was, as always, great to hear their stuff, especially having recently read and loved The Toll by Wright, and listened to some of the Imaginary Advice podcasts by Sutherland.
All in all, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my recommendations (I has taken me a couple of hours of writing after all). Hopefully next year I’ll be writing as a fellow participant! I’ve been officially freelance since October 2017, so stay tuned for when I find time to write about what that has meant for me thus far (clue: I’m still very much settling back into the UK since my return from Spain in July).
After my first fringe run, it’s hard to know what I’m feeling, but, I’m so glad that I’ve done it. I viewed it as a learning experience, and wanted to sell some of the 100 books that were delivered to my hostel. I could just about fit the 50 books that were left in my suitcase, so I feel like I did what I set out to achieve. In celebration, I also got my first two tattoos: a heart on my wrist, because that’s where I wear it, and leopard print on my shoulder, to symbolise She Grrrowls.
In terms of learning, I think I could have flyered better in terms of exit-flyering more rigorously. I did well with the Wee Blue Book, but the people taking them weren’t necessarily my audience, and I feel like people who would have liked it weren’t always reached. I tried to pace myself, but as a lone wolf, I saw more shows than people, and could have put myself out there more in terms of meeting other poets etc. Tim Wells bumped into me flyering and stressed the importance of networking, but it isn’t my best skill. For this, I was grateful for people like John Osborne who invited me to hang out at the Book Festival, which I didn’t know much about. Sadly, coming down with a cold meant I had to propose getting well again, but towards the end of the month I was also able to hang out with Tyrone Lewis and Jake Wild Hall from Boomerang Club, and met a few people through them. It was actually BC, along with Joel Auterson who inspired me to take She Grrrowls to the fringe having seen they did it the previous year.
The Fringe is so expensive to attend, even with a free venue, and so I wasn’t expecting to make a profit, or break even, but just hoped to have some money to help me get by. It had put me out of pocket for many months when working in Spain, and it was thanks to a week of teaching work in Wimbledon that I even had money to buy food. I have no savings. The only thing to alleviate the stress what when I secured a couple more weeks of work for September, and started to do interview for tutoring jobs from my hostel kitchen. I was paying over £800 for a mixed 6-bed dorm, and although this resulted in many sleepless nights due to snoring guests, the location was perfect, and it was pretty clean with a well-equipped kitchen. Doing a solo show I think I’d need something better, but I managed to survive it.
Initially, I was nervous about flyering, and not too excited to have to host the show. I found I surprised myself in both these areas. Flyering was okay when I could be myself, and there were hundreds of others doing the same. Hosting each night felt like I was training a set of muscles. However, there were a few times sexism reared its head. Once a man spoke to me about my event then asked to shake my hand. Except he brought it to his frog-like lips and kissed it. I felt violated. Then there was a time when a guy walked past, whipped a flyer out my hand only to throw it to the gutter – normally, not much to think of, except it seemed a deliberate reaction to the word “feminism” emboldened on the flyer. Just after this a group of guys I recognised (possibly fellow poets) approached me. At first they seemed friendly, but what they said to me was strange, hostile and intimidating. I doubted they would behave the way they did to a man, so regarded it as an act of sexism. And it wasn’t just me: Fay Roberts wrote an account for this problem here.
I did a few feature sets at nights such as Raise the Bar: Poetry Versus and That’s What She Said. Another thing I would have done would be more features and open mics, but this required more planning than I had realised, and I wasn’t quite sure where to look. I did suffer from “fringe flu” at one point, which was when the wonderful Jane Bradley, host of TWSS, gave me a lovely bag of goodies like grapes and tea and lozenges. When I wasn’t flyering, seeing shows, or doing shows, I was writing reviews for The Norwich Radical (one, two, and three), and applying for tutoring jobs for when I returned to London. This means I’m going to soon become self-employed when I start taking on tutoring clients.
I saw so many incredible shows that it would be impossible to list them all, but I will try now, and did try to tweet about them all during the fringe (categories may cross over).
