TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!- ‘Me Too: Poetry Anthology’

Hello and welcome to Tomboy Bookclub! Todays’ book is not for the faint-hearted, but it will always be important, even if all the media attention surrounding its topic does disintegrate soon… it is ‘#MeToo: A Woman’s Poetry Anthology rallying against sexual assault.’

You would have to be living under a rock not to know by now what ‘#MeToo’ means, but for those who want a little clarification: #MeToo is a hashtag originally created by Tanara Burke (not the famous Hollywood advocates of the movement, important though their contributions raising awareness have been) for people who have suffered from sexual assault and harassment to share their experiences without shame or indignation, to rightfully expose those who have done wrong. Speaking out and reclaiming respect for the downtrodden to remedy a problem that for pretty much the whole of history has been swept under a rug, something that has been made to feel like a part of life ‘you have to get on with’.

This book collects poetry from a whole host of women poets, encapsulating myriad experiences and traumas in a united aim to confront horrific power imbalances, creating hope for a world less riddled with pain. Although focusing on the experiences of women and girls mainly (of course the reality is not clean-cut, woman= victim man= abuser, but to save agro can we all just accept that the majority of women will suffer harassment in ways that the majority of men will just never experience in the same scale or intensity), this anthology is not exclusionary. From childhood to adulthood, amongst the sheer number of different stories coping with pain through art- there is going to be a poem that tugs at your heart strings, whether you’ve ever had to say ‘me too’ or not.

Each section speaks to a different aspect of assault, whether in abuse’s preludes or aftermaths to try to give full scope to the long-lasting and immediate effects that sexual assault can have on a person. Children slowly learning not to trust strangers, girls harassed on their journeys home in school uniform, grown women shirking from husbands and cars that drive too close- it is harrowing how ubiquitously, how insidiously assault rears its head repeatedly over the course of so many lives.

Poetry speaks of before, when the world was trusted, and evil was a mere blot you were told existed but had never seen or felt with your own body. And poetry speaks of during- the helplessness, the pain, fear and worry- ‘why didn’t I fight?’ ‘Does this mean I wanted it?’ ‘It can’t be so bad if it left no bruise or cut?’ Then aftermath: the constricting and contradictory longings of love and to be alone, trying to heal and forget but being unable to let go. How fear stays in the body- no man slowing down the car to ask for directions will ever be an innocent encounter again.

The scope of this book is not limited to the most abhorrent of crimes either (though too many a poem forces it to the front just how wide the scale of child and domestic abuse actually is). Some poems speak of silent evil, made so familiar and ingrained deeply into what we are taught to expect, so that when the blow falls no hurt comes after. This book makes you realise that many people supress the past, hide it away so they no longer classify what happened as what it is- abuse. There are women reflecting back on their pasts and realising with a shiver that it is them too, after all these years batting hurt away like a fly at the dinner table.

I don’t want to list the number and severity of the stories the poetry tells- that makes these poets no longer in charge of how their stories are told, it degrades the thought that went into making these poems. So I will just reiterate again: these poems will make you harden up inside, cry, break down and want to howl.

But, it doesn’t end with an acceptance of cruelty and gendered violence as being forever. The book ends with hope, and that is what makes it most important as a tool for healing and learning. It celebrates the resilience and beauty of all those who can now hold their heads high in survival. All those different people, with different voices and stories and emotions, all helping each other to live a life unburdened by the self-hating insomnia cruelty causes.

And, the ‘#MeToo Anthology’ actually does help make a difference to the lives of survivors like those whose poetry is in the book. All proceeds from the book go towards helping Women’s Aid, a UK charity helping women suffering under domestic and sexual abuse.

I hope I have written clearly enough to communicate how necessary I feel this book is to educate and inspire action towards helping people. ‘MeToo’ demonstrates how it could be anyone, anyone you know, who could suffer next from this epidemic; and which will show no signs of dying out unless we continue to hear, acknowledge and believe the people who need our help.

All the poems in this anthology are so gut-wrenchingly honest and beautiful for it, despite the pain they came from that I wish I could post them here. But, as I can’t I have chosen one that really stood out to glitter in the blurry tears that kept falling when reading. Please do try to get a hold of a copy, and please always try to remember this anthology’s lesson: Don’t let the evil of this world keep you quiet, when somebody else needs your voice to help birth their own xoxox

Exile

Love as a yes to the world
is difficult when I am
besieged by fingers and thighs
and strong strangling arms.

