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Monday, 28 September 2015

Autumn - New Terms!!

Structure and Discipline

I hate the term 'discipline'.

The etymology of the word is simple enough:
1) Latin: discipulus and
2) English: disciple

Both suggest studentship. And studentship suggests learning, humility, studiousness, all concepts I am drawn to. But "discipline"? Somewhere along the line, connotations ranging from physical punishment to martydom have stuck to it; for me, it now conjures up images of the headmasters' office in some 70's boarding school, the basement dungeon in 50 Shades of whatever and, I dunno, Foucault's essays on repressive power structures. It's an entirely negative concept.

Back in the Spring, I was awarded a PhD studentship, due to start in October this year. Guess what? It's October this week - and it's all come around so quickly! I've already had one induction meeting and one supervisory meeting. I've also received two student cards- as an intercollegiate student, I'll be straddling two institutions - as well as separate cards for NUS and Senate House library membership. My wallet is swollen with new identities. In order to navigate the demands of my new course - and my wallet (which I've already lost once today) - I'll need to impose some kind of discipline structure, making sure I get through the next 3 years sane and qualified.

I prefer the word structure because it's less self-flagellating than discipline. I actually write, perform, teach, read, research and have a few healthy friendships, while occasionally taking a break when I can. That's no mean feat. It's not for a lack of discipline that I sometimes take weeks to reply to emails, stay up too late reading or don't write as much as I like. It's more of a structural issue, a lack of coordination and order.  

After many years of trying to work in admin, I know
a) I will never be the most organised person in the world and
b) I should stop trying to be.

I sort of know what doesn't work, and what does. Timetables don't work for me. Small lists do. Deadlines do. Apps, email reminders, or anything that clogs up my phone doesn't work. Some alerts do. Messages don't. Phone calls do. Handwritten notes sometime do. Libraries sometimes do. Early mornings usually don't. Late nights usually do. If I concentrate on doing the best I can work-wise and getting help when I'm losing myself, I generally manage. I'm going to have to get myself into some kind of rhythm so I can write, read, still perform - sometimes - and really do this justice.

A year ago to this day, I was about to be evicted from my home, had no regular income and was itching for funding to get on with writing my book; now, I'm on the most exciting journey I could have ever imagined. But I know I'm going to have to work hard for it and impose a little bit of structure so I get it all done. 8 years ago, I started my first MA degree. My old student card has been reactivated with the same photo... I didn't imagine I would be here again for a PhD, but life takes some unexpected turns, apparently. I'm pretty much a bundle of excitement and nerves at the moment.
Then... circa 2007

Now... circa midnight

Meanwhile, here's a brief list of 5 other things I'm doing right now:

1) Gigs - which I shall update soon! (i.e. in the next few hours or so)
2) Making a film of one of my poems (more on that soon)
3) Running workshops via Ministry of Stories (a really exciting project - when I'm able to say more, I will)
4) Working towards a full poetry collection, hopefully out in a year's time
5) Researching for a micro-commission at the London Metropolitan Archives (see November 20th in 'Upcoming Gigs' and stay tuned for more information).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Upcoming Gig: TOMORROW - Born Free Fridays

It's Born Free: Fridays tomorrow, hosted by the inimitable Belinda Zhawi. I have a very good feeling it'll be a warm, lovely night. And it's the special birthday edition, so hopefully there'll be cake :)

I'll be performing some new stuff and some semi-new stuff and enjoying the poetry of two Burn After Reading dons, Emily Harrison and Amaal Said. Plus there's open mic.

For further info, you know what to do.

Amaal Said

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Poem Poem iv

The latest in my series of 'poem poem' experiments (I, ii and iii can be found in my new pamphlet). I wrote and performed this for a show in Edinburgh a couple weeks ago. Still needs a little work.

