A Short Play About Brexit and European City of Culture 2023

Predictably, British cities will not now be able to bid to be European City of Culture in 2023. I would contend that planning it amidst Brexit would have been a disaster. Like planning a holiday with the ex you’re divorcing.

A Tale of Fewer Cities

A meeting room somewhere. For the purposes of this short play the EU is a man called Steve who the cities are divorcing. Steve is not there in person. His representative, a gerbil called Alan is speaking for him.

Leeds: Steve will still be bringing sandwiches for the journey won’t he?

Alan: Steve can’t commit to that. Catering arrangements are uncertain at this time.

Dundee: Okay. Don’t worry. We’ll make some herring ones.

Alan: Bringing them might not be as simple as you think.

Milton Keynes: Will we go on the beach like last time?

Alan: Steve says he hopes that you’ll have done a risk assessment that he would approve of.

Nottingham: I just can’t wait, I can’t wait. Is Steve looking forward to it too? Has he told everyone about my lacey outfit with chrome trim?

Alan: Steve has been very busy in meetings but I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.

Belfast/Derry: We might have some issues crossing our borders. Can Steve help us out?

Alan: Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Cities: We need another 57 meetings with Steve to plan our lovely holiday. Sometimes we think that he’s not actually looking forward to it anymore. It’s almost as if he feels like he can’t be arsed to put the time in. Alan, can you tell him he’s got to stop spending all his time talking about our divorce and look at travel brochures with us?

Alan: I think you should read your marriage vows again.


The Pitfalls of Using Other People’s Voices in Poetry

The young poet said he hoped to write about female, Muslim refugees, though he was not female, Muslim or a refugee. “I’ll ask them about the stuff they do that everyone does, like playing table tennis and stuff…”. His voice trailed away, as the section he’d put on the form began to look more like a blatant bid to tick a funding box than to have a cultural conversation. 

There are pitfalls in writing about other people in your work. I’ve been thinking about how not to fall into them.

Most of the workshops I run, whether that’s poetry or comedy or radio, involve people writing and speaking their own words. That, for me, is where the excitement and power lies. When people are using their voices they will use them elsewhere too. It means that when a project’s aims are a bit woolly or don’t quite fit with my values then I can still think that there has been an unleashing of voices which can critique and resist and protest and dialogue. Lots of funders will say they like this. Even if they don’t really.

Perhaps it means I’m sometimes too optimistic about the possibility of those voices being unleashed elsewhere. There are so many leashes now. Schools which have less space for creativity, creative workplaces which are hard to enter if you’re not rich. But it also means I look at arts and creative projects which claim to hear the voices of participants with a sceptical eye. I don’t get verbatim theatre and shows which are based on the words of “community groups we worked with”. Not really. In many cases, they seem to take the words of others and make cultural and economic capital out of them for directors and actors (I know not ALL of it does this, and it can be a way to tell stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told).

However, I risk being hypocritical. I’m always going on about hearing the voices of others in my projects, and I wonder how often those voices get lost. In order to try mitigate this, I was guided by a particular methdology when I did a project for Hull 2017. It helped me be clearer about what I was trying to do, and the traps I might fall into. I shared it with the writers I was working with. I had been using it in my PhD too and I’m going to briefly detail here in case it can give any other writers and performers food for thought.

Dialogical performance is a tool used by in performance ethnography (and laid out by Dwight Conquergood). Ethnography is a tool used by anthropologists, among other close observers of culture. Users of it acknowledge that the culture (ethno) they’re studying is both re-constructed and constructed in their writing (graphy) of it. It’s a novelistic, journalistic way of doing social sciences; which is why it appeals to me. Performance ethnographers basically, in extreme summary, perform their fieldwork. Both so that it becomes bodily and visceral and can be felt by a live audience, and so that it gets out beyond only sitting in notebooks or universities. Some people have argued that stand-up comedians can function as performance ethnographers- highlighting and querying the rules of their culture. It’s therefore logical to argue, as I have, that performing poets can too. Again in extreme summary, critical performance ethnographers don’t just go “Here is a reflection of how this culture works” they also go “Here is how power works in this culture, and we would like the oppressed and marginalised to have more of it, including by participating in speaking and writing about it in order to shift it”. They recognise performance as what Conquergood called a “moral act”- even, or especially when it says that it isn’t one. That seems to fit well with the approach of many poets to participatory arts projects.