I am bedraggled by the touch
of desire without invite
and I can choose to stay here
in full body armour,

Hard-eyed, light guttering,
here where pleasures are
but at a price, or I can
unpack my boots and go,

With a map and a plan
and a bag of good books
to where hills and sky and
sea collide unseen,

Go to where the snow falls
untouched but for where
my feet tread.
And yet, to stand alone

Under endless steely sky-
what use inner light then
if there is no one,
no one for miles, to see?

– Rachel Buchanan

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!! Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire!

Hello everyone! With the recent descent of Trump and his white supremacist cronies in the US mid-terms ( may they sink ever lower) and the higgeldy-piggeldy MESS that is Brexit, Windrush and Grenfell swamping the UK with arguments over who is or is not allowed protection under ‘great’ Britannia’, it seems appropriate to talk about this book now. Today’s post is all about Akala’s first novel Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’- I know he has also released graphic novels- i REALLY wanna read them- but I mean in terms of non-fiction hardbacks.

Natives is clever, to say the least. It boasts pages and pages of educational anti-colonial, anti-racist facts and footnotes, and you can tell that it has been a passion long in the making, articulately put together to tackle some great issues of race and class for not only Great Britain, but the entire history of the world: Apartheid and segregation, education and prison systems, white supremacy and imperial history are amongst some of the topics Akala touches upon. His aim with this book is to analyse the way race and class both intersect and feed off each other in conflict with the white state and upper classes, and how these historically institutionalised concepts affect a singular life in the making.

Akala uses the story of his own life to examine the workings of history and politics around him, and how these forces have shaped who he has become. Some people may feel he is boasting by constantly asserting his own past and achievements into the narrative of global history, but I disagree. All the auto-biography included is relevant to the intellectual arguments he makes, his own experiences generating courses of study to analyse the fates of so many working class black boys in the country. Life shown in contrast against the statistical hardship of so many others (not that Akala himself has never known these struggles himself) only makes his achievements more commendable, and indirectly highlights the need to implement what Akala’s book is trying to equip us with and inspire: the knowledge and urgency to ensure that more such rigorous insights can be written by more people who know first hand the effects of state racism and violence onto a child’s future.

It reminded me of another book about race I read earlier this year, ‘Brit(ish)‘ by Afua Hirsch, in which she also recounts the difficulties of forming an identity as a mixed race child in the UK whilst unearthing and lambasting historical racism. However, I will say that though using the same method of analysis of auto-biography these two authors’ early lives could not be any more different. With Hirsch growing up confused, but ultimately sheltered in her posh Wimbledon neighbourhood, whereas Akala’s past is definitely not privileged in any sense of the word as we would expect in the UK; yet he has a surer sense of his identity with close ties to others from the Caribbean and to young boys in similar shoes as his own. Hirsch’s book is also amazing!!!!! It shows a different environment to Akala’s, which actually enforces the point which Akala is trying to make: it doesn’t matter how high up the ladder of capitalist achievement a black person can go or is born into, they will still be ‘Othered’, still be stereotyped somehow.

This definitely isn’t a book you can rush through, it’s one you have to think over before going to the next page; maybe that’s just me, but there’s so many facts and ideas about so many topics that it would seem negligent to simply graze over them without properly trying to understand the point at hand. This is a perfect book to start learning about key concepts and issues underpinning race in Great Britain- but Akala also uses his mixed Jamaican heritage and travels across the globe to give nuanced opinions about how race and class operate differently and arbitrarily for each country depending on it’s history and geography. I think his most powerful writing comes from critiques of the UK education and Prison systems, where argument is always founded on fact and long-meditated analysis fed by numerous theorists (who he references in the back- great for people looking for further reading once they’ve finished this book!).

