Arts section writer
Eli is an MA student at UEA, and has lived in Norwich for 5 years. They are particularly interested in creative critical approaches to the radical self, and in how speculative fiction challenges the present and envisions the future. They also write and perform confessional poetry, doodle, and cry frequently.
(10.04.18) – Elliot and Eliott Needs Friends
In preparation for their upcoming show at Brighton fringe, Eliott Simpson and Elliot Wengler took the stage armed with their Tinder profiles – to proposition the audience for friendship. Closing a mixed bag of a night, their set contained some much needed reminders of how comedy can work without the tired, “edgy” humour that so often seems to haunt the stand-up world and which, in my mind, ruined so many of the night’s previous performances.
On Monday, Jon McGregor, author of Costa Book Award winning Reservoir 13, announced that he would not be taking part in this week’s event for the UEA Spring Literary Festival. His reason was that doing so would involve crossing the picket line of the ongoing UCU Strike against changes to pensions, which would leave lecturers and teaching staff at universities across the UK around £10,000 a year worse off (than in the previous arrangement). He stated “I have never crossed a picket line in my life, and am not about to start now. Instead, I will be joining staff, students, and writers for an evening of readings and discussion as part of the Alternative University being organised by striking staff and hosted by the Students’ Union.”
(04.03.18) – An Open Letter to Steve Downes, EDP
No, Soup Kitchens are not making Norwich’s “Homelessness problem” worse. It might seem that way to you, if you’re used to brushing the vulnerable off and not having to see the reality of more and more people’s lives. The easy solution – and the one that your newspaper and the local police like to peddle – is to force rough sleepers and vulnerable people out to the fringes of the city, where they’re cut off from their community and support and, most importantly it seems, you don’t have to see them.
What makes you think that your walking past the Haymarket every so often qualifies you to write about the lives of the people in the queue?
(25.02.18) – Cultural Criticism and YouTube Rants – Part 2
In Part One, I looked at how right-wing Youtubers use and abuse the idea of freedom of speech in constructing their worldview, and the connection between their celebration of abusive behaviour and feelings of humiliation. I used Adorno’s Cultural Criticism and Society to frame my observations. In this part, I will look at divisions within the workforce and how this creates vulnerabilities to right wing punditry – still using Adorno as a frame.
Adorno argues that labour is divided into “manual” and “intellectual” labour. However “manual” labour encompasses a lot more than working with your hands. It’s probably more accurate to use “menial” labour, which includes factory, construction, custodial and agricultural labour (what is usually covered by manual) as well as the huge number of exploitative customer service, food service and sales jobs. These distinctions are sometimes blurry, and stink of classist value judgements, but can still provide a useful way of addressing structural divisions and how those divisions impact on solidarity and belief.
Part One of Two
Given the revelations in the Darren Osborne trial, and the general spread of Alt-Right, Far-Right and, bluntly, Nazi and White Supremacist discourse online, it is vitally important that we use the tools we have to understand how such ideological horrors are able to spread, what they look like, and what this spread says about the methods and platforms they use.
(02.12.17) – Review: A Hope on the Wall
Almost exactly one year ago, I attended a conference at UEA on ‘hybrid writing’, organised by Seam Editions. The last presentation before lunch absolutely captured the theme of the conference. Anna Metcalfe presented ‘I hope to Show’, or the Last Thing out of Pandora’s Box, a creative-critical reflection on academic writing, optimism and Hesiod. Last Tuesday, in an unassuming brown padded envelope, my advance copy of A Hope on The Wall arrived. I keep describing it to myself as “a beautiful little book” and it truly is; Francesca Romano has done an amazing job of making a deceptively minimalist-looking home for a complex and engaging read. I can see it conveniently sitting inside my notebook, ready for me to dive into whenever doubt sets in.
(23.09.17) – Find the Domination in the Narrative
CW: victim blaming, transphobia, homophobia, rape
Sitting in my mum’s living room, vaguely paying attention to what she had loaded up ‘on-demand’, I started to get antsy and agitated. The programme, a gritty ITV crime-drama called “Cold Blood” kept jumping out at me with its thinly veiled victim blaming, transphobia and homophobia. Because it was being played ‘on-demand’, the same few ads kept popping up. This, along with a summer of conversations that continually went nowhere, prompted the following rant/doodle/mess…
(09.09.17) – Review: The Forward Book of Poetry 2018
Against the advice of the preface, in which the founder of the Forward Prizes cautions “This is not a book to be devoured in one sitting, nor should it be read against the clock.” I gave myself roughly 30 hours from receiving the book to submitting this review. Nevertheless, my brief time with this collection has so far left me feeling inspired, tearful, and in awe. Reading these current, provoking and mournful pieces – in bed with a purple unicorn hot water bottle against my aching back, at work waiting for the busiest shift to start, and at my mess of a desk – has been its own measure of relief. I am ready to go through this collection, pencil in hand, and ruin this book. I am ready to go back to the poems I had to read in public, and to read them again aloud at home.
(26.08.17) – Dispossesion: The Great Social Housing Swindle
Released shortly before the disaster at Grenfell, Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle is a timely and balanced exploration of the factors that led to the tragedy, and to the wider social cleansing of working class and low income communities throughout the UK. Introducing the film to a packed room, director Paul Sng emphasised the need to counter the “media culture of denigrating people who live in social housing”. The goal of the film, for Sng, was to show that people living in these estates and situations are valuable in themselves, and that the communities that exist there are important and should be preserved, as well as highlighting how this is overshadowed constantly by the prioritisation of profit and private sector gains.
