Homework nights used to be a bit of a boys’ club, being a product of the all-male poetry collective Aisle 16. I’d been to an event where they shared that in their youth they had the rule that no girls were allowed. They became somewhat of a poetry boyband, and original members – Luke Wright, Joel Stickley, Chris Hicks, Ross Sutherland, John Osborne, Joe Dunthone and Tim Clare – have gone on to achieve great things. Most of these poets also have a Norwich connection, having attended UEA.
They’re also very much still involved in Homework, with Sutherland hosting this particular one. The premise of this night, based in Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, is that each poet has a month to create a new piece of work and the show itself is a presentation of their homework in the form of a literary cabaret. Each month is themed and features a special guest. It’s very popular, so arriving early for a good seat is a must. Honorary female members, Molly Naylor and Katie Bonna, have been making their mark here for some time, and I thought it would be worthy of a feature to shine the spotlight on them.
This month’s theme was science, and what I found intriguing was that both Naylor and Bonna chose subject matters distinctly related to their gender. The branch of science selected by both was biology. Molly Naylor’s piece was a story centred on donating eggs to couples trying to conceive children, and how this experience contrasts with the idea of donating sperm. It would ring true to those of us who identify as Feminist, who are trying to carve a path in the creative industries, and at the same time can’t deny the reality of cis-women’s biological clock being wired differently to men’s. However, this is a reality we often want to deny, because it’s part of a rhetoric that seems to be trying to stifle us. As soon as a woman hits the half-century, it seems to be everyone’s business whether you want children or not. And if you do, we’re increasingly told that it’s time to start prioritising that above a career. And we don’t want it to be a case of either-or.
I hope to see many more women shouting about periods for art’s sake.
At a time where most people are just at the start of something, we’re being told to stop and rearrange our lives. Naylor dealt with this battle that goes on in some women’s minds in a refreshing way, exploring the reasons why she opted to donate eggs, focusing on what this act of giving means, as she threw out Kinder Eggs to the audience. Was it because she wanted to be altruistic? It raises all sorts of questions in terms of the meaning of “being giving” and “giving birth”, and altruism being a quality historically associated more with women. From her admission that she would be presenting “notes”, I found it to be one of the highlights of the night as the way it was written was perfect for spoken word, as she weaves in humour through serious subject matter and the layers of meaning brought something new to the surface.
Katie Bonna entered the stage from the back, where she gave out party hats to the crowd. When she began speaking on stage, it became apparent that these were no ordinary party-hats, but period party-hats, made out of cartoon blood clots. Through her comedic use of character, she was able to tackle what can still be seen as a taboo in a way that highlighted the more serious points and made the audience laugh out loud, with a little help from the projector screen. We reminisced over old adverts for sanitary products, where we were told this was our “special” time of the month, and where anything was possible. And we looked at the current personification of our periods by Tampax, “mother Nature”, and the hilarious Bodyform video: The Truth. For if we are to get anything out of the short-straw that is menstruation, we’re going to have to be creative. Bonna delivered a performance with such energy and slickness, that I hope to see many more women shouting about periods for art’s sake.
Molly Naylor is currently on tour with John Osborne, with whom she has created a sitcom from Sky 1 called After Hours, premiering on Monday 2nd November. Katie Bonna is currently working on a new one-woman stage show called It Was Blue! It Was Beautiful! Homework is held every second Wednesday; the next one is 14th October.