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Monday, 27 August 2012

August Mega-Rant

So I started writing this last week and already I'm finding I've cooled off a bit... My opinions on things change a lot but here are some of my thoughts and, of course, I'm willing to be challenged....

A wee while ago, before the Jubilympics cast a Union-flag-shaped patriotic gloss over this green and pleasant land, I had some – limited – faith in our news broadcasting systems. The format used to go something like this: we would start with some breaking international news, before some diplomatic incident or another, followed by the national political issue of the day, other national news, an and finally... type story and sport before the local news and weather.

More specifically, if thirty-four workers from a British-owned company were shot dead by police somewhere in the world, and a further seventy-odd injured – under very dubious circumstances – unless there’s a major sporting event on, I would have expected that it would get some decent coverage right at the start of a news bulletin. But when the police chief simply states that “this is not time for finger-pointing” (although evidently it was one for trigger-pointing) I was a bit put out to see these events disintegrate so quickly from the headlines.

The Pussy Riot Dolls

Ok, I admit I can often be premature and reactionary. Also, there hasn’t been a shortage of massacre and  maybe there isn’t enough space for more misery; it’s easy to be worn down by endless and seemingly senseless violence. Much to my shame, I’ve lost track of what’s going on in Syria – from what I read and view, there seems to be a continually rising death toll and a mass exodus for those fortunate enough to be able to escape to Turkey without being sent back. But the more bloodshed reported, the more it blurs into one huge killing zone that I feel unable to do very much about.   

All of that taken into consideration, I was saddened to see such a blatant example of the sexier stories winning over. One case that springs to mind is Pussy Riot. Let’s get this clear from the start – I greatly believe in freedom of speech (which includes the freedom to blog, express controversial views, demonstrate, protest and shock or offend people, without it being an explicitly criminal offence) and I think what they did was incredibly brave. In fact, I support anyone who cares enough about what happens to them and freedom of speech in general to protest about the matter (and, in fact, I know people who demonstrated outside the Russian embassy in Edinburgh, and I support them wholeheartedly).

Having made my disclaimer above, there is little too surprising about the story: plenty of people - and many women - over many years have found themselves silenced, in one form or another, in Russia for dissidence. Somehow, the way the news has treated the story and the perverse voyeurism of these women in a glass box, the way I’ve heard them referred to as “girls”, and the opportunism of getting a few popstars to comment about it has made it a juicier story. I can’t help feeling we play with their plight as if they were Russian dolls rather than the latest in an increasingly long line of protesters trying to be heard.

All the above said, it has drawn my attention to what is going on in Russia; it’s also drawn my attention to the way we still refer to women.

Rape: a love story?

Speaking of, there have been several incidents of rape gaffes, but two in particular drew my attention in a really bad way. On both sides of the Atlantic we seem to have out-of-touch men, prone to controversy, discussing the legitimacy and authenticity of rape. I’ve learnt that supposedly intelligent people believe that if a woman has been"legitimately" raped, they won’t get pregnant. And it kind of reminds me of a quote in the Old Testament about how to assess the "legitimacy" of rape; Deuteronomy 22: 23-28 would seem to suggest that women in the country can be legitimately raped, but in the city there are no grounds:

23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
It continues:
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

And those verses, of course, remind me of the recent Morrocan case, where 16 year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her attacker. Several commentators went straight on the rampage about Islamic law but this practice is certainly not unique to Islam!  

In my last post, I mentioned that I found it a bit overwhelming to hear three poems about rape in two nights during my trip to New York last month; now I can see how it might be necessary to voice out to the public that it isn’t cool to make these judgements about the men and women who have been raped, not about the “legitimacy” of the rape, the “genuineness” of it, or any other such moral pronouncements that have no legal or scientific grounding.

George Galloway, of course, commented about how he wouldn’t consider Julian Assange to be a rapist, even if the allegations that he had sex with a woman in her sleep without her express consent prove to be true; apparently, the fact that they had had sex before makes it clear that she has consented for eternity. And that kind of reminds me of the fact that before 1991 married women in the UK could not legally prosecute their husbands for rape, and many countries still do not recognise the concept of marital rape. The consent once, consent forever principle seems to apply here.

