Posts Tagged ‘poets’

Page/Stage: a conversation about poetry in performance, diversity in poetry and how we bring the two together

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Performance poet and promoter Freddie Alexander.  Photo credit Perry Jonsson Art.
Performance poet and promoter Freddie Alexander. Photo credit Perry Jonsson Art.

Hey friends,

So, back in April I saw that the juggernaut live poetry night Loud Poets were advertising an event where the performers were strictly forbidden to read off a piece of paper. This triggered a knee-jerk reaction in me, and I [sub]tweeted about it, expressing worry about the rule without naming the night — and without being desperately constructive either. Performance poet, live lit promoter and all-round perceptive individual Freddie Alexander called me out (via excellent use of Kermit The Frog meme), and helped me start a more productive online conversation about the whole thing. You can see some of the tweets from that initial conversation here, here, here and here. I’d advise you to have a look at these because they’re the thoughts of poets who live and work at intersections of oppression that I have never experienced — these are trans poets and disabled poets, speaking from perspectives which are (as the conversation below acknowledges) all too often ignored or erased in contemporary poetry.

Out of that Twitter conversation, Freddie and I decided to meet and chat properly. We had a vague idea that the resulting chat might be turned into a blogpost for public consumption — Scottish Book Trust had approached me about the possibility of creating an 800-word-or-so piece for them, for example — but in the end our conversation became too knotty to be easily edited down into one pithy blog. We decided we’d prefer to publish the unedited transcript of the entire conversation instead, knowing that probably no one but ourselves would ever willingly host this 3,000+ word beast! So here it finally is. We hope it’s thought provoking, and if you have comments we’d love to hear them, especially on Twitter, which promotes a more ‘living’ conversation than blog comments, I find. (I’m @onenightstanzas and Freddie is @fredralexander.) We’re especially keen to hear thoughts on this issue from poets of colour, disabled poets, and LGBTQIA+ poets — we’d like to know how performance works at a variety of intersections, not just the ones we personally experience.

Here’s the transcript, typed up verbatim from a digital recording (we didn’t release the audio simply because the background noise is awful and it’s fairly unbearable to listen to. Typical poets, choosing a busy coffee shop as their venue!) Enjoy!

*

Claire Askew: OK, the first thing I want to do is go on the record as saying – I’m really sorry for starting off this whole conversation with a subtweet…!

Freddie Alexander: That’s OK.

CA: It’s just – I say these things, I type these things – and I know this sounds really disingenuous, but I literally forget that I have nearly 4,000 followers, and then people respond and I’m like, ‘oh, people saw that? That was just me letting my gums rattle,’ as my gran would have said! So I really am sorry for the way the conversation was started!

FA: To be honest, I think that it’s the same on my side, it’s absolutely fine…

CA: Oh, I liked your response actually – good use of Kermit the Frog meme!

FA: I love it so much! And sometimes, I don’t know – people I follow – like Broderick Greer, who’s this big Anglican minister in the US – he subtweets like no one’s business. He’s very involved with politics and LGBT issues in Christian circles, and his subtweets are just perfect. So I highly recommend him if you want to read some good subtweeting.

CA: OK, Greer, subtweet minister, I’m writing down! I’ll check him out.

…OK, so I guess I kind of wanted to start with a question. And then – I don’t know, maybe I should figure out an answer first, but you might want to ask me why I’m so angry about this thing! This whole issue of setting up a system – or a night, or an event, or whatever – where the rule is you cannot read off paper – this is something I can’t get my head around. So my question is, what is the reasoning for that? I assume there have been people sitting down and saying, ‘right, we will impose this rule for a reason,’ so what’s the reason? Maybe when I understand…

FA: Yeah. I think that’s a really interesting one, because as far as my knowledge goes, there are two [events] in Scotland that have this rule: Sophia Walker’s BBC slam, and Loud Poets nights. Now, I don’t want to speak for either, because I am not the organiser of either, but I have lived with [one of the organisers of Loud Poets], and part of the reasoning behind it is, I guess – it is, I think, a discussion around how they want the aesthetics of their night to work. They have a particular vision in mind for what their audience is receiving – and I think maybe something that’s important and that’s going on in their head is that they structure their night from the perspective of trying to get an audience that is paying, and give them a product. So though it’s counter-intuitive from my perspective – because often I organise nights that are free, and largely for other artists, and if people come along that aren’t artists, that’s seen as good and exciting for us – but it’s different, organising an open mic night or whatever.

CA: That’s really interesting, I hadn’t thought of the onus being on the audience rather than the performers. I suppose that’s not something I’d ever really thought about – like, should your priority when organising a night be ‘how comfortable are your performers?’ or should your priority be ‘what’s the experience your audience is having?’ And I suppose the logical thing is that your audience are the people who’ve paid to come in the door, so actually…

FA: Well I think part of the difficulty around that conversation is probably twofold – it’s that if you’re cultivating an artistic community you have to make sure that your performers are still looked after and comfortable, so I think there’s definitely a thing with that. But also, at the same time, when you are paying your performers, how much is reasonable to expect of your performers?

CA: Right.

FA: If you – I mean, what kind of relationship is that? If you’re an organiser of a night that has a paying customer, and you’re paying your performer, is it then reasonable to ask your performer to provide a certain kind of performance? And how much pushback is reasonable within that relationship? I think that relationship is, necessarily, a thing that you have to be careful with, because within that you then would have the complicated relationship with other artists. But it is – I think it’s an interesting one.

CA: So, we’ve kind of just talked off the mic about a night like Shore Poets, and how it is becoming increasingly one of a kind to have an event like that, that’s still a traditional stand-up reading – the kind of reading where everyone reads off paper. But we talked about how that’s alright, upholding that tradition, because it caters to a certain audience who don’t maybe feel welcome at something more experimental. And similarly I think, nights where – the more experimental nights – they need to exist as well for that same reason – to create a variety of different types of events. So I kind of understand wanting to try new stuff and, like, ‘let’s impose this as a rule to try and separate ourselves out from the herd’. I don’t know if that’s part of the thinking behind it as well?

FA: Yeah, I think part of it is necessarily being new. Because there are a lot of nights within Edinburgh who often have the same performers, who have similar formats, and so how do you then have an audience come back to your night? I think the decision on Loud Poets‘ part was to say ‘let’s have this rule.’ And it’s not just that – they also have a live band, and they try to create a kind of high-energy fun experience for the audience. I think that’s what interesting is that from the perspective of people who organise that night, their viewpoint is that they feel like they’re the minority. Not like the in the political sense of the word…

CA: No, I know what you mean.

FA: But like, there are many nights in Edinburgh that – most nights in Edinburgh don’t impose this rule. And that’s almost the answer as to why they impose that. But I think that within that there’s almost a false distinction, because then we’re talking about the aesthetics of how this is influencing what we consider to be performance poetry.

Maybe I can ask a question of yourself?

CA: Go on then.

FA: How have you found the experience of going between different nights, as a poet who is comfortable with their relationship with their audience – in coming across this certain kind of structured night, what’s your response to them?

CA: Well, I mean I think part of the reason that I have quite a kneejerk reaction to seeing the no-paper rules is because I had a bad experience. At a night – I’ll name the night, I won’t name the person – it was at Colin McGuire’s Talking Heids night, which is sadly defunct now I think…

FA: Yes!

CA: That was a great night!

FA: It was really great.

