The Maths

The Maths

 

 

I added up the females on a bill,

they said I was unreasonable and over the top,

my problems would multiply

if I didn’t stop.

 

Number the women-

the smaller the amount,

you’re seeing what happens when we don’t count.

 

Count like maths teachers insane on Algebra,

Count like Dracula in his coffin,

Count like an abacus, like Carol Vorderman

Count like a mathematical Boffin.

 

It’s maths that even I can do,

females equal one in two.

Challenge the social long division,

expect support, expect derision

But in parliament and company boards,

on TV and on the radio,

the rule and not the exception

would be a fifty- fifty ratio.

 

This is the way to count;

add up the women you see and hear.

Then factor in the ones you can’t

to ensure they don’t disappear.

 

I made my maths public,

and was accused of asking for a token,

but an even bigger sum

would be the cost of not having spoken

 

I am no Pythagoras,

I’m more excited by cake than Pi,

but when equality fails to add up,

I’m going to keep asking why.

Stamford Arts Centre says one woman on a bill is indeed enough.

Hi Anna,

I thought I should contact you as my blog about the line up of the “Verse” festival has a had a good response from readers and been ReTweeted and shared via Facebook quite alot.

I haven’t previously felt moved to comment on a venue or festival’s poetry line up because usually I think All Poetry Programming is Good Poetry Programming- and also that it’s none of my business!

However, perhaps because I had lived in Stamford, the festival struck a particular chord with me and I did feel a bit disappointed to see such a low proportion of women represented on the festival bill.

https://katefoxwriter.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/does-just-one-woman-on-a-poetry-festival-bill-matter/

I wanted to draw my blog to your attention- and also wondered whether you had any comment to make in response, or might take my thoughts into account in future programming?

All best

Kate

 

Date: 11 January 2012 10:01:33 GMT
To: <kate.fox@virgin.net>
Subject: Verse 2012

Hi Kate

 

Thank you for your email and it is great that you feel so passionately. However, we feel you have got this out of proportion and have been somewhat unreasonable in your comments. If we have been in any way gender-biased it was not intentional especially given that the organisers and promoters are all female. Furthermore, the judging panel for the Poet Laureate competition comprises of two women and two men.  

 

Verse 2012 is a small scale festival for Stamford based solely at Stamford Arts Centre with a highlight of finding a Poet Laureate for the town. The town itself currently has no poetry scene compared to our thriving neighbour Peterborough, which has poetry coming out of its ears. It is unfair to compare Verse to the festivals mentioned in your blog as it is by no means as big as any of them – in all there are 4 live shows, 5 films and 4 workshops plus a day of schools workshops and a children’s exhibition in the gallery. There will be support acts for two shows which will be both male and female plus there is Pint of Poetry, an open mic evening which anyone can take part in.

 

The programme has been thoughtfully put together in partnership with Book a Poet to introduce our audiences to the spoken word.  As a district council funded project, we took advice from experts as to who we booked for the festival and very much wanted to focus on local successful poets with just two national names as headliners – one for adults and one for children.. This was based on availability and that particular act’s suitability to what the festival needed. In all honesty ensuring gender equality didn’t enter into our minds when booking, and we stand firm that it shouldn’t have – a talented poet is a talented poet, regardless of gender, and this will be reflected in our future Verse festivals which I am sure will involve plenty of talented female poets. We know our audiences very well – almost too well – and know this programme will work for them.

 

As I have previously said however, this seems an unnecessary argument considering the small amount of poets booked in for our festival – I could very well understand it if we had 20 poets and a tiny proportion were female, but our current ratio doesn’t seem outrageous, especially when emphasising my point on Twitter that we expect many female applicants for the Stamford Poet Laureate. 

 

We’re really looking forward to Verse in March/April and I hope you will participate and support the festival as it is clear you are passionate about both Stamford and Poetry. If you can make it down it would be good to meet you – perhaps at Pint of Poetry you could show us your material. Please feel free to quote this response in full on your blog, but please do not paraphrase.

 

Kind regards

 

Kimberley Taylor

 

Kimberley Taylor

Marketing & Publicity Officer

 stamford arts centre

Dear Kimberley,

Thanks for your response. It raises a couple of further points.

I am surprised you said that the organisers and promoters all being female in itself demonstrates that there could not be an intentional gender-bias- especially as you then admit that “Gender equality didn’t enter into our minds when booking and we stand firm that it shouldn’t have”.

The centre receives Arts Council funding and, in the words of someone I spoke to there today “We particularly champion diversity and equality in the arts and equal distributions of resources”. It is an essential condition of their funding in fact and is the reason I will be passing this correspondence on to them.