KMT by Athena Kugblenu
Elsa by Isobel Rogers
What Women Want by Amy Annette
Sticky Digits by Pamela DeMenthe
The Lol Word
Adele is Younger Than Us
Hurricane Katie by Katie Pritchard
How to be Good at Everything by Next Best Thing
The Conscious Uncoupling by Rosie Wilby
All KIDing Aside by Christel Bartelse
Molesting the Corpse of Traditional Masculinity Since 1987 by Henry Ginsberg
London Hughes: Superstar
Shit! I’m in Love with You Again by Rachelle Elie
Above the Mealy-Mouthed Sea by Jemima Foxtrot
Circled in the Radio Times by John Osborne
Frankie Vah by Luke Wright
Anxiety and Animal GIFs by Hannah Chutzpah
My Cloth-Eared Heart by Melanie Branton
That’s What She Said
Porky the Poet
Fifty Grades of Shame by Sophia Blackwell
An Evening with an Immigrant by Inua Ellams
No Rest for the Lizard by Gecko
A Matter of Race
Struggle With Purpose by Patrick Shand
This Really is Too Much
Happy Hour by Jack Rooke
Show Me The Money by Paula Varjack
Quarter-Life Crisis by Yolanda Mercy
Good Girl by Naomi Sheldon
The Vagina Dialogues
Syd & Sylvia by Claudia Jefferies
At the end of the run I had a couple of nights still, catching the rest of the shows I could, and trying to do some non-fringe stuff. Having had a picnic for dinner on Calton Hill the night before, I treated myself to a lovely meal at MUMS after climbing Arthur’s Seat on my final day, and had my first try of haggis with a Full Scottish Breakfast the next morning (I spread it on toast and finished it, but I’m more of a hash brown girl). After cooking for myself everyday, aside from exactly two portions of chips and gravy, for the whole month, it was a worthy reward. I’d also been veggie the whole time, so meat was quite a treat.
Now it’s onto the next chapter – the book launch at The Five Bells in New Cross on Wednesday 20th September!
I was at primary school when I first learnt what the word ‘hypocrite’ meant. I remember because I recall shouting it at other players during after-school netball games. I say shouting, but I’m quite softly spoken and so maybe I wasn’t all that loud. But I remember one friend laughing at me as I said it. Those who get close to me will learn this strange mix of vehement-quiet-girl still exists within me (why I’m so excited for the Shy Radicals book).
It was when I was a teenager, that I began to see my parents – and adults in general – as human beings. With flaws. One of those flaws being that they were massive hypocrites. As a child who had school reports detailing my strong sense of right and wrong, it was only natural that I developed this idea that being a hypocrite was not something I wanted to be, and with that I found it hard not to be overly righteous in defending my views. I never believed that I would become a hypocrite.
But maybe I was wrong. If I am to analyse the details of everything I do, I regularly go against what I believe in. I can do a lot better. And although I’m taking steps towards doing better, there will always be things I do that don’t live up to my ideal version of myself, especially when it comes to making money. For example, my current day job is teaching English as a foreign language. It can be a very rewarding job, yet, a big part of me is also uncomfortable about the fact that there is so much demand to learn English. It reminds me of how privileged I am to have been born where I was. Such a small country, such a widespread language, such a horrible history of colonialism.
And here I am, post-Brexit, living in Spain, not able to speak the language – because if you know English, why bother with any other language? Even the one of your heritage. My plan, to return to the UK, hopefully better acquainted with Spanish, and focus on my career as a writer. I feel I haven’t given myself the chance to properly try to live my dream. For a dream, I know it will seem less of that in reality, that it will be a struggle. But then so is working full-time and trying to work in the arts as a second job. It’s time that I make it a priority.
And in doing that, it’s likely my morals may be called into question. I might still be a hypocrite, and I might face dilemmas. Except maybe the money will be too much of a temptation, because I already auditioned for an advert for Transport for London because it paid more than my annual wage at the time (I’m now earning about half that annual wage, but my mental health is a lot better and I’m living in my own apartment instead of with my parents). And this dilemma is if I am lucky. Whenever I have seen other poets at Buckingham Palace, or on adverts, I have been excited for them, knowing that (despite the moral implications) I would be honoured to be asked and can’t imagine doing anything other than accept it. Even if I did feel uneasy about it.