Trigger warning:
because this is the poem where a lion dies
call him Cecil, Mufasa, Aslan,
but don't call him after anyone
who cannot breathe
inside police chokeholds
inside the barrel of a gun
inside the symbolism which isn't lost
on me, nor on the man (it's always a man, right?)
who asks, below the line, why there isn't a white
history month and a straight pride
and why these reverse patriarchal communists columnists
are writing these mean things all the time

I can't finish this poem
while my anger still can't fit
into these jeans
so I am stacking up on wild locusts and honey
from Wholefoods (not cheap these days)
and my basket is empty
and my basket runs over like a wilderness
inside the lone voice of a prophet

This was meant to be a poem
about pride being eroded
until just one lion
is left
roaring into the angry paw of the hard shoulder
not signalling
not being thrown into a den
of blue thunder bolts flashing
not in my happy name
no matter how much you try to drown
our voices

But this was meant to be a poem about a lion
not a poem about another dead trigger

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Reading List this Week

A little male-heavy this week, I know... I'll  balance it out the next time I do a book cram.

I was super thrilled to get my copy of Marlon James' book a couple of days ago. After already reading The Book of Night Women, which was both harrowing and one of the most incredible reads I've come across, I don't expect it to be an easy, but it'll be a good one!*

And who doesn't want to read a book called Happiness? I'm an big fan of Jack Underwood and of Andrew McMillan, so I've nearly devoured these two collections already (also, for the record, anyone who can turn urination into a tender experience deserves a lot of credit, as McMillan rightly has).
Having flicked through Dominique Christina's timely collection, I'm pleased to see that 'Period Poem' features; I loved watching her performing this and I don't feel much is lost on the page.

I have just a few more days off till things get a little busy again for me, so seeing what I can do to feed my book addiction with the time I have left. If I'm not replying to texts, now you know why! :))

*And I've just seen it's been shortlisted for the Booker Prize!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Upcoming... TODAY: Poetry Takeaway!


I'll be on my way to Knaresborough for Release the Hounds festival in just over an hour.

I'll be there as part of the Poetry Takeaway crew, writing poems for passersby over the next couple of days. Looking forward!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Post-Edinburgh diary: Some Holiday!

The season is changing. Edinburgh feels like yesterday, but I've been back nearly 2 weeks and feel I have little to show for it. But I've been plugging away, getting organised and ready for heading back to university.


Looking at my diary, I realise I packed in a lot into a short week's visit - no wonder I felt exhausted afterwards! It was meant to be a kind of working holiday (see a couple shows, catch up with some fellow performers, perform a bit, sell a few books, get some new ideas, write...) but it became something more of a dizzying journey through a city exhausted by performers riddled with ambition, anxiety and alcohol (remember - it's just a video game!!)

I arrived, put my bags down and guested at Stand Up Tragedy on the Sunday, hosting it the following day, Monday 24th. The podcast is below. Big big love to the amazing guests: Rachel Mars, Nick Field, Fay Roberts, James McKay, Mr. Meredith.

I also performed at Jibba Jabba and saw The Boy with the Moomin Tattoo the following day - which was beautiful, and well suited to the karaoke booth beach backdrop - before guesting at James McKay's show on Tuesday 25th.

James McKay doing his Moomin thing

Paula Varjack just being herself in front of a camera
That Tuesday, I also saw Paula Varjack's How I Became Myself (By Becoming Someone Else) which is a dizzying exploration of identity-morphing name-change antics, full of all the playful multimedia and spoken word goodness that I come to expect from her. I caught up with poets and actors and singers I know. I was interviewed for an hour in a near-empty room. The podcast for that is below.

By Wednesday, I was in full rhythm; spending mornings in the park, pondering the finer details of the meaning of life before heading down to wherever. I saw Cult Friction and became terrified of my pre-packed lunch and my iPhone (thanks Sophia Walker!) and then performed for Stand Up and Slam! that evening. It's billed as a comedy gig but poetry won... not a minor victory at all! After going completely dry for the first two days, I went to Pollyanna cabaret and hit the sauce, catching up with more friends, only for one of them to be dragged out of the audience and 'rescued' Baywatch style.

