It has been a strange week for me – the #metoo hashtag on social media has made me sad and angry and hopeful in an exhausting cycle.. Amongst all of this, I’ve had to get on with doing stuff as well of course. I had a meeting with my PhD supervisors about the next stage of the PhD, the RD2 form. I’d sent them some writing, which was far too personal to use, but I wanted to try and get straight in my head what I’m trying to do with the PhD. I’ve got to make it much more ‘academic’, less personal etc etc. I’ve had a go this week and have almost finished the ‘Abstract’ part of the RD2, in what I hope is a more academic voice. It feels like putting on another head. I wonder if everybody feels like this or if it’s just me.
I’ve also started reading feminst theorist bell hooks this week, and absolutely loving her work. She writes about feminism, racism and class. I could only find one of her books in the library, ‘talking back’, published in 1989 but it feels like it could have been published last week. As those of you who have read my past few blogs will know, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am addressing with my poetry, and also about responses to the poems I’m writing. When I read the following, I felt elated, that someone had articulated what I’ve been struggling with for different reasons:
When I first began to talk publicly about my work, I would be disappointed when audiences were provoked and challenged but seemed to disapprove. Not only was my desire for approval naive (I have since come to understand that it is silly to think that one can challenge and also have approval), it was dangerous precisely because such a longing can undermine radical commitment, compelling a change in voice so as to gain regard
Reading this made me realise that feeling discomfort is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when I read bell hooks, I feel discomfort because I know, as a white woman, I’m not the main, intended audience of bell hooks. That doesn’t mean, however, I can’t read her, and learn from her. Maybe discomfort marks the potential for change, when the sense of self and where we fit in the world is shifted, however incrementally.
I went to see Lemn Sissay at the Brewery with a friend this week – what a great performer he is. Watching him is basically a masterclass in how to hold the attention of an audience. And the story of ‘Something Dark’, his play, is absolutely heartbreaking.
I also had a meeting with Pauline about Kendal Poetry Festival – we sat at Pauline’s kitchen table for another four hours. We’ve heard back from all of our poets and we now have the full line up confirmed. I’m so excited about this year’s poets. We’re meeting again on Tuesday to try and finish the form off, and having the line up confirmed, subject to funding, will hopefully provide us with the motivation to finish the endless paperwork.
I also had an exciting meeting this week regarding a new anthology of Cumbrian poetry which I’ll be co-editing. I can’t say much more than that at the moment, but watch this space, because there’ll be an official announcement soon.
There was a Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday and then Brewery Poets on Friday night. I took a specular (mirror poem) that I’d written. I’ve always wanted to write one since reading Julia Copus’s ‘In the Back Seat of My Mother’s Car’.
Yesterday I ran Barrow Poetry Workshop – nine people from all over Cumbria and one new young poet who I was very pleased to see. I met him a few years ago when I did the readings for the NCS summer school sessions in Ambleside, and then he appeared at the workshop, so that was a nice day, as well as the usual friendly faces being there of course.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by Kate Fox. Kate sent this to me a couple of weeks ago after reading my post around ‘mode of address‘ and who we are talking to as poets. I like the directness of this poem, and felt like, as a woman, it was talking to me. Does that mean it can’t be read by men because it is talking about maternal lineage? I hope not – I hope the poem just shifts the ground underneath male readers by looking past them to the women standing next to them.
I also love the humour in this poem – ‘somehow your nan’s not distracted by the Yorkshire terrier/ and your mum’s not said anything mean about your hair’. I think the humour makes sure that the poem does not become sentimental. That phrase/motto ‘you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends’ is kind of buried in the poem in the middle ‘you’re waiting for someone/to snap the lens shutter so you can go back to people who suit you/your husband, your friends’. I like that the poem acknowledges that there are different ways of living a feminist life,
These women who are not on an official record,who didn’t chuck themselves under a horse,but who managed to steer their own coursethrough the things they were told they couldn’t do,shouldn’t do.
This idea of women who are not on an official record came up yesterday in the workshop – poet Katie Hale is researching her family history and came upon a census where the man’s name is written and the women listed as ‘female relative’ with their age.
Kate Fox has made a living as a stand-up poet for ten years.She has nearly finished her PhD about class, gender and Northern humour). She has appeared on Radio 4. She is currently making #Lass War on the man-heavy Northern Powerhouse.
Her second Radio 4 comedy series aired this summer. In the shows she talked about why she doesn’t want: children, a big white wedding, to be middle class or have a Hollywood body! (First series on iPlayer here: The Price of Happiness). She is one of the 17 poets for the BBC/Hull 2017 Contains Strong Language Poetry Festival (Great film about her commission here: Women of Words film). Her books include Chronotopia, just out from Burning Eye Books (ORDER IT HERE! Chronotopia) and Fox Populi from Smokestack Books. She has been poet in residence for the Great North Run, Saturday Live on Radio 4 and the Glastonbury Festival.
Oh- also, she recently invented a new word for when humour and seriousness combine: Humitas. Check it out here: The Conversation article
Thanks to Kate for letting me use her poem this week. Kate came and read at the Lakes Alive festival a couple of weeks ago, along with Mark Pajak, and they were both brilliant, putting up with gale force winds, torrential rain and an outdoor reading to a small and soggy audience. They handled everything that was thrown at them with grace, humour and energy and left me congratulating myself at my own genius for booking them. If you hear of Kate performing anywhere near you – go and see her. She is funny, but her poetry will make you think as well. She’s a great performer, but as you can see below, her poems have depth and layers and work on the page as well.
Spinning a Yarn – Kate Fox9Imagineyou’re holding a threadwhich is held by your mother,then her mother,then her mother,double, treble, quadruple twisted ties,back, back in a long line that stretches further than you can see.Maybe you’re all in a field.Somehow it’s not chaos,somehow your nan’s not distracted by the Yorkshire terrierand your mum’s not said anything mean about your hairthough mostly every alternate woman in my chainwould get on better with each otherthan the one right next to her.Anyway, you’re holding the end,the thread’s vibratingbut it’s just this frozen moment,as if you’re waiting for someone,to snap the lens shutter so you can go back to people who suit you,your husband, your friends,this is sort of an obligation, sort of a privilege,this moment,making the chain, of women you’ll still mostly never name,as they stretch into the horizon’s edgeand you’re all worried it will rain,but you’re hearing fragments of chatter.Trekking from the city centre during the blitzfor just one good night’s sleep,how that Auntie started a driving school,the realisation that your brows all wrinkle in the same placewhen you laugh because you’re nervous.These women who are not on an official record,who didn’t chuck themselves under a horse,but who managed to steer their own coursethrough the things they were told they couldn’t do,shouldn’t do. They made it work.They weren’t allowed strategies,they couldn’t shuffle soldiersacross maps, piece up and rearrange continents,but they all had tactics,making the best of what they had,the day-to-day resistances and choices,and even though we can’t see their facesor hear their voices,you hold that thread that they’ve all spun,and still the looms are clacking on,the threads are criss-crossing with other chains,from women written out of history,with ones who shouted loudly.The more twists a thread is given,the stronger it becomes.Black threads, white threads,ones that got lost and trampled in the dirt for years,but at this moment it’s making a double helixdown your maternal line,then springs back,echoes of thunderous looms,the shuttle’s clack,you’re holding it, just this one threadin the great weave of history.Will you keep to the old patternor start a new one?Lose the weft, keep the warp?Find new materials,a different yarn to spin?Can you drop that thread altogether,take up ones from another kin?These choiceswhich are not completely yoursand not completely not.Take this momentwhile you canto throw a nod of recognitionto the thread holders down the line,then it’s yours. Begin.