Freelance Reflections #19

So, what can I say about this week being freelance? Well, I have a bill of nearly £1000 coming my way from overpaid tax credits in 2018-19. The good news: I earned more money than in 2017-18. The bad news: it’s 2020, I now pay rent, the Christmas holidays are approaching, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic. With that in mind, I’ve been taking the opportunity to plug my book, ‘Circles’.

Circles is an epic poem inspired by Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. Taking the point of view of a suicide victim’s lover in the play post-death, the piece takes place on London’s tube network and follows the fragmented views of this once-absent character. It is a piece about love, loss and the line between sanity and insanity. Whilst fictional, the emotions and experiences are also inspired by elements of the author’s life, and are written with the aim to bring comfort and healing to those who can relate to its themes.

The book was published last year and I began to tour at the start of the year, and then… you know the rest. If I sold just 100 copies of this, then my bill would be sorted, so if you’re reading this and can spare a tenner, order a copy for yourself. If you can spare more, why not buy some for your friends and family? And if you can’t afford it, a share on social media or any way you can would really help.

I shared extracts from ‘Circles’ on ‘Spork’ in place of the real-life gig from my tour dates. It’s available to listen to on Spotify, and I’ll also be recording an audio version of the whole poem for The Living Record Festival in 2021, so watch this space for updates on that.

“I speak and the only voice I want to hear is yours” This is a quote from Carmina Masoliver’s stunning epic, Circles. Yet, I find myself feeling this way about her voice. Carmina has a very special way of finding the smallest of cracks in your heart and filling them with visceral, yet elegant poetry. She mines the mundane; those everyday moments riding the tube, or in the shower, or sitting with a stranger on a fence, and she brings you into them so gracefully, before you know it, you are sitting on the tube with her, “holding onto her hand in a reverie.” – Sabrina Benaim

‘This poetic dramatic monologue is at once lament, and testament to an unimaginable reality. Masoliver has created a theatrical poem that is both haunting and ethereal, where the audience experience the world though a protagonist trapped in on a train looping the central line and and her recurrent memories of a lost lover. The fragmented beautiful lyrical prose unfolds like a smashed mirror, each piece a jigsaw. Circles takes us effortlessly into the head of a suicide victim’s lover in order to illuminate the devastating effect of her grief. She captures an elusive emptiness whilst hypnotising us with an honest lyrical epic.’ – Malika Booker

I have five copies of my book in stock, and five more of the She Grrrowls anthology, so even if I sold those ten books, it would be lovely (as I would have to buy another big lot of books from the publisher in order to sell more than five of each). You can get them from both Burning Eye Books directly too, and I will be sure to plug again once I’ve sold out.

Tonight, I’ve just done the final Instagram Live show for She Grrrowls until next year. I’m giving myself January off, so the next show will be February 2021! It was particularly exciting to have fellow Burning Eye poet Cynthia Rodríguez share their work, which I loved during the She Grrrowls tour, when collaborating with Leicester’s Find the Right Words.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to find some balance between being horribly productive with all the stuff I have to do, doing the more creative stuff (when, oh when will I have time?) and giving myself a break and resting. This weekend, I’m having an actual weekend filled with mother-daughter Christmas shopping time and chilling the fuck out on Sunday with some wintery walks or something.

Freelance Reflections #17

Last Thursday, I watched R.A.P. Party on Zoom, hosted by Inua Ellams. I was cooking whilst it was on, then treated myself to a drink as the combination of music and poetry lends itself to a tipple. I knew most of the poets in the line-up, as mentioned in my previous post, but I hadn’t heard Gemma Weekes before. I was blown away, and both me and my flatmate said she was our favourite of the night. For me, not knowing what to expect, she really stood out. The content was very relatable for those of us who love hip hop, but remain critical of displays of misogyny, such as ‘Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks’, the Dr. Dre lyric Weekes dissected in her performance. With her arm propped against her knee, her delivery was captivating as the words came out as easily as breathing. This casual posture made you feel like you were literally inside her home, having a conversation over a cup of tea, only with a spoonful of sharp-tongued poetry rather than sugar.

