I was sat on the sofa last night, wanting to write but lacking the words, too tired to drag myself upstairs though I knew I should, when my eye was drawn to a programme on BBC iPlayer: Women Who Spit.
I’d noticed it before, had idly thought I should check it out to feed my neglected love of performance poetry, but something else had always seemed more important. Yesterday though I clicked the link. And I’m very glad I did.
I hadn’t known what to expect, but here were five stand alone short films, each capturing a spoken word performance from a supremely talented female poet. From the first few bars of the very first poem I knew I’d have to watch them all: it was a bolt of pure inspiring awesomeness.
The words and the rhythm and the spirit and the sass pulled me out from underneath the detritus of the everyday.
I had become buried beneath the very real mess that is piling up on the surfaces of my life, my thinking blurred by the metaphorical steam rising from the watched pots of my first two novels as I wait for feedback from my agent. My notebooks are taunting me with their scrawls of unexplored ideas which keep moving just out of reach as I fail to battle through the seemingly endless tasks that have ranked themselves as more important.
These women reminded me that I need to carve myself some space to wrestle back control.
The first voice which made me sit up and take notice and realise that it was going to be a late night after all was Megan Beech, with her searing analysis of the sexism still ingrained in the BBC and right across our media institutions. I felt recognition, even pride, at her words: ‘I leave the house, get out of bed, because some things need to be said, and somebody needs to be the one to say them‘. I found myself nodding too as she proclaimed ‘we need to stop the laddish, loutish laughter at women displaying their intelligence; their eloquence and elegance and excellence‘. We need to aim high, be role models, get our voices heard.
This was reinforced by Vanessa Kisuule, with her insistence that we, as women, should ‘take up space‘. This resonated with me particularly at the moment because anxiety has been rearing its head again, making me shrink apologetically from the me I know I am deep down. I needed to be told: ‘don’t wait for approval‘, ‘give yourself the space to be fickle … to fluff your lines and make things up‘ and especially ‘don’t doubt the benefit of being the brightest you on the spectrum‘. Because it’s easy to forget.
Cecilia Knapp‘s approach was quieter, gentler, but no less powerful. She spoke of articulately of emotion and memory and the guarded face we show the world because ‘it’s fine, we’re fine, we’re getting on with it‘. Her words wove a tapestry of reasons for why she writes, and I found one of her concluding statements particularly resonant: ‘I write to find a version of myself I’m not at odds with‘.
After this quiet introspection Deanna Rodger‘s poem turned the focus out onto an unfriendly world: a fascinating précis of how the architecture of our cities is undermining our sense of community and duty of care to those who have nowhere to go. Spikes on the edge of pavements, bus shelters that provide no shelter at all, and awkwardly un-ergonomic benches that underline the transient nature of the comfort provided by the urban environment: ‘Sit here for a second it says… Slide here. Don’t stay’.
Finally I smiled and gently hugged myself as I watched Jemima Foxtrot battle it out with her inner demons in front of the mirror, a strong, confident woman longing for the day that we can ‘stop battling the haters on our mission to be free‘ and ‘look in that fucking looking glass and smile‘. Her words captured the ongoing fight that so many of us have to find peace with ourselves and the voices in our heads as ‘we hope together that all of this might be over one day‘.
I have loved performance poetry since I first discovered its power as a newly qualified English teacher trying to get inside the heads of teenagers in East London. There’s something about the lyrical wizardry that comes from a perfect combination of vocabulary and flow that finds its way right to my very core. These films had all of that, and it was reinforced by the visual poetry of beautifully framed shots and synchronistic edits to lend the words and the people who spoke them even more power.
I’m now working on internalising that power to get my writing mojo back. I’m particularly keen to revisit my own spoken word artist, Lili Badger, the heroine of my first novel. She hasn’t found a publisher yet but suddenly it seems even more important that I get her story out there. I just need to make sure I’m telling it right…
If you haven’t seen these films, I recommend you find half an hour somewhere, somehow to watch them. They’re available on iPlayer for two more weeks. I promise you will not be disappointed.