WOW 2014

Last weekend it was WOW festival at the Southbank Centre. I got a weekend pass, despite being at work on the Friday and having lots of poetry things to do (events and workshops with the Burn After Reading Collective and the Roundhouse Collective). On Friday I also got the chance to go to ‘Poetry Live!’ I felt the same as I did when I was younger, and the teachers and pupils felt the same; Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke are great on page, but I’m not keen on their delivery style, and I felt it really didn’t cater to a young age group, where some things would need explaining further in order to know what they were talking about. It picked up with Simon Armitage, and I tried to enjoy Imtiaz Dharker amongst the other noisy school children in my row. Grace Nichols and John Agard were the favourites, and Benjamin Zephaniah wasn’t there as a surprise guest like when I was at school.

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Friday

I went to a discussion between Jude Kelly and actress Maxine Peak, which centred around the world of acting but branched out. It was really interesting and I think it was there where we vowed to complain more actively about the things we don’t like, for example the lack of women on panel shows. I’m going to have to start adding letters of complaint and to my ever-growing to-do list as it is a simple way to be active, and if enough people did it, it could make a change. Meanwhile, the odd tweet will help things along.

I met up with Ruth, a fellow Burn After Reading poet, and we watched a bit of Lyrically Challenged before making our way to The Gallery Cafe. I felt each performer got better as it went along, and I preferred them when they had the musical backing as I thought it suited their style more and they were stronger together. The beats in the background added to the rhythm of their voices working together.

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Saturday

I was sad to miss the first session of the day, and the first talk I went to was ‘Cyber Bullying’. I was disturbed and upset seeing Caroline Criado-Perez’s slideshows of abusive tweets; the violent language, misogyny and clear threats (e.g. posting her address) and hearing about Ava Vidal’s having had lynch threats, and online abuse turning physically threatening and having to run for her life. I came to this talk because I work at a school, and what I thought is that I need to explore language more with my students and not just tell them things are wrong. The sad thing is, these conversations are increasingly being seen as ‘dead time’ and my role exists purely to help students get their C-grades. After finding out that it is mostly young girls that use words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ against each other casually, it has made me feel it is my duty to weave in some Feminism into my lesson plans somehow. In terms of how to deal with cyber abuse, the jury is out. It is about judgement, how much time you have and your mental and physical capacity to engage. Sometimes you need to respond directly, other times you should ignore and respond only on a platform such as a blog like this, and other times, for your own sanity, you need to ignore it. Useful campaigns may take place on Twitter (too large a force to boycott unless a viable alternative is presented, after all, women leaving Twitter will just mean that we are silenced in another area of our daily life), such as #twitterallowsabuse and #twitterissexist so that we can spread awareness and show Twitter negatively for not being active enough (for example, not providing evidence in court cases).

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The next talk I went to was ‘In the Classroom’ where a panel of 11-17 year olds were in conversation with a teacher from Mulberry School (sounded so much better than my school). Although it was horrible to hear how prevalent sexual harassment is in schools, it was inspiring to hear such young women participate in Feminism. I asked a question about the dangers of some of the girls where I work wearing the hijab, less for religious reasons, and more for its confusion for being about modesty, with girls saying they see it as a uniform they put on so that boys don’t think they are ‘bad’, therefore as a way of disuading them from sexually harassing them. This idea reinforces the virgin/whore dichotomy and the misogynistic misconception that a woman is ever “asking for it” with what she wears. I was afraid of asking the question, in case Aneesa thought I was assuming anything about her own reasons for wearing the hijab, but she responded with an articulate plea to show girls that they can be whoever they want to be, and to explore issues within relationships between boys and girls.

Lastly, I went to the highlights, where poet Anthony Anaxagorou made a great point about the hierarchy of offensive comments in schools in terms of how they are dealt with. It made me reflect on my own actions and how even as a woman an a feminist, I haven’t treated the sexist comments as seriously as racist or homophobic comments. The ‘why’ is certainly something to think about here, and partly goes along with the idea that if you complain about sexism, it wouldn’t be taken as seriously by SLT etc. which is an unfair assumption. In the same way, some of us seem to accept comments like the ones made from Dappy on Celebrity Big Brother (I had heard about this stuff but I hadn’t actually seen any until now); we complain about it on various social media, but often the action that is needed is not taken because of this hierarchy that Anthony was talking about.

Although I think Anthony is great (check out his political night Out-Spoken), I wasn’t sure about his comment about ‘where do boys go?’ in relation to Feminism, because I believe that they need to learn through Feminism so they know that it is not something that is against them, but it is something that fights for their right to be who they are and who they want to be. I highly recommend this book after seeing Michael Kaufman a couple of times: The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. There are also more books that could be useful in terms of this discourse. That said, I agree it’s not so easy to find, because when you type in “men and feminism” into Amazon, you need to decipher the useful books from the misogynistic ones (and the ones that say they aren’t, but are). Maybe the lack of these books is because of social conditioning, some men only seem to care about these issues when they are about men, for instance, when texting my friend he said he would be interested in going to Being a Man at Southbank, but not Women of the World… whilst I was more interested in BAM than my boyfriend. #whataboutthemenz

Caroline Bird also gave us an insight into the Under-10 Feminists group, which sounded fabulously inspiring, and Shami told us of the importance of legal aid, from her talk ‘State Failure: Human Rights Principles’. There really is too much to include in one post, so I must highly recommend both BAM and WOW.