Conquergood says that ideally dialogical performance is a conversation with the other. You don’t pretend you’re not there, with your own voice which is filled with ideologies and biases and sensitivities; “It’s all about them!” but you don’t dominate. “Instead of speaking about them, one speaks to and with them” as he says.  You’re aiming for a central place between identity (“I just get them, we’re the same!”) and difference “I’ll never understand their alien-ness”). Also between commitment (“I will save them!”) and detachment (“They’re on their own”).

He lays out the four positions you can occupy at the extremes of those poles:

The Custodian’s Rip-Off

It becomes all about you. “There’s great material here” you think as you selfishly plunder and appropriate stuff that isn’t really yours in a spirit of using things (and words and people), rather than genuine inquiry.  Conquergood gives the example of a cultural group who performed a Hopi Indian dance “To preserve it”, despite the objections of Hopi elders.

The Enthusiast’s Infatuation 

Too much identification with the other, here. “Aren’t we all basically the same!” you cry as you dash in for a short time, with a superficial appreciation of the Other, which belittles them and their genuine differences from you.

The Curator’s Exhibitionism 

Making the difference of the other into something stuck and flat. Conquergood says this is like the “Noble Savage” attitude of anthropologists of old who collected their artefacts in order for people to marvel at their astounding weirdness. It puts you and them into a different moral universe and suggests the twain will never meet.

The Skeptic’s Copout 

The skeptic wouldn’t be doing a poetry project involving the words of others, one would hope, because they are both detached and entrenched in their difference from others. They’re probably just conducting Brexit negotiations or something.

I was going to write about how I tried to use dialogical performance when I worked on the show Queens of the North with the writing collective “Women of Words” from Hull. But maybe in another blog. Except, just to say, in brief, I felt that I, as a non-Hull woman, was not going to be the best person to capture the voices of women of Hull, even though I’d proposed it as a project following on from my work at the Women of the World festival in the city. (Possibly I sometimes fell into the “Skeptic’s Copout” position). But I thought that if I facilitated other women writers from Hull, then together we could speak with and from Hull. We also went off and spoke to particular groups we were interested in (For example, Vicky spoke to female boxers, Cassandra spoke to the partners of oil rig workers, Michelle spoke to foreign students, Julie spoke to Mums of children with disabilities) and came up with pieces which included our and their voices). I would say I facilitated the show, rather than directed it, in a dialogue with all of us as writers and performers. It was also a dialogue with the city and with past and present. Lynda for instance, used her past in a Hull girl band to tell a story of the city in which that sixties story is now being told as history.  It became a dialogue with the audience who would both have identified with and felt a difference from some of the stories told. It stirred strong emotions for them and there was a standing ovation at the end- so they were very committed! But I think we also built in enough spaces where audiences could reflect in a more detached way about the issues that have impacted the women of Hull.

Of course, we still will have fallen into various pitfalls. Also, of course, not everybody associated with a piece of work might be operating in the spirit of dialogical performance (“Women? Northern ones? We haven’t got enough of those. Let’s get em on!”). But I think we did manage to find a middle space so that as well as a performance, we were holding a truly intimate conversation.

Nightingales, #MeToo and Poetry-World

Myself and other poets have spoken recently about younger women poets asking us “Was this okay?…” of things that clearly weren’t. My story is sometimes confusing and fragmented but the “This is not okay” moments have become clearer to me now I have written them down. I am not talking about relationships that implode and cause awkwardness which is particularly acute because the poetry scene is so small. I am not talking about clumsy advances by poets who overestimate their attractiveness to their fellow word-weavers. I am talking about (mainly but not exclusively older,male) poets who serially abuse their power and experience in poetry-world in relation to (mainly but not exclusively younger, female) poets.