What both men, in my opinion, have failed to see is that rape does not have to be the violent, bloody, stranger-in-the-park with a knife type of experience that get all the headlines. The law regarding consent is simple enough: all parties involved must be of legal age and able to give consent, e.g. not asleep or too drunk to notice. Of course, up and down the country there are people who have drunken one-night stands on a Friday night followed by hazy-memory Saturday mornings; consent can be a (Shade of...?) grey issue in many cases, but it is up to courts to decide in these matters, and it is only with a touch of sensitivity that we can pass comment.

Naked Harry

And then, something else that ticked me off was all of this Prince Harry stuff. And I was kind of in two minds about the story. The excuses for his behaviour go something along the lines of: he’s a normal, red-blooded (read red-headed? or at least red faced... and has been read the riot act by Prince Charles, supposedly!), single, heterosexual young man; he’s in the army (and you know what it’s like in the army, eh? Bit of harmless fun for a change); he deserves some privacy etc etc.

My reason not to comment was the fact that I already spend too much time talking about the Royal Family for someone who claims to not care about them. But then a friend of mine made this simple comment: what if he’d been a woman? Far from being a “lad”, he would be a "slut". Let’s face it: a female Harry with naked pictures circulating the internet would be seen as an even more complete embarrassment to what he represents: the monarchy, the ruling class, the prim and the proper, an institution that not only rules over Britain and the Church of England, but over the Commonwealth too. They may have changed the succession laws so rights to the throne don't just favour first-born males, but it doesn't mean we'll see the rights to make an idiot of oneself gender-neutral as well.

It’s just another great reminder for me on how far we have to go... 


And then, speaking of how far we have to go, I feel a little disturbed about the way the Paralympics have been advertised. The tagline "forget everything you know about humans; meet the superhumans" was originally used to promote the games, with this video:

There's something slightly sinister for me about fetishising the differently-abled as something other than human. I originally thought the whole point of the Modern Olympics and Modern Olympic philosophy was to inspire a sense of togetherness and brotherhood. Perhaps this is not the same for the Paralympics, but how can I expect to feel any kinship with people who are not human but "superhuman"? 

I'm know I'm being very sensitive on wordplay and it's actually a cool advert, plus they've seemingly dropped the "forget everything you know..." part, so I'm happy to be corrected when I say it still makes me feel uncomfortable. 

Now I've got all of that off my chest and put the world to right, I can sleep happily :)

COMING UP: This month in Poetry...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Er, yeah... em, Merry Christmas (and Ciao, Edinburgh)

As expected, tonight has been a bizarre night, full of lots of tinsel, spray on beards and general weirdness added in! Pass the parcel didn't go as planned but I hadn't actually ever directed a pass-the-parcel game, only participated... and several years ago. However, it was an action-packed night with two other poets I'd not heard before whose words will stay with me beyond Edinburgh, so there's a bonus!

Armed with few self-indulgent references to two of the poems I perform most frequently, and no idea how I was going to inject some festive spirit into my performance, I wrote my first ever Christmas poem today. Unfortunately, I was unable to perform it at the gig, although I managed to get it out at the Free Fringe Spoken Word Awards afterwards so, voila, here it is:

Crepe Paper Hats

They asked me if I had a Christmas poem
So I said... Ho ho ho no!
I cannot not mince my words into pie-sized sound bytes
I get bored of these charades
Find it too hard a task
For you to ask me to cast a jingly glow over my words to mask
The serious word play crocheted into its foundation

My words are not turkeys to stuff full of James Bond clich├ęs
Reruns of Star Wars
Or Home Alone 1, 2, 3, 4... and how many more before we realise
It isn’t that entertaining watching mothers abandon their children over Christmas
Especially when you’re a child who just wants to be left alone?