The lens isn’t just focused on the effect of racism and classism on black and brown people though, Akala also turns arguments back on whiteness itself. Deconstructing what is the ‘default’ identity for governments and culture to build around, and showing its true nature: not ‘default’ at all, but a highly constructed, conceptualised and insidious weapon of Capitalism to pit man against man (or woman)  despite their similar material circumstances. This is a scathing attack, and a brilliant one. As the title may suggest, it isn’t the thugs or hooligans who we should be most worried about (still, fuck the bigoted scum bags) but the ‘powers that be’,  that create the ideas and conditions in which racism can grow unchecked. From teachers defending the KKK as America’s crime fighting vigilantes (the part where he talks about his teacher arguing that the KKK stopped crime by killing black people is horrendous, but when out against the backdrop drawn from history sadly not that surprising), Nelson Mandela as an upholder rather than complete destroyer of apartheid in South Africa, to the police who end up asking him for advice on how to tackle ‘black crime’ (his critique of ‘the idea of ‘black-on’black’ crime is unquestionably good) after trying to arrest him- no authority figure is safe from Akala’s most effective weapon: his brain.

To conclude, I am going to quote a section of the book where Akala is highlighting the double edged sword that is white supremacy; at once giving it’s wielders a sense of superiority, yet completely negating any sense of individual strength of mind they could have by centring superiority on the assumed, and false, inferiority of others.

If you care about ending inequality, this book is for you xoxoxoxoxoxox

“…The long and short of it is that the master makes himself a slave to his slave by needing that domination to define him… We talk about white privilege but we rarely talk about the white burden, the burden of being tethered to a false identity, a parasitic self-definition that can only define itself in relation to blacks’ or others’ inferiority…”

TOMBOY PRESS BOOK LAUNCH!!!!!!

Hello!!! Today is a very special post and I am excited for you to be reading it, BECAUSE TOMBOY PRESS CAN HAPPILY ANNOUNCE THE LAUNCH OF IT’S LATEST TOME!!!!!

‘I Try To Love’ (which is still for sale, so if you haven’t had a chance to read it please try to get a copy, I make and print them as cheaply as I can!) came out earlier this year, and is a meditation on the ways that private love and intimacy blurs with the social and shared emotions fuelling protest- the ways we publically love and support each other being a branch grown from what we sow in our secret lives. What I have to offer now is a slight departure away from my main interest of political and love poetry, but not much. This time round less focus is given to the societal and non-romantic forms of love, in favour of a more pinpointed, emotional free-for-all fall into the mechanisms of rapture and passion.

And so, DRUM ROLL PLEASE…….. I PROUDLY PRESENT TO YOU…….. ‘We Live In Hope: A Collection of Love Poems’!!!!!  ‘We Live in Hope’ is split into three sections: Unrequited, Halycon and Complicated- exploring the big L-word in all its complexities, joys and tragedies. To complement each section, it also features original full colour art work created by the one and only Ned Beale, @NetBdesign on Instagram- my little brother! He has patiently helped me bring this Frankenstein Dream to life, listening as I vaguely described ideas out to him in hopes that he would ‘get what I’m saying- you know what I mean?’ I wanted this collection to be something you could read any time- whether you’re tired after a long day studying at the library and want to snuggle down in solitary peace, or on a crowded train home still buzzing with the day, and I thought a great way to complement the poetry and help ease mental strain was to have some pretty pictures!

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!!! My deepest love in creative writing has up till now and will always be poetry, but I wanted to try explore other avenues of communication too (the joys of self-publishing). So, ‘We Live In Hope’ also offers miniature essays and meditations framing the sections of poetry I’ve lain out, hopefully to elucidate and introduce the themes and ideas I wanted each part of the book to confront. This book has poetry, pictures and prose all about the most elusive and ever-popular of emotions- WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK FOR?!?!?!?!

This project has been close to my heart (quite literally, it is not easy constantly reading your heart breaks and past happinesses over and over) and I think quite a while in the making. Ever since my ears first became attuned to the lilt and lusciousness of language in poetry, I have had quite an irrational bias towards the genre I thought would kaleidoscope the world into the beauty it truly deserves to be: love poetry (even when I had nobody myself ‘to love’, but I discuss this issue of who and how you should love in the book). I hope this isn’t the last book on the topic that I’ll make (not that I’m an expert or anything), but it does feel wonderful to finally have achieved part of my dream! My own book of Love Poetry!

ANYWAYS! I would love to be able to share this lil’ book o’ love with as many of you as possible- spreading the luvvvv and all that- so please let me know if you would be interested in getting a copy! The more books I sell, the cheaper I can give them to you for! AND ALSO, because it makes no sense writing about love whilst doing nothing to actually show it to the world, I want to donate £2.50 from every book ( both Tomboy titles) towards helping people suffering right now in the Yemen. Millions of adults and too, too many children right now are suffering, starving to death because of the vainglorious pride and capitalist bloat exempt of any compassion manufactured by those who are supposed to love us – our ‘leaders’. Love shouldn’t be a luxury you can write about and luxuriate in in reflection. People deserve a right to live, and that is what makes love possible.