CA: So Colin, start that night again! Yeah – anyway, I read, and then the next performer after me was a performance poet who I think is someone who is at the height of his powers, shall we say – someone who is doing very well and is very popular around the place. So I got up and I read my poems the way I usually do – this was before I had my book out, so I was reading off printed bits of paper, and – I mean I’m not someone who hides behind the bits of paper, it’s a sort of glancing-down-at sort of job, but I did my set and I thought I did pretty well. And I kind of noticed that the performance poet in question was in the back of the room texting all the way through my set, which I found mildly annoying, but I thought hey, well, you know – maybe there was an emergency or something! Anyway – at the break he got up and said, like into the crowd, ‘how unprofessional was that? That a poet like her got up and read off bits of paper.’ ‘That’s like’ – and I quote – ‘that’s like a comedian getting up on stage with a fucking joke sheet.’ End quote. So there was this attack on my professionalism – you know, the idea that reading off paper is unprofessional, and amateur, you know? And I thought – apart from anything else, respect your elders, you young whippersnapper! I was gobsmacked. [the recording was paused here at Freddie's request] So to pick up the thread, I suppose that has really coloured my feelings about that whole no-paper thing. Because it means I am coming at it with, in the back of my mind, the idea that it’s linked to your professionalism as a poet.

But I think I wanted to say before – I think there’s something about – it makes for – I imagine that absolutely no preambles, and no paper, must make for a very slick show. I mean, is that something that you think is…

FA: I think that is part of how [these nights] try to reflect their aesthetics, yeah – so even within that, the poets – they can rotate it so that the other poets go up and introduce the poet they’ve read before. So the poet can just come up on stage, do their piece, and leave, and not have to do any faffing. Now, I think what’s interesting about that is that – typically, I’m one of them – some poets aren’t very good at that [introductions and preambles]! I fumble – and actually, that way [of running a night] sometimes takes a bit of the stress off. I think on the contrary side to that, sometimes it’s difficult because when as a poet you design a set, there’s a story that you’re telling – you are taking poems that relate to each other and telling the relationship, and then to just remove that, come on stage, do one piece and leave – it can sometimes feel a bit clinical, as a performer. But I think it’s about the relationship that you have with your work. That’s definitely – within the slam circuit, that’s how your work is presented. Single piece, leave. But within a show, or Fringe show perspective, it’s very different.

CA: So I suppose it’s a melding of that kind of slam style, where they say ‘right, you’ve got two minutes, get on and do the necessary!’ And so, match that with the slightly more relaxed context of a night, you know –

FA: Yeah, without being judged, yes.

CA: So it’s interesting – the more you’re talking to me, the more my anger about that bad experience is kind of ebbing away. Which is good! Because I’m also thinking about nights where you go and there’s someone who – I mean, there are really famous poets who are terrible for this, too – like, Liz Lochhead, I love you, but sometimes your preambles are longer than your poems! So, poets who talk for a really long time before the poem, and there’s this tendency to say, ‘this poem is about this, this and this,’ to the point where in the end you don’t even need to hear the poem! And then there are people who are going ‘oh, which one shall I read, which one shall I read?’ – and they’re flicking back and forth through their book – and nobody enjoys that! So I totally appreciate the logistical removal of that, and how that facilitates a much more slick product – and a much more enjoyable night, because nobody enjoys that period of silence while the poet tries to find the page!

FA: I think that’s definitely so part of the process of designing a night – I think a big part of this goes back to if we imagine how slam came to be created. Because slams didn’t really exist, and then they became this weird way of judging poetry, and I find that really hilarious, because all they really are is a way of structuring a night in such a way that it removes the faff, and is just concentrated poetry. It’s true that it’s more efficient, and that makes it more enjoyable for the audience – more so than the poets! I think that was the thought behind the best slams and behind things like Loud Poets – it’s trying to get an audience that doesn’t engage with poetry to engage with poetry. However, maybe to argue on your side, to be my own devil’s advocate, I think one of the problems is that there is this whole subliminal perception of professionalism. One of the things that I would bring up in particular – so for the last three years, the Scottish National Poetry Slam, all three finalists have been people that don’t read off paper. Now, that’s really interesting, because that’s drawing from a range of different performers, usually a range of different people each time, different audiences, and different judges – so is there a commonality when you’re looking and trying to judge the poems? Is that judgement – is your snap judgement to someone reading off paper to say, ‘that’s less impressive than someone who has memorised’? And is that a form of aesthetics that maybe we’re progressing?

CA: Yeah, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about one of the things that troubles me, which is – and I mean, I have absolutely no problem with one or two nights, which is kind of what’s happening in Edinburgh – having a bash at this kind of experimental thing to separate themselves out among these many, many, many poetry nights. And I mean, the point of experimenting is to see what it’s like, that’s how things change, and that’s interesting. But what troubles me is the idea that because the nights where this is happening are such a juggernaut, such a force – I’m now hearing poets saying to me things like, ‘oh you know, I’d be so much better if I memorised, that would make me a better poet…’

FA: And ‘that would make me get noticed,’ yeah.

CA: And you like of think well – I mean, the aforementioned Colin McGuire, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying this – he’s said that to me a few times. Like, you know ‘oh, I should really memorise my poems, that’s what everyone’s doing now, I should really memorise’ – and I’m like, Colin, you’re an absolutely brilliant performer!

FA: Oh god, yes!

CA: Right? I mean, you really don’t need to do any more! And – I mean, the way Colin brandishes a poetry book, that’s part of the whole thing! So yeah – that’s kind of troubling that it’s becoming – I mean, this sounds terribly pearl-clutching of me I know, but I’m kind of worried that it’s becoming a trend…

FA: I would agree. And what’s interesting within that trend is that the organisers – like, the organisers of Loud Poets – they’re seen to be the keepers of this, and yet like, Katie [Ailes] and Catherine [Wilson] will read off paper. Not because they’re trying to perform less professional things, but because it’s just about the night they’re going to. But I think this a complex thing, and also – it is a case of assessing what is your position within the scene, and what kind of people are coming to your night? I mean, if performers are coming to your night and they feel like they can’t engage with that because they find memorising difficult, for various different reasons, then that’s a real problem.

CA: Yeah. I also feel like this creeping trend, it kind of – there’s an extent to which, whether it’s intended or not, it sort of leads into this – and I hate even saying it! The ‘page stage divide’ – the perceived divide between page and stage. And for me, what’s interesting and unusual and original and exciting is when people try and be on both sides of that divide. So you’re saying that people like Katie and Catherine are doing both – memorising, and reading off paper. You know, that’s the kind of straddling of different styles which I think is interesting and exciting. What’s worrying is when people feel like they have to pick a side, like either ‘I am a poet who memorises things and therefore I am a performance poet,’ or ‘I am a poet who reads off paper and therefore I am a page poet.’ It’s not that simple, and I’m worried that people are reducing it to that kind of binary.

FA: Or even – I think also following on from that is, how much of a recognition is there that there are other types of events here, that will support people who have different styles and that are attuned to that problem. I think we can say all we like as organisers of night that, ‘oh, it’s OK, there are ten other nights where you can read a poem,’ but for some people, they don’t know – they know that the only poetry night they have, that they go to, is, say Loud Poets – and they don’t know that TenRed exists, or places like Shore Poets. And when we don’t go out of our way to emphasise that as organisers, we limit the ability of new people to enter and access the range of the Scottish live poetry scene.

CA: Yeah, I think it’s true that when you’re inside it – you know, you as a promoter, or a seasoned performer – you are aware – I mean, I’ve been doing this now for twelve years, so I’m at a point now where I can lament, sadly, nights that used to exist that now no longer do, like the Golden Hour – that was so good! You know – but when you are, like let’s say you’re a first year Uni student, and you’re coming here in September and you don’t know anyone, you’re going to go to the night that has the biggest posters, and not necessarily know what else is out there. So I think you’re right, there should be, possibly – I mean, I think there is also a thing where people say, ‘it’s so annoying, I’m trying to organise this night and there are like, two other nights on in Edinburgh on the same date,’ whereas I think that’s quite exciting, that’s good – and we should be promoting those nights as well, but it’s tricky, you feel like, I’m having to share my audience with these other people. So I also understand not promoting other nights. It’s a tricky balance!