If your aim is to increase participation in, and audiences for, spoken word, then I strongly believe that gender equality should enter your minds. For the Laureateship you are asking people to submit both written work and then perform a piece. There has been much writing on how significantly fewer women submit work to poetry magazines. A recent example comes from the leading poet Linda France writing for Friction Magazine based at Newcastle University’s Centre of Literary Arts. She said “Many editors have mentioned the disparity between male and female submissions to magazines, despite the fact that at most writing workshops women far outnumber men”. An editorial in the national journal “Poetry Wales” made a similar point last spring; “We receive fewer unsolicited poetry submissions by women…there remains work to be done in drowning out the voices that…subtly inhibit many women writers”.  

You say “A talented poet is a talented poet” and I agree, but it seems that organisations such as yours who are explicitly receiving funding in order to increase participation and audiences have a particular responsibility to take account of these issues and make your statement that future Verse festivals will involve “plenty of talented female poets” something you are actively working toward rather than just hoping for.

Most of the research is about submission and publication (As another example a 2010 study by VIDA looked at publication ratios in literary journals. The London Review of Books featured 343 male authors, against 74 female authors, the international “Poetry” Journal featured 246 male poets and 165 female poets). There is an even greater gender disparity in the world of performance poetry and spoken word. A typical ratio on a bill or event is around 1 in 4 women and I have often been involved in competitive slams where the ratio is closer to 1 in 8 women.

In my own work as a professional poet since 2006, I believe I am usually booked because I do good work with a reasonably broad appeal. At the same time, I am glad when a booker or promoter has given thought to engaging more women as audience and participants by recognising that visible female performers can impact on this. I often work with disengaged boys and young men in schools and colleges because performance poetry is a particularly good means of engaging them in literacy- but I also then look for ways to introduce them to the work of male performance poets who may be more likely to act as gender role models for that demographic. I certainly do not believe gender is the only factor in finding role models- my way as a comic poet has been paved more by John Hegley say, than Pam Ayres- but I do believe that it is a significant one. A significant one that was worth factoring into a festival that is intended as an introduction to spoken word at a venue where you know your audiences “Almost too well” and are, in common with most arts centres looking to actively engage new people. Worth going the extra mile and finding at least one more female poet for your adult audiences and workshops and school workshops. There are several in the Midlands.

I feel strongly about this not because I am passionate about poetry or Stamford (lovely though it is- I have been based in the North East for most of the past 13 years and now live in North Yorkshire), but because I have been working toward increasing participation in live literature for several years- on the board of the national performance poetry organisation Apples and Snakes, as a participant in the Cultural Leadership Programme, as an organiser of spoken word workshops and events and as an artist and mentor.

At a time of arts funding cuts, I fear that some of the wonderful work that has been done to increase the profile of live literature may fall by the wayside. Its particular strength as a platform for all sorts of voices will be diluted too. To hear of an arts centre that has the vision to invest in it is wonderful on the one hand- and then frustrating on the other, when that opportunity may not cast as wide a net as it could, or when programming without considering gender equality becomes a matter of pride. When that opportunity and the work of Stamford Arts Centre might stand as a model to inspire other arts centres of the viability of such a festival, and inspire even better practice in drawing in the many men, women and children who haven’t yet been introduced to the power and pleasure of poetry in performance.

I wish you well with the festival and am sorry that you consider my previous blog post to have been “Out of proportion” and “Unreasonable” in its highlighting of the apparent lack of consideration given to gender representation in the festival. I hope this letter further explains my position.

Best

Kate Fox  

www.katefox.co.uk

Does just one woman on a Poetry Festival bill matter?

http://www.stamfordartscentre.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1139:dead-poets-and-poet-laureate-final&catid=8&Itemid=33

I lived in Stamford for a few months when I was a journalist at Rutland Radio. Burghley horse trials, the setting for telly’s “Middlemarch”, a swimming pool murder, a Tory MP and a total eclipse of the sun are what I remember. A place with a captive audience for poetry. Captive future poets ready to be inspired. If Stamford Arts Centre had staged the “Verse” poetry festival when I was there, it would have been the most exciting thing to happen to me apart from the eclipse. John Hegley, Ian Mcmillan, Joel Stickley and the Dead Poets (the splendid Mark and Mixy)?  “Poetry doesn’t get much better than this” I’d be saying in a Greg Wallace from Masterchef voice.

However, thirteen years later and many experiences of running events and workshops myself, something about the line up made my foot itch, as Hilary Dragon’s Den Devey might say. Apart from Camilla Mclean who will be “Reading poetry while children decorate cupcakes”, there are no women on the line up or running workshops. What’s the trouble with that? my 1999 self might have said, there’s enough that’s inspiring about this lot to mean my oestrogen is a secondary consideration.