Jack Cole being saved from drowning

My 3rd favourite graveyard, Calton Hill
Thursday, I woke up in a pensive mood. I saw Butt Kapinski which was the funniest immersive show I've been to in a long while. Then I spent some time in my 3rd favourite graveyard. And then it was time for my BBC Edinburgh Slam heat. The knockout structure was fair but unforgiving. Each of the 4 heats started with 6 slammers in the first round, reducing to 4 in the second and 2 battling out the third and last round to get to the finals. I was knocked out in the 3rd round by Scott Tyrell; I left the heats both disappointed that I didn't make it to the finals that Saturday - which were aired on the BBC (the programme is below) - and happy about the future of slam. It would have been lovely to show people back down south a link to a broadcast of the new poems that I wrote; I'm just glad to have enjoyed the experience.

(IF you can't see the video above, follow this link)

The poetry - in my round, at least - was hugely varied; so many styles of writing, delivery and subject matter, and hardly even a whiff of 'poet voice' or stereotype 'political poems' (actually, there was a strange absence of right-now/anti-Tory* politics throughout the whole Fringe and I, for one, feel I missed out on something).

I didn't know who to root for in Saturday finals though - Scott, whose comic timing and powers of storytelling alone immediately got my respect; Toby Campion, who has previously moved me to tears with a poem (for the right reasons); Paula Varjack, who I have mad love and respect for, who pulled no punches with race, sexuality, gender, drugs and the Dalston club scene in one rock 'n' roll of a poem; Dan Simpson, the poet I think who played the most with pauses and space, and also the only poet to attempt a live 'shape poem'. Scott cleaned up and deserved it, managing to explore a gamut of emotions in the three poems he performed.

Back to Thursday night and I found myself at the Anti-slam**, which I won that night, after a last-minute request from the organisers to step in due to cancellations. Putting heads together with James McKay and a few helpers, we decided the only way to go was over the top. And thus 'Vortex of Word' was birthed. You'll hear more about us soon; it's just the start of our journey into awful poetry. Anyway, by the end of the night, I was officially jointly-crowned worst poet in Edinburgh. I've since learned that Scott Tyrell is the current national Anti-Slam champ, so he's officially best and worst poet, simultaneously. I guess they're two sides of the same coin!

On to Friday, and I got to see Mansplaining Masculinity which I'd much anticipated. What Dave Pickering's achieved with his survey is phenomenal; if you fancy flicking through the responses of 1000 men (and 3 women) then check it out on the website. I found the show heavy-going and I'm still taking it in even now. I stayed behind at the venue to see Dominic Berry's show Up Your Game: The Downfall of a Noob, which was heart-warming and inventive.

He gave us balls to throw at him; he donned a cardboard games controller mask in rhymes about his games addiction; he made us choose words which he incorporated into a freestyle rap when we weren't expecting it. Afterwards, almost 85% exhausted, I went to yet another show, The Munch, which I'd seen an earlier version of before. It was so good 2 years ago that it was worth seeing again this time. I'm glad I went; it gave me the energy to prepare for my performance at the Magic Faraway Cabaret that evening.

By Saturday, I was totally worn out though. I had an easy morning, caught up with a couple of local friends and then headed to the Slam finals that evening. Sunday I was back home saying to myself: "What was all THAT about?" Phew!

*I have to justify this as "some of my (potential) best friends are tories"... This was when David Cameron was still referring to people attempting to reach the UK as "swarms of migrants", reflecting other dehumanising language of displaced people; this is also when cuts to the arts have seeing huge gaps in investment, education and support of artists and young people in general, causing some important projects to close (in addition to libraries, etc); we're also seeing an attack on affordable housing and those who live in it; many London artists I know - only one paycheque away from homelessness - are being forced out of the city. To not see any of the raw anger I feel back here reflected in the creative work up there was weird...

**If you don't know what an Anti-Slam is then where have you been? Let's just say it's the perfect comic riposte to a slam non-win. I think I've explained it before.