FA: Especially when you’ve hit that perfect kind of double spot that Loud Poets and slams try to do, where they pitch themselves as poetry nights for people who don’t go to poetry nights. So a lot of people that don’t go to poetry night and don’t know about poetry nights go to these particular nights and think, ‘that is what poetry is,’ and that’s it. Now, part of that is intentional, because you want to create that positive reaction to poetry – but at the same time, there’s a case of how accessible is everything else? There’s a really difficult conversation there, that, as organisers – is it simply a case of promoting other nights? Maybe.

CA: Or is it about – I mean, we’ve talked about how certain nights are for certain audiences. You know, I mean – I’m soon no-longer-to-be-a Shore Poets organiser [note added by CA: I left Shore Poets in June 2016], but as a Shore Poets organiser I have been aware that people will say things like ‘oh, you know, Shore Poets is for x kind of person,’ which I think possibly fair and true – but that’s problematic, because that shows that as organisers we actually perhaps have not done enough to welcome people who do not fall into that perceived group. But is that a whole other conversation?

FA: Well, we’re discussing how this relates to audiences, but in regards to performers, I think there’s another interesting conversation that can happen – so, most promoters want to cultivate the scene, circulate and keep people updated about their different nights, but when you draw someone [a performer] from another night into your night, and then suddenly there are different rules imposed, that can be a very disorienting thing. It could be potentially alienating – and also, could give the poet a bad experience like yours. I mean, if this was the first time you had to memorise poetry, and you’re suddenly thrown into a scenario you don’t know, in an environment you don’t know, and then you fluff your line, that can be incredibly traumatising as a live performer.

CA: Oh yes, it’s the worst thing!

FA: It is the worst thing, it’s very unpleasant!

CA: I mean, I am not anti-memorising, I have memorised pieces before, and I know only too well that feeling when you get to the place in the poem where you’ve said the line about five thousand times, and yet for some reason, you just have the wrong thought at the wrong moment, and it’s all gone…

FA: That’s the nightmare, yes!

CA: And then it feels like you’re standing there in silence for about five hundred years, when it’s probably only a couple of seconds actually, but it feels like, ‘just say something, say anything!’ It is – it does rattle you, even if you’re a seasoned performer. But I mean, now that we’re talking about performers, I guess we get to the meat of the issue for me, which is diversity. And something that I’m aware of is – there are poets and promoters and a lot of people in the scene generally, who trumpet that Scotland has this wonderful, diverse poetry community, like ‘look at how diverse we are, look at all this wealth of diverse voices!’ And I kind of look round and think – ‘okay, but I’m trying to organise Grrrl Con! this summer, and I struggled to find women writers of colour.’ It was really hard to come up with a list of female poets of colour in Scotland! So just that, as one example, suggests to me that the scene is not as diverse as we like to think. And I mean, this is where we get into tricky territory, because I don’t want to hurl accusations at any particular night, but this is the reason, mainly, why I’m worried about – not the nights, but about this no-paper thing becoming A Thing. It’s because, for me, it appears to not only not encourage, but actively discourage certain voices – namely, disabled poets, who are already very much not in evidence in the Scottish poetry scene – and also poets whose first language is not English.

FA: Absolutely. I one hundred percent agree with this. And I think also on top of that one of the problems is that when the – and this is one of my own personal gripes – so I am involved with Inky Fingers. And I really love Inky Fingers – band the thing with Inky Fingers is that it’s a great night that new people enjoy, and it’s an important night because of those new people. So we have a few performers now who have disabilities, whose first language isn’t English, or maybe they aren’t performing in English, and we have a few people who are performing in Scots. That’s really incredible – they’re great performers. It’s like – the successful nights are the nights that orientate towards audiences, in the belief that in order to get an audience in you have to be slick, professional, often no paper. And all this draws all the funding, and the ability to organise successful nights away from the nights that provide the first steps.

CA: Funding is something I hadn’t thought about, but yes, actually…

FA: And I mean funding not just in the sense of funding from Creative Scotland, but funding that the audience pay for – if the only we can host a night is by having a raffle that people opt into, so maybe we can pay our feature performer and try to get enough money, and we’re still trying to pay a venue – it’s a very stressful situation! As opposed to being able to have a night that you can get people to pay to come into.

CA: That’s a really interesting point, actually. When you have funding, the pressure is off in many ways, and then you can think, ‘oh, let’s do something experimental with this night!’ because you can afford to.

FA: And then within that we can talk about how axes of privilege can operate in access to money. To me – and I don’t know what your opinion of this is, and I don’t want to – I mean, I know I am able bodied, and male for that matter – but I think that, to me, one of the problems is that we do trumpet this idea that the Scottish poetry scene is diverse – but by virtue of its performers. And one of the problems is that we then don’t examine ‘who are our organisers?’ Because when we have diversity of organisation, that is what leads to diversity full stop. We had a great performer, Taylor Johnson, at Loud Poets – but she was an exchange student from America. And she had this great, important, powerful voice, and is a woman of colour, who was able to be here for six months. And that’s diversity in inverted commas, of performers. But when we examine the organisation of a lot of nights in Scotland, what we have is predominantly white. There’s a reasonable split between men and women, maybe still skewing towards men a little bit – almost entirely able-bodied, and – I can maybe name one night in Scotland that is organised by a person of colour, and that’s Seeds of Thought in Glasgow. And that’s it.

CA: And that’s a bit of a sad state of affairs, really.

FA: But then, at the same time, it’s not enough to just simply turn around and say, ‘go organise a night!’

CA: Yeah – ‘organise your own night!’ No…

FA: Yes, because then we’re nor acknowledging the privilege that we have. Like, people who organise Soapbox can tap into that University space. And the people who organise Loud Poets can tap into that – Loud Poet space! You can’t just create that out of nothing.

CA: And we’ve talked about Shore Poets, and how Shore Poets is a very established committee, with very established names – Christine de Luca is on the committee, I mean – she’s the Makar! And again, that kind of thing comes with [inaudible] – it means Shore Poets can do things that a brand new person who doesn’t have a name like that on their committee can’t do. There’s certainly a power differential there which is really interesting. I hadn’t really thought about organisers, but that is a really good point.

And, I mean, I think we’re getting to the issue that I really want to talk about now, which is the wider scene, because – as you say, we are both able-bodied people, we have privilege, we both move with relative ease through the poetry scene, I think – and so I am aware that we’re not the ideal people to be discussing this. But I did have a chat with a couple of poets and promoters whose experiences are more aligned with this stuff. So, Markie Burnhope is a trans woman and also disabled, and she said that generally, there is not enough accommodation for, in particular, her disability within the poetry scene – I think what she said was that if your nights need to appear a certain way, like, impose a time limit, or be in a venue that’s really fancy but is inaccessible – she was saying, if you place this above her comfort and well being as a performer, then there’s a problem there.

FA: Absolutely.

CA: And Sandra Alland kind of expanded on that and said that the no paper thing is really irrelevant, and even – all this stuff, it’s all irrelevant, because changes are the event, whatever event, is in a venue that she can’t physically get into anyway, as a disabled person. And she said, you know, before you even get to the stage, and the rules that are imposed on performers on stage, there are already a bunch of hurdles that the performer might not have been able to get over. So that raises a question about the wider scene, and whether we are having conversations about how do we just start to encourage performers like Sandra and Markie, other disabled folk, trans women, trans men…

FA: I absolutely agree. One of the things that I’d like to address is that – it would be naive of me to say that ‘we’ll make our nights accessible, you can read off paper.’ That’s almost like the most superficial thing you can say! That’s not to say that it won’t help some poets, but I think it’s a very serious issue. Many venues in Edinburgh that are used by live poetry nights aren’t mobility accessible, that’s a fact. And that’s a real problem, because then we have to look at – Edinburgh doesn’t have many venues for live poetry nights. Should we as organisers be looking harder for those venues? Because it shouldn’t simply a case of what’s the cheapest venue that you can find!

