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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

We Need to Talk About...

I'm increasingly excited about my show Good Presence. It's a work in progress and I'm not yet sure how it will land, but I genuinely think it's the bravest thing I've written (you be the judge - come along!) It also has its surreal moments, as I'm sure the image below demonstrates.

I hope the Last Word Festival won't be its last outing but, as I've said in previous posts, I'm a full-time PhD student, and finishing my thesis will have to take precedence over the next few months. I'm hoping to have a complete first draft of my novel by Autumn and submit the whole thing by the end of the year. I have a long way to go!


In one segment, I recount a disagreement I had with a friend over a Lionel Shriver article about political correctness. When I first started writing the show, it all hinged on this conversation, and how different interpretations of 'fairness' are part of the everyday complex tensions we experience. I'm interested in how subjectivity colours what we do with our beliefs, and how it may even affect our friendships. I wanted to use this moment as a way in, a way of bringing that idea close to home. I expected I'd write the section out eventually, but it's stayed somehow. Seeing Shriver make the news again over the last couple of days has confirmed that it's something to grapple with still.

I disagree strongly with Shriver - as I do with Germaine Greer - on lots of things, and it seems that both characters are pushing the limits of their arguments even further, alienating more people and normalising [what I believe to be] bigoted thought. Both consider political correctness to have 'gone mad', and Shriver's recent outburst strikes me as particularly mean-spirited. The hypothetical 'gay transgender Caribbean' she conjures, who 'powers around town on a mobility scooter' is loaded (so loaded) with connotations that stretch back centuries. At best, it's lazy writing; at worst, well...

Anyway, the invitation is open for her to come and see the show :) I'm fine with provoking debate, if debate is there for the provoking. But the line stops at respect for the other. 

& Other Things

Anyway...  here's a few other places you can 

hear me: catch me on iPlayer for Radio 3's The Verb (I'm about 27mins in but the whole show's good, really) and listen to the podcast for bonus stuff. Also, listen out for my interview with Naomi Woddis on The Two of Us, coming soon to Reel Rebels Radio (there's some really insightful interviews on the MixCloud podcast with other poets, which you might wanna check out too). 

see me: Come to my show! And/or come to the British Museum on the 29th

read me: [click on the big yellow link above for signed copies! Or go to the Burning Eye website. Or wait a few weeks for a new tab to appear with most of my publications all handy]  

Friday, 8 June 2018

Upcoming: The Verb tonight!

I'll be on The Verb tonight, Radio 3, with an amazing group of writers. Tune in or listen here later on iPlayer!

Meanwhile, here's a clip of me reading 'Tick':

A couple of the poems will also be in my show at the Roundhouse - there's still tickets left to come see it on the 23rd!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Good Presence, or The Hayfever Season Update (achoo!): 5 things

A lot's been happening behind the scenes, so here's a quick run down...

1. Good Presence

So, I'm counting down with less than a month to go for my new work-in-progress show, Good Presence, part of the Last Word Festival at the Roundhouse

I'm a little nervous and excited, and I've dared myself to write things that are uncomfortable.  
I've got more of a handle on what it's about (faith, fear, freedom, friendship... all the F words) and I've found a few other surprises as I've been writing (I'll just leave that hanging...).

Over the next week or so, I'll have finished writing a draft of the whole thing, then the following week I'll be looking more at the movement and music side of it, then I get to start on the decoration (thinking about sound, space, that kind of S word), with just a couple of days to practice and memorise what I can.

I promised in the blurb to deliver belly laughs, alongside a dark exploration of faith, so that's what I'm aiming for. I'd love to have as many friendly faces there as possible... so come!

I'll be plugging it more over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, check out the rest of the Last Word Programme. I'm hoping to reach a handful of shows, which is, sadly, all I can manage time-wise!

Speaking of, there's extra brownie points - you literally get a discount - for coming to see Estamos Presente, a little earlier on, showcasing the work of a new British Latinx writing collective I'm really excited to be working with.

2. 3MT

Things are also ticking over on the academic side. I'm still working on my novel, still teaching (and learning) and still managing the balance of theory and writing practice.

For reasons unknown, I decided to venture into the domain of competitive thesis presentations and oh.. my... word!

A lot of universities have signed up to 3MT - or Three Minute Thesis, for the uninitiated - encouraging research students to present their work to a mixed crowd in just 3 minutes (a quick YouTube search reveals the broadest range of topics imaginable).

I didn't realise how much of a challenge it would be to synthesise my thesis, my approach to research and my creative writing practice, and the specifics of my findings, all into three minutes - oh, and in a jargon-free, enthusiastic, low-tech way. But once I did, I was keen to get involved.

This year's competition took place just a couple of days ago, and I'm still buzzing with energy. More on the results of the night here.

3. Coming Up! Housman's - June 6th

I'll be joining Richard Scott (his poetry collection, Soho, is bold and beautiful*) and Housman's Bookshop poet-in-residence Eleanor Penny for some poems and conversation. The topic is Sex, Shame & Problematic Ancestry in Queer Poetry and we'll be discussing all of that, plus more, in between reading out some of our work.

*hold on, wasn't Bold and Beautiful also the title of a 90s American soap? Or am I making this up?

4. More coming up...

I have a few other events forthcoming, including this at the British Museum on June 29th, where I'll be performing a commissioned poem for the Rodin exhibition. I'll update beforehand - I promise! - so keep checking back here.