This is for the same reason that I accepted my first job offer after I finished my MA and stayed there for 4 years. Because I have been taught that things are so bad that I should be grateful for whatever I can get. But right now, I have taken a risk and applied for Edinburgh Fringe Festival and booked to stay at a hostel for a month. It’s nearly double my current rent. I’m trying to save, but I am worried about being able to afford it. I thought about applying for some extra work that would ease these worries – £1000 for a month’s work online – but in the end, I wasn’t sure I would be able to commit to it on top of my full-time job teaching.
So, to imagine the fee that comes with doing adverts, such as the Nationwide ones, knowing that it could enable me to live my dream. It would be too good to refuse. And as another poet pointed out, it is the system that is the problem, and most of the time we are just trying to live. I’ve worked for minimum wage for WHSmith, JD Wetherspoons and Sainsbury’s. It doesn’t mean I agree with what they stand for, so if I was asked to pen a poem for those same companies, would it be any different? Perhaps it would, being that you are publicly associating your own brand as a poet with their brand, therefore it is a kind of endorsement that isn’t as true being a sales/bar assistant, which carries with it an element of anonymity, of being part of a uniformed mass.
In the midst of debate around the Nationwide adverts, although admitting he respects the poets in the ads, poet Luke Wright sparked debate with his poem Renegade Poets, which I think is what was intended. It is not so much the poets in the ads being targeted, but rather opening up a discussion about what it means when we accept these opportunities, especially for those of us who write political pieces and are vocal about things like Feminism and Capitalism. ‘McGough is doing Waitrose, and Clarkey’s doing chips…’ Wright says, while acknowledging it’s not about one specific case, and that it’s not new.
He laments about the art that is lost, the compromise you have to have, when selling your work in this way. One line that struck me was: ‘if nobody wants to see your show, it’s probably not good enough’, because part of me thinks there’s more to it than that. For example, with She Grrrowls, the audience can vary widely in numbers, and sadly I think being a feminist night, featuring women, this makes it more niche. Then again, there’s also music and comedy, which are arguably less niche than poetry. I have also had a promotor basically tell me that I don’t bring enough audience to the show. Whilst that may be true, I would never say that to one of my acts. It’s rude and patronising.
Nevertheless, the sentiment harks back to that line in Wright’s poem. If you are familiar with Wright’s work, you’ll see that at least in this sense, he practises what he preaches. How do you make something good enough? You work hard at it. At the night Homework, as well as in his solo shows, you can see the effort that goes into creating quality pieces, and the poem Renegade Poets is a great poem too, with an ending that really drives the point home.
The point being to think more about making these decisions, instead of doing what I imagine I might do – just see the money and and say yes. So, yes it’s important to think about this topic, but at the moment, I don’t think I’m able to make a decision. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong in all contexts, but something that comes down to an individual company and what they stand for, and the person making that choice.
When I did my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship five years ago, part of me thought that if I had the right tools I could be successful in the arts. I grew up with two teachers as parents and they worked hard in their field and have been able to provide me with a good life. I have become slightly disillusioned since graduating and working, that although we were taught that the “struggling artist” cliche is a myth that doesn’t have to be fulfilled, I still fear know that by taking a risk later this year, I will living on the “cabbage budget” and may never see the “champagne budget”.
Disillusioned, but only slightly. I still hold on to my dream, and feel I have to give myself that chance. On another related note, Roxane Gay recently pulled publication of her next book How to Be Heard after ‘alt-right’ Milo Yiannopoulos received a $250,000 advance from Simon & Schuster. It is an act of protest. She has been able to stand by her morals and principles, but she has also been quoted by The Guardian as saying ‘I can afford to take this stand. Not everyone can. Remember that.’ Whether these moral choices are something we can do from the start of our career, or whether it is something success enables us to do so is still up for debate. I may be a hypocrite now, but I will try to push myself and do better.
The Last Word Festival is a week-long annual festival of spoken word events at The Roundhouse. In addition to the scratch show for ‘Dear Adventure’ with Kid Glove, I watched ten other shows. You can find five of them reviewed briefly here, and another five reviewed on The Norwich Radical website.
