Ep.118: 4th BIRTHDAY SPECIAL EPISODE

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To celebrate the fourth anniversary of Lunar Poetry Podcasts (01/10/2018) I chat to Abi Palmer about how and why LPP began.

We discuss how the podcast has evolved since October 2014 and the changes made because of growing audiences and funding from Arts Council England.

As with any episodes where my own life experiences play any significant part, the role of my mental health ‘struggles’ and working-class background feature heavily in this conversation.

We also talk about the brand new anthology of poems by 28 former podcast guests, ‘Why Poetry?’ (VERVE Poetry Press), out now in bookshops nationwide.

Below is a transcript of the conversation, minus the three poems I read during the episode. If you would like the complete transcript you can download the here.

For more from us:
lunarpoetrypodcasts.com/
twitter.com/Silent_Tongue
www.facebook.com/LunarPoetryPodcasts

Order ‘Why Poetry?’: The Lunar Poetry Podcasts Anthology here: vervepoetrypress.com/product/why-poetry/

For more from Abi:
abipalmer.com/
twitter.com/abipalmer_bot

Episode music is an original composition by Snazzy Rat. You can find more from Snazzy here:
snazzyrat.bandcamp.com/
www.facebook.com/snazzyrat/

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Producer/Guest: David Turner – DT

Host: Abi Palmer – AP

Introduction:

DT:      Hello, welcome to episode 118 of Lunar Poetry Podcasts, my name is David Turner. Today’s episode is a very special one as it celebrates our 4th birthday. Celebrates four years of podcasting, celebrates 118 episodes recorded in eight countries, celebrates 13 hosts and well over 200 poets in our archive and, ridiculously, it celebrates over 30,000 times somebody pressed play on an episode.

As many of you will already know, we have published an amazing anthology, ‘Why Poetry?’ through our favourite indie publisher VERVE Poetry Press which is out now in bookshops and also available through the publishers themselves for £9.99 – link in the episode description.

In the process of putting the book together Stuart Bartholomew at VERVE asked me to write an introduction to the anthology which made me feel really, really awkward as I’ve always tried to put guests and their work before me and my opinions. A compromise was reached and we decided that anthology contributor, author of the book’s beautiful foreword and bloody good friend of mine Abi Palmer would interview me and the transcript of that recording would form an extended introduction weaving its way through the 28 poems and quotes from the contributors in the book.

This brings me neatly onto today’s episode. The resulting recorded interview turned out to be a pretty good record of the history of the podcast and a very good explanation of why I started it in the first place. Most remarkably for two people that talk as much and as tangentially as me and Abi it actually made a lot of sense. Now as embarrassing as it’s been to edit an interview in which I’m the guest, I’ve been assured by some regular listeners that there will be some interest in this episode. If though during this episode you feel it’s all a load of insufferable self-centred nonsense then rest assured it won’t be happening again and we’ll be back to normal next month.

One important note about the anthology is that my wife and co-editor of the book, Lizzy Turner and I have pledged to re-invest all money we make from sales back into transcribing the podcast throughout 2019. Our Arts Council funding ends next month and we can’t be sure we’ll ever even apply never mind receive more so buying the book will directly support keeping the series as accessible as possible. As always you can find a full transcript of this conversation over at lunarpoetrypodcasts.com

I’m going to be back in the middle of the episode with more names of poets featured in the book and to read another poem from it. But as a taster here are the first 14 poets in the book: Helen Mort, Sean Wai Keung, Lizzy Turner, Grim Chip, Paul McMenemy, Donald Chegwin, Abi Palmer, Travis Alabanza, Anna Kahn, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Nadia Drews, Nick Makoha, Harry Josephine Giles and Keith Jarret whose poem ‘Granddad’s Conspiracy of Yams’ I’m going to share with you now;

 

To read this poem download the full transcript here.

Accompanying that poem is a quote taken from episode 61 from way back in February 2016 and it begins with me saying to Keith: Something I’ve thought about a lot is why people ask, “what are you trying to say with your work?” and not, “what are you trying to ask with your work?” To which Keith replies, Exactly! I’m full of loads of opinions but I’m not exactly full of answers! The more I respond to what’s going on around me, the more questions I find.