CA: That’s often the priority, isn’t it? And that’s again where funding is power.

FA: And also you need to think about it from different angles. If you’re thinking, ‘we can invite trans folk,’ is the venue accessible to them? If we have poets – or people who are not organisers – introducing other performers by name, can we be absolutely sure that they’re going to introduce them in a way that isn’t demeaning or insulting? This is all maybe something that we don’t currently address.

CA: I think what you’re pointing out very eloquently is that in order to make an event fully accessible, you have to take into account so many variables – and I think a lot of promoters just don’t have the capacity to do that. And I think that comes back to funding. It’s really interesting, I didn’t think we were going to talk about funding this much, but actually – I mean, I’m thinking about a night that I went to just recently, which was an anti-austerity event at Kinning Park in Glasgow. It was organised by these great women Heather McLean and Ealasaid Munro, and actually Sandra Alland was performing there with her band, the They They Theys, Harry Giles was performing – and there was this huge list of all the ways that they had tried to make things accessible. So Kinning Park is a mobility accessible venue, it has unisex bathrooms, they had organised BSL intepretation, organised people to guide folk coming in in wheelchairs to an accessible seat with space around it, all that – they had obviously done so much work to be able to do that. And you kind of think, if you didn’t have funding and resources, how would you do even one of things? I mean, I can’t think of one venue in Edinburgh that offers all those things in one place, so how do you do that?

FA: Maybe, off the top of my head, some of the University of Edinburgh spaces might do all that, but then that’s a whole other kettle of fish because often, the University live literature spaces specifically aren’t mobility accessible.

CA: So then there’s the issue of – should we be starting our own venues, or petitioning for more venues? Should we be raising money to build a venue from scratch? Not necessarily from bricks and mortar, but to create an ideal space?

FA: I know this is something that Harry Giles and Kat McMahon are thinking about.

CA: This is the Workers’ Theatre.

FA: Yes. Because to have ownership over your own space means that you’re able to make decisions that you can’t make as a renter, going in. Those are decisions that relate to using the space, to begin with, for money – being able to charge a fee or not – but also in order to provide accessibility in any way you want. And that – I think it’s – I know that a lot of nights in Edinburgh do make very serious decisions regarding ensuring that their nights have performers with a range of voices. People will turn down applications to open mics, because they’ll say, okay, we’ve got too many performers coming from this perspective, we need some more from this perspective, let’s advertise for that. And that’s brilliant, that’s really good work. But I think when we reduce diversity in our scene to the question of…

CA: Of ‘have we got a black woman on the bill?’

FA: Yeah – or have we got fifty-fifty white, cis men and white, cis women. That’s diversity…

CA: By numbers.

FA: By numbers! Yeah.

CA: We keep coming back to funding, and the fact that funding gives you the power to do things like making a night more experimental – so what is the place of the funder? Is a question maybe, are funders not prioritising attempts to make things more accessible?

FA: No. Funders look at how successful a night is. And success for funders is how many numbers do you have through the door, how much money are you raising? A small night that is organised with BSL interpretation, for example, for a small audience for whom no other night will provide – that’s never going to be as “successful” as a slam night that has twice the capacity of people. And that’s a really sad situation. I think one of the things that I’ve – that’s become one of my personal gripes – is that when we as organisers look for funding from the same places. When we do that, we start creating nights that all do the same things. We’re not looking for funders who specifically ask this of us. We should be being challenged by our funders to provide this – and our audience. We should be in a position where our audience is asking this of us. As organisers we have a responsibility to go to other nights, and – gently – help people to recognise that there are ways to do more.

CA: It’s really interesting that you say we should have audiences that ask that of us – I’m kind of sitting here thinking, this is a really interesting conversation, we’re basically brainstorming ideas and coming up with ideas about venues, thinking about funders – and to me, these all sound like great ideas. But I’m also aware that I am not a member of any of the groups that are not currently adequately represented. So what I’m thinking is, actually, really this brainstorming has to be expanded to include disabled poets, trans poets, poets of colour, so they can say things to us like, ‘oh actually, that’s not my priority at all, my priority is this.’

But I’m really interested in this idea of success that you’ve hit on – that funders see the key to success as how many people came through the door. And there’s this whole idea about legacy as well, and to me legacy is an often misued word Is the legacy of my night that a Deaf poet got their first opportunity to perform, therefore went on to xyz exciting things? Whereas actually legacy is often too much like, ‘my night is able to keep going because we raised x amount of money last time.’ So there are these two words, success and legacy – and I wonder, do we need to change what success looks like, what legacy looks like. And we can’t do that – that needs to be funders. And that raises the question: are funding bodies diverse? Do funding bodies do enough? And then we get into a whole other conversation!

FA: Yeah, and I think we can then almost bring this back to what our first conversation was, about how we present our nights. How we try to introduce people to poetry.

CA: So I suppose basically, the nights that we’ve started out by talking about – and maybe all the Edinburgh nights – all they’re trying to do is, do what they can to set themselves apart and welcome as many people as they can. You know I certainly don’t think there are nights where people are going, ‘no we don’t really want this whole diversity thing’ – you know I think everyone cares about it, they’re just limited in what they do, or can do, about it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do more.

FA: I also think that a really serious consideration is that we have these – I don’t know what the term is, but these nights that continue on beyond just one event.

CA: Yeah, I know the ones you mean!

FA: When we think about legacy for these nights, and we are passing on the mantle of these nights to other people – how are we doing this? Are we passing it among our friends? Who are our friends? Are they people who are in the same place in the scene? Are we looking to create difference, or are we looking to create something that’s the same? How do we want to be seen as being successful? One of the real challenges for me – like, one of the things I really want to advertise is, I think there’s a real problem with lack of persons of colour in the scene, because the problem is, I know those poets are out there. I’ve heard those poets before, I’ve seen those poets before.

CA: And why don’t they get booked as much as other poets?

FA: Right, why don’t they get booked, when they’re great? Why is their voice being used as ‘the token diverse voice’? Why aren’t they being given the agency to have more ownership over nights where they appear? And that’s, I think, a very serious question. I really question, when I see another person in poetry setting up a night, who is male, white, able bodied – and they’re booking people who are male, white, able-bodied – it’s like, I can name ten other nights that do that!

CA: So it’s like, why do we need you?!

FA: Yeah, why do we need you! What’s different about you? Is it just an ego thing for you where you want to have your own night, or are you contributing something new to our scene?

CA: Maybe that’s the note to end this on, that’s quite a powerful question. What are we all contributing? How can we each contribute more? We probably all could, right?

FA: Right.

*

That’s where we stopped the tape, but this is a conversation that needs to continue. As you read above, we’re particularly keen for it to continue in a way that doesn’t just include, but actively prioritises the voices of poets of colour, disabled poets and LGBTQIA+ poets. Please do tell us what you think, discuss among yourselves, and take the discussion out to your networks and peers and friends.

On a personal note, I’d just like to thank Freddie for expanding my viewpoint and for correcting my knee-jerk reaction. I am now much more open to ideas like the ‘no paper’ rule, though I still think that meaningful intent and context is everything! Thanks Freddie, for being patient and thoughtful as always.

You can keep up with Freddie’s work at his Twitter, and make sure you also support Inky Fingers, the night he helps to run!

Thanks for reading.

Procrastination Station #148

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Four Panels 2
(Photo credit)

It’s been ages since I did one of these!

This was kind of sad for me to see, as a typewriter enthusiast… but it would also make a great short story! Two guys discover a derelict typewriter shop.

