Monthly Archives: May 2018

When you expose a problem you pose a problem

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The title of this blog comes from the book Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed. I made the mistake this week of posting in a public group about my disappointment that the local paper, the Evening Mail, failed in its report on the recent Keswick to Barrow 40 mile run/walk event to name the top three women finishers, despite naming the top three men. To be honest, I didn’t think I was saying anything particularly controversial – just pointing something out that could be addressed by adding one line of text to an article. I didn’t, and still don’t feel that anything negative could possibly come out of including women’s names.

You can cause unhappiness by noticing something. And if you can cause unhappiness by noticing something, you realise that the world you are in is not the world you thought you were in.

I caused a whole world of unhappiness by noticing this. Lots of people – men and women objected to the suggestion that the efforts of the top three women should have been acknowledged. Over and over again people told me that talking about naming women distracted attention from the fact that it was a charity event (doesn’t seem to harm the London Marathon), that the top three finishers just happened to be men (and they always will be unless we get an Olympic athlete rocking up to Barrow who just happens to be female).

Eventually, I had to turn off the comments on my post, and turn off the notifications.

We make things bigger by refusing to make things smaller

One friend posted a seperate post in support – that post was still going three days later and coming up to nearly 40 comments now with people telling her how wrong she is.  My twin sister is enjoying arguing with these people – my beautiful brave twin sister who would not stand and listen and say nothing, even though I told her not to get involved.

I’m too upset to look back at any of the posts now. Does how it felt to me matter? If I use words like bullying, like ganging up, is that an unfair accusation or is that my lived experience? I’m unsure now. If you are one person speaking up about something, and nobody else agrees, then maybe it will always feel like you’re being ganged up on. But thinking back now, without looking back at the post (because I can’t) one man offering his services as a lawyer to sue the paper was a way of getting me to shut up, a way of trying to humiliate me, a way of saying what you are pointing out does not matter. Men (and women) sharing pictures of their daughters saying ‘X did the walk for charity, not to get their name in the paper’ was designed to imply that I was merely interested in glory, and not in the more noble cause of raising money for charity, despite the fact that it wasn’t, was never about my name.  And this is another shaming technique.  Men and women asking why couldn’t I just be happy to be part of a great event – and look how happy we all are just to be here.  And this is another shaming technique

Happiness as a form of emotional labor can be condensed in the formula: making others happy by appearing happy.

There are ways to be a woman, and complaining about a system is not one of them. Complaining about injustice is not one of them. And having an opinion on social media and being a woman is a dangerous thing. It can end with having to turn your phone off because the constant comments are making you feel ill and anxious. I know that everything gets magnified on social media, that people say things they wouldn’t say to someone in person.

My friend N. pointed out to me that it was only thirty or so years ago that the first woman Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston marathon and was verbally and physically attacked because it was thought that women weren’t capable of running a marathon.

She pointed out that sport and the world of sport (and the pursuit of hbbies/interests/passions) have always been created for and dominated by men. I think about my hobbies/my interests – when I was younger, I played in brass bands.  One of the top bands in the country, Brighouse and Rastrick, finally appointed a female cornet player for the first time in their 130 year old history in 2011.  The brass band I grew up in had plenty of women in it and I would never say that brass bands don’t welcome women now (although I would say in my experience you have to be twice as good as the men to be thought of as half as good) but the world of brass banding (and running – my other hobby) was never set up for women, although women move through these worlds now, because of their tenacity and insistence.  And no, we are not told that we cannot join, we cannot run, not in so many words, but the fact that women’s achievement is ignored is one way of making our way through these worlds feel like wading through quicksand.

And what does it matter anyway? There are bigger things to worry about in the world. But how can we talk about rape when we can’t even agree that women should receive the same acknowledgement in a sporting event? How can we talk about domestic violence and helping victims when we can’t stand up for our friends online? How can we talk about sexism when we can’t even agree what it is?

This blog post has sat in my draft folder for over a week now.  At first I thought I wouldn’t post it at all.  Then I started  looking through Twitter today, following the #hometovote tweets from women travelling from across the world back to Ireland to vote to repeal the eighth amendment.  There is something beautiful in these women (and men) coming back home with welcoming parties at the airports – the reverse of the journey many women have to make to have an abortion abroad.  So this is one of the bigger things – bigger than speaking out about a stupid newspaper article – but you know and I know that everything is linked.  Women having autonomy and choice over what happens to their bodies is linked inextricably with women’s bodies being ignored, written out of history.  The silencing of women’s achievement is linked inextricably with the silencing of women’s voices.