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I’ve also had some good news lately, having found out first via Twitter that I’d been longlisted for the Grindstone International Poetry Prize. My poem ‘Computer Generated Images’, recorded by Muddy Feet Poetry, was also in the Top 20 on The Poetry Archive, a competition judged by Imtiaz Dharker, Robert Seatter and Lavinia Singer.

Coming up this Thursday is the Roundhouse Poetry Slam Final streamed online, and it’s Pay What You Can. I’ve just seen the list of poets and know Amani Saeed, Ruth Awolola and Oshanti Ahmed personally, I’ll be rooting for them! There’s also an audience vote, which is exciting!

Las Chicas del Cable & The Spanish Civil War

I recently finished watching Las Chicas del Cable and so I thought I would share some extracts from my poem on the topic that dominates the final series: the Spanish Civil War.

They greased their rifles with olive oil,
with Vaseline, with cold cream, with bacon-fat:[1]
an opera, with the occasional death.[2]

It was pneumonia they were fighting against, not men[3]
yet some of the voices that cried out in pain were still falsetto,
soon to be broken by the war with thousands dead.

I wrote this at least five years ago after reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which was recently in the news. You can see from the footnotes below, that the poem includes direct references to Orwell’s descriptions. Reading the book provoked me to have a conversation with my paternal grandfather, who lives just outside of Barcelona, after having lived as an immigrant for many years in London. Also a poet, there is tour about him, which the leaflets below are from.

I absolutely loved watching Las Chicas del Cable, and the parts that were about the Spanish Civil War touched me even more because of my familial connection. The ending was so moving and powerful, it brought me to tears. I highly recommend it.

A granddad I’ve never named as such, now through phone-lines
brought closer, he tells me at the end of the conversation

how proud he is to have another poet in the family. I smile,
as my bloodline extends back in time. My family, I think, with war wedged between them, yet in the end, they remained intact.

To read the full poem, you can sign up to my mailing list.

[1]  George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 37 [2]  George Orwell, (Georges Kopp), Homage to Catalonia, p. 34 [3] George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 37

Poetry Slumber Parties

When we went into ‘lockdown’ in London, I started doing weekly poem shares via Instagram Live as a ‘Poetry Slumber Party’, called such because you can watch it in your PJs. I shared brand new material and I was writing weekly through a prompt group called ‘Poetry in a time of being alone’ on Facebook. This was a lifeline to me at times, and I enjoyed being able to connect with people watching, who would sometimes send me messages about certain poems they related to. As the world got back into motion, I have started doing these on a monthly basis.

This is just a short post to say to tune in via Instagram Live (@carminamasoliver), which is where I have found it easiest to share my work. It’s every last Monday of each month, when I figured maybe people are staying in more now there are less restrictions, as it’s near many people’s pay day. It can also be viewed later on IGTV. It’s very off the cuff, and all new material, where I chat around it, and sometimes the chat is longer than the poems.

I like it, as I feel YouTube videos need to be more polished, whilst on Instagram Live, part of what can be lovely is that it’s a little bit messy and raw. A couple of weeks later, I also host an online open mic on the She Grrrowls Instagram account (@shegrrrowls). It’s a strange time now as the rules are continuing to change, yet some people still are at home with very little human contact, whilst others are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m somewhere in between. I really enjoy doing these little streams anyway, so if even one person gets some enjoyment out of it too, it’s worth keeping up!

Freelance reflections #13

Well, it’s a new year and the perfect time for reflection – though having always worked in education, I always see September as a good time as well. In fact, I think it’s important to reflect on how things are going, which is obviously why I started this blog series! I finally started the bullet journal that a friend got me a while back, and I’m going to see how well it works in combination with my current system of using my iCalendar. I used to use an Excel spreadsheet, but I think I need to better utilise this in combination with my calendar system for specific tasks such as submitting work. For example, I have put ‘submissions’ into my calendar to repeat for an hour a week, but I would be better to work through these in my spreadsheet. What I’ve been doing instead is just having the tabs open, which is less effective, cluttered and stress-inducing.

Despite being happy with the work I’m doing, as I’m thinking of moving out of my parents’ place, I am becoming concerned that my income needs to be higher. I’ve applied for a few poetry jobs – one editor role and a producer role. I’m even thinking about applying for more part-time EFL work, and have gone for one that is three days a week… the issue is that it is 20 hours, and this often refers to contact hours rather than total hours, so lesson planning could mean that more of my time is eaten up. I think I’m still questioning what I’m doing too much rather than just getting on with things and enjoying it.