It’s kind of hip to hate on Malcolm Gladwell, no? Well, I like this books, and I liked this thoughtful response to the haters.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti talks about ‘minding the shop’ while the Beats all got high. Related: some footage of the Beats hanging out in New York.

You’ve probably already seen Men Explain Lolita To Me, but if not, read it, for it’s great. It will also lead you to 80 Books No Woman Should Read, which may be even better.

Oh my goodness. This deeply sad essay about the death of a whale is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.

Also beautiful: this long piece about end of life care, by Atul Gawande. I can’t wait to read his book.

Want to know what excellent reviewer Dave Coates reckons were the best poetry books of 2015? ‘course you do.

66 bookstores on route 66? I sense a bookish roadtrip coming on!

This piece, on fairy tales, is absolutely gorgeous.

Speaking of roadtrips, I was really interested to know what stuff you need to walk across America.

I love street photography. I hadn’t heard of this guy, so I was pleased when Medium introduced us.

This essay defining (re-defining?) chivalry is absolutely wonderful, hilarious, and contains a lot of swears.

Sarah Millican: one of my heroes.

Check out 2016’s most anticipated films by and about women also known as my new To-Watch list.

Berlin has a shed hotel, which is… terrible and brilliant all at once.

Did you know there was a 17th century female painter who got even with her rapist by a) painting dudes being murdered and b) getting famous doing it?

I LOVE the Bealtaine Cottage blog, and really enjoyed this interview with its founder, about permaculture and why it matters.

Last year was a Terry Crews Leap Year. Yep!

Do you ever say of an item of clothing, ‘I could never pull that off’? Stop!

…also, eat peanut butter for breakfast.

& finally…


How good is this mash-up of loads of different movie nightclub scenes?!


Say what you like about the royal family, but this TV show looks gripping.


And RIP Natalie Cole. I loved you, and especially this record.

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!

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I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

In conversation with Sepideh Jodeyri

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Sepideh Jodeyri
Photo taken by Mehran Haddadi, used with permission from Sepideh Jodeyri.

A couple of weeks ago, I was very lucky to be invited to meet the Iranian poet Sepideh Jodeyri. You can read more about her remarkable life and work below, but the short version is, she’s an Iranian poet who’s been forced into exile in Europe. In order to keep writing poetry and literary criticism freely, and without censorship, she had to move to Italy, and then to Prague. Scottish PEN were able to invite her to Scotland for a brief visit at the end of October, to talk about her life in writing, and to perform at a few events, including Shore Poets October.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh at Shore Poets.

As part of her visit, Sepideh kindly agreed to record a podcast with Scottish PEN, in which she talked about the tradition of reading and writing poetry in Iran, about her own experiences as a poet, contest judge and literary critic, and about some of the problems faced by writers living in exile. I feel privileged to have been invited to be part of this podcast, too — I spoke about the ways in which living in Scotland is a privilege for writers; but also about the ways in which we can still extend freedom of expression to include better opportunities for minority writers, especially transgender writers.

You can listen to the podcast, which was ably chaired by the brilliant Sasha de Buyl, here.

In the podcast, Sepideh mentions that very few of her poems are currently published in English. I offered to rectify this by featuring a translation of one of her pieces right here on ONS. Here’s the piece she sent me. At the bottom is a bit of biographical info, to provide just a snapshot of Sepideh’s amazing writing life so far. Enjoy… and if you want to support the work of Scottish PEN, you can start by following their Twitter, or you can become a member at their site.

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Fire, take a step…
A poem by Sepideh Jodeyri
Translated by Sholeh Wolpe

Saturday:
The newspapers will read:
That day

you will put your letters

in front of a gun

and then,

fire; take a step.

*

Sunday:
It’s hot,

the sun

shoves us away

and we know by heart

the farthest color in the rainbow.

Fire; then a step. 

*

Wednesday:
(The newspapers will read:)
It’s hot, 

and God

shoves us away.

It’s as if your letters 

see double;

as if

fourteen colors?!

*

Saturday:
It’s hot, 

the letters 

shove us away.
Fire; then a step
towards the war!

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Sepideh Jodeyri is an Iranian poet, literary critic, translator and journalist. She has published numerous books in Iran, including five poetry collections, a collection of short stories and an anthology of poems. Her articles and interviews have been published in Iranian newspapers and magazines as well as European ones. She has also translated poetry books by Edgar Allan Poe and Jorge Luis Borges as well as the graphic novel, Blue is the warmest color by Julie Maroh into Persian.

In 2008, Sepideh founded the Khorshid Prize, a feminist literary prize for Iranian women writers. The award included prize money equivalent to around 1,050 euros. The Khorshid Prize ran for four years until it was declared banned after Jodeyri left the country in 2011. The chairwoman who took over the prize, and one of their sponsors, were subsequently interrogated by Iran’s intelligence service agents.

In the aftermath of the highly contested 2009 presidential election in Iran, which resulted in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2009-2013), Sepideh spoke publicly in support of the Iranian pro-democracy movement (known as Iranian Green Movement). Shortly after, her works were banned in Iran, and some of her close friends put in prison, forcing her to leave the country and move to Italy in February 2011. She stayed for two years in Italy as the guest writer of ICORN. Sepideh, her husband and her son currently live in Prague, Czech Republic.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh at Shore Poets.

My involvement in this podcast was made possible by Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund, who have allocated a small grant to allow me to develop my work during the period January 2015 to February 2016. Thank you, Creative Scotland!

Procrastination Station #147: Halloween edition

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Lake District bank holiday '15

Happy Halloween!

To accuse intelligent, independent or pleasure-seeking women of immorality and corruption is as old as Eve herself, of course. To prey on the vulnerable to assert your own authority is just as ancient. To smear your own fears about female sexuality, sin, and insubordination across the women around you is just an extension of this two-pronged attack.

This candid article about our traditional image of the broomstick-riding witch is just brilliant. Thanks to Alice for sharing.

Woman convicted of witchcraft gets a retrial, 300 years after the fact (thanks, Russell!).

These old names for herbs are such good poem-fodder.

Old women villains are especially scary because, historically, the most powerful person in a child’s life was the mother. “Children do have a way of splitting the mother figure into … the evil mother — who’s always making rules and regulations, policing your behavior, getting angry at you — and then the benevolent nurturer — the one who is giving and protects you, makes sure that you survive.”

Why are witches always old?

A few witchy rituals and omens for your Halloween night!

You know that garbage people spout about how humans are superior to animals because only we know about death? That’s cobblers, and crows prove it.

The first Halloween at Dad’s house was the closest I’ve come in my life to having a wish come true. Everything my brother and I talked about was there, made real, in Dad’s yard. The stuff ran up the tree, across the porch, nearly encroaching into his neighbor’s yard. There was Dracula, sitting up in his coffin, his eyes flicking open and shut. Frankenstein froze mid-step on the corner of the porch supported by fishing wire. Bats and cats and pumpkins adorned the mailbox, the flagpole, the base of the tree. My brother and I were blown away.

This touching story about one kid’s relationship with his dad, as told through Halloween decorations, is absolutely lovely.

I would like to go and live at the Bealtaine Cottage, please. Or better, build my own.


Required reading for Halloween: Anne Sexton.


THE ORIGINAL SKELETON ARMY


Just a damn fine Halloween tune.

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You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Guest Post by Sally Evans: “Elizabeth Burns, A Friendship.”

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Sally Evans and Elizabeth Burns
Eye to eye: Sally Evans and Elizabeth Burns, in Edinburgh in the 1990s.

I’m not sure whether I first met Lizzie Burns in Edinburgh at the First of May, Women Live, or the early School of Poets. Certainly I met her in all those milieus and whatever the circumstances we were soon good friends. It was the early 1980s.