PLEASE!!!!! SUPPORT INDEPENDENT ARTISTS AND THE CAUSE OF POETRY AND LOVE!!!!! My email address is mollybeale@hotmail.com so please drop me an email if you’re interested in a copy- or collaborating on further books in the future!!! Tomboy Press Instagram @tomboypress is always happy to answer messages on there too (We also have twitter, and I will check it more regularly but insta is a safer bet)

THANK YOU FOR READING THIS SELF-PROMO!!!! PLEASE SHARE THE WORD!!!!! TELL UR SISTERS AND MISTERS, MOTHERS AND FATHERS, QUEENS AND KINGS!!!!! THIS SHALL NOT BE THE LAST YOU HEAR OF THIS!!!!!

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB-The Daylight Gate!!!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN MY WITCHES AND BITCHES, MY GHOULS AND GIRLS!!!! Welcome to today’s Tomboy book club on this SPOOKY OOKY KOOKY SLAM DUKEY HALLOWEEN!!!

The book I’ve chosen today seems appropriate in its evil doings and filthy ways: its full of witches digging up graves and fucking Satan, but we’ll get to more of that later. I’d never heard of Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Daylight Gate‘ before I was crouching down hurting my knees at the bottom shelf of a charity shop bookcase with grandma looming over me (rifling through the DVD’s trying to find more films with her fave actor she loves to gush over- sorry for spoiling the secret, Chrissy), when I saw the name of beloved Jeanette and instantly reached for the spine.

The book is based off the true history (don’t worry, it still has the magical flare and fictional spell that Jeanette has made perfection) of the Lancashire Pendle Witch Trials in 1612- the home county of Winterson, too. Using details from the first ever witch trial in England to be documented, a narrative grown around the bones cast aside by history- like a reincarnation of spells- to flesh out a deliciously sordid and luscious tale of love, hatred, superstition and injustice.

Alice Nutter is the main character in the novel (it is really easy and addictive to get through though, I managed to get through it in 2 days and it would be great for a long journey!), a suspiciously aloof woman who has the audacity to live and control her own wealth without the direction of a husband’s hand. This book is full of contradictions and paradoxes, and whilst sometimes it can be a bit confusing trying to balance all the time, I think the way Winterson has created her characters to be so multiple and contradictory just adds further to mystery of the plot and hexes murmured. Alice is at once old and young, a mature woman with the face of a younger self; she is rich and supposedly got there by learning to be a merchant cloth dye trader- but how, and who taught her? Then there’s Old Demdike, the pustule ridden hag locked away in Lancaster Castle facing death, seemingly devoid of all tenderness and romance, but who actually has a past much more wild than I thought could pan out.

The male characters in this book on the whole are dicks- they are the powers that be spreading the atmosphere of fear and hatred which sent so many to death for simply choosing to live a little wilder. This book is set during the reign of King James, who is famous for writing ‘Daemonologie‘- an extensive study of witchcraft, and the ‘Dark Prince’ for whom they sell their souls. And also famous for being the target of the failed gunpowder plot, when Guy Fawkes and his lot wanted to blow up Parliament- it’s a pity they failed. But the book makes very stark the simultaneous persecution of Catholics and alleged Witches espoused under King James, making one wonder if its really witches who were the targets, or if witchcraft was merely a scapegoat for Catholics to be pinned with (“Witchery Popery, Popery Witchery“) as a justification to make those in power feel less guilty?