 And aping all good stand-up comedy sets, there’s a call back to that later in the episode. Here is me and Abi, we join the conversation shortly after she asked me what motivated me to start the podcast.

Conversation – Part One:

DT:      So back in the spring of 2014, that’s when I first read at a poetry open-mic night, at The Dragon Café, which is a mental-health support group. Then the following week, I read at Niall O’Sullivan’s now legendary Poetry Unplugged. I suppose between then and the summer, I was attending as many open-mic nights and poetry events as I could and because I hadn’t had much exposure to poetry, but I was just desperate to know more.

I wanted to know why people kept coming to these nights. I felt like every time I’d seen an open-mic with 10 to 20 to 30 people read, there were at least two people every night I was desperate to have a conversation with. I wanted to ask them these questions, things I was wondering, and I didn’t know enough about poetry, so there were gaps in my knowledge, and I desperately wanted to ask these people these questions and there wasn’t the space to do that.

Once I’d befriended a few poets, early on I met Sean Wai Keung and Anna Kahn they were probably the first two ‘actual’ poets to come and talk to me at an open-mic night and we started having these conversations in the intervals, I don’t think either of those two smoke, but I have this image in my mind of people huddling round with roll-ups outside poetry events, having these conversations.

Once I started being, not allowed but invited, by other people, I just thought it was ridiculous if other people didn’t get to share in those, because I realised immediately that I was lucky to be allowed into these conversations and, for reasons we’ll no doubt talk about, there are huge amounts of people that can’t access those conversations and I wanted them to be as public and accessible as possible. I felt like if I started this project, the slightly more selfish thing about it, was that I could get poets to myself for a couple of hours and just bombard them with these questions.

In lieu of me having any literature qualifications, I failed my English Literature GCSE and haven’t done anything in terms of literature since I left school, it felt like this could be my own, personal, Creative Writing MA. I acknowledged straightaway that was quite a selfish thing to do, but I reconciled my conscience by making these conversations public, no matter how silly or foolish or naïve I sounded at the beginning.

AP:       One of the things you said has come back to me in various forms over several years, that at some stages during the process, you presented yourself to me as somebody who didn’t much care for poetry, so my favourite David Turner quote ever is ‘My name is David Turner and I fucking hate poetry’. That is from a review, where you reviewed a night you really enjoyed. So my initial impression of you was someone who was intensely passionate about something that you were also intensely objective about and trying to be quite neutral in your approaches to these conversations.

I guess something that’s interesting about what you just said is that you went into it attempting to extract information back out from people and have access. Something that’s always fascinated me about the podcasts as a series is the range of voices you get and the diversity of types of poetry. Could it be a fair assumption that the conversations are the bit that’s always interested you?

DT:      It’s funny, part of me is slightly embarrassed that I used to so proudly go around saying how much I fucking hated poetry, but it was true and it’s still true, but it’s true for slightly different reasons now, the deeper I’m in it. When I first wrote that sentence down, I wrote it on several reviews that I did for Lunar Poetry Magazine, back in 2014, which was another reason that the podcasts started, because I was writing reviews of poetry events and spoken-word nights. One thing that led me to have these conversations was that the word count, although it was generous, up to 1500 words, which is exceptionally long for a review, it wasn’t long enough to talk about the things I wanted to talk about.

Going back to the point of, ‘I fucking hate poetry’, I hated poetry with air quotes, what it stood for, how exclusive it could be and how if you said you were into poetry, in most people’s minds, it was a very, very defined and narrow thing. I chose not to put air quotes around it, because I didn’t want it to seem tongue-in-cheek or like I was trying to back out of it and didn’t have conviction, because I really had conviction.

I hate poetry in the same way I hate fine art and I love fine art. If people ask me what I mean, I don’t understand how they can’t see how closely the love and hate are interlinked. What I think has changed now about what I hate about poetry is slightly different, because if you view what I said early on was a rejection of the established idea of what poetry is, I have to accept that now, four years into running a poetry podcast, I am establishment, not that I’m an established voice or opinion, but I am as established as anything I would have rejected at the start.

What I hate now about poetry are still those things about refusing access to certain people, still this defined and narrow view and all along, my motivation has been to meet people, because I find most people I meet intensely interesting. The conversations I have, I don’t ask facile questions, I don’t ask things I don’t actually want to know about people. I really want to know these things and I think everyone, as much as possible, deserves to have their say about this thing they love.