Lizzie saw me as a feminist writer, while I saw her as one. She liked my young children and the way I tried to care for them, in addition to writing, and, I expect, my curiosity about what was going on. I was interested in her Scottish background, her poetry, and her feminist and bookselling friends. She was nearly twenty years younger than me, or I older, but that was never mentioned or indeed noticed. She was quiet and shy, quite the opposite of me, and with her quiet voice wouldn’t read her poems at events. She already had her characteristic grasp of phrase, together with a strong interest in people and their characters. We met in town and visited each other’s homes, and once I visited her parents’ home at Corstorphine. We shared new writing and gossip about our mutual friends, and went to cafes, Women Live events, School of Poets sessions in the Tweeddale Court building of the Poetry Library, etc. We were by no means exclusively friends with each other but we came to know each other very well.

The Poem for Peace was a joint project between us. Peace activists were prominent among the young people in Edinburgh and we capitalised on the number of poets one could then find lurking in Edinburgh places and pubs, by concocting a communal poem to be written by these poets on four rolls of plain wallpaper, which we lugged round from the Sandy Bells to Rose Street, the old Traverse building, and such places until we had 120 poets’ contributions, from the most eminent Edinburgh poets to the most casual, musicians, songwriters and more poets, all in holograph, scrawled on the wallpaper rolls. We laboriously typed out the MSS and submitted it to Canongate Publishers, then run by Stephanie Wolfe Murray, who kept it just long enough to send it up for a possible Arts Council grant, and then returned it, commenting that it was one of the few books of poetry that would actually sell. We considered publishing it ourselves but this was well before the days of diehard – I hadn’t met Ian then nor had Lizzie met Alan, though these events in our lives were to come very soon.

My marriage had been clearly unstable for a long time, although my children were young, and eventually my husband moved out of our house, at first into Lizzie’s old room in her flat in London Street – when she moved to her house in Tollcross.
A visit to the Lancaster area with my kids and Lizzie followed. My father, ill in old age, had vacated his house, at that point temporarily I think. We had a country holiday and Lizzie went off to visit Haworth on her own one day, coming back laden with research on the Brontës.
Changes happen fast in the cities and soon enough Ian and I had joined forces and were setting up Old Grindles Bookshop (which opened in 1987), while Lizzie’s interest the First of May, the left-wing co-operative bookshop, ran itself into the ground after ten successful years.

By 1997, when poems by Lizzie appeared in the first issues of Poetry Scotland, we were both much busier with other things and we saw less of each other, but were still in touch. Soon Lizzie and Alan Rice were calling into Grindles which was by now our Edinburgh daytime home. Lizzie next became a new mother, to her own and everyone’s delight. I went to a happy welcoming event for the baby in a hall near the Pleasance, where Hamish Henderson blessed the baby – no surprise that Alan and Lizzie knew Hamish well.

Next time I saw Lizzie, it was in Lancaster, where they had moved for Alan’s work, and where she now settled to a life of writing and bringing up her two daughters.
In 1999 we published her book The Gift of Light. (The Arts Council wanted us to call it Dragons in the Car Park, but we resisted.) Lizzie didn’t like Ian’s carefully chosen bold cover design, so we substituted a printed marbling design which filled the gap, but didn’t please anyone particularly well. Lizzie was an author who found working with publishers rather difficult. This was another effect of her retiring nature. Pamphlets, such as those she made with Galdragon Press, probably suited her better than working with any of her book publishers, Polygon, diehard, Shoestring and lastly again, Polygon
None the less, The Gift of Light showed Elizabeth’s progress, and the sustaining of her sensitive poetic style, and it undoubtedly filled its function as part of her oevre.

Alan and Elizabeth finally decided to get married and had a typically simple and happy wedding party on the beach at North Berwick, with her children in attendance and a private visit to her parents to follow. Here I met one of her potter friends, who was to play a part in her later poetry.
Because Elizabeth didn’t particularly like the internet – which fitted in with her shyness – our relationship had the old-fashioned characteristic of long intervals without being in touch at all. It was a major difference between us, that she was such a private and I such a public person. Yet determination and grit were not lacking in her make-up, for she always knew what she wanted and strove to achieve it.

We still met up after Ian and I moved on to Callander, when her family sometimes called during their trips to Scotland, and practically every year at StAnza where we both had many other friends, Elizabeth in fact being a St Andrews graduate. The first time they called at Callander, Lizzie’s daughters were joking that she couldn’t be called Elizabeth Burns Rice.

I have my own strong links with Lancaster – my family lived near there from my late teen years, my parents died there, & my brother recently bought back our home in Kirkby Lonsdale. Old memories include writing to enquire about a library job at the newly proposed Lancaster University, when the new Librarian, himself only just appointed, wrote back delighted that someone even knew he existed, though he at that time had no prospect of extra staff.

I was in Lancaster this summer when I had a phone call from my husband. Alan had telephoned to tell us of Lizzie’s death and the funeral. I was very shaken up. I had written to her a couple of months back – May or June – and had a small note in reply, which did not mention her illness. She knew I would now often be in Kirkby Lonsdale and the idea was we would meet up in Lancaster or Kirkby Lonsdale fairly soon. The occasion of my letter was her winning a prize in our Tinker’s Heart haibun competition, in which she wrote of her beloved Solway Firth. I had sent her a small card, hand printed by Gordon Chesterman, of Wordsworth’s Lucy poem. I have another copy of it in my kitchen and it’s a constant reminder of Lizzie.

It hadn’t been an active Edinburgh festival for us – the car was getting old, the traffic conditions less favourable within the city – parking had been suspended in some of my regularly used places, and we couldn’t get back to Callander without the car, particularly late at night. I knew she had an exhibition on but didn’t make it along. I did hear someone mention that Elizabeth was ill, but given my recent letter from her, I heard no alarm bells. Meanwhile her husband, daughters, sisters and mother had been supporting her through months of turmoil while she wrote, wrote and wrote.

I remember when John Cargill Thompson was very ill, I asked him, Can’t you write through it? And he replied, Don’t be silly! It struck me then, that the difference between a poet and other kinds of writers is that poets will write through experience, while other writers will not write while they are below par, though they may use their experience afterwards when they consider themselves in a fit state to write. Elizabeth wrote a whole booklet in her last months – Clay, and copies of it were available after her funeral, an event of light, garden flowers and youth, in the substantial Friends Meeting House in Lancaster.

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Sally Evans is a poet, and publisher, editor and blogger of and about poetry. She has three collections of poetry, including The Bees (diehard, 2008). As a Gaelic learner, she has done translations from the Gaelic; she is the translator of the title poem in Christopher Whyte’s Bho Leabhar-Latha Maria Malibran/From the Diary of Maria Malibran (Acair, 2009). She is the editor of Poetry Scotland broadsheet, and lives in Callander, where she hosts the annual Callander Poetry Weekend.

Having spent much of her life in Scotland, Elizabeth Burns lived in Lancaster where she taught creative writing. She published four books and several pamphlets of poetry. Her publications inlcude Held (Polygon, 2010) and The Shortest Days (Galdragon Press, 2008), which won the inaugural Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets. Elizabeth passed away on 20th August this year.

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Procrastination Station #146

Friday, October 16th, 2015

Kendal sunset

First thing’s first: are you wondering why this PS post is shorter than the usual? The answer is, I have moved some of my blog content over to Patreon, which means it’s now behind a (fairly tiny) paywall. Fear not! I will still be posting free content here, but I also need to pay the bills… and you can help. For just $5 per month (around £3!) you can access my monthly writing support pack, read poems and stories of mine that are FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, and download free assignments and resources to help you to write. Sound good? Sign up here!

