Museums are my happy place

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Artwork by: Ann Eames, Chris Keady, Kevin Willets, Helen Stevens, Marine Dalleas, Paula Hallam and Jan Gough at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

I went to two museums in two cities in one day yesterday, and it was lovely, felt like spring time in my imagination.

Shout out to:

Derby Museum and Art Gallery where a colourful exhibition titled ‘Everyone — Your Place in the World’ is on until 25 September.

Nottingham Contemporary, which is showing ‘Pump House’, a whimsical and fun installation by Michael Beutler, also until 25 September (Pictures below)

I haven’t photographed ALL the best bits though, so if you’re in Derby or Notts soon you’d better swing round:)

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Masculinity shoved into a blender – an interview with Jim Hall

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Back in September I interviewed Mouthy Poet alumnus and fellow Derbian Jim Hall after the release of his debut pamphlet, Upon Arrival, Drop Your Cool. Not one to rest on his laurels, Jim has been working furiously on his first full length collection, Boy, since then. After reading and rereading my copy on the buses to and from Glastonbury festival, I gave into my curiosity and grilled Jim about music, self publishing and what it means to be a boy.

So. The difficult second book. How was it?

Thankfully, exactly that. Difficult.

I write to loosen the collar of my silence’s shirt. To project my endless film reels of feeling somewhere less private-screening than the inside of my bones. Somewhere more mouth than heart. This is gruelling work.

All of it is, I swear, worthy.

The poems in this book have been writhing inside me, gasping for language-air, for years. Not unlike the boys who roam through its pages, waving dramatically in the reader’s direction. Begging to be noticed, understood, loved.

It was charged with the urgency to reach out to any boy made to feel that they were too ‘beautiful’ for this world. To explore gender as a conversation more than as a convention. To write you do not require permission to be who you are, over and over again.

Also: a personal journey into the struggle & the joy that fills my own chest, poured out into poem bottles, hurled to the Is-Anyone-Out-There? ocean.

Also:

I Googled the statistics on male suicide & cancelled any plans that didn’t involve feeling safe & loved & okay with who I was. I watched Grayson Perry on Channel 4 comfort a mother whose son had taken his own life & took a week to stop crying, on the inside, at least. I wanted to both hug & hit the men hitting on the whole of carriage D on the train to Sheffield. I found my twenty-three-year-old self, knocking a Carlsberg over the Adele shirt of a girl whose name I had swallowed too soon, instead of knocking on my Dad’s music room door to ask if he could hold me until the loneliness no longer did. I stood by the bar as my friends spilled onto dance floor, wanting to tell them everything before another Jimmy Eat World song could do it for me.

Or:

The book is an invite to a house party where I shove masculinity into a blender & offer glasses to everyone I love.

Come?

I feel like the timeline of being a poet which I learned in academia goes like this: ‘Poet slogs for years, gets a few poems accepted by magazines. Poet is then in a position to be taken seriously, poet slogs a bit more and then puts out a collection. Repeat.’ But loads of the amazing writers I have met over the last couple of years are just not doing that; you yourself only released your first pamphlet last autumn. Do you think writers are becoming more confident in terms of judging their own work or is something else happening here?

I write as another black male is shot dead in Louisiana. While my country sags beneath the weight of a government wearing what next around its crumpled body like a poorly ironed suit. In a world where I do not know if my partner feels safe simply stepping into a taxi after work.

As 2016 swings another fist into the stomach of our lives, some of us crawl into the bravest pair of arms, avoid Sky News for a week. Some of us dive into a song, protest, Facebook wall. Whatever we choose, we have to respond.

I would like to think the writers you speak of write as a necessary reaction to the above. Because the work, like a bandage, is urgently required on this bleeding nation. Because they ‘must’ more than they ‘could’. Another line forged from thought to throat, another voice kicks to the surface of itself. Another poem pressed into palm, another refusal of that voice to drown.

There is no right way to do anything in poetry. I have yet to even submit a poem for a journal/literary magazine. This is not a good thing. It just hasn’t held me back in putting out something I believe in. The world right now demands us to keep challenging who we are, the same way it needs our poet-selves to step up, too.

Likewise. Just as I must now ask myself tougher questions on becoming a better lover, son, friend, I pause before hurling my everything into the mosh-pit of a blank Word document to consider I have my everything with me.

Productivity as a writer, for me, is less about how you shake hands with everyone in the room, more about how you continue to welcome your most honest self into it.

The collection is named after the ‘boy’ who features in/speaks all of the poems. Is there just one boy here, or do the poems shift between different boys?

The voices of so many different boys tumble in and out of these poems.

‘Boy Tries To Rap His Way Inside His Dad’s Arms’ was influenced both by a group of Year 10 boys I worked with in 2014 & a specific scene from the movie Short Term 12. (A devastatingly human piece of art. Please watch with care.)