Well…over the past few years I’ve discovered that, in a sort of osmosis, greater numbers of female performers, writers and, even audience members, are more likely to dip their toe in poetic waters when they see other women up there too. It is more subtle than the “I didn’t know poetry could be fun” conversions that are a happy ten a penny consequence of booking accessible, people-friendly poets, but just as prevalent. The “Verse” festival will be doing some school outreach work- and I find schools will often be really glad to book female poets because it gives their girls an additional role model (Just as they can be happy to book male poets who may be more likely to engage their boys). I know these are generalisations, I know it’s not possible or desirable to do “Representation” above wonderful artistic experiences, but I think, in these straitened times, when a small town arts centre is committing resources to showing “Poetry’s not boring” that it’s important to widen the net for its audiences and participants and display some-dread word-diversity- so as to pull in and inspire as many people as possible. Particularly since this seems to be a first chance to really show Stamford a sense of a multiply-voiced poetry world.

Focusing purely on gender diversity, I had a quick look at some statistics for bigger poetry festivals.  Stanza will have about 43 men billed this year and 33 women, Ledbury last year had 46 men, 35 women. Either way, with such a large line up, they both had more room for a wider cross section of poetics than a small festival could ever hope to achieve-nonetheless I’m sure Stamford Arts Centre could have booked at least one or two more of the many excellent female poets out there.

Apocalypse Now Then

Image

“At least the end of the world meant I finally stopped dreaming about the end of the world” The opening sentence of a novel I didn’t write last year. A year in whioh I devoured much Apocalyptica on paper and on screen, and pretty much got it out of my system. I now realise it was provoked by a collision of life circumstances making me feel more powerless than usual at a time when the Zeitgeist was happily reinforcing the illusions of the powerful and shattering the delusions of the power-challenged. Perfect Apocalypse-fodder. Without the consolation, scapegoat or Dawkinsian kicking-horse of religion, this is what I had instead. 

I am usually too squeamish to watch horror films, though a soft spot for the “28 Days” franchise prefigured the run that began when I bought Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” in November 2010. I now know that it operates on many a cliche of the genre, but his slightly literate plague Zombie/Vampire, New World reconstruction tome was all exciting and new to me. My favourite Apocalyptica, it turns out,also needs to have some good Empty Streets Wandering About from the protagonists to particularly do it for me,

I prefer small glimmers of implied hope, but thrill to them all being dashed.I like long, lingering close ups on the gradual meltdown of society and find too much focus on the reconstruction can come to feel more like a Historical Novel- although is very educational since I don’t know enough about how societies are formed.

I prefer that the Psychologically negative effect of being a survivor is acknowledged- and found “Earth Abides”, “Zone One” and “On The Third Day” best for this.

So, for those looking for some Apocalyptica of their own, here’s lists of the page and screen End of Worlds I most remember from the past year. This misses out much of the gorier, Supernatural stuff which seems to be proliferating currently. 

BOOKS

1. Stephen King’s The Stand; I do like a plague-ridden end of the world. This one made me see America very differently subsequently, as the Reconstruction of Society bits are particularly well thought out. I haven’t read much Stephen King, but fans seem to feel this is one of his most lovingly written and crafted works. I went on to another of his Apocalypses; “Cell” when Good Phones Go Bad, but wasn’t as rewarded.

2. Nevil Shute’s On The Beach. I prefer a more hysterical End myself. It would be nice to think everyone took it so calmly and kept on drinking Martinins. Images from this 1950s cosy Apocalyspe have stayed with me though.

3. George R Stewart’s “Earth Abides”. A 1949 classic. Beautifully psychologically astute I think. Plenty of lonely street wandering from “Ish” the intellectual hero. One of many American Apocalypses in which the Golden Gate Bridge features. Lots of tentative society building.

4. Margaret Atwood’s Year of The Flood and Oryx and Crake. Satirical, corporate, all-too-true gradual World-Breakdown. Loved discovering her through these books. Much preferred them to the Handmaid’s Tale- which anyway is Dystopian not Apocalyptic

5. Liz Jensen’s The Rapture;  Wonderfully written and great sense of foreboding throughout as a young asylum patient predicts the end of the world and messes with her therapist’s head. I have recycled more committedly since…

6. A Canticle for Laibowitz, Walter M Miller Junior. Very different and more layered than most World Ends- set thousands of years post-Holocaust when we’re back to Monks illuminating manuscripts again. Would also love to have read the novel I think is buried within here about the time of the nuclear Apocalypse and the physicist who caused it (The Leibowitz whose papers are excavated from a bunker).

7. Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion. I do not love all Zombie apocalyspes. However, this is a clever, funny, poignant first person Zombie narrative. Currently being made into a film.

8. On The Third Day, Rhys Thomas. Recent, slightly schlocky but ultimately drawing you in through it’s take on survival in a crap world- instead of Zombies and Vampires threatening the survivors you have randomly angry, destructive people banding together- which felt psychologically feasible. 