Sometimes we know more than we know. I used to tell the story I am going to tell now as a love story or as a coming of age story. But all along, it was a story about power, and deep down I recognised this. In jokey emails soon after I met the man I sometimes called the Miserable Poet, I began mentioning the myth of Philomela. She was a Princess of Athens and her brother-in-law King Tereus raped her. She then wove this story into a tapestry and sent it to his wife, her sister. In fury Tereus cut out Philomela’s tongue (In some versions, he cut off her hands). The sisters join together to get revenge and Tereus ends up unknowingly eating his son in a pie. Philomela is then transformed into a nightingale (in some versions, a swallow) and continues to sing about what Tereus did to her. The myth is recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and pops up everywhere from T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland, to a Margaret Atwood novella and a Timberlake Wertenbaker play. It is a story about male violence and female power. It is a story about being silenced and resisting this, as well as one about transforming traumatic stories into other forms and the power of speaking out together. Surely Philomela is the muse of the #MeToo movement.

One translation of Metamorphoses has her vow:

Still my revenge shall take its proper time,
And suit the baseness of your hellish crime.
My self, abandon’d, and devoid of shame,
Thro’ the wide world your actions will proclaim.

T.S Eliot recounts how she speaks even when the world finds what she has to say unpleasant:

The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug, jug” to dirty ears.

Having the Philomela myth as a sort of reference point is not really a good sign for a relationship. It’s like having “Smack My Bitch Up” as an “Our Song”. At some level I recognised that this man, seventeen years older than me, was dangerous. However, I didn’t have a conscious way of describing how. On the surface he was charming and engaging. People liked him. But some recognised patterns in his dealings with women that troubled them. One friend called him “The Vampire”. I had just started doing poetry open mikes. He had been in the scene twenty years. He ran a magazine and a small publishing house, promoted gigs and made a full-time living as a poet. He told me I was a real poet. Booked me for a gig and asked me to run two of his workshops on a primary school project.

The prospect of running a poetry workshop in a school sounded exciting and terrifying. I’d never even been in a poetry workshop in a school, unless you count that time a student teacher got us to write haiku and I elongated “It’s snowing” over seven syllables. This would be my first proper poetry work. In at the deep end, but I thought I could do it. I’d only been doing poems for a year or so, starting off in open mikes and then getting more and more paid gigs. This seemed like an exciting step into a new world. We’d also both been invited to join a poetry group called the Poetry Vandals. A kind of rock band, or maybe awkward indie band, of now seven poets who performed in pubs and at festivals all over the North East and beyond.

Aged thirty I’d been coasting as a radio newsreader for a few years. Suddenly now, I knew lots of creative people. In fact, I was one of those creative people. I was using my voice to speak my own words instead of news bulletins in which Tony Blair, Brad Pitt and the Angel of the North competed for the minute’s space I had on the radio to sum up the world in a way which wouldn’t put anybody off the dance tracks or carpet adverts. I had what seemed to be the makings of a new way of earning money, somewhere to practice being a poet and better, I was part of a group. Scott, one of the other members affectionately called it a dysfunctional family. To me, it was a community and opened doors to an even wider community of writers, performers and musicians. After living in a bedsit while doing my A-levels, then working long, unsociable hours as a radio journalist and not having much outside the job throughout my twenties, suddenly knowing people outside of that was heady and joyous. People who also liked words. Who would talk about them and perform them and share them with others. People who liked my words. Finally, I was living. Many people feel like this when they join poetry communities. They are spaces where people find they are accepted for first time-spaces where vulnerable people feel safe.

Me and the Miserable Poet stayed up all night talking after a gig. Something was happening between us. I fell in love with him like I was falling in love with this new world opening up. Nothing could happen between us. He was married, though he said he was practically separated. Even I, with my very limited romantic experience beyond two long-term boyfriends, knew this was a red flag. We emailed, we had coffees, one chaste kiss. He said he would like to publish a collection of my poems. I was doing lots of gigs at the time for free or small fees. Enjoying trying new things out, finding my voice. He wrote a review of them for a local music magazine. Said my performance was “patchy”. This was the first time I’d been publicly reviewed. I asked him why he’d said that. I thought I’d done alright. He said one of his friends had wondered why people were saying such good things about this new performer. He didn’t want to seem biased. Anyway, I had been patchy. This felt wrong. But I don’t heed this other red flag.