(12.08.17) – Criticism as Art: An Interview with Seam Editions
There is a new independent publishing house in Norwich. Seam Editions has already published some amazing pieces (seriously I am ashamed of everything I’ve ever written in comparison). Focusing on the emerging field of creative-critical writing, they provide a platform for interactive, experimental and formally disruptive writing. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with four of the team to talk about the incredible progress they have made since their launch late last year. I met Sara Helen Binney, Sarah A. Jones, Simon Pook and Rob Ward at the Playhouse.
CW; ableism, suicide, sanctions
Vince Laws’ protest-play, ‘A Very Queer Nazi Faust’ is the stunning result of ongoing development, lack of funding and an “angry depression diary”. It has been performed in a host of untraditional venues including: the streets of Birmingham during the Conservative Party Conference; outside the Houses of Parliament (whilst Ian Duncan-Smith was being interviewed); and, most recently, the Community Tent at Norwich’s ninth Pride celebration. Cast through social media, the performance was anarchically unpolished and filled with righteous, infectious anger. The roles of the “thirteen local legends” brought together in art and solidarity against “state sanctioned torture” were all filled by local queer and disabled activists. Although the title of the show was excluded from the official Norwich Pride 2017 programme, The Community Tent was still filled with an enthusiastic and engaged audience.
(29.07.17) – Review: The Poetry Collective
The Poetry Collective’s bi-monthly poetry open-mic has been running for three years, hosted in a variety of venues across Norwich. Yet it’s the trendy hub, The Birdcage that has become a favourite platform for both new and established performers. Described by one of the performers (Johnny Raspin) as “The best poetry night in Norwich”, it’s easy to see how this endorsement was earned. The hosts, Freddie and Jodie, are enthusiastic and lovely, the venue filled up very quickly, despite the weirdly autumnal weather, and the casual back and forth between host, performers and audience created an atmosphere of community and support.
(15.07.17) – Review: The Circle, by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers’ The Circle, both the book and the recent feature-length adaptation, is a dystopia formed around a Facebook/Apple/Google/Amazon-esque corporation, one which hosts and shares almost every aspect of its users lives. The novel does a remarkable job of capturing the subtle ways in which this model is marketed to us, how this format of data-as-product is often shrouded in apparently progressive buzzwords – community, accountability, transparency, participation – whilst the company which operates under this model does so under the same values as every other corporate entity.
There is a veneer of progressivity and respectability that companies adopt in order to retain and gain customers – like Facebook making it easier to harass trans people, or implementing guidelines that protect white men but not black children, and at the same time, for one month of the year, patchily providing a rainbow “pride” react to the users who liked lgbt@facebook. Perhaps not as extreme as Eggers writes in The Circle, but eerily close enough: “Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal.”
(01.07.17) – Brainstuck Arguments
How can you have anxiety and whatever
and read aloud to rooms.
How do you flinch at loud noises and not stares?
Speaker, the mind is unintelligible
and this unwell mind doubly so.
I do not hyperventilate this performance,
is this performing the cause.
(17.06.17) – Review: The Lighthouse #15 – The Queer Issue
Timeliness occupies this issue. Reflections on what queer writing has been and what it is now are shown through this collection to be vital, contemporary, and necessarily complex. The readings at the launch were accomplished, and the variety of writing spoke to the talents of the editing team in recognising and celebrating each piece. The pieces were arranged and selected to be complementary, to offer common threads and common goals, while still preserving the singularity of each piece – the queer writing here is collected as moments of solidarity, of community.
(03.06.17) – Review: Underpass – UEA CW Anthology
The Underpass Anthology launch was a real testament to the work and co-operation evident in the newly student-run EggBox publishers – a packed celebration of new talent and potential, and a true contribution to the uniquely welcoming and encouraging style of the Norwich arts scene.
The anthology itself worked in the same way, amplifying both familiar and new voices, and bringing them together in a truly collaborative and beautiful book. The experimental and the traditional complement each other, and every writer and editor involved should feel immensely proud of themselves.
(20.05.17) – Review: Autumn, by Ali Smith
Rich with reference and metaphor, Ali Smith’s Autumn is a triumph. Published incredibly quickly following the chaos of the EU Referendum in June 2016, it fully captures the feelings of isolation, division, and distrust that seems to have characterised the 12 months since. The atmosphere of unreality is masterfully tied together with dream-sequence, ekphrasis, and lies. The principal character, Elisabeth sums it up concisely as an eight year old in 1993: “It’s about history, and being neighbours.”
(06.05.17) – Review: The Power, by Naomi Alderman
The Power is a profoundly affecting read. In it, Naomi Alderman envisions a switching of roles and of power dynamics, deftly parodying and reflecting back the ways in which we justify, enforce and understand gender roles.
It asks the question: “What if women were stronger than men; What if men had to be afraid of women?” and follows its core characters – Roxy, the daughter of a British crime boss; Tunde, a Nigerian journalist; Allie, an American foster kid who escapes an abusive household; and Margot, an American Mayor trying to balance her city in the wake of this sudden shift, and protect her daughters Jocelyn and Maddie – as the world progresses towards “Cataclysm.”
Hopkinson’s writing is enchanting. Her words wrap around you and inhabit you, they turn your skin to bark, the wind into a goddess, your body lifts and falls with the lines of beautifully crafted prose. To read her work is to be transformed, transported, transcended. Her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), explored community, magic, and family in a Toronto “hollowed out” by white-flight and financial catastrophe.
Her second, Midnight Robber (2000), used language — particularly dialect — and mythology to imagine, from a Caribbean perspective, “what stories we’d tell ourselves about our technology – what our paradigms for it might be” and to bring together ideas of storytelling, colonialism and trauma. Since then, she has published several other novels and collections, all of which are thoughtful, accessible and fundamentally affecting, the most recent of which is the subject of this review.