8pm, 6 & 8 Manor Road, N16 5SA London
7pm at Royal George Charing Cross, 133 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EA
Pleased to be reading alongside Ric Dove, Ella Chappell and Daniel Carpenter.
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!
It’s International Women’s Day! So, on to a topic that impacts on all artists, but arguably more-so women: payment for our labour.
Pioneers for advocating paying poets include Kate Fox, who started up the Poets Network; Paula Varjack, who is currently doing a show called Show Me The Money; and Vanessa Kisuule, who has been whipping up a storm recently with her response to a recent request for her to travel 4 hours for a 50 minute performance and be paid only £30 plus 30% of the door sales. Ridic. If she accepted, it would mean she was paying to work. Would you expect anyone else to do that in any other profession? No. So, she obviously had to refuse.
Despite my own struggles trying to run events and pay artists fairly, which has always been something that’s been important to me, I also recognise that some people, like me, are also doing low/unpaid work in organising these events, on top of accepting rubbish from trying to be a poet. However, it’s important to address issues of payment as they are integral to the ethos of the event. With She Grrrowls, part of the ethos has been that there’s no hierarchy of performers. However, it’s becoming clear that actually what’s more important is that women are valued for their work in monetary terms. I would still like to aim for equal payment for acts, but in July I am going to apply for funding and hope that it is this way that I can afford to pay artists what they deserve and stop apologising. (Though I’m bringing She Grrrowls to the fringe, I’m told it’s different there and that such nights don’t pay acts, and hey it’ll probably cost me around a grand to go myself, so as long as the acts will already be performing, I don’t think I can help that).
It was Bryony Kimmings who reminded me of this issue a few years ago, when she politely declined a gig that I shouldn’t have asked her to do, but did so on the off-chance, too exhausted from my day job and commute to properly reflect on the reality of what I was asking. She told me about illshowyoumine, which is about getting living wages for artists (please click that link, so worth the read!). It’s just not fair that being an artist is not valued as a profession, that it is something that only an elite few can pursue, that the starving artist cliché is something we are too close to emulating. In August I am going to take a risk and go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and from this point I’m going to be making my art a priority, and getting paid for it will be my focus rather than accepting another full-time job out of fear that I am not worth the money, a message that is implied by everyone from family and friends, to society at large.
With this in mind, without naming names, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly, of my experience being a professional poet over the past decade, albeit a part-time one.
So, in a few months I will working towards getting more of ‘the good’. For now, unable to afford striking today, I will be teaching English and hustling to get some paid writing work so that I can, like, actually eat whilst in Edinburgh.
Today, in case you hadn’t heard, is National Poetry Day. I’m feeling like a bad poet because I’m not attending any events to mark the occasion. At the most, I’ll probably watch and listen to all the stuff that’s happening online, trying to understand the mixture of pride, envy and joy at watching/listening to poetry by my peers featuring on national television and radio.
As I write this, I’m on my way back from my day job, where I work as an Academic Mentor for English. This morning I played Year 10 ‘Origin Story’ by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, whilst trying to convince them to come to my Creative Writing Club. This is something I will do again no doubt, and in fact, I ended my day going into a class to hand out letters with permission slip. One student took one. There are currently two members in my club. Replacing First Story is going to be harder than I thought. But still, it’s early days. Last year, two Year 8 students – a boy and a girl – made their own version of ‘Origin Story’ and, along with my new Feminist Group, my main goal this year is to make this a success.
That goal applying to my day job. By night, I used to be able to go to events like National Poetry Day Live at the Royal Festival Hall, which is where I was this time last year. However, tonight I will be largely writing an assignment for a CELTA course I’m studying part-time. This means I’m doing two 13 hour days each week (because, you know, full time job), plus attending some Saturdays. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I rise at 6.30am and go to sleep at 11.30pm. On top of this, I have to do these assignments, thoroughly plan lessons for the course, observe others teaching, and be observed myself… By five people (I was less than happy when informed I’ll be observed twice in my day job too, but hey, I should be used to it, at least!)
Tonight I’ll also try to fit in a rehearsal for a poem I’m performing on Saturday night (details below), and if I’m lucky, I can work on the poem I started writing last night when I should have been sleeping.
If I sound like I’m being negative, I am. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, plus some mild symptoms of depression. I’ve had six weeks on CBT, and been offered to take part in a trial. However, I find it too stressful to go to my “local” service provider, so we’ll see what happens with that. Sometimes it just feels like another thing to tick off the to-do list.
I hadn’t intended this to be so long, but this seems to be what happens… I write nothing for ages and then ramble on for so long that people will inevitably get bored before the end! But if you’re still with me… I guess my point is that I have been feeling disappointed in my progress within the world of poetry, but that part of me knows that I need to enjoy the journey rather than be so focused on an essentially imaginary end-point. I’ve been working on overdrive since I started working full-time, to the point where I don’t know what a normal existence looks like. Now I’ve taken on this CELTA course, I know that I won’t be able to participate in the poetry world as much as I would like to… including my beloved Burn After Reading events (now on Mondays) and The Writing Room Presents… Jawdance (Wednesdays). Recently, I wanted to take more care of myself. My goal was to give myself the time that normal people have to unwind, to make it Sundays. But, I need my Sundays now to work as I have such little time to do so otherwise. Maybe a New Years Resolution then.
I was inspired by one of my tutors on the course, who now works freelance. This was my aim over three years ago, and I’m now making plans to launch my career properly. I’ve been performing my poetry for nine years now. I count it from my first open mic’ event, and why not? There are poets out there who have achieved more than me and haven’t even been doing it a year! Is that the negative voice talking? Maybe.
Anyway, my plans – or my hopes – for the future are to use this CELTA course to live abroad for around a year, a year and a half. I then hope to come back having saved enough money to move out of my parents’ house (that was why I’ve been in this job for so long) and buy myself some time. I’ll try to get some part time work that will allow me the flexibility to truly focus on my passion. I’m hoping that with time to devote to my artistic practice, that I will start enjoying the journey more. I’m also hoping that my travels will allow me some perspective that I simply can’t seem to get when I’m exhausted on the 7.25am train towards Waterloo. And as fellow poet Sophia Walker pointed out, that other than just thinking about what I can offer the countries I go to, they will also have much to offer me and I will grow as a writer and as a person in ways I won’t know now.
So, these will be the last few things I’m up to this year, but I reckon it’s the max I can afford to do time-wise:
-Feminism in London Evening Party
-Working on a Burn After Reading project
-An event on Superheroes and Supervillians
-Homeless Not Hopeless event
Hopefully I’ll catch some weekend events and open mic nights, and, of course, there’ll be She Grrrowls… I don’t want to end it so soon, so maybe I’ll do a January goodbye party… I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be going, but January seems like a good time for a bon voyage!
Okay, I can’t quite end it there. Here are some nice things to look at for National Poetry Day:
She Grrrowls is settled into its new home at Apples & Pears – it’s crazy to think that half a year has gone, and 16th July will be the last event before the summer break (all being well, returning in September). Check out what you missed last week:
In other news, I’m currently working on an anthology of ten poets from the She Grrrowls alumni after receiving funding from Ideas Tap to commission some new poems. I just need a publisher now! I’m hoping to get it out for December to have a launch event.
Speaking of radio, I’ll be having some poems featured on Audio Book Radio. Tune in on Friday 26th June at 2pm, 10pm and Saturday 27th at 6am.