Then he stormed out of coffee with me after a disagreement that was apparently about the value of poetry slams. He told the poetry group he was leaving because of this disagreement. He didn’t reply when I asked him what had happened or about the workshops I had been scheduled to do. I was devastated that I had offended him and that we weren’t in touch. So much so that I didn’t really register the way that this had impacted on my burgeoning new career and my place in this new and supportive community. Or that the promised collection of poems would never happen. Actually, because on the whole the community is supportive, it didn’t impact on that element at first. Beyond the gossip and the whispering. People saw something as simple or as complicated as two adult poets having a bit of a thing. Like me then, they didn’t consciously read who had power and who didn’t. I was still doing radio news shifts but poetry had become my life now. The city was refracted through poetry and poets. I teamed up with Karl, another of the Poetry Vandals and we started running workshops together and applied for a big Arts Council grant. We’d help other people find their voices too.

After a few months, Kevin got back in touch. He said that he’d stormed off because he loved me. I was genuinely stunned. I decided I was now the heroine in a tragic love story. We were mythic. This helped me not notice some other red flags that started flying. I began to heed wiser voices who said to keep away from him. But I became more interesting to him when I was withdrawn. He invited himself onto a Poetry Vandals trip abroad to perform at a festival. We were all surprised and perturbed. They thought his presence was something to do with me, but he said it wasn’t. I have written before about what happened there on the night of my thirtieth birthday. He was sad and behaving erratically because he had moved out of his marital home. As well as thinking I’m in a tragic love story, I have a saviour complex. I follow him to his hotel room. He asks me to lay down, to take my clothes off so we can just cuddle. I believe him literally, as I believe most things he says. It will take years before I recognise the way he ignored my “No”s was yet another abuse of power between us. In this instance there is a name for this abuse of power- it is called rape, but I don’t know this yet, despite the Philomela references in our emails which had already been screaming out from my unconscious. The next morning we met for coffee. He says we’re soulmates of the brain. Years later I will say in a comedy show that even I recognised this as code for “I do not fancy you at all”. A month later we meet up back in Newcastle and he says he has fallen in love with somebody else and will be moving to where she lives, though not to be with her.

I am writing this story and at some level I can see it is a story of a relationship between a manipulative man at a troubled moment in his life and an overly impressionable person who needed to read more books like “He’s Just Not That Into You” or do therapy or start internet dating. I did all of these things eventually. But the thing that means that it has impacted my life for a lot longer than it should have, is that he was a poet and I was a poet and my working life was in his hands for a while. The abuses of power were played out in an environment that was where we worked, as well as where we creatively expressed ourselves. I am fairly sure he saw himself as an equal co-star with me in a particularly crap, ultimately irrelevant, bit of his own tragic love stories. But what I also now see is the power imbalances. The way he offered me work then took it away. Said he would publish a collection and then didn’t. Reviewed me badly in public. Told other poets things about me that turned out not to be true. Came along to a festival where I was working. Although this sounds like a list of grievances, I have rarely seen or catalogued it this way. I just accepted it as the way things were in a situation where there was no redress and no Human Resources Department for poets.

Some other things happened. This story is already too long and detailed. The power imbalance was no longer the key thing. It was a dysfunctional connection that I still thought could be redeemed. Needless to say I shouldn’t have said yes to his suggestion that he publish my poems about him, alongside his new lover’s poems about him, and his own about both of us (well, probably mainly about himself, to be fair). Needless to say that didn’t happen anyway. For a decade we have mostly avoided each other. Nodded in the street in Edinburgh a couple of times. He has published, without acknowledgment, poems that rewrite at least two of my poems. The poems are in our collections. One of these poems was about the rape. So he literally overwrote and stole my poem about that experience. After a rare sighting of him in a pub in his city, one of my posters was defaced with the word “Liar”. I have avoided countless events where I thought he might be, or where there would be people he tried to discredit me to, presumably in case I ever told the story as a power imbalance. I have since met and worked with many wonderful people in poetry-world but my trust in the “scene” to hear the voices of women like me, to be a supportive space, has been shaken. I have tried to speak out before, but I have never named him before. Now, I am joining the chorus of women who are raising their voices.