I hadn’t seen Sophie Rose perform, and this ending up being of of my favourite shows of the festival. Rose had a natural quality to her performance, as she moved from narrative story-telling to poetic details, successfully blending humour with more serious moments. The ‘quiet violence’ began with high heels, which made me think I should get rid of mine, dusty because they look so much better in my wardrobe that on my feet, where I’d eventually be stumbling and sporting some of the ankle-protection shown on Rose’s subtle costume. The concept of the show appeared to me as a unique one, yet it was so relatable that it was both hilarious (who knew bags could be so funny?) and, dare I say, life changing. By the end, it encouraged the audience to do what makes them happy, rather than what they feel obliged to do, to find the people who would make them soup when they’re ill, and to change what they don’t like rather than simply put up with it. Sophie Rose wants to know, what’s your quiet violence?
Producing Your Own Poetry Show
Throughout the festival there were a range of workshops offered. Having seen Sophie Rose’s show, I was curious as to how this would also work with a workshop about how others could produce shows. Rose made the room a comfortable space, where we worked individually and as a group to discuss different aspects of making a show. It was difficult to contain in the hour slot, and she generously offered extra time, as well as the space for collaborative discussion under her direction, and gave everyone detailed notes and the offer to contact her. One of the useful tips I picked up was about distilling your show idea down to one word; my word ended up being ‘self-acceptance’, which isn’t what I expected, but shows an idea of what the audience should get from it as well as the artist.
What I Leaned From Johnny Bevan
Poetry veteran, Luke Wright, previewed his new show amongst many emerging artists. With many shows already under his belt, I was excited to see what this one would bring. Sitting in the audience, I was already excited by the music playing, and as the show began, we heard crafted guitar twangs (from Art Brut’s Ian Catskilken) to a backdrop of changing scene sketches. I was filled with nostalgia of my own early twenties, that were often filled with drinking in council estates with mates and days spent in my first years at UEA, locations both featured in the show. Yet this nostalgia also gave a sense of timelessness, a dystopian feel, which the tale of Johnny Bevan represented, that we remain to the social class we’re born in, and that just as previous governments reinforced these class divisions, so will the current one. With the election results still fresh, the poetic narrative of Johnny Bevan painted a bleak future, but perhaps, in this gritty reality, it is a reminder as to why it is important to keep fighting. Essentially, this is a story, but the poetry of the show is not merely due to the use of rhyme, but the depth of meaning behind the words.
I didn’t know what I had let myself in for at the time – Poetry Reincarnation started at around 7pm, and it was stilling going past the scheduled end time of 11.15pm. I had also attended part of the earlier programme of events, with a panel discussion on poetry and, essentially, its importance in our lives creatively and politically. The evening event kicked off with Malika Booker, giving a somewhat unspoken progression this world has made beyond the Beat Poet generation of white men, and its unmentioned allegations of pedophilia, and support of the NAMBLA. Since finding this information out, I now always feel uneasy about this kind of worship of poets such as Allen Ginsberg. There were around twenty poets, so I’m going to focus on my favourites. Booker was one highlight, having recently read ‘Pepperseed’ and she was followed by Cecila Knapp, who represented the under-30s and did a stellar job all weekend. Libby Houston was a poet from the older generation of poets performing since the 60s who impressed with her poetics, humour and wide smile.
Kei Miller reminded me that I want to buy his collection, and poets such as John Hegley and Elvis McGonagall brought excitement to the event in the form of rhyme, rhythm and comedy. Music was used effectively throughout the show, breaking up the mass of spoken word, and including more experimental and psychedelic parts that were evocative of the 60s, yet Gwyneth Herbert was a powerhouse in this respect, with a voice that ranged from soft and subtle to loud and proud. Janaka Stucky was a poet I was unfamiliar with, and coming from Boston, it felt a privilege to see him perform his work. Salena Godden, recently mentioned by Hannah Silva at The Place for Poetry, was even more of a delight to watch after hearing this analysis. Francesca Beard was a poet I recently argued at She Grrrowls, and I saw her do some of the same, as well as new material, and again, she left me wanting more, with every word layered with meaning, yet also dishing out a dry, witty humour throughout her set. I sadly missed the end of Dr John Cooper Clarke’s set, and leaving after a couple of sexist, tired wife jokes, I was disappointed with what I did see, but hopefully I’ll be better impressed when I see him again in July. The way poets such as JCC are often held on a pedestal, it seems almost sacrilege to dare say his jokes were sexist, and as much as I want to suggest that perhaps I just couldn’t keep to the the speed of his speech, I can’t deny that these cliched wife jokes just don’t tickle me. And surely, if we want our poetry to be truly revolutionary, I can’t be too scared to say something is sexist. What this event did showcase, as well as the non-programmed event simultaneously taking place in the Made in Camden bar, of which I was meant to be a part, is the vibrancy and variety of contemporary poetry today, and the importance of learning about poets who came before us.