‘Boy Rewrites The Sex Scene’ is the barely-heard whisper of every boy unable to undress in front of the one they love without trembling.

‘Boy Dreams Of Becoming A Violin On The Night Bus’ is a jumbled, spilling narrative of what I have often noticed/felt as I am carried away from the city on a Saturday to a quieter, arguably safer place.

The closing lines in ‘Boy Walks Home At 4.42AM..’ maybe capture best what I felt when writing this book, as all of the different boys stumbled through its many streets.

That of an attempt to forgive/save/appreciate my own flawed, human self, hoping to make others feel less alone along the way:

‘Reaching as one through the rain to hold the boy’s hand.

Finding only our own.’

Why call the collection and its characters ‘boy’, instead of giving them names? I feel like boy is a kind of semi-autobiographical everyman.

I toyed with naming each of the boys in the collection, giving them their own space in which to crawl into. It felt like too vast a space for one single boy to exist in, however, so I left things more open.

Weak–boy. Gorgeous–boy. Loving–boy. Lonely–boy. Wild-boy. Appreciative-Boy. All of these ‘boys’ hurry in & out of the book, often within the lines of a single poem. I feel like all of those ‘boys’ exist inside me too, so to speak. It just felt more truthful to let each of them enter the fray & see how they interacted on the page.

I do like your way with metaphor, I think you should patent the Jim Hall MetaphorTM. ‘Dad showed up to…gather what I felt from my throat like love notes he would pin to the fridge for Mum…’ or basically the whole of the poem ‘Boy Auditions for the X Factor for Jokes Only For It to Become The Most Viewed Audition of The Series’. Is this something you’re conscious of doing to put your own stamp on a poem or story?

Jetaphor? Jim Metaphall? Jim-Metaphor-Hall? Take your pick & we’ll stamp that somewhere on the uncurling fist of my next collection.

I really struggle with form, with analysing a poem I am writing in a way that picks out the metaphor/technique/etc. I read fiercely & forcefully, in that I ask more questions of what I read in terms of how it works than perhaps I do of my own writing, initially at least.

I spend most of my energy simply getting everything out of my head in the first place, before then trying to make that everything roar/purr/speak clearly.

This involves painstaking excavation as much as joyous generation of lines, ideas & images. Speaking of images: All hail imagery! My dearest friend. My drink of choice. My framed photo in a house of many photos.

I think I work hardest on guiding you around the house of a poem, without trying to force my opinions down your throat as you explore it.

Hopefully. Eeek.

I recently saw an interview where (to paraphrase) Buddy Wakefield said he was more influenced by good music than by other poetry. The poems in ‘boy’ refer heavily to pop music, is Buddy’s statement something you can relate to or is it more a way of pinpointing your poems in a certain setting for you?

Buddy Wakefield & I had a moment last month. I walked into the Poetry & Words tent at Glastonbury the instant he dropped a line about missing obvious social clues. He stared at me forever, before winking in hyper slow-mo. There’s good music for you.

Moving on. I reference music way too often. 99.8% of what I write has been written with something causing a ruckus inside my earphones. Having said that, if music was the first thing I found in which I also found myself, is it not natural to involve it within another thing in which I continue to find myself, over & over again?

I have accepted that no poem ever has, perhaps never will, make me feel how (for a right-now of the many, many examples) 3 minutes & 28 seconds through to 4 minutes & 1 second of ‘Phantoms’ by Burning Down Alaska makes me feel.

Music stills the buried language suddenly fluttering everywhere inside of me until it softens into something I cup in my hands, even if only in private.

Poetry feels more like the unsaid touching the small of my back, than wrapping its arms around my whole body.

I just try to welcome as much music, as much feeling, into my poems as the poems can squeeze in, before figuring out how to make space for my own voice as it shows up, drunk on itself, itching to dance with everything in the room.

Boy is out now from Big White Shed.

Today I won the lottery

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Except I didn’t, not literally. I haven’t even bought a ticket since I was 16. But today I felt the way people look when they win thousands of pounds or a record contract on TV. The way Ellen Page and Michael Cera look when they kiss at the end of Juno. You know, life changing moments.

Except it wasn’t life changing, at all. I was just standing outside, hanging out the washing, looking up at a full cherry blossom tree and hearing a blackbird in it sing. And I felt happy. I felt like the happinness would overflow and run out of the top of my head, for no reason other than for existing.

When I feel happy, it really does feel like that. And when I feel miserable, I feel it just as intensely. I don’t particularly want to describe that, so you’ll have to take my word for it. And misery can equally be for no obvious reason at all.

