Lifeboat- the Great North Passion poem

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Lifeboat

A Poem for the Great North Passion.

by Kate Fox with input from the Poetry Choir of South Shields Community School

Broadcast on BBC1 on Good Friday 2014

 

I think I’m kind of kind,

but like most of us I’m somewhere in between,

the serene giving of Mother Theresa

and the bumbling awkwardness of Mr Bean.

Your haircut makes me cringe.

Your phone is so old!

Hashtag

Kindness of Strangers

see Twitter and Galilee

or head to Ocean Road, South Shields

for a day out by the sea!

Fish and chips and curry,

Indian, Chinese and Thai,

anything you want to eat

is here for you to buy.

Icecreams!

Made by Minchellas all the way from Italy.

People came from all over the world to live here

and mostly, they get on.

Thirteen flavours of us.

The first ever lifeboat design,

saved a thousand from the Tyne,

was saved in turn by volunteers,

who wiped away the years

until it was bright blue and white

as the prom on a sunny day.

The seagulls pinch your pasty,

nick your chips,

sit on your head,

a clucking army

pecking bits of bread.

Haway, the Fair!

Dodgems, waltzers, a slide,

a rollercoaster, the party bus,

Life is a journey so come with us,

all the way from the Tyne Bridge.

The Great North Run!

Drummers thump heartbeats in time with the runners

photos of loved ones on their backs.

I had no breath, I’d gone puce,

my knees were weak,

my lungs no use but the crowd gave me

Water!

Jelly babies!

The will to carry on!

Give someone a lift if they break down

(But what if they’re a psychopath?)

Present a random person with a bunch of flowers

(But what if they just laugh?)

Help an old person when they fall over

(But what if you’re not medically trained?)

Burly blokes on boats is just one kind of brave.

but stick your neck out for others

it’s your own life you will save.

Your hair is lush

Let’s give your car a push

You don’t even need make up.

Do you want a hand with that shopping?

You smell of strawberries.

We will be your lifeboat and come to your rescue

\We will bring it back to YOU

so you can’t forget.

Treat others the way you want to be tret.

Treat others the way you want to be tret

A Tale of Two Babies

Let’s imagine two children have been born today, emerging into very different circumstances but having parallel lives. I hope they can both manage to transcend the difficult circumstances they will be born into. The deck is stacked against them.Neither of these hypothetical babies have been named yet, but for ease of reference, let’s call one of them Prince and one of them Princess. Prince will be born to a well off couple somewhere in the South. Princess will be born onto a council estate to jobless parents in one of the North East’s most deprived areas. Princess faces multiple disadvantages because of being born into poverty. She is likely to do less well at school, have poorer health and die earlier than Prince. Part of this will be because of the higher likelihood that her parents, on the breadline, will struggle to be physically there for her whilst they try to make ends meet, and  part of this will be because poverty itself is a predictor of lower birth weight, poorer educational achievement and a greater likelihood of disability and health problems. By the age of three she is likely to already be lagging nine months behind Prince and his peers at school. (Some of whom will literally be Peers). Who wouldn’t rather be Prince you might be thinking? Okay, except that both Prince and Princess will be the object of interest from the tabloids who won’t be very interested in the real person behind the caricature in either case. Both will be photographed and called names. Both will receive criticism for getting handouts from the state and because their parents haven’t got proper jobs. Both will find it difficult to pursue paths they really want to pursue because of the ingrained expectations of the society they are born into. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has already said that Prince will carry a great sense of responsibility and have a duty to the country. Nobody will expect anything very much at all of Princess. Maybe that will give her a sort of freedom that Prince lacks. Maybe it will become it’s own burden. Hopefully both Prince and Princess will be loved by their parents. Though in future years people may judge the type of love and family relationships they think are possible in their respective circumstances. The vast majority of children born in the next week will fall in the middle of these extremes. But the fact that Prince and Princess are going to be born with the kind of social obstacles that they’re going to have to overcome strikes me as a cruel anomaly in a supposedly civilised country. It’s not often that I find myself feeling sorry for Royalty but setting off on this analogy did the trick (a bit), My natural sympathies though, lay with the estimated third of children living in child poverty in many areas of the North East. A “People’s Pregnancy”? Perhaps we should be birthing new ideas to ensure that the “People’s Children” start on a level playing field.