When thinking of the year ahead, I’ve used the bullet journal to plan poetry-related activities as the other work I do is pretty consistent. There’s a couple of key submission deadlines at the end of February, so I really want to focus on getting these two projects I’m (supposed to be) working on completed by then. This means that the show stuff might have to wait until the beginning of March, but I’m sure that time will come around quicker than expected! When I wrote out all my goals on the yearly timeline, it made it easier to see. I need deadlines in order to actually make things happen creatively, otherwise I tend to let the paid work takeover.

I have found myself being annoyed when people ask about work, especially when there is an assumption that you are only working when you ‘go out’ to work. In fact, most of the work I do is at home, and most of the time I ‘go out’ to work is spent travelling rather than teaching (with the exception of maybe one day when I have three students). Planning lessons is work. Marking is work. Content writing is work. Checking emails is work. Writing poems is work. Updating bloody financial records is work (this is what I spent all day yesterday doing, finished with a bit of content writing and admin). When I am at home, I spend a majority of the time working, so even if I’ve been at home all day, it is pretty damn safe to assume that YES I have been working.

Being freelance means I work every day, and I choose to do that because it means I can be more flexible at times. Sometimes I have to fit things around work, and sometimes work can fit around other things I want to do. I would love to have more rules for myself about what work I do on a Sunday (ideally these would be reserved for reading, writing and relaxation), but at the moment they are just another day I can fill with things I want to get done. By implementing a slightly better system, I hope this year that I can work more towards spending time in a way that is closer to my ideal, because certain tasks end up piling up because they’re not “important”, then they just seem like such a mountain to climb. These things that pile up tend to be the financial record keeping, my scrapbooking, and copying quotations from books I’ve read (instead, I prefer to read more books and add more to this pile).

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I’m really happy with how the year is going so far. In fact, I’m going to break down what I’ve been up to each day briefly.

1st: I’d been at a small gathering with three others for NYE and it was perfect. I woke up without a bad hangover. When I have a really bad hangover, it tends to be the only time I do actually have a day of relaxation, because I’m physically forced into it. However, this day, I met my friend for brunch and then we went for a walk through Clapham Common. I spent the afternoon writing until past 11pm.

2nd: I hadn’t finished the writing I’d wanted to do, so I also write this day after starting the morning off with Zumba. I also did some admin, such as telling the tax credits office about my actual earnings since completing my self-assessment. I went through some emails before seeing my first student of the year, then spent the evening marking work that I’d collected from another student. I added a prompt for the ’12 Days of Form’ writing group I’m in, for the next day, and finished at 10:30pm.

3rd: I had my final session with one student in the morning. I’d stayed up late the night before watching a film, so I was a bit tired. I came home to do some planning and marking, and had to do a quick update on my ACE evaluation before doing some more writing. After working through a few more emails, I then met friends for dinner and a final festive celebration with a panto.

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4th: I did Zumba again, after writing the poem of the day. I then spent just six hours updating my records. It took me a lot less time than I expected, so that was great. I did some content writing and some admin for She Grrrowls. Still allowing myself some time to wind down from the holidays, I watched another film before reading in bed (this last activity is one I want to get into better habits with).

5th: Today I have been to the gym (I last went on NYE – go me!), written the poem of the day, and I’m about to have lunch, get ready, and go to Words Aloud in Sutton. It’s a great time to go to an open mic when you’ve not got plans. It’s quite local to me and my mum’s even offered to give me a lift! Then I’m meeting a friend from college for the 30th birthday of our old friend. It’s fancy dress and I’m using the ‘growing up’ theme for an excuse to wear all my old dance gear, tap shoes and all!

Tomorrow I’ll get working on those piles!

Happy New Year!

Freelance Reflections #11

It’s been a month since I’ve written, and another busy one at that! My room is a mess with big stacks of papers, I’m behind on my record keeping for finances, and I haven’t had proper dedication writing time towards the three main projects I want to focus on in what feels like an age, so this weekend I plan to do a lot of that boring admin stuff, as well as a bit of personal writing today (including this blog!) I’ve worked five days already this week, yet it’s still difficult to reassure myself that doing this today is worthwhile, and I’m going to take some time to de-stress by going to a swimming class after writing this.

