Arts section writer
Carmina Masoliver is an English Literature graduate from UEA who refuses to cut ties with Norwich. Following graduating, she studied a Creative Entrepreneurship MA at UEA London and now works in East London as an Academic Mentor for English. She runs an event called ‘She Grrrowls’ which features women in the arts. Carmina is a poet whose pamphlet was published in 2014 by Nasty Little Press.
(19.01.21) – Arts Markets Are Not Just For Christmas
People tend to flock to arts markets during the festive season, looking for gifts for loved ones, or treating themselves. I write in celebration of these markets and to urge others who want to shop ethically to seek out their local arts markets all year round.
South East London has given me a new found love for cinema. After enjoying the Catford Mews’ short film festival recently, I made a point of attending the Crystal Palace International Film Festival (CPIFF) in September. Since 2010, CPIFF has been bringing independent films to the big screen from across the globe, including short films, mid-length films and feature films of all genres.
This year’s Last Word Festival at The Roundhouse has been a mixture of online and in-person events. Although I had hoped to be able to attend more events, and accessing the festival hasn’t been easy, it was a pleasure to listen to poets Cecilia Knapp and Alexandra Huỳnh in conversation as I tucked into my dinner at home.
(17.06.21) – The Breakup Monologues by Rosie Wilby – Review
I mostly read The Breakup Monologues: The Unexpected Joy of Heartbreak over the course of one weekend, author and comedian Rosie Wilby’s conversational stage persona making it easily digestible and impossible to put down on a sunny weekend with few commitments. Mirroring the non-linear nature of breakups, the book flits back and forth in time, marked B.G. (Before Girlfriend) and A.G. (After Girlfriend). Using ever-changing vocabulary to describe a number of different ‘ghosting’ methods, the book delves into Wilby’s dating and breakup history, alongside incredulous anecdotes from others. The driving point of the book, inspired by the podcast of the same name, is that each breakup can teach us something. Despite this, the romantic in me can’t help but hope that Wilby, equipped with the knowledge and experience of past relationships, might find a happy ever after with Girlfriend. With this mixed sense of hope and impending doom, the book itself mirrors the structure of an uncertain relationship.
Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness, the debut novel by Alexandros Plasatis, weaves together a collage of stories that tell the experience of Egyptian immigrants in Greece through a variety of voices. The stories are primarily set in and around Café Papaya in Kavala, where Pavlo the waiter works nights, acting as both a main character and an observer of the Egyptian fishermen. In snapshots of a male underworld, violence dominates this narrative, as the central female character Angie the barmaid fights against being cast as a victim.
(05.04.21) – Living Record Festival Review – Part 2
January 2021 saw the start of the Living Record Festival, which featured over forty artists and theatre companies showcasing digital work, from spoken word audio pieces to mini-web series. It has garnered many four-star and five-star reviews. In this two-part series, Carmina Masoliver discusses her picks of the festival’s most interesting shows.
(24.03.21) – Living Record Festival Review – Part 1
January 2021 saw the start of the Living Record Festival, which featured over forty artists and theatre companies showcasing digital work, from spoken word audio pieces to mini-web series. It has garnered many four-star and five-star reviews. In this two-part series, Carmina Masoliver discusses her picks of the festival’s most interesting shows.
(31.01.21) – The Problem with ‘Feminist’ Instagram
Accounts like ‘feminist’ become popular by reposting relevant content from others without creating their own. This means they have more time to simply put out more content. The focus of the account revolves around it being relatable to their target audience, and so part of the responsibility also falls with us as the audience, to make sure we follow the tagged content creators, supporting them rather than simply ‘liking’ posts, and interrogating who is behind such popular accounts when that transparency isn’t there.
(06.10.20) – Pop-Up Gallery Review: Maria Luisa Azzini
I recently moved to Forest Hill, and amongst the shops, pubs and restaurants, I found a pop-up gallery displaying the work of local artist Maria Luisa Azzini. Normally found in Greenwich Market, Azzini is originally from Florence, Italy, though she has been based in London for nearly twenty years now.
August saw the five-year anniversary of Lauren Kaye’s ‘I’m All In’, a poetry collection described as a ‘seductive collection of romantic and sensual poems that speak on the inevitable episodes of love, sex and relationships’. The occasion was marked on social media – at a time where artists are forced to be more resourceful than ever when the stage is taken away. As Kaye outlines in the introduction, her poetry ‘is written much how I speak’, and it is best to have seen her live or see live videos so you can then hear her voice as you read coming through the pages.
The Barging Buddhi and Other Poems takes us on a journey from human expectations that are created within a set culture, to more cosmic climbs, from which we are brought back to earth with the fragility of life, to then be connected to a wider sense of nature. Sunita Thind’s poetry is rich, sensual and visual. Although her numerous questions throughout the collection hint at self-doubt and uncertainty, she shows a strong sense of voice that is not easily contained, like the ‘pyrotechnical parrots’ she describes, how humans ‘clip their wings to capture the fury of their rainbow constellations / humans devouring them like black holes / sequestered in monster iron cages.’ The collection is strongest when assertive, using imperatives: ‘delete the tears’, ‘stain me’, maroon me.’
When I was asked by a friend to think about the difference between being a professional artist and a semi-professional artist with regards to my own practice as a writer and a poet, the distinction between the two seemed – to quote author Daniel Piper – arbitrary and unnecessary. The word semi-professional is not something that has been in my vocabulary, because my ideas of professionalism go beyond the dictionary definition of these two words.
(03.06.20) – The Significance of a Dress by Emma Lee – Review
Clothing, fashion, and perhaps particularly dresses, are often seen as insignificant. Arguably disregarded due to its feminine associations, any artistry is often deemed lesser than other forms of art and creation. With The Significance of a Dress (Arachne Press, 2020), Emma Lee explores the female voice through various characters’ stories, taking the reader from refugee camps in Iraq to suffragettes in Britain. Whilst it is often presumed that poetry is autobiographical, perhaps Lee’s experience as a short story writer informs her desire to take on others’ voices, including those who may be voiceless in order to present the personal as political.
(23.04.20) – VAULT Festival 2020 – Top Five Shows
I previously wrote about Madame Ovary, which set the bar for me when it came to deciding my top shows from this year’s VAULT Festival. Aside from this, here are five more shows that hit the bar for me.
(28.03.20) – VAULT Festival – Madame Ovary
tw: mentions of terminal illness
It’s that time of year again, and we’re now coming towards the end of it. VAULT Festival, now in its eight year, has opened up the tunnels of Leake Street and surrounding areas to bring even more shows than ever before.
(29.01.20) – Rupi Kaur – Poet of the Decade?
Naming one poet as the ‘poet of the decade’, or writing lists of poets to watch, can arguably be an arbitrary act. But, the naming does inevitably draw more interest to those poets as we consume the easily digestible content and assume that it must have some bearing on those who made it. As a poet myself, I have seen many lists (looking for my own name as well as potential feature acts for my show, She Grrrowls), and most of these lists do offer some great poets to watch. However, the number of people considering poetry professionally is inevitably growing, and there are always going to be extremely talented poets that don’t get the recognition they deserve.
(03.01.20) – Ashnikko’s Clitmas Party Review
‘Fuck you mean you need it?/ Fuck you mean you RSVPed?/ I don’t need a reason’ Ashnikko fires back at the retort women often get to be ‘asking for’ unwanted sexual advances through their choice of clothes. No holds barred, she spits out ‘his castration would be nice’, and the extremity and radical of her lyrics continues through the rest of her repertoire, creating both a humorous and empowering feel.