In case you’ve not noticed, Cecilia Knapp has been a regular feature in The Last Word Festival. This scratch was presented almost in full, stripped down against a backdrop of a blue moon sinking behind a horizon. We saw the first half, where Knapp delivered her usual poetic narrative, mostly in free verse, that lulled the sold-out audience into her world, painted so beautifully with her words. I felt there was a danger of romanticising things here, but this was possibly because cigarette references personally jar with me. I know this criticism is probably unfounded, and otherwise that I would struggle to find any room for improvement here, because however beautiful the language, this is her life. ‘Finding Home’ is a piece that manages to be both autobiographical, and I found that I could relate to the words, and I was taken on a journey, so that by the end – or the half-way point – I wasn’t ready for the lights to come up.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I did a gig at The Birdcage. I tried to do my set off by heart. I’d practiced intermittently the last couple of weeks. I stumbled a few times but I did not reach for my paper (not concealed in my boots this time, I admitted that it was the poems that were peaking out of my cardigan pocket). Host, Andy Bennett, compared me to Dockers MC which was cool. It’s actually the second time that’s happened, so I’m thinking of starting to market myself as “a posh Laura Dockrill” or “a shy Laura Dockrill”.
Ben Smith eased us into the night with laughs that played on prediction and expectations, leaving me to be the filling in a comedy sandwich. It was a fine evening of entertainment, including comedian Alex Holland who I could really relate to with his tales of walking through groups of teenagers in fear. I was excited to see Lewis Buxton who I’d heard was similar to Luke Wright and I could see why people would say that; with his confident manner, his way of delivery and use of narrative and skillful use of rhythm and rhyme.
Adam Warne wove between poetry and comedy and appeared very naturally, taking away the microphone and telling us of Facebook anecdotes in between sonnets. John Osborne read us some lovely new poems about seaside towns and afterwards I got a nice message of compliments about my set which made me very happy. To round off night night, Cielo performed with a female violinist to add to the mix. It was a great set and my boyfriend loved it to so I’m glad he saw them, especially as they have some motivational songs, which he’s always on the look out for!
Friday saw the East Regional Finals for Shake the Dust. I was working with the Netherhall School in Cambridge as a Poet Shadow with Ross Sutherland. I had never done anything like this before so was quite nervous but very excited too! For my first workshop, it was going well as I was over an hour early. However, I got the bus from the wrong stop and ended up being 10 or 15 minutes late. Typical.
As soon as I entered the classroom I had to introduce myself and perform a poem. I hadn’t brought any material, but thankfully my memory didn’t fail me and I did Cinderella (which you can preview here from my book/eBook). It feels like a long time ago now but at the same time it went so quickly. It was great hearing the poetry the students generated and as the first workshop was based around autobiography it was nice to feel like I was getting to know what they were like already.
Although it doesn’t feel like that long ago that I was their age, I am nearly 10 years older than them! At the same time, I did feel a lot older than them, especially when I encountered some rudeness from a couple of girls from the non-competing team. All a learning experience anyway! I also didn’t expect how easily distracted they were, especially as the two hour sessions went so fast. That said, they produced their final poems with great timing.
After celebrating turning 23 I was back at the school and the students had mostly memorised their poems, and by the final session were all performing their pieces really well. Ross and I had swapped the groups we’d been working with and so it was amazing to see the transformation of them both from the mish-mashed bits of texts they had started out with when they were forming the poems. I learnt so much from shadowing Ross, and was also given lots of opportunities to share my ideas and work independently with some of the group. One girl had to join the group for the last session and she picked up the poems fantastically, and ended up being given the “Most Changed” award.