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I have deadlines looming over me for content writing, and last night I did a last minute job working with a university student from Malta to help with their English. I have an almost full time table of students, which includes a couple of days where I’m out 2.30-9.30pm, including the travel time. It means I’m able to get into more of a routine, but planning and marking takes so much time at the moment that it’s quite difficult to fit in the content writing and meet the deadlines. On top of that I’m doing events and tour management and yesterday I did a big chunk of this once I’d finished my lesson planning.

There are now only two tour dates left for the She Grrrowls Autumn 2018 Book Tour! In October, we went to Norwich and Cambridge and both dates were lovely. The next two are in Bristol and London. I’ve also been trying to run some informal workshops, but because the tickets are free, I’m getting a lot of dropouts on the day. The workshops are called ‘Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better’ and I managed to meet up with a poet who is local to me called Rachel Sambrooks, and it was honestly so refreshing to actually talk about our work. We both found it incredibly valuable… now to find the time to go back to those poems to make those edits!

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Last month’s regular She Grrrowls event went really well again, and I’m so happy to be at The Poetry Cafe. It ended up being a rather northern evening, featuring Sophie Sparham, Fran Isherwood, and Sarah Crutwell. It was particularly enjoyable to see Sarah Crutwell as I had never seen her before and I could really relate to her poetry, plus she gave me this cool POWER pin! I can’t believe that it’s just over a week until the next date and soon enough it will be over! Amongst all the work, I’ve also found time to have fun socialising, plus go to Spanish lessons and salsa classes!

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Freelance Reflections #3

Another couple of weeks of freelance life, and I’ve now got three students I’m tutoring, and although other paid work has not been much over these last two weeks, I’ve been busy with lots of unpaid activities, such as planning workshops and tutoring sessions (which takes a long time at this stage) and writing a funding application. I’ll still be working on both of these things next week too.

I’m also using a maths revision book to brush up on my Maths, and have found there are a couple of different ways to do subtraction, and the new way I’ve found is actually the one recommended by the government.

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Joel Auterson at his book launch for ‘Unremember’

I went to Joel’s book launch, which was really lovely, and there I saw lots of old familiar faces, as well as a few new ones. The next evening I went to see The Head Wrap Diaries, and I ended up reviewing it for The Norwich Radical.

I’ve dedicated some time to writing, particularly on Sundays, but have been using my long journeys to take part in NaPoWriMo still, which ends on Monday. I’ve been sharing some extracts from my new poems via Instagram. I’ve also done a little bit of illustration as an experiment to get me back into visual art a bit.

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(L-R) ‘unnatural council hands in cold looked blue’ by Sara Barker and ‘Sleeping Beauty will hum about mine ears’ by Fiona Rae

Yesterday I decided to go to a few exhibitions around Old Street, including a visit to BEERS, Victoria Miro, and Parasol Unit. I went for an incredible tapas meal at Boqueria and then to a reggaeton and salsa night, where I danced until the early hours. I’m now feeling pretty smug because I’ve had so little sleep, but I’ve been super productive doing some content writing work, plus poetry and Spanish practice and this!

I also recently got an office chair for my bedroom and I love it! I was on a horrible wooden fold-up one all this time before. I can even put it on a massage function!

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‘Sea Painting, Dunwich’ by Jessica Warboys

Verve Poetry Festival 2018

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.

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City Poems

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.

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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.

Out-Spoken Press Showcase

In moving on to this ‘spoken word’ section, I believe one featured poet, Raymond Antrobus, has been quite vocal about claiming the title of ‘poet’ as his own rather than solely a ‘spoken word artist’. This showcase also featured Anthony Anaxagorou, Joelle Taylor, Sabrina Mahfouz, and Bridget Minamore. I’m very well versed on the latter three poets, all three featuring the the She Grrrowls anthology from Burning Eye Books and so it was great to hear them all together at Verve Poetry Festival.

Nymphs & Thugs: Maria Ferguson

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.

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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).

 

No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #6

I last updated this series around two months ago. The major change that has happened that makes learning a another language so much more important is ‘Brexit’.