(20.11.19) – The Vagina Museum Review
The mission to create the Vagina Museum began two years ago, when its founder Florence Schechter stumbled upon the Icelandic Phallological Museum, dedicated to the penis, yet could see no equivalent for the vagina or vulva. It’s thanks to crowdfunding and support from Camden Council that the museum now stands amongst the market, blending in discreetly with its surroundings, its doors wide open and welcoming. There is a fantastic shop to explore alongside the museum itself, where you will find vulva badges, cards, accessories and more.
(13.09.19) – Kiss My Genders Review
The existence of the gender spectrum beyond the simple male/female binary is now more visible in mainstream media and popular culture than ever before. And whilst life for non-binary and trans folks is still difficult, even dangerous, there seems to be more cultural awareness (if not sensitivity) about various trans identities within cis circles. In the Hayward Gallery’s Kiss My Genders exhibition, this visibility of the gender spectrum takes centre stage.
(30.08.19) – Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Part 2
trigger warning: mentions of sexual assault, mentions of transphobia
My second week at Edinburgh Fringe Festival offered a selection of shows more overtly dealing with Feminist themes. This selection ranged from the role that gender has to play in our experience of the dating world in the digital age, an exploration of the ‘pretty privilege’ set against trans experiences, to an examination of celebrities as female role models.
(14.08.19) – Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Part 1
Edinburgh Fringe festival seems to get bigger and bigger each year; there are hundreds of shows to choose from and the densely-packed programme can be difficult to decipher. Here we have briefly reviewed three distinct shows from the 2019 edition, dealing with the mind, the body, sexuality, relationships and gender.
When I was told by fellow poet and She Grrrowls team member Ibizo Lami that there was a ‘choose your own adventure’ (CYOA) game-cum-story starring Beyoncé on Twitter, I felt compelled to write about it.
If you haven’t heard of it already (currently at 98.2K retweets and 256.7 likes), it works by imagining you are Beyoncé’s assistant for the day. Your goal: don’t get fired. Complete with photographs and gifs, each choice you make leads to another thread. Depending on your choice, you either face the termination of your contract or you are allowed to continue the game.
(19.06.19) – The Last Word Festival 2019 Review
The Last Word Festival at The Roundhouse, Camden, merges various art forms that all centre on the spoken word – in some cases fusing with music, circus and cabaret. Established artists feature in the festival alongside younger, emerging artists; The Roundhouse supports 18 to 25-year-olds starting out in spoken word poetry (amongst other things) through the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, of which I was a member. Each show I see, I bump into fellow poets, for example, chatting to Toby Campion, we realise we both came through the Roundhouse programme.
(07.06.19) – The Rich Nothing at the Ugly Duck
On a rainy Friday, people in-the-know gathered to listen to poetry in Ugly Duck for the launch of Sophie Fenella’s debut poetry collection The Rich Nothing. Ugly Duck is actually a series of different event spaces, with this particular one being located at 47/49 Tanner Street in Bermondsey. Inside this old Victorian tannery (where leather skins are processed), therein lies ‘The Garage’. On the ground floor, the space is described as having ‘a grungy urban warehouse feel’, and without much natural light at the back, it has an underground vibe in more than one sense of the word. With genuine caution signs for wet floors from leaks, it feels like an abandoned building that has been turned into an exhibition space – but in a cool way.
(22.05.19) – Ad Libido, by Fran Bushe
Female sexual dysfunction is a topic rarely spoken about, and according to Fran Bushe’s show Ad Libido, it’s also something that is light years away in terms of medical research when compared with male sexual dysfunction. Hello patriarchy! This show presents us with projected images of what “solutions” she has come across to dealing with pain during sex, all of which are both hilarious and hideous at once. It is clear that this is not the same for male sexual issues, where there are actual solutions which are often available to buy over the counter.
(28.04.19) – In Search of Equilibrium, by Theresa Lola
One of the first things that strikes me about Lola’s debut poetry collection is the innovative use of form and the consideration of how text and space are on the page. The subject matter is essentially natural – life and death – yet, the poems are experimental and bring in cultural elements such as technological language and hip hop references, as well as religious allusions.
(12.04.19) – Tracey Emin: A Fortnight of Tears
content warning: mentions of death, abortion
The last exhibition of Emin’s I had been to was probably She Lay Down Beneath The Sea at Turner Contemporary in her hometown of Margate. For me, what this current exhibition at White Cube lacked in comparison to the previous one was more context to frame the concept of the artwork. Whilst there was an A4 sheet about the exhibition overall, it felt like the viewer was being pushed to form their own meanings. Whilst formulating the meaning of the work is part of the joys of conceptual art, it is always interesting to read or listen to more, particularly for those who are not as familiar with Emin’s work as fans will be able to infer the meaning and links to past work that newcomers can’t access. I also enjoyed the work in Margate more for its skill of embroidery where the stitched looked like paint from afar, whilst pieces in this exhibit lacked this sense of innovation.
(27.02.19) – Sense Me – Annum Salman Review
Sense Me, by Annum Salman, arrives in a beautiful box filled with paper hearts, shredded tissue paper and a plastic blue quill-style pen. I received it after seeing her feature at That’s What She Said, a spoken word night in London. The book and the box are perfect for Instagram, yet I didn’t expect to see a ‘social media etiquette’ flyer inside, which strikes me as a clever touch necessary for a self-published text.
(13.02.19) – Vault Festival Review Part 1
Previously, I wrote about five feminist picks at Vault Festival – an eight-week long festival full of theatre, comedy, spoken word, and more, held in and around The Vaults in London Waterloo. Now that we’re into the first few weeks of the festival, there have been more feminist surprises along the way to add to the list.
(30.01.19) – Top Feminist Picks – Vault Festival
Vault Festival, consisting of eight weeks of London-based arts and entertainment shows, had opened again last week and this year I’ve decided to go all out. I’ve got a spreadsheet of the seventeen shows I’ve narrowed it down to seeing after scouring the programme, and a membership card to get discounts on the food and drink I’ll undoubtedly be consuming throughout the next few months. So far, I have seen two shows and tried the ‘Spanish’ dish from the EU-inspired menu – deliciously sweet yet spicy chorizo. I’d recommend both the food and the shows: Isa Bonachera’s The Great Emptiness; a one-woman comedy about her love of space, and Snapper Theatre’s Thomas; a play centered around two cousins and ideas of masculinity and neurodivergence. As the festival kicks off, I’m going to focus here on five of my top feminist picks that I’m looking forward to seeing.
(16.01.19) Six Artists to Look Out for in 2019
On a recent trip to Bristol, I found myself in a pop-up art exhibition. The city itself was all I had imagined it to be – a hub of creativity that shows it’s no wonder why more and more creatives are making the move towards South West. The exhibition itself was called Honey Art Show and took place between 14th-19th December at Centrespace Gallery. The opening night was bustling with people, with on site screen-printing, music, and a generally chilled vibe. The following are six artists from this exhibition that I was particularly drawn towards.
(19.12.18) – Soltera Codiciada Review
When I first saw Soltera Codiciada advertised on Netflix, its title was translated into English from Spanish as ‘How to Get Over a Break-Up’. The title drew me in for personal reasons, having had my long-term relationship end last year. The plot revolves around a heartbroken ad copywriter who begins blogging about her life as a single woman, whose writing pastime turns into a huge success. The English title bears little resemblance to the Spanish title, for which it was difficult to find a direct translation. A Peruvian comedy from Bruno Ascenzo and Joanna Lombardi, the original title shares the same name with the protagonist’s blog and when I asked around, the most likely meaning was as a positive description of a single woman. Infused with the spirit of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies, it is a film that allows us to laugh at the tragedy of lost love.
