Archive for March, 2016

Wonder Women

I love the fact that International Women’s Day has become such an important date over the last few years, with poems by female poets being shared on social media (I particularly enjoyed tweets by Charlotte Geater @tambourine), think-pieces, memes, festivals and events. This year I was honoured to be at the House of Commons for an event organised by Professor Aisha K Gill and the poet Mona Arshi, where MPs such as Naz Shah and Seema Malhotra, feminist activists and young poets reclaimed the plush, pompous space of Committee Room 9. I performed Ovid’s Penelope monologue, and enjoyed Selina Nwulu’s powerful reading, and a rendition by school pupils of Mona’s devastating ‘Ballad of the Small-Boned Daughter‘.

After that I was off to the Wonder Women festival, as part of an event in the Manchester Jewish Museum – an atmospheric old synagogue. There was a tremendous panel about women in music, who noted that they always get called ‘female bass players’ and ‘female drummers’ rather than just bass players and drummers, and called out the sexist language of criticism: kooky, quirky, feisty etc. There was also the debut of the ‘Live soap opera noise poem’ version of my translation of Ovid’s Medea by Serafina Steer and Natalie Sharp, which was extremely, enjoyably avant-garde, including as it did a mask, a keyboard, Kibbo Kift style robes, a frolicking bull with glowing eyes, birdsong, a long-armed Wiccan witch dance and some extremely intense music/keening. (It was not ‘kooky’, btw. More disturbing and demanding, which are good things.)

And it was also the last date on the Jaybird Ovid’s Heroines tour. It has been a great year. I’ve learned such a lot, and not just eight-page monologues by heart. The whole thing has confirmed my sense that my poetry is primarily written to be spoken, and I’ve discovered how important vocal exercises are, the power of posture, Things To Do With My Hands During a Reading, and the great pleasures of collaborating on a show – the Premier Inn art; wonderful community theatres and theatre-pubs; the thrill of seeing the pretty and papery set come together just in time; Percy Pig sweets; the trickle of anticipation as the lights are dimmed and Anna Calvi’s voice kicks off the soundtrack…

I’m particularly going to miss being on the road with producer Julia Bird and our technical expert John Castle, but as the set fits in a suitcase, future revivals are not impossible. Here’s hoping. In the meantime, it was becoming hard (at seven and a half months pregnant) to get up off my knees angrily at the climax of Medea, so perhaps its a good time to take a break! Many thanks to the Arts Council for their support.

(As a postscript to my week of wonderful women, I returned home to find Goose Fair Night by Kathy Pimlott on my doormat, for which I have written the introduction. It’s a brilliant pamphlet, particularly the poems that celebrate her grandmother Enid, ‘mistress of madeira, piccalilli and scotch egg’. Support Emma Press and buy your copy here.)


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Gruff’s latest obsession is dinosaurs and the Ice Age. He particularly loves a show called ‘Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures’ and his favourite book is a dinosaur encyclopaedia he seems to expect me to read from the beginning (‘At first there was nothing…’) skimming through lichen, trilobites, ammonites, early fish, herbivores and theropods, mammoths and giant sloths, all the way to humanity (‘And we lost our fur and got cleverer and cleverer…’) As ever, though I’m getting slightly fatigued by the sheer intensity of his interest, he has made me look at the world in a different way, and think about deep time.

This weekend we even went to Charles Darwin’s house in Kent, where we could see his children’s’ animal toys and stair slide; peer at his beetle collection and diaries; potter to his greenhouse to see orchids and fly traps; admire photographs of his enormous beard. What a trip around the world he went on! Watching volcanoes, meeting tribes, eating ostrich dumplings and armadillo (like duck, apparently). I felt quietly jealous as rain lashed the windows. Afterwards I bought Gruff some fossilised Shark’s teeth to go with his new coprolite (a 38 million year old crocodile poo). And then on Sunday I got a mother’s day card featuring his favourite dinosaur, the hilariously faced Pegomastax.

I haven’t written any poems about prehistory yet, but perhaps something is evolving. I have Penelope Lively’s memoir ‘Ammonites and Leaping Fish’ in my handbag and have ordered Ruth Padel’s ‘Darwin: A Life in Poems’. And I’ve been thinking about dinosaur poems too, although there seem to be few good ones- Rebecca Perry’s ‘Dear Stegosaurus’ and Matthew Gregory’s ‘Young Pterodactyl’ and Danez Smith’s astonishing ‘Dinosaurs in the Hood‘ come to mind, but let me know if you think of any others…

And talking of the passing of time, my FINAL Ovid show is on in Manchester this Thursday! It’s part of a fantastic sounding evening as part of the Wonder Woman Festival called ‘Written in the Margins’ – there’s also a panel on female singer songwriters chaired by Stuart Maconie, and the  fabulous Serafina Steer has made my Medea poem into a ‘Live Soap Opera Mini Drama’ with Natalie Sharp! Tickets only  £3 ! 

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