Tag Archives: poetry

I know what I like

Last night the last Find The Right Words before the summer, which means my last before I go off to uni in September 😥 It’s a bittersweet feeling, because I’m so sad to be leaving this regular poetry night that has been such a regular part of my month, and played such an important role in my development as a writer and performer… but it was a great show. This is less of a review, more a train-of-thought collection of feelings and ideas that came to me while I was watching the open micers and Buddy Wakefield’s incredible headline set.

~*~

Last night I really tried to pinpoint what it was about certain performances that I liked so much, so here are some of those ideas. In Buddy Wakefield’s performance, it was the way his dialect came through that really made it feel personal and direct and unique and broke down boundaries. It was how animated and energetic he was throughout the performance, the way he used movement in a way that mirrors his vivid and unexpected use of language. I noticed that in the open mic performances and Buddy Wakefield and in other poets that I like, a common feature is the use of an anecdote or a story or a specific memory as an anchor for a poem, as a trigger for memory and meaning – I realised some of my first and favourite poems are written in this kind of way. I think I appreciate these poems differently, too, like some poems the words wash over me and it’s nice don’t get me wrong but like anecdotes and stories and memories keep my attention better, I think. And I have also been thinking about how good artists engage the audience. One of the things I’ve noticed that’s most significantly different between myself and other newish poets and the more established, experienced acts is the ability to engage the audience, and I’m not sure if it’s just a skill that comes with time. But I have some ideas, I think laughter helps (and can work even if most of your work is serious). You can explicitly involve an audience by giving them a ‘chorus’ to join in with . You can unite people in breathing. You can directly address them in your poem. You can use common experience to make your work relatable.

~*~

Tangled thoughts, but I think they’re useful.

Mother Stone

St. Ives is the bleached white Tate, the

hazy, colliding seasky blues and,

peeking through

gaps in grey monoliths,

the soft green of Hepworth’s garden.

 

This is stone

in conversation, composed

so the towers may whisper over the heads of their bulbous cousins

who are cut along the natural grain

so voices may slip across the ancient lines in their skin –

life is not kept in

our faces when she reduces us to pure movement;

the swelling outline of a mother’s belly,

a dancer’s pulsing form.

 

We are far from the flat-faced Madonna and Child –

clinging

holy –

we never realised we were

infant

detached, matching each other’s contours,

distant and close as art behind glass.

 

~Ruby Kelman, 2016

‘Proper Poet’

This year, I have decided to be a ‘Proper Poet’. Whatever that means. Like, in my head a ‘Proper Poet’ is an artist, and an artist is someone who makes a living from their art. But since I made that decision I’ve been realising more and more that art and survival are not necessarily compatible.

I have been listening to poets and performers, overhearing their frustrations about touring 9 months of the year just to keep themselves afloat, their incredulity at being constantly expected to work simply for ‘exposure’; and trying to work out how on earth I could make a life out of art for myself.

Last night at Find The Right Words in Leicester I got to hear an extract from Paula Varjack’s new show, Show Me The Money, which asks the question “can you become and artist and still survive?”. She has interviewed artists at various stages in their careers and put together a ‘performance documentary’ exploring the relationship between art and money. It encapsulated a lot of the feelings I have about money (“sexy but toxic”) and brought home the realities of art as a career path. That, even when you are actually paid, the rate will not reflect the hours the writing, producing and editing takes. That to be a full-time artist is impossible for most people. But also that to have another job alongside your art doesn’t make you any less of an artist, no matter what people might think. That art is valuable and rewarding in its own right, and that it feels kinda soulless to sell it. But that the fact remains that people want art, but still aren’t prepared to pay.

All this money talk could make a person feel hopeless. But actually this morning I feel more energised to pursue the arts than ever before. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it’s the honesty. So many people continue as artists without the financial incentive and there is something… pure about that, something that suggests art is immeasurably more worthwhile than some other career paths. It means that I will need to think seriously about how to balance doing what I love with making enough to survive (and that is scary), but I have come away with a sense of comfort in knowing there is joy and solidarity in making art and that is enough to keep me going.
I made another post a few months ago summarising my feelings about working for free: you can read it here.

This week

This week is possibly the most important, and most exciting, of my life as a poet. At the start of this year, I decided that I would start taking my poetry more seriously, and a couple of weeks later I have 3 gigs and 2 workshops in the space of seven days (as well as a RJFP shift and a pub crawl…). I am ridiculously excited. I am also kinda terrified. I mean two of them are open mics and it’s not like I’ve never done this before. But I’m preparing for the longest sets I’ve ever performed in front of new, big audiences, I’m running workshops at my old secondary school where I haven’t been in two years and I’m going to try and sell some little collections of my poetry for the first time too.

So if you’d like to come and support me, here are the dates and info about my performances this week –

Tuesday 19th January: open mic at The Y Theatre, Leicester

Wednesday 20th January: Find The Right Words, Upstairs at the Western, Leicester

You’ll also be able to buy my brand new tiny poetry collection, which is a little zine containing 6 of my love poems, for the bargain price of £1.50. (Perfect for Valentine’s Day, or something)

Remind me to reflect on this next Sunday…

On art and capitalism

This week I started volunteering with the Real Junk Food Project. From dealing with inexplicably rotten eggs and cooking without gas on my first two days, I learnt a lot about spontaneous problem-solving, as well as a whole new concept of paying for food. They work on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis, whereby you can give a money donation after your meal but can also offer your skills, time, energy and ideas in exchange for food. This ethos really speaks to me – I like legitimising the value of someone’s non-financial attributes as a way of building communities and side-stepping capitalist structures.