(05.12.18) Una Mujer Fantástica Review
Recently I began to attend Spanish and salsa lessons at Battersea Spanish, where I got the opportunity to engage in their social programme, open to everyone. I particularly enjoy the film nights, which allow you to experience cuisine and movies from the country of origin. On this occasion, we ate Chilean food as the film was Una Mujer Fantástica, set in the capital, Santiago. Released in 2017, written and directed by Sebastián Lelio, the plot centres around Marina, a transgender woman who works as both a singer and a waitress. It is a tale of love and grief, underpinned by her experiences as a transgender woman and the transphobia she faces.
There is a challenge when it comes to depicting figures that are as familiar to us as Freddie Mercury. First meeting a young Farrokh Bulsara, we are endeared to him from the onset, and taken into his world in a way that means we feel for him, even when he acts out later along the line.
(07.11.18) – Making Her Self Up – Frida Kahlo at the V&A
Ever since I studied Frida Kahlo in class, I have been a fan. Self Portrait with Monkeys (1943) and The Broken Column (1944) always stood out in my mind from those years, the monkeys offering a protective symbolism, and the latter painting signifying a kind of strength through suffering. Like Kahlo, I enjoyed painting self-portraits, and I found it difficult to paint other faces with the same accuracy.
(10.10.18) – Grlwood – Daddy Review
I don’t know about you, but sometimes there is nothing like cathartic screaming vocals to accompany me as I walk through busy city streets. For this reason, I’ve spent the past few weeks with GRLwood’s ‘scream-pop’ album ‘Daddy’ on repeat. The title itself seems to allude to dom men in sexual relationships, which is explored in the track ‘I’m Yr Dad’. Here, the lead singer takes on this dominant role, repeating the track title as drum beats build up and guitars join in until it becomes a scream. Fronted by Louisville’s guitarist Rej Forester and drummer Karen Ledford, who have described themselves as ‘2 angry lesbian genderfuck feminists’, the song explores ideas that poet Lisa Luxx expressed in an article for Slutever recently in terms of the use of strap-ons in queer relationships, as though ‘the general consensus is that a cis woman’s body is incomplete as a sexual tool, and dick is needed because dick represents sex.’
(12.09.18) – Will Teather at the Underdog Gallery
Having grown up in Norfolk, Will Teather is an artist who has been firmly placed in Norwich, where he works as an Associate Lecturer at Norwich University of the Arts and occasionally takes up residencies, reaching as far as New York. His distinctive style combines traditional skills and imagery, with a psychedelic twist.
(28.08.18) – Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Pt 3
The third and final instalment of a series of short summaries of a wide variety of performances, from the comedic to the dramatic to the bizarre, direct from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Each entry is preceded by the title of the work in question, and the venue(s) at which it is being performed as part of the Fringe.
(22.08.18) – Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Pt 2
The second instalment of a series of short summaries of a wide variety of performances, from the comedic to the dramatic to the bizarre, direct from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Each entry is preceded by the title of the work in question, and the venue(s) at which it is being performed as part of the Fringe.
(15.08.18) – Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Pt 1
The first instalment of a series of short summaries of a wide variety of performances, from the comedic to the dramatic to the bizarre, direct from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Each entry is preceded by the title of the work in question, and the venue(s) at which it is being performed as part of the Fringe.
(26.07.18) – The Last Word Festival: Here And Now
One Sunday, in the quiet folds of The Albany in Deptford, a group of womxn came together to talk about our place in the arts, and specifically poetry. We came to listen, to write, and to share our voices.
(04.07.18) – Three Latin American Writers
On a recent trip to Mexico, I decided to take with me three books by authors of Latin American heritage, including two of Mexican background, and one Cuban. All were women. Aside from eating the most delicious chimichangas, learning about the ancient Mayan ruins, and climbing up the Ixmoja part of the Nohoch Mul, I spent a lot of my time reading these authors by the sea with a strawberry daiquiri. Within just one week I had nearly consumed them all and discovered a new love of Latin American writing.
(26.04.18) – Review: The Hair Wrap Diaries
Piles of colourful patterned fabrics line the stage, and three women dressed in black Lycra leotards select a fabric and wrap it around their head. The fabrics are drawn across the stage as the performers’ bodies undulate in a backwards crawl, before the scene is set as a hair salon with the colours swept away in a swirl around a chair.
As the title The Hair Wrap Diaries suggests, during this Uchenna Dance production written by Bola Agaje in partnership with director and choreographer Vicki Igbokwe, we hear different stories from each performer. Yet the show is also interspersed with dance, giving it a strong sense of poetics as the words are broken up and repeated with the movements. The stories themselves are carefully selected, offering a rainbow of different generations of black women, exploring their relationship with hair.
(11.04.18) – Review: Bad Faith
I was invited to the premiere of Bad Faith, a collaborative piece by by English poet, Jemima Foxtrot, Belgian choreographer, Tara D’Arquian and Icelandic designer Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson. They worked with poetry, lighting design and dance to explore Sartre’s concept of bad faith through themes of womanhood and loss.
(28.03.18) – WOW Festival London 2018 – Part 2
Part 2 of 2 – Part 1: Fertility as a Feminist Issue at WOW Festival
In the second part of my WOW Festival 2018 coverage, I’m focussing on the panel, ‘We Stand Together: Muslim and Jewish Women Speak Out’. During this event, the women speaking came from the organisation Nisa-Nashim (‘women’ in Hebrew and Arabic). Joining co-chairs Julie Siddiqi and Laura Marks, were Judith and Aqueela. Although I’m not religious, I was interested in the discussion because I think it’s important for people from different backgrounds to come together, and because I am concerned about the reports of rising hate crimes against both groups.
(22.03.18) – Fertility as a Feminist Issue at WOW Festival 2018
Part 1 of 2
Women of the World (WOW) Festival is always place for stimulating and challenging debate on important issues of the day. It was a privilege to be involved this year with my own segment with She Grrrowls as part of Gem’s Jam on the Sunday, featuring poets Bridget Minamore and Selina Nwulu, with live music from Roxanne Tatae and DJ sets from Born N Bread, Jamz Supernova, and host Gemma Cairney.
I also sat in on three very different panel discussions. I focus on only two panels, as the third, Testimony, included confidential accounts of women’s experiences of rape – an important and powerful space for their stories to be shared. I will dedicate this part one to the first panel I attended:
(08.03.18) – Feminist Anthems To See You Through 2018
It is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the state of the world, in which we are mostly powerless to create a dramatic change. Yet music offers us respite, and re-energises us to continue fighting for what we believe in, bringing us together and making us stronger.
The annual return of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, seemed like an prime opportunity to round up some incredible feminist anthems from the past year, and celebrate some of the best artists around at the moment. All these tracks deserve to be heard on repeat, as they serve to get us pumped up for a month of marches, activism, and empowerment.
(14.02.18) – Review: Is Monogamy Dead?
If you’ve seen Rosie Wilby on stage, or come across some of her recent articles, you may be aware of her exploration of monogamy and non-monogamy in relationships. This complex issue is the focus of her new book: Is Monogamy Dead? A provocative title in itself, as a book that is part memoir and part research, it succeeds in its aims to both entertain and critique traditional relationship models. As a stand-up comic, Wilby has appeared at many festivals from Glastonbury to Edinburgh, and there are many stories in the book that have me laughing out loud. Yet, as with the best comedic work, it succeeds in not only being humorous but is also delivered with real poignancy.
(31.01.18) – Review: The Empty Horizon, by Paul Terence Carney
I was told that The Empty Horizon was a sequence of poems written in the voice of Roisin, a writer and illustrator of children’s books who is losing her sight due to the genetic condition Retinitis Pigmentosa. Initially, I wondered why – if Rosin is a writer – why she could not write these poems herself. Although it seems obvious that there is a mutual relationship established, why should a man tell the story of a woman who is a writer, and thus capable of writing it herself? Although losing her sight, as a writer, would it not be better to tell her own story through her own spoken words, rather than Carney being the author of this text?