Using the rich men in charge to harass and essentially bully old homeless women and their families puts starkly in the foreground how class and gender were a big role in why people were really executed. It sort of makes the book more scary, as it’s not the witches who are the monsters- desperately trying any vile thing they can concoct to try to save their grandmother. The true Satan-spawn are the emotionless, and money-minded authorities- not giving a toss who they kill or why, so long as it advances their careers. They do say the real monsters aren’t the ones hiding under your bed…

Though I will give a warning to the faint hearted, this is a gristly book. Within the first ten pages a woman is raped (the book also features paedophilia and incest- but that is way to horrifying to go into here), and Winterson does not stop these relentless punches against ones morality. There are beatings, grave-diggings, torturings and orgies. Some of my highlights include when a head is severed from its rotting corpse, has a tongue ripped out of a boys mouth stitched inside its toothless jaw, is boiled in a pot and left on the side to speak. Or there’s the time teeth fall from the sky into Alice’s lap, or the time there’s a party for Satan and he literally starts shagging someone in the middle of the room with everyone watching- or the time a door knocker turns into human flesh… this book is weird, but a good weird I think. Not that I endorse any of the above acts, but the gore and fantastical gruesomeness is  one of the reasons I love Winterson, she writes the most far-fetched things, but always manages to make it seem plausible in a way we dream of.

Winterson also always manages to put my favourite part of any story in amongst this bleakness: love. That may be the most devilishly strange thing after all, that love could survive in such a place. But it does, and whilst weird, the love stories conjured in this book are wild and soaring.

I won’t write anymore, most of you either want to go trick’o’treating or partying with one of those awful plastic clown masks- I hate those. But I hope you give this frightful tale a go, and it says that it was in production to be made a film so maybe there is a film too?!? Anyways, I hope you have a lovely Halloween and don’t piss off any ghosts or anything XOXOXO

“…’Do I believe in witches? He did not like that question. The question that followed he liked less: If Alice is a witch, how can I love her? He would love her if she were a wolf that tore out his heart. And he wondered what that said about love…”

 

Tomboy Bookclub!!!- Telling Tales!!!

I first heard of Chaucer from my mum. When she studied one of her favourite parts of literature were the mysterious and boisterous lyrics from the dark ages; whether it be Old Norse Vikings or the Green Knight and Sir Gawain in Arthurian lands. I had never read any old medieval literature myself until university, but I must admit I was dreading it. I thought it would be gobbedly gook; too hard to read with ease, old, musty and gruesomely boring. But I was wrong, marvellously so. Perhaps it’s because I had a teacher who really, really loved what she taught, but reading Chaucer’s Canterbury tales really did grip me. They were profound, bawdy, hilarious and sad- sometimes all at once. I found myself seeing so many parallels between the dung heaped and bejewelled carnage of middle England, against the fibre-optic entangled and petrol dowsed world of today. Who knew that a good fart gag would be funny for people who lived hundreds of years ago the same as it is now?

This brings me to today’s Tomboy recommendation… a 21st century reworking of the world famous Canterbury Tales: ‘Telling Tales’ by Patience Agbabi. It is ambitious, riotous and enchanting in what it seeks to do. Taking Chaucer’s tried and tested lyrics, and exploding them outwards to give old stories new life in a variety of forms, from sonnet sequences to long skinny poems ricocheting their rhymes page after page.

Chaucer wrote for the sound and performance of language. Not many people could read back in day- what a surprise– and Chaucer wrote in English at a time when most ‘upper-class’ writers would have written in French; he was a proto-slam poet rebel me thinks, endorsing a language which normal people could hear and enjoy, instead of keeping all the literature in a language exclusive to nobility. And this attention to pleasing crowds with the tonal beauty of language is a tradition that Agbabi has mastered perfectly. Whether you’re reading in muted breaths on the train, or muttering the words to yourself in bed each poem has a different cadence that not only entertains, but helps reflect the story of the tale she is reworking. The lewd hilarity of the Miller’s Tale comes out with a freshness that nods to the past whilst still being perfect in reflecting how we speak and keep ourselves amused today: ‘Get me a pint of Southwark piss!/ It all took place in a pub like this.

Not only has Agbabi reworked The Canterbury Tales in a whole host of different forms to access different paces of rhyme (not all carry ordered meter, some poems use looser arrangements, fractured and sparse, more tender handlings), she has also given the pilgrims themselves a make-over. No longer are they travelling to pray at Canterbury Cathedral, competing with each other for a meal with their stories. Agbabi has them touring a poetry show, performing their poetries for each other on the way to their final destination. The characters are poets, writers- all unique, and often Kooky. The wife of Bath is now Mrs Alice Ebi Bafa, a Nigerian business woman out for money, men and laughs. The Reeve is no longer Oswald- entrepreneurial landowning sour-puss- but ‘Ozymandia’: ‘expelled from school before she learnt to hate poetry. Taught herself Anglo-Saxon… now lives in Leeds.’