We nightingales are transformed into something that does not quite get to have the qualities of rational, human discourse. Our voices are alternately beautiful and terrible. A seductive song of patterns we all recognise. An ugly song that gets bogged down in details and fragments and is dismissible as vengeance. But it is inviolable and it will not stop. It needs to be continuously re-heard and re-translated. It must be recognised as the warning that it is.

Power in poetry is relative. Running an open mike isn’t like running ICI. However, if you are in a position to give or withhold opportunities to somebody else then you are in a position of power over them and should be aware of not taking advantage of this. Because poetry, and other localised creative scenes shade from “amateur” to professional with many grey areas in between, it is hard to talk about professional codes of conduct. But power relationships exist across the spectrum and there are many blurred lines between what for some people is a hobby and what for others is work. Career and financial opportunities can be at stake, as well as, even more vitally, people’s wellbeing and confidence.

I have heard stories of residential tutors serially sleeping with their tutees, of women being pestered with late-night emails, of workshop leaders harassing their students, of mentors inappropriately touching their mentees, award judges making passes at shortlisted poets. The people doing this stuff are usually involved in patterns of similar behaviour. It isn’t usually a one-off, or a love that cannot be resisted. There are many small-scale poetry promoters, tutors, publishers, reviewers and other gatekeepers. Their activities are often unregulated. I am calling on them (us) to sign up to a code of conduct that will be drafted by the poetry community like the one being drawn up by the theatre community in the wake of the Weinstein revelations. I am calling on other Philomelas to keep speaking out and weaving your tapestries. We will hear you. We will believe you. We will help things change.

Still a Happily Child-Free Unicorn

Still A Happily Child-Free Unicorn

I was asked on Good Morning Britain this morning to talk about whether women face too much pressure to have children. It came up because Jennifer Aniston had written a magazine piece about how she is both “body shamed” and “baby shamed” when commentators obsessively wonder whether a picture of her with a bloated tummy means she is “finally” pregnant.

The nature of live morning telly is such that it’s hard to get chance to say much in what’s set up as a “debate” with Richard Madeley (whose randomness I love) chucking in random stories like about what happened when he asked Gaby Roslin if she was pregnant (and she didn’t know she was, but she was). Also I was “Up against” the right wing commentator Ann Atkins who, though she is churchy and thinks women should have kids, was reluctant to agree that people should pester Jennifer Aniston about whether she’s going to have kids.
Anyway, the thing I’d love to have said is that this narrative is a bit of a red herring. The story in which “Poor Jen” doesn’t have children, and in which I sometimes still get asked why I don’t/didn’t want them, is by the by. So, people are rude and find it harder to get to grips with women who don’t conform, nothing new there. Mothers get MUCH worse mithering about their choices- because this is all part of the wider issue of society still getting too much of a say over women’s bodies and women as supposed to be both “productive” and “reproductive”. It’s I think, much harder to be a mother in a society that is STILL not set up so that women get a fair crack of the whip at work (gender pay gaps, no allowances for career breaks etc). In a society that stigmatises single mothers. In a society which carries on the historic patriarchy of the church in which women’s roles are to be an Ideal Mother and a Productive Worker, preferably all at once. No matter how much austerity or lack of social privilege make it difficult. It’s also much harder to want children and not be able to have them for biological/social/economic reasons.

Compared to that, being expected to want kids is a minor irritant. What’s more destructive is that we are so rarely allowed to see and hear the narrative of the HAPPILY child-free woman. The women (AND MEN) who choose not to be parents and still do good stuff. Are still “complete”. Have had a variety of different experiences which were fulfilling in different ways. I don’t think it’s better or worse not to have children and its too simplistic to say “But it’s all down to individual choice” because there are all sorts of social factors driving this stuff (In a way you have to be able to afford to have kids- but you also have to be able to afford NOT to have kids). A New Statesman article once suggested happily child free woman are like unicorns (as in, mythical). Of course, there are LOADS of us. But we rarely get heard because we’re drawn into “Poor Jen” type narratives. It also makes it difficult for parents to then talk publicly about how challenging parenting is (I’m really not convinced by Ann Atkins’ assertion that she’s never met anyone who regrets having children- just people who don’t feel they can say so).