The day of the final was a long one, but an amazing experience. the excitement started at 10.30am when we picked up our t-shirts. The schools started to arrive and it wasn’t long before we headed into a studio for the first workshop with half of the students. The workshop I was in was lead by Tim Clare and consisted of different drama games. It was quite nerve wracking due to the fact that being in a position of authority it was vital I showed that I was experienced and confident through the games. It was really fun and useful in terms of my own pre-performance preparations.
At lunch time I lost Ross and didn’t realise I was to stick with the school, who had already headed off to Chapelfield Gardens with their lunch. I managed to find them but Ross wasn’t with them. Still, I sat down and began to eat. However, mid-meal, there was a big ‘SPLAT!’ sound and we all wondered what it was. I looked down at my leg and I had been POOED ON BY A PIGEON! They all freaked out and one girl was sent into a panic that it had landed on her. No. It had landed on me. Yuck. I sat there in shock for a while, then scraped it off with a twig. Still in shock, I stood there whilst the others moved themselves further from the tree. Luckily, it didn’t land in my hair or anywhere else so I just went back to The Garage to take off my tights and wash my hands. Then it was onwards and upwards as I tried to tell myself that it was good luck…
We did the same workshop again but with different people and it was good feeling more prepared about what was to come and hearing what different people came up with on the spot. I spent our dinner time mostly with Catherine Woodward, who I knew from university, who had taken my place as Peer Mentor and was doing a great job. I’d met quite a few great people that day, including Lara who was from the Writers Centre Norwich, and sounded like she had a most enviable job! We had a quick warm-up with Drew Taylor and then took our seats.
The show itself ended up being fantastic. All the pre-show nerves were turned into adrenaline and everyone gave amazing performances. Although The Garage team were not included in the competition, their pieces throughout were inspiring and moving. As were Drew and Tom’s joint piece about the friendship they formed through the project. My team ‘Can Everyone Get Up And Leave?’ did a great job. Though one of the guys berated himself for forgetting a line, he pulled it off so smoothly that nobody else in the audience would have noticed. They went away with the ‘Best Line in Poem’ though the judges (Luke Wright, Charlotte Higgins and Francesca Beard) asserted there were so many great lines they couldn’t really pick just one! We also got inside info from Luke that he was rooting for us to win the competition overall, but didn’t quite make it to first place.
Since Tuesday I’ve been out every night. For the first time I was able to go to Norwich Poetry Club at The Bicycle Shop. I was wearing small heels but inside was so dimly lit I had to be careful down the stairs and it took Hannah Walker a while to recognise me. She was the only person I spoke to as I was feeling shy for some reason. I also spoke to a woman briefly who I’d asked to sit next too. I noticed she left before the last act and Luke Wright sat next to me. He was hosting the show and although hosting is not a job that goes hand-in-hand with performance poetry (I am not so good at it!) he does it well. He read a lot of new poems and they reminded me of old poems I’d read as a kid, a kind of naughty children’s poetry, and I mean this as a good thing (I’ve studied Children’s Literature after all).
Hattie Grunewald was the first feature for the evening, and although I already know and like her poetry I learnt about her successes so far – she has been taught by Caroline Bird after winning awarded withe the prestige of being a Foyle Young Poet, and had her poetry on the Underground, and as you can see on the link I’ve placed on her name, she has published books out there! Slightly jealous if I’m honest. I get annoyed at myself for not remembering details so I made a note of a couple of expressions I liked – the idea of someone tasting like a newsagents and eyes that rust.
John Osborne was next, promoting his new book. Now, I’m far too promiscuous to state as Luke did, that he is my favourite poet, but he is up there. He told a poem about a surprise party his girlfriend had organised and nobody turned up, which I related too… until he said it wasn’t true and “I don’t have a girlfriend, so the joke’s on you”. This blend of fact and fiction inspired a poem I wrote that night, called Circumstances, which was also influenced by a poet called Tao Lin who I’ve been reading and I hoped for a kind of dry humour combined with a bleakness. Anyway, back to John, and other favourites from the night include a poem about a guy that didn’t pay his pound into a syndicate at work the week they won, called ‘that money would have turned you into a bastard anyway’, and a heart-warming poem about a break-up.