When I feel one way, I can’t imagine feeling it’s opposite ever again. But today I looked up at pink flowers green leaves and a blue sky from a small garden and thought: if only I could bottle this, and take it with me for when I need it. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do, bottle happinness in a blog post for whoever needs it, including my future self. Even as I’m writing this I feel it won’t work. But I’m going to try, because I want there to be some kind of record that today, I felt good about life, and myself. And that was an incredible lottery to win.

Opera at the pub, obviously

So I’m on annual leave at the minute, which was supposed to mean I became a full time writer for two weeks but actually it’s only meant I’ve spent time with friends I never normally see and had a few mini existential crises thrown in between.

On Friday I managed to be meeting friends, having a mini existential crisis AND doing some writing, which is why I ended up at the Opera. Obviously.

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Rewind. OK, so I wasn’t full on sitting in red velvet seats or wearing a sparkly dress while looking at people singing on a stage far away through those little binoculars — I’ll tell you what happened.

I was in a cool little gift shop next to the Malt Cross in Nottingham — in fact it’s attached to Malt Cross through a not-so-secret door which I was about to step through to contemplate one of their yummy-looking cakes — when a booming voice in the bar announced that somebody or other was about to stage a half hour performance.

My semi-conscious gut reaction went: ‘Aaaargh! New experiences! Loud people! Code Red, abort mission!’ but my logical brain said – ‘Don’t be silly, we can probably have cake and listen to the performance for a bit, then sneak off.’

Now if you’re not from Nottingham, you’re probably Googling Malt Cross and finding somewhere which is basically a  pub BUT it is a pub that used to be a music hall, so it does kinda make sense.

Anyway, logical Beccy dragged herself through the door and pondered the cakes before irrational Beccy turned away and made for the exit (loud people, new experiences, cake makes you fat – before being pounced on by a professional looking lady dressed in black.

Smiley lady: Would you like to see a half hour performance? It’s free.

Me: Oh, um, I’m meeting someone at 4…

Smiley lady checks her phone

Smiley lady: It’s 3.11, you’ve got time! Go on!

Me: Um…

Smiley lady pulls out a chair fairly near the back.

I sit

And the performance began. I hadn’t heard who the performance was actually by so I was a bit surprised when people started full-on warbling. (There was an accordion too. Props to the accordion) It was in English – I guess they knew it had to be something accessible if they were going to interrupt people’s afternoon pints – and it was funny too, the storytelling felt totally natural, not just like a bunch of people singing at you and they really made use of the fact that they were up close and personal with their audience in a way that you wouldn’t normally be at an Opera. It was a love story about a charlatan doctor who sells an elixir of love (which is really just wine) to a lovesick bloke who wants to win the heart of a beautiful girl. Only the elixir ends up working, sort of.

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Anyway, these guys were obviously pros and Smiley Lady had sat next to me, so I sneaked a glance at her clipboard — and it was only flipping Opera North! Proper Opera singers in Nottingham, and it happened to be when I was there, how cool is that?

Anyway, after the performance I signed up to a mailing list which apparently gives me £10 Opera tickets and discounts on cocktails when Opera North come to Nottingham (It’s for under 30s only. Sorry.) Of course, it’ll probably just be one more email to delete every month and I’ll never actually go, but for now I’m enjoying feeling slightly cultured. Take that, illogical Beccy.

 

C word

I wrote this when I was doing my MA — that’s my excuse for recording it when dressed like a student and I’m sticking to it! I resurrected it for the awesome Too Deep For a Monday a few months back and now it seems to have become my Women’s Issues Poem, but really it’s the Poem that Makes People Giggle. Both giggling and thinking are good things, so whatever you make of it, Happy International Women’s Day.

Things recently enjoyed #2

Lincoln. How incredibly friendly the staff at The Usher Collection are * Seeing my writing on gallery headed paper in a little reading snug at the back of a gallery * Seeing two whole people actually take copies! * Soaking up being in a gallery again, enjoying the little world created and curated by Lothar Götz and the Collection * Eating vegetarian food with all the people who made their vision possible * Being able to stumble into a bed at the end of it (thanks to my mum for finding cheap hotel rooms instead of deciding to drive home at obscene o’clock!) * Going for a run in Lincoln on Saturday morning and the views over the town being SO worth the hill climb * Brunch at Stokes Cafe  with the parents and seeing the Methodist Modern Art Collection at Lincoln Cathedral. Finding a new favourite picture and realising, as we were about to walk out of the chapter house, that the windows are works of art, too. *

Derby. The swishy-feeling of a new hair cut * Spending money and time in Derby with my best friend * Running in familiar places and feeling new again.

Books. ‘Hold Your Own’, Kate Tempest – Love how she weaves the kind of childhood  I remember into the myth of Tiresias. Her poetry is music but not at the expense of believable, breathtaking imagery * ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, Azar Nafisi – Dangerously beautifully written. I mean literally, you’re in danger of forgetting that this happened, is happening to people right now. I love books about bookworms but Nafisi’s story saddens me too because I can’t bear the fact that people are so dehumanised and oppressed in the real world. * ‘An Aviary of Small Birds’, Karen McCarthy Woolf – I hadn’t read or heard a bad word said about this book. All I can add is, believe the hype.