(13.01.18) – Review: Basquiat – Boom for Real
For the past few months, the Barbican has been host to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s first large-scale exhibition in the UK, featuring work spanning his whole working life. His premature death at the age of 27 is tragic, yet it is astounding what he managed to achieve in such a short space of time.
Upon entering the exhibition, the first room features some of his early work from the 1981 exhibition, New York/New Wave, which also included work by Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin and William Burroughs. On first impressions, those who aren’t familiar with Basquiat’s archetypal ‘naïve’ or ‘primitive’ style could be forgiven for thinking his art is something a child produce, a criticism all to often laid upon contemporary art. However, for me, art is about both aesthetics and meaning, and art in which technical ability is more obvious, isn’t necessarily more interesting. Basquiat was known to mix supposed ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture in his work, and as his career progressed, so too did its level of detail and scale.
(07.01.18) – Revisited: Jacob Sam-Larose – Breaking Silence
Inspired by my experience of Being a Man Festival, I attended an evening in appreciation of poet and educator, Jacob Sam-La Rose. The night consisted of speeches and moving poetry in tribute to his teachings. The energy was reminiscent of the Burn After Reading nights, and despite this occasion being a one-off, it captured what I love about live literature events. Often, it can seem that poetry is such a niche medium, that outsiders can struggle to find their place. However, these spaces provide a place where people can share both pain and joy, and connect with others through words. Sam-La Rose is mostly known for the incredible work he does with young people. He has tremendous influence on poetry today, and on the opportunities that many young people have to be exposed to, and enveloped by, this art form. It comes as no surprise then to read on the back cover of Breaking Silence, that his work ‘is grounded in a belief that poetry can be a powerful force within a community’.
It felt right to return to the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Sam-La Rose’s debut book-length collection from Bloodaxe, one of the most reputable poetry publishers in the UK. Breaking Silence was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, but many feel it has not had the recognition it deserves. Linking with themes from Being a Man Festival, the collection explores issues of manhood and masculinity, and how these intersect with race and dual heritage, as well as broader issues of identity.
(17.12.17) – Being a Man 2017: Part 2
cw: mentions of rape and addiction
For this second part on the Being a Man (BAM) Festival, I’ll be looking at the various panels that addressed men’s body image, different kinds of addiction, and the concept of masculinity – looking beyond gender as something binary, and taking sexuality into account.
(06.12.17) – Being a Man 2017: Part 1
cw: mentions suicide, rape, abuse, domestic violence, sexual violence
I left this year’s Being a Man Festival with over fifty pages of notes and a hopeful feeling – inspired by the coming together of people of all genders to take part in a dialogue on gender and its many intersections. Events like this show just how much there is to gain from men addressing gender from a feminist perspective, as opposed to the toxic perspective of the MRA groups. Below are a few highlights from the weekend focusing, in this first part, on mental health and the role of violence in men’s lives.
(22.11.17) – Review: The Misandrists, by Bruce LaBruce
cw: mentions violence
Genesis Cinema, in London’s Whitechapel, is an independent cinema on the site of a pub-turned-music hall that first opened in 1848, and which housed a number of theatres before turning to the silver screen. As part of its Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest, it screened German film The Misandrists by Bruce LaBruce. Complemented by a moderated discussion about the film, it raised a range of questions on the importance of author intent, the role of sex and violence in film, and the issue of when satire becomes mockery.
From the first line in the acknowledgements section – “This book is built on a lifetime of resentment” – Shy Radicals by Hamja Ahsan illustrates a special kind of humour, that may have an element of truth, but also puts something serious in a light-hearted way. The book as a whole, has many of these gems, showing the distinct style of Ahsan’s writing that can deliver brutal honesty in a way that makes the reader laugh out loud.
Likewise, Shy Radicals deals with a world that is part-truth, part-fiction: Aspergistan is ‘the homeland of oppressed Shy, Introvert and Autistic Spectrum peoples’ and a comical nod to the psychologically atypical natures of most shy people. Perhaps Aspergistan’s location within the now-divided Indian subcontinent is an acknowledgement that the Western world is representative of the loudness and extrovert dominance that shy people have to fight against. This fight referred to here, is against “the Extrovert-Supremacist world camp”. This alignment with the Eastern world is also seen in the use of the Eastern Lunar models for the new calendar proposed in the chapter on culture.
(25.10.17) – FiLiA: A feminism For All Women
CW: contains references to femicide, racism, violence against women, rape, child abuse
Across the weekend of 14-15th October, FiLiA held its annual conference. The organisation formerly known as ‘Feminism in London’, has recently been renamed after gaining charitable status. One of the goals they outlined from the onset was to make feminism for all women, not only certain groups. With this stance in mind, I wanted to see whether the conference would live up to expectations of inclusivity, as previous years had seen panel members shut down audience questions in regard to pornography and sex work. Would there be more open discussion in these areas?
CW: mentions domestic violence
At the end of September, I attended and took part in Hastings Fringe Festival and got the chance to watch Spinal Krapp by Darren Maher, a ‘stand-up tragedy’ based in Dublin in the 1980s. Although initially uncertain, I ended feeling thoughtful about the piece, which explored the impact of violence on children, as well as looking at the ‘making of a monster’. When it comes to domestic violence, whoever the victim or perpetrator, it is ultimately about power and control. It was interesting to see this prior to attending the fundraiser for Penny Beale Memorial Fund, which similarly weaved tragedy and comedy together, bringing a different kind of poignancy to the night.
(27.09.17) – Art The Arms Fair
CW: sexism, war
Who knew there was an arms fair happening in London? Well, it was news to me before I went to Art The Arms Fair for an event of protest poetry – just one night in a series of events aiming to raise awareness about this issue. All profits from events go to CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade), with original artwork and prints for sale. Work has been donated from all over the world, including both established artists and emerging. It was rumoured that Banksy had a piece there too, which was later confirmed, raising £205,000 for Reprieveand Campaign Against Arms Trade.
(28.08.17) – Feminist Top Picks – Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Part 3
CW: rape, sexual assault, islamophobia, homophobia
The Vagina Dialogues *****
The Vagina Dialogues starts with a group of five women in a circle, dressed in black, humming in unison as the audience fills, gradually turning into a choral a cappella song about having bitten their tongues for so long: until now.
I enjoyed this show so much that I didn’t want it to end, relating to its themes of perpetual adolescence; growing up in London and returning home after university unable to afford anything, juggling a string of dead-end jobs and zero-hour contracts. It is a personal story, but the political point should not be missed. Millennials, much mocked and often dismissed, are hard-working and crave adulthood. Yet the after-effects of the recession mean we are unable to progress in the same way our parents did, with career, family, or housing. This is perhaps something of which the writer herself has personal experience. And when you throw artistic ambition into the mix, it just means that you have to work at least twice as hard. Yolanda Mercy(writer and performer) tells the story of Alicia, in the lead up to her 26th birthday. The production is slick from start to finish with both visuals and sound showing various aspects of Alicia’s life; from her Nigerian ancestry, and her largely absent father, to her emoji equations and dances at parties and raves. It is heartfelt and humorous, showing how young people’s progression can be stifled, yet how we continue to strive and thrive.
An absurd physical theatre show, Gracefool Collective combines movement, dance, and spoken word in a show that seems to be addressing the idea of ‘having it all’. Although focused on just one feminist point, the surreal humour serves its purpose in critiquing individualistic ‘feminist’ goals, in favour of more socialist, collective ones. As the four women fight to be on top (both literally and metaphorically), we see the ugly side of competition between women – where those on top believe they are advocates of feminism simply because they have broken through the glass ceiling, claiming that others can achieve what they have if they ‘lean in’, knowing such a vast amount of monetary gain and success relies on those at the bottom.
