Tag Archives: BBC

Amazing words: amazing women

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.

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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.

 

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Why Gove getting down with the kids really gets my goat

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Yesterday, despite the constant onslaught teachers are under at the moment and the disruption caused by Wednesday’s strike, teachers from 1000 schools nationwide found the time and energy to support over 30,000 students to take part in BBC School Report‘s News Day.

I love School Report. As an English and Media teacher, I was involved in it from its very early stages. It is a brilliant project to engage Key Stage Three pupils in the practical, hands-on application of the skills they’re learning, and from humble beginnings with a small group as an extra-curricular activity we built it into the year eight curriculum so that all students could benefit from what it had to offer. Through it, we were able to promote media literacy, creativity and current affairs. It encourages independent and collaborative learning, and provides the perfect opportunity for teachers to step back and act as facilitators rather than leading from the front. And this is where Gove’s involvement in yesterday’s News Day really winds me up.

These are all areas which, if Gove had his way, would be squeezed out of the diet we offer our young people in favour of more academic, traditional approaches to learning. And yet there he was, performing a ‘Wham’ rap and posing for a selfie to the bemusement and amusement of his audience of teenagers.

In 2008, I took a group of students to the Houses of Parliament to interview David Cameron, then leader of the opposition. Whatever my opinions of his politics, there was no doubt that he conducted himself appropriately: he was respectful and friendly as they took him to task over tuition fees, and politely declined to answer when the questions strayed into the personal. Unlike Gove, who ended up grinning like a goon as he tried to convince the kids that he was ok.

Quite aside from the fact that his mere involvement was astoundingly hypocritical given that his reforms stand to destroy everything which BBC School Report tries to promote, I can’t quite get over quite how insulting and disrespectful his behaviour was to hardworking teachers the day after tens of thousands of them were striking in protest against his decimation of the education system.

Because ultimately what this boils down to is propaganda – he was portraying himself as a man who just wants to have a laugh with young people and support their creative projects in schools when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. And the BBC – our supposedly impartial public service broadcaster – was doing everything it could to corroborate his story. The context of BBC School Report makes this even more galling: the learning materials accompanying the project emphasise the impartiality of the BBC, and there would have been a far larger audience than usual of impressionable young people to soak up the persona he was presenting.

There’s a darker side to this too: much as Gove was happy to expose the poor woman with whom he shared his first kiss to ridicule he clearly has no concern for the potential implications of sharing a selfie with a teenage girl. It seems that anyone in his path who might possibly help him advance his agenda is fair game.

I would like to think that teachers will be able to use Gove’s actions, and the subsequent coverage of them by the BBC, to illustrate the insidious way that propaganda works in our modern media machine, but I fear that with everything else going on they may not find the time.

But Gove, quite frankly, should be embarrassed. And the BBC should be hanging their heads in shame for such blatant manipulation of our young people at a time when their future has never looked so bleak.