This is what I mean about not being establishment, I am a gatekeeper, because I run a series and I choose who comes on. I want to be as generous a gatekeeper as possible because whilst it’s very noble to say ‘let’s smash the system and remove all gatekeepers’, all you’re doing is setting up a new generation of gatekeepers and with every blow to the establishment, you just set up new little cliques and fashions and groups. Basically, I was just trying to reject that, I suppose.

AP: That goes back to this idea, you’ve mentioned in the past that when you started up Lunar Poetry Podcasts, you wanted it to have the feel of a zine, so a few aspects of that have been really interesting as a listener. Can you talk about what you mean by that?

DT:      My main motivation at the beginning was content over production values, to a certain extent. It was equally at the beginning as much by design and wish as it was by financial circumstances, because unfortunately with podcasts, you can’t start unless you have a microphone and a recording device and access to the internet to upload it. That doesn’t mean you can’t start an interview series, because you could have a tape cassette recorder and you could walk around and meet people, but how you distribute that becomes an issue.

Within that, the thing I loved about zines was because there was no motivation for financial gain, it was just about a subject a person loved and putting out the cheapest and most accessible version of that conversation, opinion, idea, drawing, image. I really loved that and really wanted to embrace that. I suppose one reality of making a podcast is that very lo-fi interviews, I’ve been going back through some older interviews in the course of putting this book together, and Christ, there are some shockingly bad recordings in terms of quality and it’s all my fault.

You do at some point have to accept that if you want to reach as many people as possible, which is sort of the idea of the zine anyway, is that you have to embrace the fact I probably needed to up my game production-wise. I needed to get new equipment, look towards spending some money where possible, to make the conversations as widely accessible as possible and whilst it’s nice to have a little bit of atmosphere in a conversation, it can’t be inaudible.

AP:      So, your role as a podcaster and primary interviewer, it sounds like you wanted to ask a lot of questions and get access and democratise that access to some extent. Has that changed in any way?

DT:      I’ve realised that what it means to make something accessible is not what I envisaged at the beginning. In exactly the same way as what I was rejecting in the term ‘poetry’, or the idea of poetry, the idea of what access is, is far broader than I imagined at the beginning, because most of what you’re talking about when you’re talking about access are not things I experience myself.

I’m able-bodied, my hearing is deteriorating, but I still have pretty good hearing and I’m white and cis-gendered and I’ve learnt along the way how insulting it is to claim you’re making something accessible when it’s not to someone and how disheartening and upsetting and one of many, many repeated blows that person receives in their life.

I suppose that goes back to production values as well. I probably at one point felt that if I just made something, just transcribed an episode, that would make it accessible and of course, it goes a long way, but it isn’t what that is.

Can I say, I’ve also learnt how to shut the fuck up? Because that’s very hard!

AP:      It’s a really interesting thing, my next question is, I noticed that when you’re the interviewer, you do put parts of yourself into the podcast without ever having performed a poem because you find common ground with people, despite the fact you have a really diverse range of performers. The conversations seem to flow very naturally a lot of the time and yet, you’ve got this range of poets, not from one particular scene, but from a range of scenes, the widest diversity of styles, of genres and of backgrounds of poets I’ve seen in an organised poetic structure, which it is, ever. How do you know what you’re looking for when you choose your speakers?

DT:      There is one very, very easy answer and that’s if I ever hear anyone, or overhear anyone talking about how they consider their work, pretty much it’s a green light to come on the podcast. I made a very conscious decision right at the beginning that two things would happen: I wouldn’t read my own work, promote my own work, and I would not only have people I liked on the podcast, because it would have run for about 10 episodes, then stopped.

That doesn’t mean to say I’ve had people on that I hate. The beauty of what poems and poets are is they’re so wide-ranging, even if you don’t particularly find anything in someone’s work, if you sit down long enough to talk to them, there will be areas where you will find overlaps in interest. So that’s the main thing I look for, someone who considers the process of what they do. Outside of that, there is obviously the selfish element where I’ll choose someone whose book I really love, or I’ll see them perform and think ‘I have to talk to that person, I love their work’.