Alright, now for the good stuff…

Accept the fact that you must change your program. Accept that you have not done enough to support writers of color. Accept that it will take time to rebrand and rebuild trust. Accept that you may not be ready for us. Accept that the passion, fire, and talent of writers of color might burn your program down. Accept that only we can help you rebuild this broken system.

This by Craig Santos Perez, on the white-and-male-ness of MFAs and how they can be fixed, is bloody great.

Here’s a lovely essay by Marlon James, written pre-Booker-Prize-win (yay!), on how writing factored into his decision to keep on living in spite of everything.

As you may already know, I am not usually a huge McSweeney’s fan. However, their Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar is important and excellent and must be read to the end.

There’s a miniature silver ball, a black button, a blue paper clip, a yellow bead, a faded black piece of foam, a blue Lego piece, and the list goes on. Many of them are scuffed and dirty. It is an odd assortment of objects for a little girl to treasure, but to Gabi these things are more valuable than gold.

The girl who gets gifts from birds is a beautiful true story, and I may have to turn it into a poem.

11 things you probably didn’t know about the Brontes.

Incredible literary jack-o-lanterns. Are these even real?! The Hunger Games one. I just. OK.

The next day, I noticed a scratch. Surely we have the technology to fix this. Maybe some buffing process? 1 week later, it looks like it’s been scraped on the ground. Observing friend’s wedding rings, they don’t look perfect and shiny at all. They look like they’ve been through some small war.
Just for curiosity, I enquired how much one might be able to sell a slightly used, but well loved Platinum wedding ring on the open market. From my limited search, I may be able to recoup as much as 20% of what I paid. If I melt it down, I could sell it for $130.
If the ring isn’t worth much in the first place, why is it important to spend tons of money to some company for a token piece of rareish metal that wraps around a particular finger? It’s stupid.

As the CEO of an (infinitely affordable) online jewellery store, I approve this message.

The brilliant PANK are closing their doors, which is super sad. BUT they are still open for submissions for a short time!

The great Amy Key wrote a response to the BBC’s “Poetry Season” — well, it’s more a list of demands, really. And it’s great.


I love the Tales of Mere Existence, and “Procrastination” just went to the top of my list.


The Dark Horse turned 20 this year! Warning: this video features my stupid face.


I may be just a tad obsessed with this ethereal cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide.’

Have a great weekend!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Procrastination Station #145

Friday, August 28th, 2015

A trip to Askham

How long has it been since I last did one of these?! I’m sorry, my friends. Feast your eyes on this handful of goodies…

In the US and the UK alike, the dominant culture means middle/upper class white people, like myself, and if I know poetry culture round these parts, very likely yourself too. And it doesn’t take much research [...] to see that poetry in these islands have a serious problem acknowledging and supporting work by black and minority ethnic poets. The message runs: white people have won prizes and are taught on the curriculum, thus are culturally central, thus constitute the category ‘good poetry’, thus white people make the prize lists [ed – the Forward Prize has done sterling work in this regard as of late]. White people are the default and will be met with little/no critical objection; BAME poets are other, their presence requires justification. If they write in a way that does not fit within the existing poetic norm, they are very easily ignored, filed away in pre-made and ill-fitting categories that diminish their intellectual work; note how much easier it is for academic white poets to pick apart these aesthetic prejudices. I truly don’t imagine, however, that these decisions are made deliberately (that would be relatively easy to deal with); they seem to uncritically follow the kind of social imperatives that (at one extreme) make us call human beings seeking refuge from international warfare ‘swarms of immigrants’. It takes a huge and conscious effort to identify and expunge ourselves of the reflex prejudices our culture wants to imprint on us; note, for example, the way the term ‘identity politics’ has been appropriated as a means of dismissing the very discussion of those complex and fraught relations.

If you read nothing else in this post, read Dave Coates’ review of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.

Then, if you need cheering up, you can read Every Scottish Novel Ever (it’s good).

There’s a new literary journal in town: it’s helmed by women, its first issue is out now, and it’s open for submissions as of October. Introducting Banshee, everyone!

Gretchen Rubin’s tips for actually getting writing done are pretty good. She seems to’ve plagiarised most of them from Write Like A Grrrl! workshops, though!

Having looted and hoarded some food and filled their bathtubs with water, people would hunker down in their houses, creeping out into the backyards if they dared because their toilets would no longer flush. The lights would go out. Communication systems would break down. What next? Open a can of dog food, eat it, then eat the dog, then wait for the authorities to restore order. But the authorities — lacking transport — would be unable to do this.
Other authorities would take over. These would at first be known as thugs and street gangs, then as warlords. They’d attack the barricaded houses, raping, pillaging and murdering. But soon even they would run out of stolen food. It wouldn’t take long — given starvation, festering garbage, multiplying rats, and putrefying corpses — for pandemic disease to break out. It will quickly become apparent that the present world population of six and a half billion people is not only dependent on oil, but was created by it: humanity has expanded to fill the space made possible to it by oil, and without that oil it would shrink with astounding rapidity.

Margaret Atwood’s vision of an oil-less world is bleak, but yaknow, not necessarily fiction. Go read the whole thing, it’s frightening and brilliant.

Stop self-promoting, authors! Because shut up. Also, it doesn’t work.

Here’s a list of poetry contests with deadlines coming up soon. You’re welcome.

Competition for even the most menial jobs is fierce. I’ve applied up and down the coast, Victoria to Nanaimo. Colleges, pharmacies, hardware stores, hospitals, clinics, tourist information centres, campgrounds, airports, BC Ferries, administrative positions, landscaping companies, a paper-shredding business, liquor stores, a bookstore, consignment clothing shops, homestays, magazines, ad agencies, radio stations, newspapers, and technical writing positions are a few that come to mind.
I quality for Welfare Wednesdays at the special store where on the last Wednesday of each month, food’s sold at extra low prices. I qualify for Income Assistance (aka Welfare) but have been too determined to support myself to apply. After all, I do have a career. It just doesn’t pay.

A very eye-opening article on why having a writing ‘career’ doesn’t necessarily mean having any money at all.

Warsan Shire - "For Women Who Are Difficult To Love" from MovingOn on Vimeo.

A beautiful poem by Warsan Shire


Here’s the always-excellent Roxane Gay giving advice for female creatives.


An extract from the aforementioned Citizen, by Claudia Rankine. Amazing.


You’ll probably have heard about Amandla Stenberg being awesome all over the internet, but if you haven’t yet watched her video about hair politics, you really should.


I was lucky enough to work with Maryhill Integration Network and media co-op on the Making It Home project: now they’ve teamed up again to make this great short film with a group of refugee men who’ve settled in Scotland.


Would you like to be frightened out of your wits by the amount of stuff we STILL WASTE even after recycling? Watch The Story Of Stuff. No really. Watch it.


Rethink the way you talk to artists! Like, now!


And finally, Serena Williams’ take on Beyonce’s 7/11 is just. superb.

Have a great weekend!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Where is Claire? Readings & events for Summer 2015

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Poet Claire Askew
^ Yeah, that’s me! From a photoshoot for the Herald Newspaper, photo by Julie Howden!

Still not sick of me after my various Spring 2015 outings? No? In which case…

The Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Issue Launch
Thursday 4th June, 7pm, The Voodoo Rooms (Edinburgh)
I am so excited to have poetry featured in The Dark Horse once again, and this time in the sure-to-be-amazing 20th Anniversary issue! I’ll be reading alongside literary GIANTS Alasdair Gray (yes, really), Douglas Dunn (OMG) and Vicki Feaver (I am not worthy) at the Edinburgh launch.
UPDATE: sorry, it’s now SOLD OUT!