(18.07.17) – Walking Through the Art in Cádiz
When I went to Cádiz, I had planned to do little else but lay on its beaches, swim, and eat good food. Yet, I still wanted to explore the area to see what else it had to offer, and it was on a walk to the park that I stumbled upon some of the city’s fine art exhibitions.
(05.07.17) – Review: Las Chicas del Cable
An eight episode series, Las Chicas del Cable (The Cable Girls) begins with a woman killing her friend’s husband – part self-defence, part accident – also shooting her friend. It’s a drama full of love stories, as well as crime and mystery, yet domestic violence is a major theme that runs through the series. Set in 1928 in Madrid, it shows the impossibility of leaving an abusive relationship in a patriarchal society, where even the law protects men who are abusers.
(21.06.17) – Looking Beyond the Feminist T-Shirt
With the Feminist movement having become more a part of the mainstream, there is a tendency to call it a new wave. But Feminism is something that is always flowing, with plenty of grassroots activists doing work ‘to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression’ (as defined by bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, 2000). Whilst the movement’s popularity means there are films with stronger female characters, and Feminist comedians can easily be seen on Netflix, it also means that various corporations try to sell us back our politics.
(07.06.17) – Córdoba Feria: A Celebration Of Extravagance
In Córdoba, for two weeks at the end of May and spanning across two weekends, there is a massive fair that is so big you really have to experience it for yourself. We were even given two days off work to enjoy the festivities. I went for a total of five days.
The festival is rooted in honour of Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health), and started as an old livestock market. In 2017, it included over a hundred casetas, where everyone comes to eat, drink, and dance. It attracts all ages, and also has a fairground with an impressive selection of rides and roller-coasters, plus sticks of candy floss nearly as big as me.
(24.05.17) – Review: Better Watch Your Mouth, by Jenn Hart
The cover of Better Watch Your Mouth displays a set of lips and teeth pulling the kind of expression you would make after being told such a thing. It suggests an unapologetic rejection of censorship, which is later reflected in the poem ‘Ugh, Men’ with the statement ‘we will not censor ourselves (x3)’.
This is a collection that mixes everyday language with profound metaphor, and beautiful imagery with emotive stories. It begins with the telling of others’ stories and gradually becomes more personal, yet in a way that is also relatable, as time skips back and forth like the mind floating back to memories, some singed with pain and others with nostalgia.
(26.04.17) – Sex & Love & Rock&Roll: Tony Walsh on Women
CW: mentions harassment, domestic violence
When I first saw Tony Walsh, aka longfella, it was as a feature act at the Genesis Poetry Slam in Whitechapel. I remember being struck by a line about how growing breasts being something that labels some people ‘women’. This was a revelation to me, and yet something that I could identify with as a cis-gender woman reflecting on adolescence; it felt profound that a man could understand this experience in a way that made me feel understood in a way I hadn’t yet articulated myself.
When I later read what I assumed to be these same lines in Sex & Love & Rock&Roll, they didn’t strike me in quite the same way, as they offered something different. In ‘Start All the Clocks’, Walsh repeats ‘tell me how it feels’, as he asks of the readers
‘…tell me how it feels when you start to grow breasts
When Mother Nature writes ‘woman’ across a girl’s chest.’
It is in these lines that mean that Walsh is not solely a poet to hear on stage, but also one to read on the page, where you have the time to reflect and think.
(12.04.17) – Review: Spain’s Great Untranslated
I was given this book shortly after its publication in 2013 by mi abuelito, Juan Antonio Masoliver Ródenas, whose work is featured in the anthology of short stories, memoirs and poems. Currently living in Spain, it felt like a good time to read the whole book. The collection showcases twelve contemporary writers, in both Spanish and English translation, and definitely has a modern, experimental feel to it. The use of first person throughout blends the line between truth and fiction, and despite often feeling personal, there is always a sense of the political throughout.
(29.03.17) – Review: Enmujecer Festival/IWD 2017
Initially lamenting that I wouldn’t be in London for International Women’s Day, missing the annual WoW festival at the Southbank Centre, I was pleased to find out that Córdoba has a whole month of activities to mark the occasion. Whilst the practicalities of striking weren’t feasible – for example, I cannot afford to take a day unpaid and no unions exist for the work I do. I was informed that there would be a walk-out between 12-12.30pm, and this happened to be when my break between two classes fell. I used it to do some grocery shopping, so not particularly radical.
(12.03.17) – Review: Grito de Mujer Festival Opening Night
Whilst living in Spain – though I have missed my loved ones – what I have missed most is the abundance of poetry and arts nights you can find in London. It wasn’t long before I arrived in Córdoba that I went in search of events. I saw an old poster for a “Poetry Slam” at the Jazz Café, but it didn’t appear to exist any more. I then stumbled upon Mujeres Poetas Internacional. I contacted founder Jael Uribe, from the Dominican Republic, and she soon responded and contacted the organisers in Córdoba, and even translated four of my own poems into Spanish.
I corresponded with Sergio Perez Rodrigeuz and Maria Pizarro, organisers of the Grito de Mujer at which I was booked to read. I emailed in Spanish, which perhaps led them to believe I could speak Spanish, which is certainly not the case (writing =/=speaking). There were awkward moments, such as me not realising a group photograph included me and having it retaken, and me staring blankly when trying to discuss the proceedings (thankfully an audience member with some English skills stepped in). But for a night of poetry where I could only pick out a few words, it showed that poetry was well and truly alive in Spain.
(01.03.17) – Fine Art in Cordoba
The past few weeks I have been acquainting myself with the visual art that the city of Córdoba has to offer. These included the Museo de Bellas Artes de Córdoba, the Museo Julio Romero De Torres, and the Centro de Creación Contemporánea. Whilst there is still more to see, my wanderings gave me a varied picture of fine art in this part of Spain.
Rowena Knight has been making waves both in terms of poetry on the page (including Magma, Cadaverine and The Rialto) and on the stage, being a regular at poetry nights across London, as well as a team member of She Grrrowls. Self-identifying ‘Feminist Killjoy’, the collection deals with becoming a woman and growing up as an immigrant from New Zealand as a teenager.
(18.01.17) – Civil War
He rolls the ‘r’ in my name, and the resentment I’ve felt fades,
resentment for the absence of mi abuelito, and the language
my tongue stumbles over, yet hungers for like tortilla Española.
They greased their rifles with olive oil, with Vaseline, with cold cream, with bacon-fat:¹
an opera, with the occasional death.²
(22.12.16) – Review: Carmen Gastroflamenco
I’m not usually one for instrumental music, or music where I don’t understand the lyrics. Perhaps as a writer, I cling onto the words to evoke feeling. Perhaps this is also the reason why writing about music proved to be truly ineffable on a ‘Words and Music’ module I took at UEA, leaving me with a respectively low grade. I have been to operas and seen classical orchestras, willing myself not to be bored, trying not to fall asleep.
Often, I pretend to myself that I enjoy these things, or that at least it was “an experience”. I don’t like to reject a whole genre of music, so that is not my point here. I wouldn’t desecrate classical music as a whole, yet believe that we all have particular music tastes. For example, instrumental band 65daysofstatic are able to provoke emotions and excitement without the need for words, to me. Similarly, I was recently able to enjoy a performance of flamenco in Córdoba, and it happened both while instrumental, and without understanding the lyrics.
(14.12.16) – Is Spain’s Name-Changing Game-Changing?
