My mini opera submission…
I am very glad to be moderating this talk with Richard Stallman and Louis Ng. Being so far away from the occupy movement in London, I’m pleased to make this small contribution to the zeitgeist.
In other news, I am going to be in Lung Jazz – an anthology of young British poets for Oxfam. My piece “Lamplighters” is about staring at people on public transport.
I am also going to be reading at The Pigeonhole on March 8th for Sugar & Spice, a celebration of International Women’s Day. My piece: “Punishment” after “After Punishment” by Sharon Olds. You’d think I’d lighten up, but not me.
When someone says “I am a rapist, and you are weak woman,” my response is “fuck you.” I don’t care whether you like my poetry or not, whether you dug my performance or whether you thought my writing was dope. I don’t care how many languages you speak, or how many drugs you were addicted to. Bullshit is bullshit, and I won’t stand by and watch, while you perpetrate it. And I won’t sit and listen to you say that “I am a weak woman, part of weak women in general, and if I rape you I will enjoy it, while you sit around and feel indignant.”
That’s what happened tonight; a great gig at S’pore Salon, then a night that rapidly descended into some sexist bullshit. Over what? Me fending off the dominance of two guys, generally retaliating to their idiocy and me saying that English is Germanic, not Romantic, and that the Romantic influences come from the French conquest in 1066. No, no (he says) there are words in English that make Spanish comprehensible, and anyway, English is derived from Spanish. I see what you’re saying, but, uh, no it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t. Yes it is, and you are arrogant for arguing otherwise. But, actually, no, I can say that I am more familiar with Icelandic, Swedish, Dutch and German than Spanish, and do not care whether you want to fuck me right now, or whether you hate me. But I will stand up and call you out when you grope me, or hug me when I don’t want you to, or shout down anything I say because, apparently, you know better; and I will tell you that I will fuck you up if you dared to try some of the things you said tonight. Try it. See if this “weak poet” doesn’t make you swallow your own balls.
If saying “I am a rapist” to someone who challenges you isn’t a threat of violence and out of order, I don’t know what is. And if I don’t have the right to say to someone that I am absolutely, 100%, unequivocally opposed to their opinion of whether I am fuckable or not, whether I am a good writer or not, then this poetry spiel is bullshit too, and I’m done with it.
Last night, the motion for the debate was: ‘Cultural boycott can be an effective, indeed morally imperative, political strategy’. Speaking in favour was Omar Barghouti and Seni Seneviratne. Against, Carol Gould and Jonathan Freedland. Read More
I’m blogging for the Southbank Literature Festival. Just put up my first post.
People often say things that would be excellent on a t.shirt, especially at literary events. So that’s what I’m doing on the blog – posting potential t.shirt quotations alongside the write-up. These are the first, from Tim Graves and DJ Connell respectively. There are more to come. At the end of the festival I’ll get two of them printed. Huzzah.
So I’m now on Poetry International Web. It’s curious to see my life in writing laid out like that, especially as an English student who endlessly salivates over the British Council profiles of great writers. Thanks to Rebecca Mustajarvi for her description / outline of me and my work. And of course, thanks to Campbell for the photo.
Last night I read for the delegates at the NUS Women’s Conference. Afterwards, several people came up to me and said they liked my poems, “especially the one about the beard.” I said I’d post it online, so here it is. It’s a poem I wrote after being asked several times whether I was a boy or a girl by kids. It can be an awkward question and answering it always leaves me wondering whether I’ve let the side down and/or scarred the kid for life. So I wrote a poem in which someone’s mother grows a beard and sticks two fingers up at the world. Whenever I read it, people laugh and enjoy the easy rhythm, but it also gets them thinking about gender and this strange question of whether someone is a girl or a boy. I think of it as Gender Studies, Key Stage One. (Key Stage Two will address the tricky implication that adopting the appearance and mannerisms of a man is necessary to achieve and assert personal liberty, thus perpetuating the idea of the feminine as weak and oppressed other – but more on that next time.) Poem featured after the jump.
I think there was a magical year at Norbury Manor, around 2004, when a class of teenagers graduated in to the big wide world. When I am bored, having spent the day clipping my nails and popping spots in the bathroom mirror, I am compelled to google that little thoroughfare I grew up in. One notable resident was Rox, who I hear everywhere – in shopping centres, in taxis, HMV – another is HolsyWolsy, who I thought had given up on the dream:
Apparently not. Now I can’t sing, and I have no talent for instruments despite having tried many, but have never been able to shake the feeling that what I do is a weird, even archaic art which doesn’t fully utilise the voice. Linguists often point out that the vocal tract is used most fully when singing, which suggests we all have a natural propensity, but it’s beaten out of us at school. So I’m all about the speaking voice, which despite the above, I still think is underestimated and underused.
But there’s this idea that a poet is on the same continuum as a song-writer. A little while ago I had the pleasure of reading at Akilah and there saw a woman named Becca do her thing acapella. I was so impressed I wanted to write for her. But when I tried, I realised I couldn’t come up with shit in a particular metre, or come close to the self-contained line that, say, Joni Mitchell, is so brilliant at. I’m gonna have another crack, but I’m messy, me, and all about the enjambment.
What a lapse blogger I am, and what a terrible self-promoter. I remembered that I did the cover for Wasifiri’s Black British Special. It was difficult – lots of minor changes – but people seem to have responded fairly well. What I thought was most risky was the fact that the main figure is colourless and has the cross of St. George on their arm. The cover certainly reflects the diversity of the content, but as I was drawing it, I was momentarily caught up in the gulf between strict identity politics and the weirder more amorphous politics I feel comfortable with.
A few days ago I was in London trying to interview my parents about their experiences of the Brixton riots in 1981. It was nearly impossible because they have such a fixed idea of what someone should hear. I’m interested in their stories, they’re interested in polemic. I’m putting together a very short film about it as a kind of experiment in micro-adaptation – in other words, I’m going to film them, then turn the film in to a comic. Having spoken with them about something that was pretty traumatic and which they feel has never been addressed, I wonder about my responsibilities as a writer (and burgeoning cartoonist) – I wonder if I’m talking about the “right” things, addressing the “right” topics, and whether it matters that people like my parents (who I’m so intrigued by) can’t understand a bloody word I’m saying.
A short post from yours truly, who, in between picking the scum from between her teeth and mindlessly scrolling upwards and downwards on the Guardian homepage in the hope that something will have changed, realised that the most pressing thing on her mind was Death. With a capital D. Not the soft grey kind that is issued as standard with all newborns, but the social kind. Traditional death is open to speculation and can be made beautiful in grandiose poetry, but this new kind is paraded in front of us as (I imagine) a hangman might hold the loop of a noose in his fingers.