AP:       I’ve had the privilege of being involved in one of those round-table discussions, where you basically put a group of people who’ve never met each other in a room together, sat in a corner, did the sound and let them talk. You said you sometimes let people do the choosing themselves, in that particular instance, did you do the choosing?

DT:      I had a Skype conversation with Harry Josephine Giles, who was the host of the ‘Access to the Arts’ episode that you were a guest on. I allowed Harry to explain to me what they felt was important to that discussion and I allowed Harry full editorial control of the conversation, then we spoke about possible guests and I suggested a few names. Out of those names, we decided to invite yourself and Andra Simons.

The reality of putting together an episode like that means there are financial constraints and logistical constraints. Harry lived, and still does, in Scotland, so the choice was for me to travel to Scotland and have an all-Scottish, local-to-Harry line-up, made up of poets, or for Harry to travel to London and us find poets based down there. That was the option we chose. There have been other episodes where ‘Poetry in Schools’ for example, Jacob Sam-La Rose had full control invited Miriam Nash and Keith Jarrett, I had no say in that, nor did I want any.

That’s the thing, I suppose, I’ve had different roles in the podcast and I am host, editor and producer, sometimes all at once, sometimes I’m just one thing.

AP:       How do you juggle that?

DT:      It’s really hard. It happens more naturally now, but I don’t think it’s necessarily any easier, it just suddenly becomes habit. It’s still exactly the same amount of energy. The nature of a single host/editor/producer-based podcast is that you have to be present in the conversation, aware of background noise, make sure your guest is comfortable, the recorder is on, still on, still on, listen to your guest, do not stop listening to your guest.

Make sure the recorder is on, listen to your guest, then and only then, do you get to think about what questions you might want to ask. I don’t make notes generally, I like to go in and for it to be a natural conversation. I don’t know how relevant this is, but I liken it a lot to the improvised stuff that I used to do, in which whilst you’re improving in the moment, you’ve probably got an idea of what your middle and end point is to be, then you improvise within that, so I will have an idea of who my guest is and what they might want to talk about, might not want to talk about, which is also important, then how they want to talk about it. Then it’s all about getting from the starting point to the middle point to the end.

AP:      That’s a really interesting thing. I keep coming back to this idea of the podcast and its relationship with zine culture. In that as well, even in the role of editor/producer/host and having to juggle it all and put it together and do it like a series of, not a collage because it’s a linear interview process, but that thing where from start to finish, you’re assembling a production, an object that goes out into the world, you’re collaborating with somebody else and it feels like a collaboration when you’re listening.

It’s a two-way conversation, it requires both people, sometimes it’s a multiple-way conversation, but it feels like there’s a democracy to it that doesn’t always exist for instance in a poetry performance, where you have to sit quietly and watch one person and read the room as to whether you clap at the end of the performance. Then the next person who’s been chosen goes up and then you get an interval when you’re allowed to talk for approximately five minutes and then you sit back down.

It’s not that. You’ve created a platform that’s far more democratic. I like the podcast as an object for poetry because you can pause it, you can move it around. Has the podcast format been important to you?

DT:      I’m really glad you brought up the term dialogue, because that’s what I wanted. I wanted to avoid too many things I’d seen at spoken-word nights. The reason I don’t read my own work, or out of 116, 117 episodes, the reason I’ve only read a poem three times on the podcast, and that’s in very special circumstances, is because I didn’t like going to events where the host would read the first three poems of the night and centre themselves and detract from the guests. I really didn’t like that, so I rejected that idea.

My main editorial thought when I’m in a conversation with someone is I’m not actually in conversation with my guests, I’m in conversation with the audience, which as the audience have steadily grown over the last four years, so has my awareness of that obligation, because I do see it as an obligation. If you’re demanding an hour or an hour and a half of someone’s attention, you need to bear them in mind. You have to centre the audience.

Hopefully I’ve always been able to give people enough time, it hasn’t always worked out like that. Too many podcasts, too many people are involved with projects that are basically just producing a monologue. I’ve definitely been guilty of taking over conversations too much, talking too much. It’s really hard to shut up if you really like someone or if they’re sparking ideas at you.

It’s also hard if someone’s very shy. It took me a long time to learn how to bring someone out of their shell rather than talking over the top of them to fill in the space.

