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.)