But if this were to be a Christmas poem
I’d say this isn’t just any Christmas poem
This is a choice selection
Of cluedo, monopoly, monotony
And a lobotomising litany of all the films you’ve ever seen since you were five
Like the Never-Ending Story has really never ended
Just waited for you to return one year later to the bum-shaped dent on your mother’s sofa
You created at the beginning of time

Only each year it gets wider
Like an (unnamed) relative’s yawning mouth as she reaches out
With her bingo wings to retrieve another glass of Bailey’s

This isn’t just any Christmas poem
This is a carefully basted cut-and-pasted
Stitch-work of all the ghosts of Christmases past and present
That present itself annually...
Like the present they keep asking after
Like how are you to say you left the sweater
On the tube the following day?
But yes you really love it! And pink is so your colour!

This isn’t just any Christmas poem
This poem should be hanging off trees
And dancing in drunken office dos
Releasing itself from the grip of tongues
Loosened by libidinous Lambrini
And peach schnapps

This poem is more polished that the Queen’s Speech
More out of reach than those Ferrero Rochers way up above the cupboard
Your mother had been leaving for a special occasion

This poem, as violently sudden as an invasion of bombs on Lebanon
As a boxing day hangover looms
And your brother enters the room and says lets switch off the news:
Your nephew wants to watch cartoons

 This poem should be a Carol
A lullaby and hallelujah nativity scene
Printed on a last-minute card
You forgot to send before the last Christmas post

This poem is a ghost of white baby Jesuses
Decorating the walls in the Halal burger bar

This poem should be a Carol
Although if it has to be a man
It should be a Cliff
Hanging onto the charts with a dodgy rendition of
[sung] Our Father Who Art In Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name...
And if Pussy Riot can be jailed for defaming Christ
Then we should let Sir Cliff Richard suffer the same

This poem is a shameful gluttonous, overrated, belly-bloating
Feast you need to sink your teeth into

And this poem isn’t just any Christmas poem
And if it were to continue
You would have to release another notch on your belt
Ease yourself down into your chair
Borrow a pair of reindeer antennae
And tune in to the tinny tinge of tinselated references
Injected into its rump

But I shall leave this poem here as just a stump
An unwanted turkey drumstick chucked out
Onto the (Only Way Is) Essex asphalt
An unwanted burp emanating from a mouth that has already said too much
Drunk too much
Been fed too much
And as such, before I venture into territory I dare not tread
I shall leave this poem here
Like a crepe paper hat hanging over an embarrassed head

Upcoming Gig: Utter! Xmas special tonight @ Edinburgh Fringe

Xmas comes early tonight with some elf-friendly poetry and festival frolicking before we all head off to the Spoken Word Awards. 
Utter! Xmas will be a lot of fun, despite the disturbing picture (sorry, all I was able to upload quickly now). I'll be at the Banshee Labyrinth at 7.30, so come along if you can... and if you can't, Merry Xmas anyway!
More info later, otherwise check out Utter's Edinburgh webpage

Saturday, 18 August 2012

August Mega Update

The past few weeks have been pretty busy! After I'd planned a quiet summer, keeping my head down, working on the novel and otherwise doing nothing but soaking in sunrays and lazing on (preferably warm) green grass and grazing on ice cream and Olympic-sponsoring snacks (OFFICIAL CEREAL BAR OF LONDON 2012, one such snack wrapper reads. Say whaaat??) life decided to take another few detours, meaning I ended up in Boston for a couple of days, followed by New York a couple of nights, followed by London again then Edinburgh, then off again a couple of days before Edinburgh again.

So my jack-in-a-box summer has been a bit of a surprise, just like a long jumbled sentence that comes out at 3am on a Friday night after a late-night dash to the takeaway! But it's been pretty good...

In New York, I managed to make it over to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe just in time for the poetry slam. Coming second in a slam full of a very talented home-grown and international demographic was a thrill I won't forget any time soon. 