9. The Road- Cormac Mccarthy. Epitomising the Lonely Wanderers apocalypse. Beautifully, bleakly written and miserable. Second only to “Threads” in its refusal of consolation.

10.  The Death of Grass- John Christopher. Economical, easy read about a 40s British apocalypse. By the time I got to this one, I had finally absorbed the fact that humans will not necessarily all be nice to each other in the End Times. It was beginning to make me think I should watch Bear Grylls. And take notes.

11. Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now. Straight through, voicey narrative from the p.o.v of a teenage girl. Short (purposely) on Holocaust-detail, good on relationships under stress.

12. Zone One, Colson Whitehead. Another literary novelist overwriting his socks off, but good on work and colleagues and memory as ways of providing meaning which still ultimately proves pointless in the face of the end of the world (A nicely described plague/Zombie apocalypse).

13. Outpost, Adam Baker. Out in paperback now, this would usually be too much of a horror Zombie apocalyspe for my tastes but I liked the protagonist- an overweight female Vicar who takes up running round the oil platform she works on, to become fit enough to take on the scary, bitey people.

14. The Drowned World. J.G Ballard. Dreamy and floaty, and reminiscent of Nevil Shute in it’s refusal of hysteria. Several images from this have also stayed with me.

I would have liked to have read “I Am Legend”, but will wait til longer time has passed since I saw the film, have Christopher Priests reissue of “Fugue for a Darkening Island on my Amazon Wish List, and also devoured Adam Roberts’ recent “The Snow” and Alex Scarrow’s “Last Light” so fast they didn’t touch the sides, but did fill an Apocalypse-shaped hole. I read Julie Myerson’s “Then” while sat in Waterstones and found it too depressing even for me and Lauren Oliver’s Delirium was a fine young adult Dystopia rather than Apocalypse. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man is still unread on my iPad.

SCREEN

1. Jericho- American TV series I watched on DVD. Small town survives a nuclear attack on 12 American cities. In many ways a cosy Apocalypse, but nice conspiracy sub-plots give it more weight, even if it is never much elevated above the Waltons in terms of script/acting.

2. Survivors, BBC. I didn’t see the Terry Nation original, just the 2010/11 remake. Apart from some lonely-streets wandering in the very first episode, this also never reached the Bleak that 80s telly could-ditto the Day of the Triffids remake.

3. “I Am Legend”. Will Smith stars in this excellently pared down One Man Hopelessly Surviving in a Plague City film. Epitomises a pure, lonely end of world with flashes of false hope. Imagine the original Richard Matheson book is even better.

4. Threads. The original nuclear-Sheffield 80s BBC film. Milk bottles melting on doorsteps, council leaders likely to choke on their own cigarette smoke before the nukes get them. Realistic, close to home and with no redeeming hope or joy implied even years later. Humanity at it’s worst. So near the knuckle I had to have an Apocalyse-break for quite a while afterwards.

5. Children of Men. Probably more of a Dystopia- but loved this film based on the PD James book. Just the right flavour of “Everything’s Wrong And Will Never Be Right” but still with good folks like Michael Caine trying to make a post-fertile women world better, Really clever direction from Alfonso Cuaron.

6. War of the Worlds (remake), The Day After Tomorrow, The Numbers- all recentish Hollywood films with good building-collapsing bits but not much else to recommend them.

7. The Walking Dead- American TV series starring Andrew Lincoln from This Life as a Sheriff in a Zombie-infested world. S’alright. Nothing really lived up to the series-advert image of him walking into a deserted city on his own, or waking up  in a deserted-wrecked hospital. I think there’s a really good HBO Apocalypse series still to be made (Mad Men Post Plague?)

8. Contagion- This year’ disease film with Gwyneth Paltrow as the Index victim. Yes there was supermarket stockpiling and mass grave-digging, but the actual survival of humanity/the planet never seemed in doubt, so this was an average Apocalypse-lite for me, 

I haven’t yet seen Lars Von Triers Melancholia, which sounds like a nice floaty Apocalypse with added family misery.

So, this isn’t an exhaustive list, just a record of one person’s EndTime diet over a year- but to summarise, here’s my top three bleakest and top three cheeriest;

TOP THREE “APOCALYPSES ARE BAD, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE, BUT IT’S PROBABLY FOR THE BEST BECAUSE THERE IS NO MEANING”;

1. Threads

2. The Road

3. The Death of Grass

TOP THREE “APOCALYPSES MIGHT ACTUALLY BE A GOOD THING BECAUSE,AW SHUCKS,HUMANS AIN’T SO BAD”;

1. The Stand

2. Earth Abides

3. Jericho