And also cookies still warm from the oven.

 

Start fresh

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The mysterious wheel…. of how many poetry books I’ve been reading

So I know it’s February, but I’m always fond of making grand plans and resolutions. This month’s inspirations (or excuses) include:

1. It IS new year in China. Possibly also Vietnam.

2. Spring. Obvs. it’s not here yet, but it’s right there under the surface.

3. Lent. In my religious youth I always preferred the idea of taking up good habits during lent to giving up bad ones. I’m no longer religious but I still have the ‘hoarder personality + poor impulse control’ combination which makes the idea of spending 5 minutes learning French each day so much more attractive to me than the idea of skipping pudding.

So a kind of pagan/Christian idea of renewal and rebirth etc. etc. tends to be my catch-all excuse for not making New Year’s resolutions until February.

Christmas kind of whizzed past in a blur and I suddenly got pretty low   really depressed after Christmas and by New Year’s Eve I just wanted to crawl into bed for the duration of the long weekend. I felt totally over 2016 before it even started.

The lovely thing about depression is that it always goes if you wait long enough. When 2016 started, I fell in love with it all over again and it was the closest a human could be to feeling like a snowdrop.

The truth is that change is ongoing though, and some of my plans for this year have been in incubation since December and I’m sure more will pop up as we go through the year. So far, though:

  • I mentioned in this post about how Roger Robinson, one of our Arvon tutors, got me to seriously rethink how much reading time I give to poetry. Roger Robinson is a big advocate of reading as much as possible, and after my Arvon tutorial with him I tried to make a list of the last 10 poetry collections I’d read. Not skimmed, read from cover to cover. If I included literary magazines, my total stood at a paltry 5.5 over the last YEAR, and one of those was a teeny-weeny chapbook. As soon as I got back from Arvon I pulled one of my unread poetry collections off my bookshelf and just read it in one week, cover-to-cover. There’s an underrated pleasure in reading a poetry collection like this. I never used to realise how much effort goes into the editing of a poetry collection, which poems and which order to put them in. When you read a collection cover-to-cover, you follow the poet’s journey through the collection, becoming really immersed in the world that those poems create. Since Arvon I’ve read a heck of a lot more thab 5.5 poetry collections and it’s been a pleasure (phew- might have needed to consider a career change if it hadn’t been :P)
  • I also want to make more of an effort to enter my writing into competitions and publications. In January I found a commission opportunity to write a response to this exhibition at The Collection Museum in Lincoln. I’ve loved visual art as long as I’ve loved writing and Lothar Götz’s work looked really interesting so I went for the commission…and got it(!) So on Friday I’ll be wending my way up to the exhibition opening. I don’t go to art galleries enough so to be honest I’ll be looking forward to seeing the work itself as much as seeing how my writing will be used in it.
  • Live. Like really, properly live. For months after I got back from my adventures abroad I had seriously itchy feet. Part of me wanted to save a bunch of money and do it again, and part of me really enjoyed not worrying about Dengue fever or needing to brush my teeth with bottle water. Conundrum, I know. But bit by bit I started to put down roots again — Mouthy Poets is a massive set of roots — and now I’m genuinely excited about the next few months, even though I’m not physically going to be going anywhere. A lot of the reason people enjoy travelling (or even just a short amount of time somewhere unfamiliar) is that it’s just easier to be different if you’re environment is. Easier to be open to people, easier not to be in a hurry, easier to convince yourself that ‘no’ is scarier than ‘yes’. That’s what I miss the most about the way I was living a year ago, and it’s totally doable to apologise for existing less, to go for aimless walks and spend hours in museums or writing in a cafe, even if I am doing it in the same couple of cities. In fact it’s probably even more important now, even if it’s a lot harder to do.

So there’s that. No flat stomachs but plenty of hippyish self improvement stuff. Basically, my resolution for 2016 is to enjoy it.

I hope you do, to.

 

 


 

 

 

Say Sum Thin 10

FB_IMG_1452970181053Sorry for the deafening silence on here over the last month, BUT I have exciting news. One of the reasons I’ve been so busy over the last month is because Mouthy Poets have been busy preparing for our spring show: SST10. We’ve been polishing and rehearsing our poems for the show over the last month and along with our headliners, Deanna Roger and Raymond Antrobus,we have such a variety of poets and as well as the performance itself we’re working on a gorgeous risograph-printed zine of our work which you’ll be able to buy. SST10 is at Nottingham Playhouse on the 5&6th of February so just search Facebook for the deets:)