I had forgotten this about writing. It can make you feel better. It can solidify your thoughts and feelings about something- but then cause them to become fluid again. It can represent you accepting something and thus beginning to change it. As soon as I wrote about being Grumpy Poet and not having a Platform, illustrations of why not to be Grumpy Poet and how I do have a platform flooded in. A workshop session with Gifted and Talented students in Newton Aycliffe in which we explored ways for them to spread creative teaching and learning. An inspiring community arts worker (Katy Milne) at Greenfield School who is passionate about embedding creativity in schools in a way that goes beyond the box ticking. Twitter reminding me of the Creative Agent Gayle Sutherland who I worked with on a slightly ill fated radio project but who is getting all sorts of amazing digital type projects into schools (including ones by Ewan Macintosh, the man who masterminded the SNP’s massively successful Internet campaign). A few offers of interesting gigs. Reading poems by clearly enormously truthful poets like Maitreyabandhu and David Tait (Both winners in the Smith/Doorstop pamphlet competition).

I went on Radio Newcastle’s Breakfast Show panel. Remembered how I prefer to feel I’ve been truthful in order to feel like I’ve had a platform but that it’s not always so straightforward. The show involves provoking listeners to ring in and respond. A few years ago I’d do that by being an extreme version of me as Mad Libertarian Poet, which provoked the more vocal of the show’s right wing listeners to ring in and be cross. Then the show remit changed to be less about controversy and more about discussion. Now I oblige by sharing my very average liberal views about things like Geordie Shore (daft), Super injunctions (sort of wrong/right) and hospital parking (Gasp-too expensive). That’s somehow less satisfying than being the pantomime me was- and feels weirdly less truthful- though I was taking both approaches to satisfy a show remit rather than myself. My most ordinary opinions bore me rigid. Maybe that’s why I do poems. Then last night, the short slot I did on Arthur Smith’s Balham Bash show was on Radio 4. I haven’t listened as I will cringe- besides, I was there. But I did a bit of stand up and some poems. More me I suppose than me talking. I remember being conscious of not wanting to go over my 5 minutes time and may have done under. Kevin Eldon was also on and very funny as the spoof poet Paul Hamilton. Couldn’t spot much gap between him as spoof and me as real poet. Though, talking to him after, it sounds like he has something of the real poet in him, as I have something of the pantomime in me. Anyway, to conclude- writing something might lead you to the opposite and pantomime can be closer to reality than prosaic attempts at truth. Therefore, find the right platform for you, but don’t get too big for your shoes. Sorted.


Yesterday a literature development worker who runs many education projects said that she’s concluded that she thinks artistic expression for it’s own sake is a good thing- if people can express themselves interestingly and powerfully, then others may be more inclined to listen to what they have to say. I asked if she thought it was also her responsibility to provide the platforms for them to say it, or whether that should be for other social bodies- but she said she thought they should provide platforms too.

I realised that despite the fact that I surely have many more platforms than lots of people, the feeling of not having them is still strong. A bit of a pathological block I’d say. Similar to the class barrier that, for example, Paul Merton was talking about in a Guardian interview last week, when his Dad said there was nothing “over there”, meaning that going “over there” wasn’t even to be contemplated for the likes of him.

I’m reading a cheery book about The Monster of Florence serial killing case and it’s unravelling and have just turned down a page on which a psychoanalyst monk gives the journalist protagonist his definition of evil. He plays on the fact that the Italian word for “evil” and “sickness” is the same-male– and that the word for “speech” and “study” is the same-discorso. Pathology can be defined as discorso sul male- study of sickness or evil. But he prefers to define it as male che parla- Evil (or sickness) that speaks. He says; “There is no longer true communication among us because our language is sick and the sickness of our discourse carries us inevitably to sickness in our bodies. When I can no longer communicate with speech I will speak with sickness. My symptoms are given life. These symptoms express the need for my soul to make itself heard, but it cannot because I don’t have the words and because those who should listen cannot get beyond the sound of their own voices” .

It chimed so strongly with me because in my disillusionment with the idea of being a poet as a career, I thought that really what I have believed in most strongly in my work as a poet is the idea of an alternative discourse that can undercut, illuminate or add to other discourses; those of the media, politics, the sciences or the everyday. My favourite discourse for making sense of my inner world is that of psychology and psychoanalysis but poetry can compensate for, or add to that hugely too.

Maybe, added to my pathological paranoia about not having a platform, is the frustration at only having the one discourse-poetry- to be asked to contribute in, when it’s the interweaving of them that I think is most powerful. Shut up and give us a poem. Anyway, this prosaic blog is a platform of some sort, so perhaps I should use it.

Grumpy Poet is Me

I became a full time poet in 2006, after leaving my job as a radio journalist. I often encountered Grumpy Poet. Grumpy Poet was usually, but not always a man, in their 50s, had once been full of youthful idealism and socialist ideals and was going to transform the world using poetry. By the time I met them, Grumpy Poet didn’t think there were new audiences for poetry, or that publishers, press or a nebulous establishment of “Them” cared what they were doing, and had become bitter. Grumpy Poet found my late twenties, innocent poetic idealism and flag waving for the “New” inclusive joys of performance poetry annoying.

Now, five short years later, I may have become an accelerated version of Grumpy Poet. Exciting ventures that matched and supported my vision of an inclusive poetry have bit the dust (Creative Partnerships and the Cultural Leadership Programme). My show Kate Fox News was marketed as poetry and consequently I think, got much smaller audiences than had it been marketed as comedy. I’m still one of the Saturday Live poets on Radio 4, but I don’t think a nebulous poetry establishment of “Thems” thinks that having a big audience for satirical poems is much to do with poetry and when I tell people that I’m a poet, I answer their next question of “Are you published then?” with a “Sort of” and mildly wilt under their conclusion that I do it as a hobby and write mainly about cats.

Yes, recently I have had some great poetry joys; mainly doing instant stand up poetry for a Stoma Nurses conference, the Journal Culture Awards and the Great North Run Hall of Fame dinner. I have been involved in some wonderful projects in the last year with young people. Supporting them to do improvised performances, work towards publication, Tweet a book festival and see their local area in a new way.

However, I’m doing less school work at the moment to try and conserve my energy and sanity. Maybe seeing fewer of those enthusiastic, young faces who couldn’t give a toss about the marginalised place of poetry in current society prevented me from becoming Grumpy Poet for longer. Or maybe I no longer have the Evangelical belief I once had that any young person I worked with, could and should if they wanted, make their own way in society as a poet. Be a Plumber I think. Be a Banker. Be a brilliant Parent. Be an M.P even. Anything but the deeply inconsequential figure of the poet. Or worse, the Grumpy Poet.

But, as ever for me, to write something, is to understand it, transform it and heal it. So, after a blogging hiatus, I’m going to be blogging honestly again and see if I can write my way out of the Grump.