10Red (or TenRed… I am never quite sure!) July
Wednesday 1st July, 8pm, Persevere Function Rooms (Edinburgh)
UPDATE: After a bit of a last-minute diary reshuffle, I am no longer reading at 10Red June, but 10Red July! My feelings about 10Red, below, have of course not changed in the slightest!
I am always happy to be invited to read at 10Red, one of Edinburgh’s most reliably excellent live literature nights. I don’t yet know who else is on the bill, but please do come along to see me, and doubtless 9 other bloody excellent people. There’s also the increasingly famous mega book raffle, and entry is a very reasonable three quid.

Launching “Shoreline of Infinity“, a brand new Scottish sci-fi magazine
Thursday 2nd July, time + venue TBC (Edinburgh)
Remember the brilliant science fiction anthology Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK? I had a couple of silly poems in it, and wrote about the launch here? Well, the editor of that publication, the esteemed Dr Russell Jones, has set up his own science fiction journal, Shoreline Of Infinity, and is holding a summer shindig to introduce it to the world! I’ll be reading at it, alongside Ryan Van Winkle, and probably Russell himself, as well as some other fine folks TBC. More information when I get it, but for now, put the date in your diaries!

Just Festival: contemporary women’s writing event (chaired by me!)
Thursday 20th August, 4pm, St John’s Church
This is all very TBC… I can’t tell you yet which women writers are going to be involved but, like anything that’s part of Just Festival, it’s going to be good. And I am going to be chairing it! Make sure you reserve this particular Thursday afternoon because you’ll want to be at this event, I promise!

My appearances at these events were in part made possible by Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund, who have allocated a small grant to allow me to develop my work during the period January 2015 to February 2016. Thank you, Creative Scotland!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Procrastination Station #144

Friday, May 29th, 2015

New 70D Pan Edinburgh Castle - 01
(Photo credit)

How many stories and ideas aren’t being told - or aren’t being shared with the depth, clarity, or complexity they could be - because their creators don’t have the time or funds to make them? Who gets to have that “room of their own” where they can peace out and write at the end of the day? Who gets to not worry about paying the rent for three or twelve or thirty-six months… or in the most extreme cases, forever?

Who Gets To Be An Artist? is really excellent.

Useful truisms that might help people remember you… and your writing.

Feeling a bit crap? Unable to write? Try asking yourself these few useful questions.

If no one hates you, no one is paying attention. If attention is what you want for vanity, confidence, or, hell — to make a decent living — then know that it’s not instantaneous. Every single person that you’re currently paying attention to, at some point in their lives, was in your exact position. They kept at it and worked enough so that others started listening.
Also know that if no one is watching, you can experience true freedom. Dance in your underwear. Write entirely for yourself.

This is long, but you really should read it.

Advice for creatives from the creator of Mad Men.

Here are some cool poems by Jess Schouela, who edits Hot Tub Astronaut!

The lovely Harry Giles wrote a really interesting post about code-switching in and out of dialect, which you should definitely read

So, London has loads of bars that are in libraries!

I’m black, gay, and 29 years old. I had just published my first book of poetry. In retrospect, standing there with champagne in hand, I wish I’d felt proud rather than grateful — intensely, almost exhaustingly grateful to just be there. It’s the kind of gratitude that, I suspect, is very familiar to those whom our culture has a habit of reminding they should be happy “to just be here.”

This piece by Saeed Jones is totally necessary reading.

ICYMI: Frida Kahlo’s wardrobe was and is stunning.

#bookishhomedecorgoals

Want to read a lovely short story? Shirley Muir’s ‘Out of the Blackness,’ submitted to Scottish Book Trust’s Journeys project, is pretty great!

Piracy as subterfuge, as an especially legitimate way to create art for the Caribbean —I could just about stretch my mind to accommodate that, but Mack’s plagiarism is not so thoughtful or intellectualized; it requires no such stretching of the mind. In her own words, it is just ‘carelessness’. Mack uses her poetic skills for euphemism. She apologizes for the work she has ‘unintentionally appropriated’. The whole apology… I’m afraid is worth a hearty guffaw. As one Facebook poster said in a conversation happening amongst West African poets, ‘Isn’t this what we know as mere stealing in Nigeria?’

The best response I have read to the recent Sheree Mack story is this one by the great Kei Miller.

Another ICYMI: Charlize Theron’s stunt double Dayna Grant posted some amazing photos from the filming of Mad Max!

Cakes that are delicious, vegan and works of art? Yes please!

I loved these photos of vintage drag queens!

Here’s a happy customer of Edinburgh Vintage who bought some books from me… and then wrote about it! Thanks, Beth!


Warsan Shire, just… gobsmacking.


Deleted Scenes of Women in Disaster Movies Written by Men. Watch it, it’s horribly true (and funny).


I so want to see this… and plan to have all the feels about it.

Have a great weekend!

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

UPDATED! Where is Claire? Readings and events for Spring 2015!

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

I’m going to be reading words at people from stages across Edinburgh and Glasgow this Spring! Come and find me…

Inky Fingers Open Mic Night: April
Tuesday 7th April, 8pm, Forest Cafe (Edinburgh)
Inky Fingers say:

We want to hear from YOU. We want your poems, your rants, your ballads, your short stories, your diaries, your experimental texts, your heart, your mind, your body. We want the essay on your summer holidays you wrote when you were four, your adolescent haiku, and extracts from your eventually-to-be-completed epic fantasy quadrilogy. We want to hear your best new work as well. And we want people to care about the way words are performed.

Aaaaand you’ll get to read with me, ’cause I’m the booked headliner person for the night!

Best Scottish Poems launch, Aye Write! 2015
Sunday 19th April, 7pm, Mitchell Library (Glasgow)
So as you’ll know if you follow my Twitter, I was PRETTY DARNED HAPPY to have my poem Bad Moon selected for the SPL’s Best Scottish Poems anthology (this is the third time I’ve been picked! 2008 and 2009 too, baby!). I’ll be reading that poem at this event, alongside some brilliant other folks including JL Williams and Richie McCaffery.

Shore Poets: APRIL (the open mic night!)
Sunday 26th April, 7.15pm, Henderson’s at St John’s (Edinburgh)
Every year Shore Poets hosts an open mic night in April — this one is already full, I’m afraid, as we had people signing up as early as September last year! However, I’ve seen the list of performers and can tell you, you’re in for a treat. I’ll be the Shore Poet on the night, which means I’ll also be reading a set!

Illicit Ink: The SEX Show!
Sunday 3rd May, 8pm, The Bongo Club (Edinburgh)
OMG CN LESTER IS PART OF THIS! Is that not all you need to know? In case you need more (wtf), there’ll also be readings from the holy trinity of hip young everywhere-at-the-moment Glasgow writers Alan Bissett, Kirsten Innes and Kirsty Logan. I’ll be reading ranty feminist poems about things like witchcraft, burying bodies and setting things on fire. Yay? Here’s Illicit Ink’s website, and here’s the Facebook event in which I am billed last because I am OBVIOUSLY the least interesting performer.

Hot Tub Astronaut: Launch!
Thursday 7th May, 7pm, Sneaky Pete’s (Edinburgh)
Hot Tub Astronaut say: “Please come to help us launch the beginnings of Hot Tub Astronaut and its project to foster a creative community and to facilitate all kinds of innovative making. Hot Tub Astronaut publishes contemporary words, images, sounds.” They do indeed! In December, they published one of my poems as their first ever creative output (woo!) and they’ve since published many a fine writer on their e-zine. Now, they want to spread the word to more folks and a launch is the way they’re doing it! Not all the acts are announced yet, but I know you’ll be able to come and hear me and the Great Colin McGuire for sure. Entry is a bargainous £2 and you can buy your ticket on the door, or here at Eventbrite.

My appearances at these events were in part made possible by Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund, who have allocated a small grant to allow me to develop my work during the period January 2015 to February 2016. Thank you, Creative Scotland!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!