Since moving into my own place in the beautiful city of Córdoba, I’ve realised how important the aesthetics of our environment are to our well-being. Both inside and outside of the home, I feel uplifted, and can meditate on the simple pleasures of my surroundings. So for many Spanish people, the news that street names are being changed is a lot bigger than it might seem on the surface.
Franco’s dictatorship is an all-too-present memory, which I learnt more about when speaking to my abuelito, my paternal grandfather, about it. It divided the family, and although a majority of Spain looks back on this time with regret and sadness, there are some who still support his legacy. At such times where we are becoming more divided, and dominant groups increasingly scapegoat, discriminate against, and oppress minorities, perhaps this is an important message from a government which is currently in disorder.
(07.12.16) – Review: Cordoba’s Inquisition Museum
Since the reign of Al-Hakam II, who ruled from 961 to 976, Córdoba has been considered a centre for education after a plethora of libraries and universities were opened. Just recently, a new statue was erected in the city centre, which is full of beautiful statues, making an already picturesque city even more so. This particular one seems another symbol for education – with a woman holding open a newspaper. As a language teacher, it’s also a little-known fact that Córdoba has one of the highest concentrations of language schools.
Córdoba is also the largest urban area declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the main attractions is the Mesquita, the Mosque-Cathedral. I found out about the city’s rich history from a free walking tour, where we stood outside the building. But I was able to go inside for free, deciding to wake up early one morning. Having just come to Spain after travelling in South East Asia, I was reminded of the grandness of such places of worship.
A book filled with moths, whiskey and full moons; reading Zelda Chappel’s debut collection The Girl in the Dog-Tooth Coat, published with Bare Fiction (2015), forces you to be in the moment with each and every piece. With each turn of the page comes a fresh clarity and precision, yet still connected like water – at times a stream, and at others, a rushing waterfall. It explores grief, and through its dark and sombre tones, there is a glimmer of hope: that this is a tale of survival.
Kate Tempest is well known for her work within the world of poetry and music, yet her latest venture sees her trying her hand at prose, using her original modern mythologies weaved into a different form. Although the points of move from character to character, Becky stands out to be the central character.
The first chapter made me think of the question uttered by both Shakespeare and Brecht about the role of art, suggesting to possibility for it to be both a mirror and hammer, when it comes to most peoples’ realities. Yet, at times it felt like the outlook was too cynical, too similar to the thoughts in the heads in this generation where we so often feel powerless to make change. It was almost too real, holding a truth too close to the bone.
(31.10.16) – Review: Burnt Roti, with Love, by Prerna Bakshi
Prerna Bakshi’s debut collection Burnt rotis, with love was published in 2016 by Le Zaporogue via Lulu.com. Poems featured in the collection have appeared in many literary journals, magazines and anthologies across the world. Hailing from India, Bakshi offers a refreshing perspective on feminism and the wider would, enlightening readers with its undeniable South Asian roots.
(12.10.16) – Arts in Asia: A Reflection
I spent four months in South East Asia; two and a half were spent working in Vietnam, but I also got to go to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Although it has been the longest time I’ve been away from the UK, it would be impossible for me to generalise the arts in the whole of South East Asia, or even just one country. Instead, this will be a reflection on the things I experienced whilst travelling.
(30.09.16) – Review: An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
I picked this book up on my travels from a Silent Meditation Retreat in Ubud, Bali. Reading a good book is like meditation for those of us whose minds won’t shut up. It’s something I know I should do more, especially as an English Literature graduate and as a writer. But in the age of social media, I find myself clicking on different articles deep into the night instead. That said, a good writer will keep you hooked enough to pull you away from such distractions.
I had read John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, which rightfully brought him to critical acclaim (as well as a film deal). An Abundance of Katherines was first published ten years ago, but is seeing a revival now that Green is a bestselling author. I felt excited to start reading it, and I enjoyed it so much that I made sure I had a copy waiting for me when I returned home, in between jetting off to Spain, where I’m now living.
(03.08.16) – Ginkgo – Art, Travel, and Ethical Clothing
On a recent trip to Hanoi, in Vietnam, I wandered the streets to see where the day would take me. This included going into lots of little art galleries, all housing incredible oil paintings and photography. In L’Institut Français de Hanoi, there was an experimental installation where a series of life-size photographs leaked onto the floor, and a white sculpture hung down from the ceiling like a cloud. Upstairs there were lots of neat illustrations from a range of artists. There was one smaller gallery that stood out from the rest where the eccentric art dealer with short turquoise-dyed hair spoke about the meaning behind each painting, telling me about Vietnam’s history with lacquer paintings as I admired a large glittering image of space.
(06.07.16) – Cromer, 2013
The rush of the lapping waves of the sea,
the sound of shells, smell of salt, is where,
the humdrum left behind, I can just be.
The horizon before me, I can stare,
watch where the sea meets sky and then it leaves –
nowhere I’d rather be than standing there.
(22.06.16) – Stop Using Intellectual Superiority in Online Debate
“You can’t even use apostrophes.” I may not have always said it, but I’m certainly guilty of thinking it and similar things to do with punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Whether directed at someone during an online debate, or used to make yourself superior because someone else has bigoted views or an unfavourable political standpoint. Even in cases where someone is verbally attacking you and making personal comments, you’re not the better person for commenting on their intellect or education.
(25.05.16) – Review: Dicko/Matthew Dickerson in Yallops
Along St Augustine’s Street in Norwich, you will find a collection of gallery spaces that are part of Nunns Yard. These include Nunns Yard itself, Yallops and Thirteen A. They offer small unconventional spaces to exhibit contemporary art work, including a smaller hire fee of £10 per day for students.
During a recent visit to Norwich, I spent some time at Yallops Gallery and saw the private view of Matthew Dickerson’s fine art illustration work. He is known more for digital illustration and concept art, yet this exhibition featured nine framed original hand-painted ink pieces on A3 paper. These were on sale for an affordable price of £150.
(11.05.16) – Password
He types my name in for a password
but it isn’t long enough
so he uses seawater instead.
(27.04.16) – Blast From the Past – Christina Aguilera: Stripped
I have a strange memory of Christina Aguilera performing Genie in a Bottle on Top of the Pops and my dad asking if I liked her songs. Strange, because it’s so unremarkable to be kept inside my head. At this stage I her career, she had made her big break, and soon enough I was listening to her album, with hits such as What a Girls Wants and Come On Over (All I Want Is You). Yet, it was three years later, when she released what I will always think of as her best album: Stripped.
I was having a hard time at school, and listening to this album was the very definition of empowering. I had been pushed out of a friendship group during a time where looking back, I honestly believe I was depressed, and this escalated to the extent where I felt I was a target for lots of different groups at school. I did make some new friends, and remember connecting with one of them through a shared love of this album. This was before we had learnt to talk about why it is that Beautiful holds so much resonance with us, but fourteen years later and we are still friends, now sharing a love of bell hooks.
(13.04.16) – Debris Stevenson – Pigeon Party
Deborah ‘Debris’ Stevenson is founder of The Mouthy Poets, based in Nottingham, who are a collective of 50 young poets. A poet herself, with a blurb of incredible achievements, I can’t help but envy her success as someone so near my age (she’s actually younger). Watching from the outside, I can see how much she has grafted to get where she is today, and her enthusiasm for what she does shines through at workshops, performance events, and is inside every well-chosen word on the pages of the Pigeon Party (2014) collection with flipped eye publishing.