I return again and again to Sara Ahmed, who sometimes feels like a lifeline. All of the quotes above are taken from her book Living a Feminist Life.  She talks about ‘Feminist Survival Kits’. This poem, from one of my dearest friends, and a woman who continually inspires me would be in my survival kit, because this week I’ve finally realised that I don’t believe in silence either.  And no, I won’t shut up.  And no, I won’t stop noticing.

To buy Head On, the collection of poetry that this poem comes from, head over to the Bloodaxe website http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/head-on-1046.  Clare also has a third collection Flood, coming very soon.

 

I Don’t Believe in Silence – Clare Shaw

Because, tonight –
however I try – I cannot get downstairs
without waking my daughter
I do not believe in silence.

Because of the Worboys enquiry,
because of the one hundred-plus women he raped –
because of the policeman defending the findings
unable to utter the word –
‘this (herrrm) crime, this (ahem)
assault, this category (cough)
of offence’ –
I do not believe in silence

because of the stairs and the banister’s crack;
the sound of the lock
and my hand on the door – the fifty-tone creak –
the magnificent echo of light-switch and click –
I do not believe in silence.

Because of Neda – and everyone’s sister –
and the man who said ‘Don’t be afraid’;
for the sake of my daughter, because of the burka,
because of the patter of rain;
because of two hundred thousand years of human history,
thirty-seven of them my own –
I do not believe in silence

for the sake of my arms, the wrists especially.
With respect to my legs
and my belly and chest
and the comfort long due to my throat

because of nightclubs at one a.m
and shouts in the street and feet in pursuit
and shops that don’t shut;
because of sirens and the dealers downstairs;
because of Levi and Akhmatova;
because of the itch of the blue-lipped prisoner;
the itch and the scratch of my pen;

I believe in the word.
I believe in the scrabble of claws
on uncarpeted floors.
I believe in my daughter’s complaints.
I believe in the violin, the E-string,
the see-sawing bow; the cello
straining its throat.

I believe in the heart and its beat
and its beep and the dance of the trace
on the screen, I believe in the volume
of colour turned up, and my blood
which was always too loud.

Because of the nights, and the sweats,
and the same rowdy thoughts;
because of that one afternoon
when I nailed my own voice to the air
and because there was nobody listening
and through it all
bird song
and the sound of cars passing –

I do not believe in silence.

Because, tonight –
however I try – I cannot

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April/May news and the Occasional Poem

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I can’t believe it’s been so many weeks since I last blogged! Arrgh…where does the time go etc etc?

I’m currently sat on a train but unusually for me it is not the train from Barrow to Manchester across the bay.  Today I’m going to Newcastle which means the slow train along the west coast of Cumbria – one of the most beautiful and bleakest train journeys in the UK I think.  We’ve just pulled into Seascale and on the beach are various dogs running around in a state of excitement, apart from one rather sedate St Bernard, walking calmly along next to his owner who had one hand on his back as the train pulled up then pulled away.

The photo is the view from just outside Barrow from the train.

I’ve got a couple of hours until I get to Carlisle and then I change there for the last bit of the journey. I’m going to Newcastle to meet up with other artists who are working on a project called ‘The Backbone Of Our Land’ which will be a performance piece about what it means to be northern.  I have been worrying and worrying away at this for weeks without coming up with anything, but I’m hoping inspiration will strike during the train journey.

As soon as I start to talk or think about the North I find myself sliding into cliches and it is hard to pin down what it is that I loved about the north from the moment I set foot in Leeds in 2000 and felt like I’d found somewhere I could feel at home.  Maybe it’s something to do with unpretentiousness – but that is a huge abstract word and I can’t use that in a poem without questioning its purpose there.  The people seemed friendlier and more open, more down to earth – but again, here I am slipping into stereotypes and abstractions.  Tomorrow is a R & D day with the other artists so I hope being around other creative people will jolt something poetic into existence.

So I have lots of news to share with you all because it has been so long since I blogged. First and rather excitingly, the news is now public that I will be judging the Primers Volume Four pamphlet competition.  I really like this competition because the prize includes editorial support and development from Jane Commane and mentoring with yours truly, so it is very much an ongoing support for writers who are chosen.  There are also up to 25 free entries available for low income writers which I think is fantastic news, and I hope is the sign of things starting to change with the problem of working class writers being shut out of publication opportunities.

The Primers pamphlet competition is run in association with the Poetry School and Nine Arches Press – both wonderful organisations and you can find more information about the entry terms and conditions here.  So my July/August is going to be filled with reading poems – which is pretty standard actually, but exciting to be looking for three potential mentees to work with on a longer term basis.