AP:       That’s something I’ve admired, knowing you, because we’re both talkers. It’s interesting to listen to you and watch you step into the professional role and take space.

DT:      It’s a performance.

AP:       OK, so it’s a dialogue and a performance at the same time. That’s very interesting. What have you learnt about your audience?

DT:      That they’re really loyal and really, really exceptionally broad-minded, because they seem to equally stick with any guest I put in front of them. It’s amazing to think hundreds of people tune in. Most of my audience must not know most of my guests because I don’t necessarily know people before I get to talk to them. There are a lot of people who’ve been on the podcast when I haven’t really known much about their work.

People continue to listen to back episodes and I can see through the stats that most people stick with most of the episodes. One thing you learn is about people’s listening habits, how people return to subjects and return to episodes. Not everyone shares their identity through the devices they listen on or the software they listen on, but I will see through my stats service that they have returned three or four times to a particular episode.

It’s really nice. That’s the exact difference and why I love podcasts over radio, because there’s a pressure to be live and be present for the radio, a podcast serves the same purpose as a journal in that you can lay it down on the table and come back to it when you’re ready. Another thing I’ve learnt about my audience is that it’s global. Right from the very beginning, I’ve had people in Malaysia, India, Australia, America, Argentina. Apart from the two polar continents, there are listeners on every continent, which is insane and it’s really beautiful to be able to give a poet the opportunity to communicate with those people.

I do get properly emotional if I think about that side of things, it’s too much to comprehend then I end up being glib and sarcastic to not cry. It’s just too much. I cannot get my head around it.

AP:       And they’re strangers.

DT:      Right from the beginning, I expected friends to listen for a while, family members out of a sense of obligation to listen for a little while, but what? Would you give people 10 episodes? That’s too much to stick with it unless there’s actually some meat there.

You do have to avoid as a podcaster the evil that is an over-reliance on your statistical analysis through whatever hosting platform you use because that is just numbers and it will drive you insane and it’s very unhealthy. But what it does, one of the few positives it gives you, is you can see people come back and that there’s a natural ebb and flow of the way people interact with the thing you make, which you’ll never get, for example, from a collection you release. If you’re an artist, you don’t get this information.

You get sales information, but you don’t know how many times people have picked up your book. I know how many times a good percentage of my listeners have picked up the podcast, it’s really fascinating and sometimes, all-consuming.

AP:       I’m very aware that you’ve spent a lot of time providing platforms for speakers from a really diverse, not in terms of content, but of who they are. You’ve provided a platform for some very difficult conversations that aren’t happening in many places in the arts. Can you talk to me a little bit about that, how you’ve increased the diversity of your podcast?

DT:      If anyone asks my advice on how to run a successful podcast, an interview-based podcast, and that is that you have to listen to your guest, because if it’s just a list of questions, the audience will know that you’re not, the guest will know and everyone’s interest will wane, including your own. If you’re going to have conversations around difficult subjects…. These are not difficult subjects per se, these are subjects that are very emotive to people and when they’re done wrongly, they are very, very painful to the people they affect.

It just seemed the natural thing for me to do and I can’t believe that more organisations don’t do it. Some do it very well, but a lot make a lot of mistakes. They don’t listen to the people they’re trying to address. If you want a very, very simple example, if you’re trying to talk about access for the hard of hearing to an audio production such as a podcast, you cannot have that conversation unless it involves primarily someone that is hard of hearing.

I mean primarily, to give them full editorial control and to give them the platform, not give them the chance for a soundbite, not give them a chance to give you enough opinion that you can then chop up and frame your own editorial viewpoint, it’s to give them the microphone and let them talk about how that’s affected them. Also, an extension of that, to acknowledge that it is a single person’s experience of the world and that every other hard-of-hearing person listening to that or engaging with that conversation will probably not have experienced it in quite the same way. There will be a lot of overlaps, but they will have their own experiences.

That’s why Harry Giles was invited to our Access to the Arts. That’s why Khairani Barokka was invited for Access to Publishing. That was why Paula Varjack was invited to talk about artists being paid, because all three of those people already made it their point to publicly talk about these subjects.