5. Writing, Reading, Listening

Meanwhile, I've been:

- writing more poems
- progressing with the novel
- working on a couple of unrelated essays
- trying to keep plugged in to new stuff. There's a lot to keep up with!

I was particularly blown over by Nine Night at the National Theatre the other day, which just closed tonight. I hope it comes back soon so I can go again!

I'm also still raving about James M'Kay's Very Friendly Weapon, which deserves another post.

I'll do a separate post about other stuff I'm reading when I've got the energy... right now I want to get back to the reading!

Monday, 19 March 2018

Long Overdue Update (5 things)

1. Hesitatio-

I haven't posted on here for a while; that much is obvious from checking the post history, although the drafts section tells a different story.

I started a few in-depth posts sometime in the Autumn, after the long, angry summer; I attempted to write about Grenfell and Rashan Charles and found I was too bereft of words to convey my hard-to-define hurt, impotence, even. I took to Twitter instead and encountered hatred and ignorance, scrolling all my way to the bottom of each thread, searching for reason and finding more confirmation that anonymity breeds the worst kind of evil, releases all the prejudices kept locked up behind kind smiles. I took to long walks instead, rediscovering the small parks and gardens - some of them repurposed graveyards - hiding behind the relentless pace of the city. I also spent more time with friends and family, on the days when it's been too hard to focus on my PhD.

These moments of withdrawal haven't come without their own cost: over the last few months, I've been accused of shoplifting (cheers, Holland & Barrett!); asked by concierges - when visiting friends for dinner - if I'm here to deliver food (cheers, gentrified Docklands!); experienced several of the eye-rolling moments that come from being deemed out of place. And I find myself getting increasingly tired of them, not because they occur but because they do with such predictability. And because to retell them elicits predictable responses, from minimisation to the even more unfortunate familiarity; I'm not alone in this.

Meanwhile, the days are getting longer again, and it's getting easier to give up my evenings to reading. My bookshelf has been straining under the weight of so many new ideas. I need new bookshelves. I also need to keep up with the pace of my book purchasing, and with my library fines. I'm jumping from essay to memoir to poetry to fiction to experimental, stream-of-consciousness mish mashes. It makes me excited for my own work, and terrified. I'm writing what is basically a novel, and I'm not sure I believe in the novel as a form anymore.*

In the coming weeks, if and when I come back to the blog, I'll write more about my progress with my writing.
*that's not quite the full story...

2. Strike

Maybe I've chosen today to post is because it's the first working day since the end of the first round of UCU strikes. Below is a video explaining the action:

It's the first time in over a week that I've been able to work in the office at university without crossing the picket line, and I need this space to write, away from laundry and unmade beds and paper work and March road drilling outside (we all know, as the tax year ends, the holes in the budget are always filled up with tarmac).

I have grudging but full support for the strike; it's important and necessary and I know of lecturers whose pensions have been cut in half by the decision to take away the benefits they'd been promised. But it's about more than pensions. The whole university system in the UK has had a destabilising overhaul in recent years, and it's not working for many people at all. (There is context for my sweeping claim here and here and here and elsewhere. And there is more recent commentary, linking up some of the dots for students.) Given this, I find it hard to even think about pensions when many employees of universities - including myself - are on precarious contracts that don't even offer any reasonable security while working, let alone upon retirement. 

Striking is the last legally-sanctioned recourse of the injured worker. It's easy to rail against rail strikes (especially as train driver wages seem pretty healthy) or try to outlaw NHS strikes (under the pretext that it's dangerous to threaten key services), but without questioning why hundreds or thousands of workers are prepared to walk out, people who generally love their jobs, their vocations.

I hope a deal is reached on this particular issue, so I don't have to look up what day of the week it is before I can go into the library, or even open my university email and respond to the few students I teach. But this is by no means the end; a myriad of issues underneath it are surfacing and the UK needs to decide what it wants for the future of higher education. And, for that matter, it needs to decide on its identity beyond the academy, too. It feels like a spiritual crisis.

3. Good Presence @ Last Word, Roundhouse Festival

But I don't want to write about politics. Or religion, or spiritual crises. I want to write about walking through old graveyards and parks and local history. But whatever I do, those same old themes come back to haunt me, so I find myself picking at them. I also find humour in the picking; if I can no longer laugh, I may as well already be dead.

With that in mind, during a rare drunken moment, I rescued a surprisingly heavy mosaic cross from a skip and carried it home. I regretted it the morning after, taking up space in my room, bulky and awkward and odd.

After the regret - and my hesitation at being seen carrying it back down three flights of stairs and across two roads into another skip - it also started the seed of an idea for a poetry show.

As fortune would have it, I've been approached about a spoken word show for the Last Word Festival in June. Not one for ambitious projects(!), it will be partly in Spanish. I can't give too much detail at this point - it's a work in progress - but the blurb can be found here

4. Occupation! and more upcoming...

Before then, I have a PhD to keep working on, plus a seminar to plan, plus a gig this evening which I've organised with a colleague, plus more impracticalities to navigate.

Occupation! is an experimental, one-off event, but if it goes well, there might be others. Some more details on Eventbrite here.

5. And, finally...

I've just ordered some more copies of my book Selah; feel free to message and request a copy!

I have other deadlines coming up so working away at them right now. In between, I've made a pile of books I'm reading and rereading over the next couple of months; it'll be an interesting experiment to see which I manage to get through by the end of May. I've just finished Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and loved it.

Now it's back to work...