(30.03.16) – The Hourglass
grains of sand pass like biology
my body ticking like a heart
my love straining like tea
(23.03.16) – Review: WOW Festival 2016, Part 2
On Sunday, I attended the Trans Identities panel, featuring, Jane Fae, Munroe Bergdorf and Kate O’Donnell. I often feel that it is difficult to fully understand the trans experience without having lived it, yet put simply, the audience was asked to raise their hands whether they knew their gender at the age of five, alluding to those who transition as desiring the opposite to what they are referred to by others. As the panel highlighted, I’m of the view that to be a Feminist, you need to fight for all women, and that includes trans women. As Crenshaw argued, that is the crux of intersectionality. It’s not really the same if it’s only certain women for whose rights you fight. So, all I can do is listen and search to find out more about what it means to be trans, or gender fluid, or any other non-binary gender identity. It’s a complex topic, and I think most people in the audience could have stayed at least an hour longer. To explore more, you can catch Rebecca Root and O’Donnell in BBC drama Boy Meets Girl, which for some reason, BBC iPlayer don’t have to view.
(16.03.16) – Review: WOW Festival 2016, Part 1
I have been going to Women Of the World festival at Southbank’s Royal festival Hall for years on my own. I sometimes feel tentative about talking about women’s rights with friends and family unless I know for sure someone will be on board. This has worked well it seems, as gradually, and through being vocal online instead, more and more friends have become interested in finding out more. This was the first year that I brought a friend along one day, and a family member (Feminist Gran).
I believe I could also do something different to get more friends on board, especially those who have been curious in the past, but remained relatively untouched by my ranting. In this piece, split into two parts to accommodate the weekend events, I will review and discuss some of my personal highlights of the festival, with the intention of raising more awareness and showing what WOW is about.
(02.03.16) – Computer Generated Images
we grew up on html
love was a cartoon heart
pink or red
we dissected some cold slab of meat in science labs
and with that, every Disney film turned dirty
we would publicise our most private thoughts
kidding ourselves it was poetry
when it was catharsis at best
(17.02.16) – Review: The Book of Mormon
“You’re not going to like that,” my partner said, when I told him I was going to see The Book of Mormon. Made by the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, I was aware it was a controversial production. I had also seen Avenue Q, which shared the same musical composer/lyricist, Robert Lopez. I knew there might be “offensive jokes”, despite South Park always being on after my bedtime when I was at primary school; I was relatively unfamiliar with the programme beyond 10-year-olds singing about chocolate salty balls in the playground… But I had heard good things, so I asked my Gran for us to see it as my Christmas present.
For those who are partial to a bit of poetry, you’ll probably have heard by now that Sarah Howe has been awarded this year’s T.S. Eliot prize by judges Pascale Petit (chair), Kei Miller, and Ahren Warner. You may also have seen this article, which questioned the negative tinge of the criticism of which Howe has received. Katy Evans-Bush argued that these criticisms were more to do with Howe’s age, gender and ethnicity (Howe is of dual Chinese-British heritage). Some seemed baffled both that it was possible to win on a first collection, yet also that it took her ten years to write. Surely the fact that she spent so long producing the poetry might suggest how it became possible to win? I mean, that, or witchcraft.
(20.01.16) – Richard Yates: An Accidental Feminist?
I first came across Richard Yates’ work through Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in the screen adaptation of Revolutionary Road. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the book in HMV, for something ridiculous like £1, that I actually read his work. I loved them both equally. Maybe I’m just a sucker for all things retro, but I felt he was extremely talented at capturing the human condition in characters who were entirely believable; both romantic and tragic. His ability to do this seemed to extend to a variety of characters and situations when recently reading his Collected Works.
(06.01.16) – Review: Warsan Shire’s Her Blue Body
In 2013 I was amongst around twenty poets long-listed for the first Young Poet Laureate for London prize. I remember meeting Warsan Shire that day; she seemed quiet, perhaps nervous, yet confident and bold. We performed one piece to a panel of judges, and I was either before or after Shire. Although she prefers writing to performing her work, I remember being blown away by not only the words, but the delivery of her poem Ugly. I remember that I had already heard lines quoted by Kayo Chingonyi from a workshop he was leading for students at the school where I work. It was no surprise when Shire was shortlisted, much less when she won.
To have the power to write poetry that sticks in the mind is certainly a gift that Shire bestows in much of her work. I have since had the pleasure of seeing Shire again at the launch of the first Podium Poets anthology, by Spread the Word, and attended workshops lead by her on an Arvon retreat. As an aspiring poet, she is an inspiration to many as a writer and as a human being.
(09.12.15) – Review: The World Goes Pop
I was moved to go to this exhibit with its promise that it would move beyond the mainstream artists we think of when we think of pop art, such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Richard Hamilton, working in the 1960s and 70s. I enjoy the work of these artists, but having seen them all before, I was intrigued to see more women exhibited, as well as those across the globe.
The literature on the exhibition states it ‘expands the notion of pop art into a far wider geographical context, showing how different cultures and countries contributed to the movement.’ With Warhol’s famous Campbell soup cans we had a critique of consumerism, yet the images shown at The World Goes Pop aim to challenge social imbalances, including the role of women and civil rights. Here, I will discuss some of my highlights from the exhibition.
(25.11.15) – Review: Hannah Silva’s ‘Shlock!’
Hannah Silva’s work can be difficult to penetrate; there is not necessarily a fixed meaning, and in the notes given prior to ‘Schlock!’ she quotes Kathy Acker by saying to ‘get rid of meaning. Your mind is a nightmare that has been eating you. Now eat your mind.’ This in itself requires interpretation: we place so much emphasis on meaning in our lives, this can destroy our minds, and so perhaps the best way to remove the self-doubt that I’m going to be “wrong” in my view of the work is to eat my mind, take control of the way the dots connect, and the ways they don’t.
(11.11.15) – Review: The Hollow of the Hand
On 9th and 10th October, the Royal Festival Hall played host to the premier of ‘The Hollow of the Hand’ – a collaboration between musician PJ Harvey and photographer-filmographer Seamus Murphy. It was essentially a book launch, but it will also be a project that includes a film to be released next year. It’s a relatively new breed of art, with politics at its heart, where reportage and art combine to create a particular type of documentary where the genre is combined with artistic photography/videography, poetry, and music.
The project saw Harvey and Murphy travel to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington DC. Murphy stated that they went to these countries without any agenda, without a particular message they wished to convey. It appeared Murphy enjoyed going down the road less travelled, and cited a chicken coop in Kosovo as an example of the kinds of places he liked to visit, and was glad Harvey felt the same way.
(28.10.15) – Review: Suffragette – The Fight is Not Over
‘I went to see ‘Suffragette’ with a lot of mixed expectations. I’d heard the reviews weren’t that great, my mum described it as ‘slow’ and there’d been criticism for the lack of BME women in the film (zero). There were also issues of Carey Mulligan’s accent and the fact the film was advertised as having leading roles by herself, Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter. These may seem like minor points, but they reveal deeper issues beneath their surface.’
‘When the Conservatives came to power this year, without even the Liberal Democrats to soften the inevitable multiple blows, many artists buckled up for more difficult years. I’m not one to buy the starving artist cliché, but it’s a reality that in these times, where arts funding is being cut (despite receiving a proportionally meagre amount), that being any kind of artist is going to be a struggle. It also means that it is sold as a less viable career path for young people, and the arts are placed back in the hands of the wealthy elite.’
(16.09.15) – Homework Review: Molly Naylor and Katie Bonna
‘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.’
(02.09.15) – Feminist Picks: Edinburgh Fringe Festival
‘After five days at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I’ve taken a pick of five Feminist pieces to review. Known for the extensive comedy programme, three of these are comedy acts, and then I’ve thrown in some poetry and theatre for good measure.’
‘I didn’t know what to expect from The Institute of Sexology, exhibited at the Wellcome Collection, but it was probably not the mass of phallic and explicit penis-shaped trinkets, supposedly associated with power. What would have been nice is the inclusion of similar vagina-inspired adornments. Nevertheless, it was bound to be that an exhibition about sex would highlight patriarchal power and women’s submissive role throughout history.’