That means you’ve got somebody whose informed about the subject. It also means you’re not burdening that person to come up with a whole episode for you. Essentially, once they leave, you profit from everything they’ve done. That was another thing, I didn’t want to be profiting from everyone else’s experiences because that is unfortunately what a lot of organisations do as well. By virtue of the fact of you seeming accessible, you bask in the glow of your own accessibility and I don’t want that. I want something to be accessible and I don’t want the credit of that conversation afterwards.

I do want to be known as an accessible producer because I think it’s the right motivation for life, professionally and personally. I don’t want to be the one that takes the credit for any conversation somebody else has led or contributed to with their own experiences.

AP:       Something you did at the end of the first year of Arts Council funding was to publish publicly on your website a list of stats of the demographic of speakers you had and where the money went, an honest breakdown of exactly where it went. It was notably diverse in some areas, you talked about where there was room for improvement. It was the frankest summary of how an Arts Council budget had been used that I’d seen. What was your intention in doing that?

DT:      My intention was to instil some sense of accountability in other producers. If we just talk about the demographic of the guests and hosts, for example, it was a very, very hard thing to put together because it took a lot of trust that my guests and hosts knew that I wanted that information for the right reasons, not to make myself look good because you could twist that information to any purpose you want.

Also, it’s not a very nice thing to say to someone they’re invited on first and foremost as a writer, then a follow-up email saying ‘could you please identify yourself in all these different ways so that I can prove I’m doing what I’m doing?’ That took a lot of trust on the part of the people filling out the surveys, which were all anonymous. I waited until everyone had submitted their information before I looked at the results and they were all collated, so I don’t know who identified in which way.

The main motivation was to then turn around and say ‘this is what I set out to do’. I tried to frame it that way, that this is what I set out to do, these are the areas where I think I achieved those aims, equally these are the areas I felt like I failed, or had fallen short, I don’t think I failed in any area, but I did fall short on a lot of things and I tried to highlight what I’d learnt along the way. Like we said earlier in the conversation, a lot of the things I was asking of myself to do as being accessible and having some sort of representation in the whole series, I was far more aware of those things by the time all the questions had been answered, then it was too late to revise the questions, so I was stuck with quite a narrow view.

Although it is wider than a lot of organisations have asked, it was still quite narrow in what I subsequently learnt. The biggest thing I learnt from having an amazing group of hosts and guests come on through these round tables, particularly the round-table discussions, but also the individual one-to-one interviews where we talked about similar subjects and themes, like accessibility and representation, is that every single one of those guests and hosts stated the fact they accepted that mistakes would be made, it was how you then faced up to those mistakes and if you were just honest and held your hands up to say well, we need to improve in these areas, people can live with that.

Everyone knows everyone makes mistakes. There is a pressure on you then to not continually make those mistakes. Although sometimes you learn more and more about people and certain themes and subjects, it can become daunting and almost terrifying to think if I fuck this up, people are going to be really upset, but similarly, the more I learnt about people, the more confidence it gave me to face up to things. People really respect that.

AP:       When you talk about how you interview people, how you don’t necessarily come with a script or agenda, there’s a vague outline but it happens live, it sounds like the same sort of thing has happened with the conversations around accessibility. You’ve had to listen and adapt the conversation as you’ve learnt more. Would it be safe to say it’s been a user-led experience?

DT:      I would say as much as possible, yes, but as part of accountability, it would be wrong for me not to say I have to accept it’s not a user-led experience, because I’m still editing stuff. It’s a collaboration, where I aim as much as possible to have it, even it if ends up 51%-49%, in favour of the guest or audience, that’s better than nothing. Ideally, I would aim for more like 80%-20% with my final 20% being just the mechanics of editing and putting something out, I don’t think you can actually achieve that.

That’s what’s led people to engage with the series, as participants, is I acknowledge that right from the beginning. All people want to know is you’re going to do your best to present them as they want to be presented, but the only way they could be properly represented, or presented, is to give them their own show. I give them an episode, but they don’t get the show. They get the platform for the time they’re on it.

It’s important to acknowledge that because it gives you a more realistic idea of what it’s possible to achieve. If you go around saying ‘Look at me, I give everyone this platform’, you’re making it about yourself and centring yourself as a gift-giver and we don’t want to go down that fucking route.