One of my favourite re-tellings is that of Ozymandia Reeves’, ‘Tit for Tat’. In the original (to summarize very briefly), two clerks try to get revenge against a dastardly miller, Sympkin who lets loose the clerks’ horse and steals their grain. Vengeance is had by fucking Sympkin’s daughter and his wife, then stealing back their bread and running away after Sympkin’s wife hits him on the head with a pan (bit mad, but that’s why Chaucer is great). In Agbabi’s version, the clerks are not Cambridge scholars, but Butch Al and Fem Gen- two dykes in need of weed with a pet dog instead of a horse. The poem is told through the view of the dog (named Little Weed) and it is hilarious: ‘me, sniffer dog/ laid off, Bad dog, for sniffing drugs’. Sympkin is Psycho, a dodgy dealer who tries to sell Butch Al and Fem Jen dried lawn as purple haze. Their retaliation is based of Chaucer, and I don’t want to spoil the funniness of the poem, but I shall say this- it’s a tale of two dykes and their dog swindling a dealer with the end result of ‘free food, free dope, free cakes, free love’ (what’s not to get gassed about there?).

Ultimately, I think Chaucer would be proud of Agbabi. She takes universal themes, concerns like farting and death and fidelity and love, that were all as important back then as they are today, but re-energizes them in a way so that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve read the original (though I do recommend). She gives our multi-cultural society today a glimpse of itself through time, showing that we don’t just progress and leave what’s past behind. Humans are humans, we will always be heroic and gross and romantic- and united. I like to imagine Patience and Geoffrey together: a bi-black woman of the 21st century and a middle aged white male scholar from a time where the world was flat, both believing in the power of language to entertain and inspire, to reflect and celebrate the chaos we will always live in.

Chaucer Tales, track by track, here’s the remix
from below-the-belt base to the topnotch;
I wont stop all the clocks with a stopwatch
when the tales overrun, run offensive,
or run clean out of steam, they’re authentic
cos we’re keeping it real, reminisce this:
Chaucer Tales were an unfinished business…”

TOMBOY BOOK-CLUB!!!- ‘Please Mind the Gap’

At work recently, I have taken up a lunchtime habit. To walk outside towards St Paul’s Cathedral, plonk myself down on a bench either by the roses still hanging onto their plump colours or next to pidgins scratting around thinning grasses for crumbs or seeds, and I read. Also, I like to treat myself to some MacDonalds (but only on Fridays, so I don’t become enslaved to their global corporation of capitalist exploitation of animals, and also so I don’t become an actual potato) whilst I peruse the pages of my book of choice, exploring a whole other world contained, yet beyond the concrete noise of London. This week has been a delight, words mingling their power with the delights of tomato ketchup. I have been reading Sophie Sparham’s ‘Please Mind The Gap’.

I have actually met Sophie irl, and she is lovely. A bespectacled punk with red lips surrounding a smile, unmistakable with dreadlocks the colour of chilli peppers that hang down past her waist. She performed in Peterborough for a FreakSpeak poetry night in honour of Pride, and her poetry made me laugh and wipe away tears in equal measures that night. My slightly drunken appreciation fixed on her as she commanded the stage with a down-to-earth confidence that was not shy exactly, but was not too boisterous or forced. I spoke to her in the bathroom after she had read, we were both washing our hands. I told her how wonderful I thought her poetry was, and she thanked me with laughter and smiles, wished me luck when I said I also wrote then we went on our ways to watch the rest of the night’s wordsmiths.  Sophie is from up north in Derby, and her thick accent wasn’t difficult to listen though, it made the poems even more heartfelt and unique, evoking the places and people with whom her mind wrangled with to write these AMAZING poems.

Sophie’s poetry is the best ‘fuck you’ for days when you feel shit upon by the universe. Her work focuses on political and social issues- especially women’s issues, depression and LGBTQ+ rights. Her poems are about the mental impacts material suffering perpetuates on the mind. How anti-gay sentiments seep into the pavements of her childhood, how the rush and crush of ceaseless production wilts the heart to a hollow calculator of survival, unless we try to let the beauty in. I love her work, because the topics she talks about are serious and difficult to grasp, yet the way she phrases her work is so fluid and delightful to read I almost feel guilty sometimes for paying more attention to the control she has over rhyme and rhythm than on the crippling suffering she is trying to address and heal. It’s not only me who thinks her poetry is bomb either, in the edition I have, Benjamin Zephaniah, a poetry great, has written a foreword where he states: “I was very impressed with this fearless, compelling performer, who is unafraid to seek out the truth and comment on issues that others might shy away from“.