(22.07.15) – In Defence of Telling Girls They Can
‘I have recently come across a lot of backlash against the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, including this article from The Guardian. Whilst I’ve read arguments that Sport England would do well to challenge the massive pay gap between men and women in sports, I reject the notion that it should be in spite of this campaign, claiming that it’s not needed, that it’s patronising, or that it’s actually about sex.’
(08.07.15) – To Kill a Mockingbird – Is It Just Me?
‘Recently, I went on a school visit to see To Kill a Mockingbird at The Barbican, and whilst I think the actors played their parts incredibly well – especially Zackary Momoh, who played the role of the falsely accused Tom Robinson – I’m not writing here to give a glowing review. I read the book around the time I started my job at the school three years ago, yet the play, adapted by Christopher Sergel, had a different impact on me.’
(24.06.15) – Soon Every House Will Have One
‘I first found out about Holly Hopkins by attending a ARTNAKED Poetry Session at Library Club in London, where she cut into the awkward silence of a tightly packed room with a mixture of chatting and poetry. For some, it would have offered an opportunity to gain an insight into her work, and for those like me, it inspired a purchase of her pamphlet Soon Every House Will Have One (smith | doorstop, 2014).’
(15.06.15) – The Last Word
‘The Last Word Festival is a annual festival of spoken word events at The Roundhouse. The organisation supports young artists with their work, giving them a platform to showcase their work, as well as featuring well-established names in poetry, such as East Anglia’s own Luke Wright. The programme was full of acts happening in every crevice of the building, spilling out into bar, where Talking Doorsteps videos were available to listen to on headphones in seating booths. Read on to find more about some of what this year had to offer.’
(27.05.15) – Girlhood: A Call To Action
‘Girlhood, or Bande de Filles, is a French film directed by Céline Sciamma, centring on the character of Marieme, played by Karidja Touré. Taking place in a suburb of Paris, Marieme undergoes several transformations throughout the film, shown through her name change to ‘Vic – for Victory’, as well as through her appearance, sexuality, increasing misdemeanour behaviour, and relationships with family and friends. The film was humorous with Marieme’s knowing smile being a feature throughout, yet it also provided important social commentary.’
(14.04.15) – The Place for Poetry: Visual Cultures
”The end of the first panel I’d attended discussed the importance of white space and the ole of images as part of the process, and linked nicely to the next panel about the relationship between visual art and poetry, which I was interested in due to my own project Poetry&Paint. Sophie Collins spoke of Mary Richardson’s defacement of Venus to highlight the hypocrisy of such an outcry, and she also touched on the Guerrilla Girls, leading to new kinds of art by women largely disregarded within ekphrastic poetry, and highlighting a collection entitled ‘In the Frame: Women’s Ekphrastic Poetry’, published in 2009.
(13.05.15) – The Place for Poetry: Fragment and Process
‘I arrived in time for the first panel session, and I chose to attend ‘Fragment and Process’. This featured three women; the equal representation of gender throughout the conference was something refreshing. In fact, without realising it I solely saw women presenting their papers that day. Susan Watson spoke about translations of Sappho, with Anne Carson at the centre. This was the first talk that inspired me to take note of unfamiliar authors and texts. Watson provoked interest from the onset, when she explained that the original Greek contained feminine endings, indicating the poet was a woman, whilst in the English translation, the gender of the speaker was not prescribed in this way.’
(29.04.15) – Woman Versus World
‘Hollie McNish: Versus tour — Open Banking Hall, Norwich. Hollie McNish has been on this particular tour for a long time now, having had it extended from the first set of dates. In the format that one would expect a music gig to be in, this proves — if nothing else — that poetry can work in this setting. As a poet, part of what I loved was McNish’s refusal to write something more theatrical with lots of movement, or to strive for a narrative arc. A poet who likes to keep things simple — this stripped down approach was refreshing and inspiring.’
(15.04.15) – Women Fashion Power: Not a Multiple Choice Question
‘For an exhibition with such an empowering title, I was intrigued to see what was being shown. Displayed at the Design Museum, it presented a timeline of women’s fashion until the present day. That said, the question of power was up for discussion, from the tiny corsets that squish women into an hourglass (arguably, the most dominant shape shown to be desirable throughout history), to the laughable early swimming costumes that showed an aversion to exposed flesh (it was simply a waterproof outfit).’
(01.04.15) – Three Women Poets
‘This article reviews three books by writers who occupy both the page and the stage. My first experience of all three of these women was as poets on the stage, yet reading them was entirely different and allows time to mull over the words in a way you can’t necessarily with live performance.’
(19.03.15) – Women of the World Festival, 2015: Part 2
‘Sunday began with ‘Lips’ choir singing cover songs from artists such as Kelis, Sia, Destiny’s Child and Livin’ Joy’s Dreamer. They sparkled in a mix of sequins, shirts and bow ties, and drew a massive crowd. Poet Bridget Minamore began Who Owns Your Body? on the subject of street harassment, particularly highlighting the racial differences, reflecting on a trip to Peru.’
(18.03.15) – Women of the World Festival, 2015: Part 1
‘It was my third year of attending the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival, first envisaged and implemented by Artistic Director Jude Kelly, five years ago. The programme was full of interesting performances, discussions, and workshops. I’ll be focusing on some of the arts related events.’
(04.02.15) – The Bechdel Test Fest
‘Sunday 8th February saw the launch of The Bechdel Test Fest at Genesis Cinema in East London. The test itself emerged after Alison Bechdel published a comic strip, inspired by friend Liz Wallace, where one character has a set of rules for watching a film. The criteria for passing the test are whether the film has two named female characters who talk about something other than a man. It is widely acknowledged as an extremely low bar.’
(18.02.15) – Review: Emmy the Great. Oslo, Hackney
‘To start with, Oslo in Hackney is a great gig venue. One message I got from my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship was that food is very important — I agreed — and downstairs in this venue is a restaurant, where you can get your pre-gig meal. I went for a burger and chips, and my friend had a much healthier mushroom medley. Upstairs is a black-box room, complete with a small stage, bar area, and disco ball.’
(04.02.15) – Soho Comedy: Women, ‘It’s Like They’re Real People’
‘I could live at Soho Theatre at the moment. In the past two months I have seen three women in comedy: Shappi Khorsandi, Bridget Christie, and Josie Long. In a recent article on puns and women in comedy, it stated ‘women are funny. End of debate.’ Or, as Josie Long put it ‘it’s like they’re real people.’ To those that don’t think women can be funny, it’s very unfortunate that your partners, mothers, siblings, and all women in your life have no sense of humour. Life must be quite dull.’
(21.01.15) – Sirens at Soho Theatre
‘I stepped into the New Year by seeing a production at Soho Theatre by a theatre company, Belgian Ontroerend Goed (translated as Real Estate, according to Wikipedia), entitled ‘Sirens’. I knew it was to be experimental and that it would touch on Feminist issues.’
(07.01.15) – I’m Sorry You’re Offended
‘Over the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of discussion about blurred lines, specifically between what is funny and what is offensive. Whether it’s the debatable satire of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, Lily Allen’s video for so-called Feminist Anthem ‘Hard Out Here’, or Jeremy Clarkson making yet another gaff followed by a half-hearted apology. Figures who are carving themselves the space as spearheads for Feminism, such as Caitlin Moran, are constantly putting their foot in it. In moments when seriousness is sometimes needed, jokes are used as defence mechanisms, and whilst being in the public eye may be hard to handle, these debates on humour are important for our daily lives. When you get into conflict with a friend or family member, do you address it or simply tell them a knock-knock joke?’