Why Corrie’s Rape Verdict Was The Wrong One

My column from today’s Newcastle’s Journal 10/2/12

So, Frank Foster walked free from court after raping Carla Connor in Coronation Street. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t realise that soap characters are fictional. I wouldn’t go up to Barbara Windsor and ask her to pull me a pint, or expect a nice chat about railways with Roy Cropper- but I had hoped that in this instance Corrie would help create a new reality, rather than just reflect it. Only 6% of reported rape cases result in a conviction. The odds are heavily, heavily stacked against rape victims. The vast majority of incidents, like the one in Coronation Street, involve a rapist and victim who know each other. When I did my Edinburgh show, I received an email from Rape Crisis Scotland. It was about their hard hitting “No always means No” campaign. “As a strong woman performing in the public eye…” it began, seeming to make the assumption that performing poems during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival makes you strong rather than overly-optimistic about audiences for rhyming. It then asked me to send a quote to endorse the campaign. I looked at the myths they were wanting to explode and raise awareness of. Things like “A woman raped after consuming alcohol is to blame for not considering her own level of security”, “A woman raped by a man she is in a relationship with has automatically given consent for sex”, “A woman raped after consenting to any level of sexual activity is to blame for giving “mixed signals” “. They hit me like a sledgehammer. Many people I knew believed those myths. At some level I believed them. A man who once said to me “What did you expect, coming to my hotel room late at night when I was drunk?” believed them. I think what happened to me happens a lot. I was involved with the man in a way that the Facebook status “It’s complicated” was invented for. We hadn’t slept together. I hoped one day, when the time was right, we would. I hoped there’d be hearts and flowers and violins and an Angelic chorus. In the meantime there were discussions about poetry and misery late into the night. That was all good for the black polo neck jumper-clad part of me that thrived on that kind of thing. It was what I expected this particular night when I went to his hotel room. He asked me to take off my clothes. I said I would if we could hold hands across the bridge the next day in the city where we were gigging. He agreed. I did. Naively believing he meant it. Next thing, he was on top of me. I said “No”. Next thing he was inside me. I didn’t scream, protest or shout. “You wanted this anyway” I told myself. Just not here and now, like this. But it didn’t conform to my image of rape. There was no stranger in a dark alleyway, no shouting, no threats to kill. My mind didn’t say the word “Rape” until I read that rape myths website several years later. Even though I later confronted him about how I hadn’t wanted to sleep with him then and he had responded with “What did you expect, coming to a drunk man’s hotel room late at night?”- the word still didn’t make it past the censors in my head. My body knew though. It knew it had been entered without permission and made me hold back from him, scared in his presence, even when my mind was telling me I liked him because he could talk about Dr Who and T.S Eliot in the same breath. It also carried an anger that would harden into a knot in my stomach or erupt like a geyser when people made jokes about rape. I didn’t listen to my body very much then though, even though it’s signals turned out to be rarely wrong. Now, as I read the email from Rape Crisis, I was feeling the anger again. It was an anger at myself for not being the “Strong woman” they were calling me and having betrayed myself by letting this happen. This is the shame that many rapists will count on so that their victims will never tell. The shame that contributes to there only being a 6% conviction rate and countless unreported cases. “The Rapist” makes it sound as though he was some inhuman monster with evil intent. Instead of a man who had grown up with the same rape myths and boundary issues as me, but strength on his side and a rather less romantic notion of what could be done in a hotel room late at night in a strange city. Now I’m feeling the anger again as Coronation Street seems to have reinforced all this. They’ve congratulated themselves on raising the issues and on increasing calls to a rape hotline, but how many women are going to see the anguish that Carla Connor suffered as her personal life was raked up in court and the injustice of her attacker going free, and think that looks like something they’re willing put themselves through? Frank Foster will suffer soap justice because he’s going to end up being murdered, but that won’t happen to most women’s attackers. At the same time, in the likely absence of legal protection, I wish I had been aware of those rape myths earlier so that I could properly protect myself. I never did send that quote endorsing Rape Crisis Scotland’s campaign because I felt like too much of a fraud at having being called a “Strong Woman” when, as far as I can see, I’d been a naive drip. At last that ball of anger in my stomach has unfurled enough to propel me to write this down for the first time though. And I’ll send it to them.

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