We don’t necessarily need people to be more tactful in how they talk about issues of parenthood and babyhood and make it taboo to ask people about their choices – we just need to hear a greater variety of stories and allow people to be honest. I’d love Jennifer Aniston to be able to come out and say “I’ve never had kids and I wake up every day in my lovely child-free apartment and thank my lucky stars I’m not a parent. Plus also I had a ginormous burrito for dinner and am now a bit bloated, whilst still conforming to Hollywood star standards. So don’t worry about me too much- cast your attention to wider structural issues of inequality”. Or, failing that, give me more than two minutes on telly and I’ll say it. (I sort of did in The Price of Happiness, my Radio 4 show- still on iPlayer…).

Open Letter re Disparaging Autism Humour

Dear Professor Attwood,

I am writing this open letter following your talks at the National Autistic Society’s Autism and Mental Health conference in Reading on the 23rd May. I have read of considerable discomfort and distress from autistic members of your audience because of humour aimed at them (who said they felt “abused” and “exploited”) and subsequently engaged in social media conversations around the issue.

It’s of interest for me because I’m a researcher in humour (currently writing up my PhD at the University of Leeds) and also a professional stand-up poet, having just recorded my second comedy series for BBC Radio 4.

I’m also currently seeking an official diagnosis of autism and have done work for the National Autistic Society as an ambassador.

I’m aware that you’ve fielded complaints about your use of humour which makes autistic people the butt of your jokes before (For example, here: https://asdculture.wikispaces.com/Tony+Attwood+is+a+Bully%3F) but I wanted to share with you some psychology studies you may or may not be aware of. I’d particularly like to draw attention to social psychologist Thomas Ford’s recent work on disparagement humour. I attach an article which also has further links to his excellent papers but, in extreme summary, he concludes that when marginalised people are joked about, it gives other people a sense that it’s okay to disparage them too. (Link here: http://theconversation.com/psychology-behind-the-unfunny-consequences-of-jokes-that-denigrate-63855)

As a professional comedian, who places great value on the use of humour to confront difficult issues, and sees it as something that shouldn’t just be light and fluffy but can be used to break taboos, hold people’s attention and shake up dull academic presentations, I am the very last person to ask someone to stop using it, and very much admire people who are good at it- as it sounds like you are.

But I believe studies like Ford’s are a great illustration of how having the skills to deploy humour comes with power and responsibility- as do those of being an expert in your field who, I’m aware, has done much good for Autistic people and who is listened to with respect.

I think you could still use humour in your presentations, and get just as high a laughter rate, but without consistently making significant numbers of autistic people feel so upset. You would just need to consider more carefully (and with the savvy of a professional stand-up) how to take account of the fact that you are speaking to some sections of your audience as a “You” and some as a “We”. Stereotyping that minority we, who are already a stigmatised group, is as fraught with offence as the strategies of sexist and racist comedians who thankfully no longer get mainstream airtime. However, there are laughs to be had from specific situations you’ve found funny, from the stigma that Autistic people face and the quirks of NTs. As well as, I’m sure, your own quirks and idiosyncrasies.

I’m afraid the reactions of your audience members suggest that you’re not “laughing with”, but rather “laughing at”, (certainly by definition if they’re not actually laughing with you) and by using stereotypes and caricatures of autistic people, you’re “Othering” them.

I’m aware of the sad irony of writing a painfully earnest post about humour. I make audiences laugh all the time in real life and have sometimes inadvertently caused offence myself and resent the idea that I should forever walk on eggshells. Someone will always be offended. I don’t think comedy should be safe. But if I was consistently getting complaints from a group of people, over a period of years (There were at least five people on Twitter who talked about being upset at that one event alone), particularly stigmatised people who I was helping in other areas of my work, then I would rethink my comic strategies. Perhaps come to the International Society of Humor Studies conference and hear some current research (In Montreal this year, I’m sure you can think of plenty of good Canadian jokes), or attend a stand-up workshop (maybe I should start running them for the ever-growing numbers of men who inadvertently offend conference-goers).
I am making this an open letter via my blog so that it can be shared by others and will be copying in the NAS, as I would hope that it is of concern to them that a speaker is deeply offending some of the people they’re set up to help and advocate for.