Theresa May has signed papers that mean this is actually happening. The “United” Kingdom is leaving the EU. Whilst part of my anger at this is about the freedom of my own movement, and the injustice at having to buy a new blue passport (not to mention the economic impact), what I am really lamenting is my home changing. In some ways, the bubble has simply burst, but a lot of London people like myself like to celebrate the diversity of the capital and parts across the country. Perhaps with rose-tinted glasses, my childhood is remembered as a melting pot of cultures, my own Hispanic roots included. The older I grew, the further afield I went, the more divided communities seemed to me, and fearmongers appeared to up the ante. And now this. Although London voters as a whole wanted to remain in the EU, the rhetoric of the Leave campaign has given free reign to those committing racist and xenophobic attacks all over.

I had a student ask me if I thought that now English wouldn’t be as necessary to learn now. The computer engineer student is interested in working abroad in the future, but he wants to remain in a European country, possibly to to still be close to his family. The city where I am living has so many language schools full of students learning the English language, but after all these years studying, they’re having their future tampered with by, frankly, ignorant people. Ignorant, because it was revealed how many people regretted their vote and didn’t realise what it would happen, or even that it would happen at all. And so, in continuing with my line of work teaching English, the least I can do is keep up with my struggle to improve my Spanish.

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So, I’ve been trying to speak more, confusing the word ‘make-up’ (maquillaje) with ‘butter’ (mantequilla) and feeling awkward in various situations. I’m now ahead on my lesson plans, so I’m spending more time with my head in books, on apps etc. I’ve also been able to speak to more locals and actually practise speaking Spanish with them, resulting in coming home at 2am on a work night – from an Irish bar, of all places (it’s okay, I have Thursday mornings off). I enjoyed it so much, my English workmate was like ‘Why are you speaking in Spanish to me?’ when I tried to keep it up.

I’m also hunting for a traje de gitana/flamenca. This has meant looking at Wallapop, my new favourite app, where you can search for second hand things that are nearby. So, today I walked for half an hour to meet a woman to try on her dress. She had a perfect home, and my ideal dress – red and white varied polka dots, long and traditional, yet modern. As always, when I tried to say how bad my Spanish was, she didn’t seem to understand and still spoke fast and expected me somehow to understand. Sadly, the dress wouldn’t go over my shoulders as the arms were too tight for me. ‘Es muy bonita, pero es demasiado poco en los hombros y los ambroz’ I think I said… I should have said ‘pequeño’ (small) instead of ‘poco’ (little) and ‘brazos’ (arms) instead of whatever the F that word was at the end.

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Earlier on in March I also took part in Grito de Mujer. An incredibly nerve-wracking situation, I was more concerned with not knowing what was going on than reading my poems. Other than missing out on the first few takes of a group photograph, and some of my translations getting lost, it was all fine. Someone did have to translate a bit when I wasn’t sure what the host was saying to me, but at this event, and another, I tried to absorb the Spanish around me. The photo was also in the newspaper, which is pretty cool! You can find out more about the night here.

Lastly, I’ve also started to do the speaking exercises in my textbook by recording myself. I figured it’s better than skipping exercises, and maybe I’ll get to see some progress! It’s super embarrassing to share, so I’m still working out whether I will share more or not, but my first post inspired someone to take up a language, so that seems a good enough reason to keep it up!

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P.S. Give Gibraltar back.

 

Poetry Parnassus

On Tuesday 26th June I attended the first day of Poetry Parnassus. Having felt quite confident and happy about going on my way, once I got there I did feel quite overwhelmed. Simon Armitage – one of my first encounters into contemporary poetry at GCSE’s – was standing just a few metres away. There were poets from all over the world; the idea curated by Armitage saw poets flocking from all of the countries competing in the Olympics. This day was the World Poetry Summit. Poets, publishers and other important figures in the world of poetry gathered and I felt a little like I was watching from the margins. I was disappointed only in myself for not taking the opportunity to seek out like-minded people, but still, I did absorb my surroundings and scribbled away at my notepad.

Reflecting on my notes now, I shall summerise some of my thoughts in relation to the day as a whole. My notes are 2,317 words, so I hope to make this much shorter! The first point is one which has people divided. Jude Kelly, the Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, made a comment about how it is a positive thing that poetry remains uninfluenced by money. She expressed the view that we shouldn’t want to professionalize the arts. Those with more romantic or anarchistic views may agree. However, I think that you have to bear in mind that we live in a Capitalist country and therefore the rules apply that we need money to survive. It would be idealistic to think that we do not. This very statement is contradicted by the fact that the poets and other speakers at this conference are professionals. They have a right to earn money from dedicating their life to poetry.