However, this realisation coincided with a newfound creativity. Over the past couple of weeks, I have become very focussed on my poetry and have been writing more, offering to run workshops, collecting testimonies, finding competitions… I am suddenly so fixated on the idea of being a poet professionally – and this is where I hit my dilemma.

Last month, my friend Jess posted about artists having a “collective responsibility” to insist on getting paid reasonably to destroy the idea that art is not a ‘proper’ career. Plus, I’ve been thinking a lot about how so often artists are expected to work just for “exposure” (ie for free). This attitude already means that the art world is very elitist, excluding almost all but those who have the wealth to pursue creative projects as a hobby.

And this is my problem. On the one hand, I want to share my skills and my art with others for free because undermining capitalism is a great thing. On the other, I can’t take down capitalism by myself and in the meantime me and other artists still need to survive within it. And in that respect I have a duty to poets and other art-makers to demand fair payment for the time and effort that goes into my work… I’m still working out how to strike the balance between ethics and survival. I’ll let you know if I get there.

 

Blackpool

Blackpool, July, 1946.

I imagine it was raining. Slowly, at first, in spits and spots, then all of a sudden all at once the heavens opened, scattering the couples cuddling on the seafront. I imagine that the heavy drops pulled on the bright lights on the pier just as they smudged Julia’s war paint, blurring the features beneath. Rain and tears mingled on her cheeks, becoming indistinguishable from each other. Lightning crackled and sparked overhead as thunder echoed Alfred’s roar…

Except… Mother Nature doesn’t always have this sense of ceremony. My own Blackpool was a doorstep on a night that was still and calm, where I basked in the warm glow radiating from suburbia’s bay windows whilst my home tore itself apart.

So perhaps the sun was shining and it was bright and clear on that northern street where I can see a boy who comes just up to my knee. He looks from Julia, to Alfred, to Julia as his father yells, “Who do you want to be with, John? Your mother, or me?”

A coin flips in John’s frightened head and he runs to his father’s arms, pauses, looks back, panics and carries on running. Then he hears his mother crying and wonders if he is allowed to change his mind. Before he can find out, I snatch him from that hot street because the only compromise is one where everyone loses. We cling to each other, John and I, and I stroke his hair and promise him lies to hide from the endless wondering ‘what if’.

He’s fifteen when we meet again, when we kiss but he goes too far so instead I insist we play guitar. He’s telling me about the woman who bought it for him. The beautiful, skittish almost stranger who plays him Elvis Presley and dances and smokes and laughs and couldn’t cope.

She’s with him, that’s just how it goes. But we find an old photograph album and there are the pictures of them and we see specious love that doesn’t exist and surely never has though the evidence defies it.

Next time, he’s seventeen and reeks of cigarettes, sweat and freedom in a black suit that doesn’t fit right. I offer my sympathies but my comfort is futile because this is beyond what I can fathom. Empathy is hard when you can’t possibly understand. So I clasp my hands and wish and wish that I could be better. There is only so far my empty embraces can go.

I felt invincible, forgetting my naivety and conceit. So I scrubbed until my fingers were raw and cracked and made a bed with crisp, white sheets and dabbed at his wounds and whispered, low, when he winced at the antiseptic. But I wound the bandages too tight and the infection flourished in the heat and all I did was make it worse by fussing.

So I don’t visit again until he’s just turned 30, when he doesn’t see me sitting in the corner of that white room where Alfred asks for money and forgiveness one last time.

Spoken word version here

Sometimes

It started with a list of boys. Your older brother boys, hero boys, boys-in-my-class boys whose initials I wrote in giggling code and you swore on your life you wouldn’t tell.

So when it really started when I was 12 I’d been in love before. She was a dancer, pretty, older, three things I wasn’t. She played the romantic lead so I told myself it was him I was defending when they said she couldn’t sing, him who made me blush when I swear she smiled at me once, him whose name I wrote, sighing, in my attentive darling diary.

But then it continued, with someone closer. The nearness of it all made my skin shiver and my head tie itself in knots while the rest of me caught myself charmed by the tiny patch of hair the dye missed and quietly hyperventilating when our skin touched.

I was surrounded, trapped, by friends with boyfriends who texted them in lessons even though we still cared about the rules and kissed and grew up faster and the Stockholm Syndrome consumed me and I thought that was what I wanted too.

So, he occupied the next year and a half and I screamed about it because this one made sense in some stupid, hopeless way and I could get a laugh from being obsessive and desperate. Towards the end, the feelings evaporated and I used the space it cleared in my mind and thought about girls instead.

And then it was her and I’m sorry for that. We were porcelain and I smashed it and with all this glue and string I can’t put the pieces back together.

Then I tried to introduce myself for the first time with my new face.

But the words got trapped in my skull, where they festered and turned themselves over and over until they lost all meaning. Then they plummeted down to the pit of my stomach and curdled and churned. They robbed the air from my lungs and got lodged in my throat. They got stuck in my teeth and held down my tongue and numbed my fingers and welled behind my eyes and I took a deep breath and typed ‘I like girls sometimes’.

Then, her. She was frightened and I don’t blame her. It tore me apart and I cried a hurricane but she seems happy with him so… so am I.

And now there is she. I am fearless and protective and I swear this isn’t me.

Because there are still times when I wake up and dissolve into worry because the world scares me. And there are things you say that make me wince but I have to keep the argument that can refute all yours folded up and pushed to the back corner of my mouth. When I close my eyes, my fear pulses through my head, beautiful and putrid.

But it’s okay because I still can’t get it right.

Now I need to pick a new name, a title, but there’s none that really fits. Even the one I like, the one that encompasses all my love and rage, is problematic. I can’t get my tongue around it and it makes people shiver and anyway I resent that I can be so misdefined when all I need to really say is I like girls, sometimes.

Spoken word version here