It’s also quite a big thing for me to do this openly, as I am not officially “out” as seeking diagnosis. However, I have noted how often adult Autistic women in particular have their voices silenced in public discourse, and felt I had something useful to add here.

I hope you’ll consider what I’ve said and wish you all the best and many future laughs at your talks, which I’ll look forward to attending in person one day (while hopefully not feeling I’m being laughed at, in connection with my autism. That’s something reserved for people I’m comfortable with, rather than when I’m in a minority among an audience with more power than me. I’m also happy to laugh at myself). Perhaps you’d reciprocate and come to one of my shows one day.

All best

Kate Fox

How To Get Paid As a Poet 

I gradually picked this stuff up as I went along. Then I forgot I knew it. It seemed like stuff I always knew. Sometimes we can forget that there are people going “I want to do this-how do I start?”. Underneath it all of course there’s “Is it feasible?” “What can I actually earn?”. I’d say it’s better if you start the steps below when already earning money doing something else. They can take time and resources. I’m acutely aware they’ll be harder to access for some than others. Though my emphasis on being able to do paid gigs partly comes because that then makes it accessible to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to take the time to develop as poets. My paid poetry work enabled me to take the time to become a better poet. 
How poets become semi/professional poets has come up a couple of times this week in various contexts. Can be harder to answer as someone who has been one for 11 years full-time. But perhaps I should put something on my website about possible routes. Am I missing some? 
1. Enter poetry competitions. Small and large. Writing comps and slam comps. Travel further afield if you can. The aim is to have your work seen/heard. 
2. Develop your work. Read and write as many poems as you can, see and speak as many poems as you can. When people start offering you paid work, this can be a sign you’re getting better. Or at least, more payable. 
3. Connect with development schemes and awards whose function is to signal that you’re the future. The Eric Gregory award/New Writing North awards/Verb new voices. 
4. Look at what poets a step or two above the ladder than you are doing and see whether that route’s for you. 
5. Develop your work more. And more. Go on workshops, get a bursary for an Arvon course.
6. Make things happen. Start a gig so you have stage time and make connections with other poets at all levels. Run groups or workshops for others, start a festival or a magazine. 
7. Develop your own poetry projects and apply for Arts Council funding-for a show or a project working with particular people. 
8. Take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. Consider being on a bill with one or two other poets and sharing slots. 
9. Get plugged in to local and national opportunities and funding. Subscribe to newsletters (I think I’m on New Writing North’s and the Arts Council’s). 
10. If you start getting paid gigs/workshops, consider saying no to unpaid ones. Or at least, asking for payment.
11.Present your work like a professional poet. For some that will mean having a book (if not via a publisher then a decently self published one). For nearly all that will mean having a website. Possibly a reasonable quality video of you live gigging. Maybe at very least a business card.

Lass War

I have had the idea of spoofing man-heavy Northern Powerhouse photos rattling round in my head for a while now.

Then with a ping and a click, it became clear the the time to do it was outside the Northern Powerhouse Conference in Manchester. Helen Pidd of the Guardian pointed out they’d sent out a press release highlighting 15 main speakers. All men. Now was the time to hold up a mirror to them. I’ve explained more about it here on my Campaign for Northern Voices site. Lass War Blog  I set this up before Brexit. Then worried it didn’t quite fully address the issues facing the North of England which are now even more urgently structural as well as cultural.



I asked for women to come join me with hi-vis, hard hats and man suits. It looks like a good few will be coming, despite the short notice and early hour (8am-8.30 am as delegates register and then at 1-2pm as they lunch on Tuesday 21st February). Another piece I wrote about it here for Standard Issue: (This piece is basically chapter 3 of my PhD condensed). Article Link

“Can something humorous have a serious point?” asks a journalist. Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.

Another thing that made me want to go for it is that Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer took place on February 21st and some commentators had said that was no coincidence. They do carnivalesque protest and that day is mardi gras- “Fat Tuesday”. A day of carnival.

(I though this was Pancake day but that’s actually next Tuesday 28th February though- a good day for tossers as I used to say in every Pancake Day news bulletin I read- aah, happy days).