The headline was Thick Richard, but if I’m honest, he wasn’t my favourite part of the evening. He had a bit of a death theme, and I do like a theme, but still, I wasn’t impressed. The crowd seemed to like it though, laughing where I couldn’t muster a chuckle. The poem I most liked was something like ‘why don’t girls who like men like that like me?’ about seemingly nice girls going for bad guys. He’s a chef though so maybe he could win my heart through my stomach.
It ended a bit past 9pm so I got to pop to The Birdcage for Lucy Day and The Knights’ EP release! Inlay flaked out of supporting but the other acts, Blanche Ellis and Drew McDonnell were really great. Before Lucy came on, I noticed the girl next to me put out some burning paper, and I was like fuck! I smelt it and wondered what it was but didn’t even realise it was right next to me. I think she only put it out because I turned my head and saw it, weird!
The gig was amazing and I’m so glad I went along! I’ve listened to the collection of songs from Lucy a few times and had a few running around in my head. I loved Forsaken and the lyrics have made me think about my own pursuits. Sometimes I feel like I agree with the song, something does have to be forsaken. For me, I’m so sucky at relationships, at times I think it’s just not meant for me – the happily, or not-so-happily married with kids life. I could deal with the current patterns of my love life if only it meant I could be a success in other areas, namely my career. We get told we can have it all, but maybe we can’t always. I have this need and desire for love and for faithfulness and matrimony but I know the reality of this is near impossible, and that even if I did get married, it just may be a more serious example of how things end in tears. It can be frustrating to have this desire but I guess it’s as much a part of living, to go through those kinds of ups and downs, as all the other elements of life, and should be embraced as such. I think that since finishing my university work I feel a bit weird, like there’s so much I want to do that I don’t know where to start or if I have enough time.
Anyway, Wednesday I had a gig at The Birdcage myself. I wore this dress with birdcages on it from Topshop, and an hourglass necklace from Urban Outfitters. Oh! And these cute bird earrings from UO as well. I teamed it with green tights and my vintage Charles shoes.
My friends Helen and Laura came to watch and we went for a half-pint at spoons afterwards. I knew all of the performers so I didn’t much feel nervous or anything, though I was a little unprepared as I kept switching my mind about which poems to read, and I did the new one, ‘Circumstances’ though it probably needs a lot of work, and I don’t know if people got the humour, or if I delivered it right. The rest was okay, and I did a few by heart.
So, the list of performers… Bethan Williams, Jennifer Grey, Imogen Steinberg, Andy Bennet, Catherine Woodward, me and, headlining, John Osborne. Jenny said she was nervous… in fact, so did Catherine and Andy! Jenny always gives a confident reading though and was fine once she was up there. Andy’s was really interesting and amazing considering he’d written them in the past 48 hours! I knew why Catherine was nervous once she was up there, she gave a very different performance – all by heart and even including a cheeky lip-licking and winking! After that, I was scared to follow her but think it went okay.
Last night I was a volunteer at Hannah Rose Jone’s Independently Fashioned. I was on the door so met everyone and sorted out tickets (which turned out to be inking people’s hands) and all the stuff like that. It was stressful at times, but I got used to it and it was actually really refreshing how lovely everyone was. The only embarrassing thing was when one of the designers gave me £40 and I counted on my fingers to work out 40-25 to get her change. I get so stressed when doing the simplest mental maths that my mind just goes blank. I was to say ‘I’m not stupid, I got a B for GCSE maths, it’s just the pressure or something’ but I just end up looking a bit silly, oh well. I should have done my research about the designers because it was a bit embarrassing not knowing know they were.
I didn’t get to see much but it did look like a great show, plus there were musicians Jordan Jackson and Cielo – most people at the end were asking about the band! It was funny because one of the members asked to put some flyers on the table and said Jordan was good but that Cielo were a bit pretentious haha. I had a good night, and Hannah even gave me a free headband for it, which I put on straight away and shall be wearing properly tonight!