Though it is just another fact that they must do other things alongside the actual writing of poetry, their work doing these other things (teaching, editing, speaking at events etc.) is informed by this dedication to one field of practice. I agree that accessibility is important, however, it is worth noting I had to pay the full price of £35 for the summit, as apparently I had missed the “limited concessions” price – something which I don’t quite understand as I’m pretty sure I was one of the youngest people there. However, this kind of balanced out when you take into account all the free events I went to today. It is important because I almost didn’t get a ticket because I had to pay full price. I also almost didn’t come to the free events because of travel and my MA work commitments, but I thought this was too significant an opportunity to miss.

I went to half of the talk about poetry and money, and half of the Tradition vs. Innovation talk. The fact that there was a debate about money suggests that the above statement from Jude is not quite a given; she states in this discussion that it is ‘the elephant in the room.’ What is clear is that to be a poet, you must take on other work and Ollie Dawson, the Director of the Poetry School, found that younger poets are more willing in this area. Representing Kenya, poet Shailja Patel spoke out from the audience and told us that in the USA, there is a National Writers’ Union. It helps with issues of copyright, healthcare and so on and seems like a fantastic idea.

Tradition vs. Innovation was good to listen to as I had just been reading Adventures in Form, which is the most interesting book I’ve read since Dorothy Parker’s collected works and has me itching to write more poems. Tom Chivers from Penned in the Margins was involved in the discussion and made the point that they are not actually opposites as they feed into one another and that there is a “spark” when such concepts meet. Hence why this new book from Penned in the Margins is so exciting.

In a discussion about literature in the digital age, Nikola Madzirov spoke about horizontal and vertical dialogues. Thinking the web is more of a… web, so more sporadic than those ideas present, I got a bit confused here. Can anyone shed light on the meaning of this? I thought the work that was being produced could be in danger of being a bit gimmicky, but that the thought of having poets from around the world performing digitally at StAnza also seemed like a unique kind of festival, opening us up to people we may not normally come across, other than on rare occasions such as Poetry Parnassus!

In a conversation about poets finding their way in the 21st Century, Kayo Chingonyi proved to be one of my favourite speakers. He had a clarity, knowledge and passion that was articulated exceptionally well. Though it has to be said that Dean Atta made a delightful statement about wanting to be made into a hologram which made us all smile and chuckle a bit. I also felt I connected to some of what Raymond Antrobus said about there being a difference in writing to yourself and from yourself. My poem, Drama, actually comments upon this dilemma that I have faced as my urge to write in the past has come from a cathartic impulse that seemed only natural to me, whilst I have been over the last few years to perfect it as a craft.

After the provided packed lunch listening to poetry from around the world upstairs, I went to the Poetry & Elitism discussion. Bas Kwakman begins with the statement that ‘political poetry is always bad poetry. Good poetry is always political.’ And so ensues a discussion that (like the Tradition vs. Innovation talk) deals with binary oppositions. In my dissertation for my BA I examined Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis and my distaste for binary oppositions began there. As Taja Kramberger asserted; it is a ‘false dilemma.’ The whole point of elitism is that there isn’t access for the so-called populist, and then the populist itself becomes a different kind of elite, creating yet another hierarchy.

Another one of my favourite speakers, mentioned earlier, Shailja Patel spoke about the fact that there is a common misconception that equates elitism with difficulty, and populist with the political. This was in response to a elite-defender, who, like Bas, seemed to assume that some sort of elite was needed to ensure quality. Oh, the commoners can have their populist/political shit and we can just carry on here with our poetry of superior quality. No. Patel made her points extremely well in the debate, but also actually recited a poem ‘For the Verbal Masturbaters.’ She told us that she never takes free speech for granted as she did not have the privledge growing up. So much of this discussion relies on privilege and, in my view, anyone that defends elitism is a privilege-denier, or just needs to think a bit more.

To end this section, a quote from Taja Kramberger – ‘Poetry: you are not made from words alone.’