Her work flies above the country, and sets its visions to lands even further out to sea when imagining the unity fighting oppression demands. Her work spans the universal disappointments and difficulties of trying to be honest and happy in a world that cares more for profit and shallow popularity. But alongside these searing commentaries that I am sure Ginsberg would approve of, she also talks about her own life and memories with an intimacy that allows her point to be sharp without becoming too concerned with the details of life that she could include that would make the poems less lyrical, but more rich in specific moments. I’m not saying here that her poetry lacks imagery, it most certainly does not- but her talent and power truly does rest in the structures she can build out of rhyme and rhythm, the true gift of a poet whose work is most alive when read aloud. And, considering she tours her poetry with punk bands and at festivals, I hope many more people will be able to hear her songs, her battle cries for the release of old pain to help make concrete changes.

After first seeing Sophie perform, I expected reading her works would be the same visceral concoction of song and sadness and soul. I was not disappointed. This book is for anyone who cares, and who wants a book to pull out in fleeting moments stolen from the machine, as well as to curl up with for longer in reflection. Its style flows easily, but the issues Sparham writes about will make you want to slow down and think before rushing onto the next delicious rhyme. Her poetry will bring you eye to eye with the most confounding and saddening of injustice- social and personal- before bringing you back up to hope again and be strong against what potentially lurks behind each stranger; a smile or scorn. Her work makes clear the inevitability of our suffering, how unwittingly and silently it is committed by and against each other. But on the flip-side and more importantly, how we are all able to help each other overcome these problems we’ve made for ourselves. The words affirm that strength is not to be measured by the mainstream standards of clout or wealth or popularity: “Success means the paths we chose chose to explore/ not how high we climb”.

So, in this blog-post I want to include the first poem I heard Sophie read aloud, and the first in ‘Please Mind The Gap’. It is beautiful, and I will be damned if it doesn’t make you feel even one degree warmer inside after maybe wiping away a tear or two. Thank you for being such a wonderful and kind person Sophie, and I hope more and more people get the life-enhancing pleasure of reading and hearing your poetry!!!!

Introductory Gathering

Oh come all ye faithless, joyless and defeated
Come all ye washed out, ye chewed up and ye beaten
I want every loser,
As far as these eyes can see
To climb out of your corners and sit next to me.

Oh come all ye rejects, ye homeless, break out from your margins
Come all ye lost, troubled and drive no hard bargains
You’ll soon find that there’s no leader in this hoard
Worship yourselves
Christ, you fucking lords!

We are gathered here today to witness revolution
The coming together of our demons
As we learn the meaning of evolution
Our song birds will scream from the branches of burning trees
Not be left in their cages to sing peacefully

But they will create lawful reasons why we cannot rise together
They’ll tear us and they’ll beat us amidst this stormy weather
However, there are no exit signs here so I urge you, please don’t run
You’ll never leave this bus stop, if you’re waiting for the sun

And I don’t have faith in a god,
But I know everyone needs something to believe in
And you can build your own angels if you feel you really need them
But I would rather bow to your monsters
Put them on the committee intake
Our problems shouldn’t rule us
But it’s important to learn from our mistakes

And have you ever felt lost?
Are you lonely?
Are you the talk of the town for not buying the butchers baloney?
And are you hurt?
And are you hated?
Are you tired and wired, feeling wrong and exasperated?

Well, I’ll be your comfort in this darkened shade of blue
I don’t have faith in a god,
But I believe in you and you and you

And have you been wronged?
Are you conflicted?
By this bullshit we’re living in as long as we don’t get evicted?
And are you as tired of this everyday slog?
Did they use you and abuse you until there were no parts left to
flog?

Well bring what’s left to this table
And lets put together what we’ve got
Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not able
Your’e capable of a lot
Because blessed are the wicked, the weird and the truly despised
For allowing us to see the world through other people’s eyes

 

 

 

 

 

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB!: Hera Lindsay Bird

Today’s post is about one of my fave modern poets, Hera Lindsay Bird. She is a New Zealander poet whose work I first came across a few years ago online. Hera (such a lovely name) is a riotous mess of caring too much and not at all, of dreaming in fluffy pastel unicorn clouds all drenched with an acrid whiff of scepticism and wit. She is a lot to handle, but anything else just wouldn’t be the same.