It also crystallised some of the feeling I've had about the transatlantic poetry phenomena. In short, most American slammers I've heard like to go in deep and heavy: as an example, in just two gigs I heard three poems about rape, another three about race, two about eating disorders, several about absentee parents, yet more that could be classified as feminist - in the sense that they were actively discussing gender equality - and the rest were either about growing up in a tough neighbourhood or about how idiotic One Direction are (poor things - we've let One Direction loose Stateside!) 

Most poetry slams I've been to in the UK are a lot tamer. I don't believe there's a right or wrong when it comes to what you write, provided it's authentic (i.e. from the heart) and not just following trends. But, of course, it made me consider why and how I write my own poetry. As I stated in a post just after Mother's Day last year, there are some places I never feel good to go, and I think it has less to do with my British reserve than a wish to keep just a few things to myself. But, who knows, that may change...

Edinburgh was also one cool place to be earlier this month. After finding the cheapest train tickets available (still more expensive than a flight to Barcelona), I found myself with a three-hour wait at dawn in Newcastle before catching the 6.20 beyond the border. I caught a beautiful sunrise over a five-ringed Tyne Bridge, bags in hand after trekking the drunken streets around Newcastle and Gateshead.

Edinburgh during the Fringe festival is always a dynamic place to be. I haven't been for a couple of years and forgot how tiring it is walking the Royal Mile, every last inch of space taken by student thrusting flyers in unsuspecting faces! I thought I'd mastered the impassive city look - head down, walking with purpose etc - until I came back home and realised I had an armful of flyers for shows and plays I will probably never see. 
But what I did see was either funny, heartwarming, challenging - or all three... 

I'll fill in more of this when I go back again next week! But so far so good from Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna's Dirty Great Love Story to Richard Tyrone Jones' Big Heart (complete with a fainting audience member) and right along to Monkey Poet's refreshingly raw show... Ok, I'm going on a bit... but it was good.

Back in London and we've supposedly been all 'Lympics mad. I think months of everyone telling us the world was going to end and the relief that it hasn't - yet - has made it quite touching. Whenever I got close to a TV, I ended up cheering for things I'd never dreamed of watching (WATER POLO???) and not being so bothered by sightings of the Union Flag...

Ok, it's late... to be continued.... 

Friday, 17 August 2012

Next gig: Rap vs Poetry TONIGHT!

Ever wondered about the difference between rap and poetry? Intimidated by hardcore rappers jiggling lyrics carelessly from coarse tongues, blinging head to toe? Bored of narcissistic nerds nursing old love wounds in verse, slurping beer in the back of dingy open-mic friendly pubs? Would you like to see their crews go head-to-head in a no-holds-barred microphone wrestle? If so, this is probably your night!

Details are here, here and here, and the results are likely to be part of a 1xtra documentary. Bring it on!

I'm hoping to give a long-promised update later tonight, so more later, if you can't make it.... Also, check me, Angry Sam and Solo Cypher out in conversation on the matter for NTS radio's Re:Versed show on Monday.

And Today's Random Word Is...


which is a good one actually. I'm closely analysing some of my patterns/habits (wait till last minute to copy CD, wait  long enough until I'm an hour later than I was hoping to be to get to gig. Run, run, run to the bus stop! etc...) and hoping to change some and utilise others. It's also good for getting into gear for tonight's freestyling session (more to come on that) pattern = repetition = steady flow/ but I really, really, need to go-go-go!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Next Gig: Dangerous Minds at ULU, tomorrow (Aug 13th)

As part of the 2-day ULU officer training event, I will be performing alongside poets and musicians at the University of London (ULU) tomorrow night. More info can be found here or on Facebook.

I'm pleased to be back at one of my old haunts, as I studied nearby UCL. Open to the public, but expect some student-centred concious rhymes. Raymond Antrobus (not only a great poet but photographer as well as host of Chill Pill) will be hosting the night, and I'll be joined by Hollie McNish and Suli Breaks.

Looking forward!

And Today's Random Word Is...


(a nice, dependable word)

Thursday, 2 August 2012


Coming very soon... A few bits of exciting stuff, so stay posted over the next few days!

And Today's Random Word Is...


(and I'll swiftly move forward from there...)