 

 

 

 

 

That evening I met up with my old housemate, Kirstie, and we caught poetry that fell down from the sky with the Rain of Poems. It took some time before I got a couple of poems, pictured below. People went crazy and almost physically fought over it, with some people greedily giggling at their hand-fulls. I’ve never seen people so excited about poetry, I thought. Slightly cynical about it, I thought that a lot of people would not treasure the poems as they should. Still, it was very surreal and pretty as they fell and glittered down to us.

Today, Saturday 30th June, I went back to go to more free events. I thought I also may get the opportunity to speak to some others there but didn’t see anyone I knew and didn’t feel I could randomly strike up a conversation with someone else. I first went to WOW (Women Of the World) Breakfast. This was one of my favourite events, and it was FREE! I forgot my notebook today so made just a few pointers in my (non-smart) phone. The discussion about writing from the mind/body brought me back to the idea of binary oppositions and those false dilemmas again. Sadly, I can’t remember the names of anyone to write who said what, but it was disheartening to hear that one visiting poet from Africa has said she was ignored even at Poetry Parnassus. Upon her own success, she was called up and told ‘African women don’t write poetry, it’s for African men.’ There was a man that enthused about the amount of young women with desire to write, as a cry for some positivity. A young woman also made some comments about not feeling ‘hard done by’ and again at the end that she was ‘not fight, just enjoying every word.’ However, I think that by doing just that and nothing else, you are ignoring and placating the wider issues that are a reality that women are faced with all over the world.

I plucked up the courage to ask a question, which thankfully they squeezed in for me. I wanted to know, as a student, since the majority of people who study Literature and take writing courses are women, does this filter out? If so, why… and, do they have a chance at a  level playing field or are they at a disadvantage when it comes to publishing? Picking up on something they said earlier about a need for more female editors, judges and critics, I questioned whether a way forward may be for bloggers to review female books. Some interesting thoughts came out of this, but it still remains to be answered in the future. I got home and found a Facebook comment thread about female writers not submitting enough.

So, part of this may be to do with confidence, and a willingness to take risks and perhaps not possessing enough of the characteristics of being a creative entrepreneur! The career progression from university also needs to be more informative, useful and supportive. Although there are issues with blogging, in that they’re unpaid, I had recently thought that I would LOVE to receive free books if I could review them on my blog. I believe I have a fair amount of readers but it would also be something I could build upon. I have had some experience writing reviews but I would love to do more. Whilst I am still at the beginning of my career I wouldn’t mind sparing some time to read and write about what I love! I may take more of a Dorothy-Parker-esque way of writing about the events, exhibitions and books I experience, but at least I’m honest!

After a small break reading The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry, I went to the Clore Ballroom for some Salt readings. It was good to see Chris McCabe as Tom Chivers had told me about him when I did my internship at Penned in the Margins and I had read some of his work in the latest book I mentioned earlier. He read poems about a meat-book, explaining a Van Gogh painting to his son, and existential clubbing. Kayo Chingonyi has to be mentioned again because he was one of my favourite poets of this day as well! He read poems about how to create a mixtape on the out-dated cassette tape, as well as taking us through the rhythm of his dance. He also seems like a really nice, genuine guy, which always makes me like the poets even more.

Sadly, Death Poetry was full, so I found life outside and read a bit more before going back to the Level 5 Function Room for ‘They Won’t Take Me Alive – Women and Revolution.’ Namechecks to Alaide Foppa, read by Amanda Hopkinson, Gioconda Belli, Chiranan Pitpreecha and Farah Didi. Bidisha also did an amazing job as chair for this and the earlier WOW talk. I was so glad I stayed for it because I learnt a lot and it was wonderful to be able to hear their poetry. They spoke of the ideas of poetry and activism, comparisons to fruit and flowers and images of beauty, and showing the world what injustice there is and moving on to other subjects, how this political voice is at the core of you. I made out about 5 words of Gioconda Belli’s Spanish recital of ‘The Dream Bearers’ which makes me morn for the lost language of my hispanic roots. Still, I have uploaded some free Spanish tutorials on my iPod now.

Wow! So, over 2000 words means I better stop! Full from tapas, and looking forward to Sunday-Tuesday as I celebrate a year of being with my boyfriend 🙂

xxx