Some may think she is arrogant, Bird did name her first book after herself using a picture of herself for the cover. But I think this hyper-exposure of her self in poetry is also a mockery of the cult of narcissism/ egotism that fuels how we interact with the world today. IDK about you, but a lot of what is ‘cool’ now seems to be based not on substance, but on who is saying it and how. You don’t actually have to believe in what you say you do, so long as there’s plenty of followers to like and retweet the version of yourself you most want to sell. Hera’s poetry blends an awareness of self necessary for sincere emotional bonding with a biting sneer towards the supremacy of the individual; simultaneously pointing to the fact that the 21st century obsession with personality and celebrity is ridiculous, yet somehow sentimental. We all want to be somebody, we just don’t know who we already are and that other people also exist.

Her poems blend the cuddly with the cruel. In one sentence she will proclaim unceasing vulnerability and then proceed to douse it in gas and set softness alight. Profane and profound, Hera uses images in her poetry to undermine any concepts of emotions being unsullied by the world around us. She even uses her front and back covers to undermine the seriousness of having a book published by one of the worlds biggest publishers (Penguin). She places praise from Carol Ann Duffy and her friend Ashleigh Young’s mum side by side, blurring the boundaries between what counts as ‘making it’. She points fun towards the darker sides of us it is often tempting to turn into elevated grandeurs of suffering. Her love bleeds, but not roses. Hera’s love bleeds a realness entangled with the similarities and depths of sadness which taint each day. As she herself says in the blurb, the poetry is “heroically and compulsively stupid………….. whipping you once again into medieval sunlight”.

Her poems aren’t that political, though I’m sure her contemporaneity ties written words to material circumstance in ways that I am currently missing. Her work points towards more general woes of our time: the often shocking extents to which we make our emotions available for public consumption, turning love either into a funeral wake or a freak show. the concept of loneliness which plagues and hounds so many of us in each acts we attempt to do with gusto each day. And, like any poet, she talks of love. But never love like you could find the Romantic lot wafting praises about in a gondola (though she does have a poem about romance being dead and Keats fucking her from behind…). Hers is a love that stumbles, stutters and spits itself out towards the beloved in lines ricocheting between honest vulnerability, and hiding softness through prosaic sentences littered with imagery from calculators for hippies and windows 95, to deer splattered with red paint to save animal activists time in the long run. By evasion, often we unwittingly reveal where our attentions really lie.

I highly recommend Hera Lindsay Bird’s poetry for anyone who is romantic and questions themselves for it every day. Who think celebrity is stupid yet still pout at themselves in a lonely mirror. Who feel deeply, but can only communicate the divine infinity of cosmic faith via emojis and text talk. Her work is young, wild and unlike anything I’ve read by any one else! I want to try think of something as cool and witty as she would say to end this post, but I can’t aha. I shall leave you with the poem that I first read of hers and I’ve already mentioned. A marination of bitterness and hope. Softness and sarcasm- I hope you enjoy xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Keats is Dead so Fuck me From Behind

Keats is dead so fuck me from behind
Slowly and with carnal purpose
Some black midwinter afternoon
While all the children are walking home from school
Peel my stockings down with your teeth
Coleridge is dead and Auden too
Of laughing in an overcoat
Shelley died at sea and his heart wouldn’t burn
& Wordsworth……………………………………………..
They never found his body
His widow mad with grief, hammering nails into an empty meadow
Byron, Whitman, our dog crushed by the garage door
Finger me slowly
In the snowscape of your childhood
Our dead floating just below the surface of the earth
Bend me over like a substitute teacher
& pump me full of shivering arrows
O emotional vulnerability
Bosnian folk-song, birds in the chimney
Tell me what you love when you think I’m not listening
Wallace Stevens’s mother is calling him in for dinner
But he’s not coming, he’s dead too, he died sixty years ago
And nobody cared at his funeral
Life is real
And the days burn off like leopard print
Nobody, not even the dead can tell me what to do
Eat my pussy from behind
Bill Manhire’s not getting any younger