Sunday

A quick note of what I was able to go to on Sunday before I went to my poetry workshop. I decided to attend the Funny Women comedy workshop. It was very popular and I didn’t get to share anything, but as much as it would have been good to get up in front of everyone in terms of totally getting out of my comfort zone, the women who did were great and I spoke to a few nice people, including Lynne Parker (the workshop leader) and the stall holders downstairs. Then I went to the workshop/discussion on body image – The Personal is Still Political #ownyourbody. Here I found that 35% of girls have dieted by the age of SEVEN. Not only is the age shocking for anyone, but from someone who has never dieted, it is even more so. But, perhaps most women will find that confession about myself shocking, considering that 9/10 women diet. That said, the biggest reason for me not dieting is not because I have amazing body confidence, but because I like chocolate too much and I have always known it’s stupid and ineffective (93% of dieters regain the weight). Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness; girls and women are literally starving themselves to death. In this talk, I spoke to a lovely woman who I regretted not keeping in contact with as I went off. It was a weekend of honesty, and despite the statistics and evidence, sometimes you just need some human encounters.

Listen Softly London

My next gig is on Wednesday 19th March at Listen Softly London: Take Stock – A Celebration Of Pen Wielding Women, where I will be performing alongside Sara Hirsch, Ollie O’Neil, Fran Lock and Loren Kleinman. I will be bringing my best Feminist poetry to explore issues of body image, gender roles and rape culture. I haven’t blogged in ages and this has taken me over two hours to write, so I am going to post away and hope to see you next week!

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

Hammer & Tongue

Before I get onto my first experience of Hammer & Tongue, I have some exciting neeeewss!!  Me and Matty D are offishhh, like Facebook official, you get meee?!!  We had an amazing weekend, and after posting this picture, I’ll try to remain focused and professional and just write about poetry and shizzle like that.

Pouting Competition at Pride, London

I’ve been applying for loads of jobs and funding and stuff today, so am going to try to be as quick as possible about this and see if I can finish in under half an hour!  Friday, me and Matt when to Future Vintage, with a jazz band and poet, Tiffany Anne Tondut.  Matt had a bit of trouble working his way from Victoria to Waterloo, so we missed a bit, but it was good.  Bumped into Tim Wells, who told me about this event, it’s gonna be snazzy. My Gran’s visiting from France for her birthday, so I can’t make it.

We went to the Tate Modern for a bit and chilled on the grass near Udderbelly, before going to Poejazzi’s Festival Tonic.  Joshua Idehen was hosting and four amazing acts took the stage.  First, Harry Baker, who I am hoping will be hosting my gig at The Tea Box this Friday (8th July).  Next was Fiona Bevan, a singer who was probably my favourite performer of the day – a bit like Regina Spektor meets Shingai Shoniwa (The Noisettes) with a pinch of Ellie Golding.  Next was Ray Antrobus, who I’ve now probably mentioned a few times – Matt could particularly relate to the sober-guy-at-the-party poem after his sober months.  Lastly, another musical act Belle Moore-Benham with an incredibly powerful voice.

Oh yeah, and we saw this fox. Urban Fox. Pretty cool… if slightly scary.

Saturday, we went to see Sexing The Cherry, again, around Southbank.  It sounded cool, as it combined spoken word, animation and music.  At first I felt pretty tired and unimpressed, but towards the middle it picked up and there were some really good lines and ideas expressed, a great musical section, and beautiful acrobatics.

We went to Soho to check out Pride festivities… I was a terrible Londoner and couldn’t find Trafalgar Square so we missed some reality TV stars, but it was fun just walking around and I’m cracked open a couple of cans and we had a little dance and listened to some live music where we could find it.  We didn’t see the parade so I defos wanna check it out next year.  I saw Romy from The XX passing by in the opposite direction but it was pretty packed and we’re both pretty shy people, I guess, so we just moved with the crowd.  I think it was the first time I’ve seen her since the band got all big as well, so it’s pretty weird after seeing loads of pictures everywhere and music everywhere.

Anyway, Monday, Matt went back to Norwich (long distance gaaah) and I went to Hammer & Tongue with my mate Elliot Snook… he’s putting on a clubnight, which I hope to go to, so YOU should defos go as well.

Angry Sam was hosting but he didn’t seem to remember me from Glam Slam – I guess he’s a busy man.  Chester P and Mungo were the feature and they were on for about an hour.  It was really interesting and very different form when I saw CP support Jamie T in Norwich.  Some of it went a bit over my head, and then some of it made me unsure if it was bullshit or genius… there were probably a few too many drug references but ah well, do what you know and all that.  The Slam was afterwards and I was on penultimatly which had my nerves going a bit, but I was pleased with how it went and I came third place, which I didn’t expect and it’s pretty  cool to get a position even without winning.  I can always try again.  What was amazing was that, amongst a couple of compliments, one guy said I was his favourite of the night, and said the rhythm and delivery were particularly good.  In hindsight, I should have given him my business card, but I feel a bit cringe doing it without actually being asked… a bit too pushy? Or am I being silly?

Peter Hayhoe won, who I saw at Tooting Market, and he was cool. Ahhh. Gonna have to wrap up, I’ve gone way overboard.

xxx