Last Saturday, if you are Barrovian, you were probably either walking the Keswick to Barrow, the Coniston to Barrow, or standing drinking beer at the finish line, waiting for someone you knew to come in.   I decided to run the 21 miles between Coniston and Barrow a while ago in a moment of madness and I am very pleased to tell you I survived and managed to complete the course in 3 hours and 12 minutes which I was pretty chuffed with, considering some of those 21 miles go over Kirby Moor and the rest could kindly be described as ‘undulating’.  I’m not sure where overall I came as the results aren’t out till Thursday so I will let you all know whether you’re interested or not!

I thought I would have a great sleep after running that far, but the muscles in my legs were so sore that I kept waking myself up in the middle of the night, and eventually gave it all up for a bad job and got up at 6am.  I am pretty much recovered now and walking almost normally, and I’ve even bought my trainers to Newcastle in the hope that I’ll be able to get out for a short run around the city once I’ve checked in to my hotel.

Plans for Kendal Poetry Festival have been progressing and the full lineup for the programme is now live and up on the website.  You can book tickets for the Brewery Arts Centre – and they are selling really well.  We have less than half of our Festival Passes left, which is the cheapest way to see all of the readings and discussions at the festival, and workshop tickets are also looking low – so if you have been thinking of coming, do book soon!

We are also offering three bursary places for writers who identify as disabled, or low income writers – please check out our latest blog on our ‘Opening Doors’ project to find out more, and do pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested.  It is a relatively simple application process but do get in touch via the festival website if you have any questions about it.  One of these places is funded by the generosity of the wonderful poet Christine Webb, so thank you again to her.

Getting the programme up and presentable on the website is a HUGE amount of work – Pauline Yarwood and I have been working so hard on the festival stuff.  We had a few days respite and then got on with the next job – editing the information on the website down so that we can fit it all onto a hard copy brochure.  We are still in the joyful throes of this and due to meet our brochure designer in the next few weeks.

I’ve also been rehearsing with Soul Survivors – we had a gig last Saturday and have another one coming up in June, reading in Manchester with Clare Shaw at an event organised to raise money for Greenpeace by the wonderful Ann Heathcote and going to the pamphlet launch of one of my fabulous Dove Cottage Young Poets Hannah Hodgson. Hannah did a brilliant reading and speech, complete with powerpoint slides – it reminded me of a Ted Talk – she was so professional.  The same couldn’t be said of me however, as I nearly cried in my introduction to Hannah and then nearly cried at the end…

The pamphlet is called Dear Body and it’s published by the fantastic Wayleave Press, run and edited by Mike Barlow.  The whole pamphlet will make you think differently about the body and ability and disability and all the things that can be taken for granted if you are able-bodied.

So although the Sunday Poem has temporarily ground to a halt, I thought that the Occasional Poem might be more fun, as I can post them as and when I feel like it.  It feels rebellious not to be blogging on a Sunday – this is about as rebellious as I get you see – blogging on a Tuesday!

I’m really happy that Hannah has agreed to let me publish the title poem of the pamphlet on the blog today.  I haven’t checked with Hannah, but I’m sure I remember her writing this poem in response to the C.P.Cavafy poem ‘Body, Remember‘.  I think you can hear the echo of that Cavafy poem in any poem that addresses itself directly to the body – but whereas Cavafy’s poem is full of longing and a desire to remember  ‘those desires glowing openly/in eyes that looked at you’, Hannah’s poem is an admonishment to the body, in an almost parental voice, asking it to ‘look over the job description/for a body./Read it over -/ let’s start again tomorrow.’

Even though this is a poem filled with exasperation and disappointment at the body for not doing what it is supposed to do, there isn’t a shred of self pity here – there is even a kind of wonderful  black humour in the first and last stanzas, while the middle of the poem is wonderfully tender: ‘I never learned/how to calm the heart’.

Hannah has been published in literary magazines AcumenUnder the Radarand Poetry Salzburg Review. She has won several young poets competitions and been poet in residence at Lakes Alive and Kendal Poetry festivals. She has a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/c/HannahHodgson) where she talks about her illnesses and reviews books and poetry collections. She has just been selected as one of the young writers for the next instalment of The Writing Squad.  

You can also find Hannah’s blog here     where you can buy a copy of her pamphlet and make her very happy!  Thanks to Hannah for letting me share this poem and I hope you enjoy reading it

Dear Body – Hannah Hodgson 

I’d be handing you
a redundancy notice
if the end of you
didn’t mean
the end of me.

My brain is filled
with corrupted code –
error alarms
screeching
in my organs.

I never learned
how to calm the heart
how to stop it battering
my chest, acting out
like a child.

I never learned
the nursery rhyme
to quieten it down.
I need to learn how
to parent these organs.

Go home,
look over the job description
for a body.
Read it over –
let’s start again tomorrow.