Middle ‘introduction:

DT:      Hello, I hope you’re enjoying the conversation so far, as I said at the beginning don’t worry if you’re not… it won’t be happening again!

Due to us not planning to publish this conversation in its entirety it did break down a lot and there were also toilet and tea breaks, most of which I got rid of through the magic of editing but this little break here, well nothing could save it.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to thank VERVE Poetry Press for giving me the opportunity to put together ‘Why Poetry?’ and for that opportunity to allow me to work so closely with my wife Lizzy. It’s been a wonderful if very consuming experience. I’ll also use this space to give you the names of the other 14 writers in the book, they are:

Luke Kennard, Amerah Saleh, Khairani Barokka, Joe Dunthorne, Zeina Hashem Beck, Kim Moore, Rishi Dastidar, Sandra Alland, Giles L. Turnbull, Susannah Dickey, Mary Jean Chan, Leo Boix, Roy McFarlane and Jane Yeh. It’s a pretty stellar line up.

Before we re-join the conversation, I’m going to share another poem from the book by Nadia Drews, this is called;

To read this poem download the full transcript here.

And that’s accompanied by a quote from episode 86 back in October 2016  in which Nadia says: Music and politics are the things that have shaped anything that I’ve put on paper. I was brought up by my mother who has had a lifelong commitment to socialism […] In middle age, what I’m still trying to act on are those impulses from my teenage years. I think the world is rotten to its core and I believe that music and other art forms, like poetry, can play a role in lifting people’s spirit to change it.

We re-join the conversation just after Abi has asked me what effect receiving funding from Arts Council England for the first time had on the way I produce the series.

Conversation – Part Two:

DT:      I can’t say anything other than it revolutionised everything I did. It made all the ideas I had possible overnight. It was amazing. The Arts Council have their flaws and the application process is littered with issues and problems, but there is no way I could deny the positive effects having that money suddenly had on the project because it meant I could go and talk to the people I wanted to and it didn’t matter if they were in Northern Ireland. I could travel to Belfast, travel to Leeds and dedicate a whole episode on poets who also worked as playwrights and have an episode specifically about poets as playwrights in West Yorkshire.

I could only have dreamed about having such a niche subject, which turned out to be a really rich couple of conversations. I couldn’t just wait for people to come to me in London.

AP:      And you’re taking your audience with you when you turn up. You’re opening up a world of poetry that isn’t just London. Even as someone based in London, the Yorkshire theatre episodes are interesting, in knowing there is a niche scene out there which as a listener, you wouldn’t have been able to access. It’s hard enough just in London, sometimes, just to get out of the house. As a disabled listener who can’t get out of the house, sometimes the Lunar Poetry Podcasts can be a lifeline.

You get adopted into a clique and then can’t show up enough and that’s a disgusting part to me about the creative scene in a country that has some arts budget. It’s disgusting to see how many decisions around who is allowed in and who isn’t is based on who turned up at the right pub on the right day. That comes with a whole host of problems, so having a podcast that’s managed to avoid those pitfalls is exciting. It stops it being lonely and being about anyone’s gang.

That’s leading me to the next question, you have identified on the podcast as someone from a working-class background and also someone who’s had mental-health obstacles and you talk about that very openly. I wanted to ask how that has affected your access to arts, how was that for you growing up?

DT:      I’m lucky that I come from a household where both my parents read a lot, mainly romance novels and horror novels, so I was surrounded by books. It goes back to just because you identify in some way, your personal experience will be different to those that identify in the same way. Whilst it’s a very valid and true narrative that for some working-class people, the only reading material was a newspaper on a Sunday, that is not the case…

Just because you’re working class, it doesn’t mean in any way you’re unable to engage with the arts. What it probably does mean is you engage with a very particular type of the arts. The same could be said of middle class and above. It’s just there probably is a stereotype and it’s definitely one I encountered, that poetry is trying to be too clever and if you are into poetry, you yourself are trying to be too clever and that is aspirational and that can be really poisonous when identifying strongly as working class.

As I said earlier, I failed my English Literature GCSE and went on from school to serve a joinery apprenticeship, so became a joiner. I did, for three months, do half of a Fine Art foundation course. I broke my elbow falling off a scaffold and couldn’t finish the course, but I was offered places at Wimbledon School of Art and Goldsmiths to read History of Art, but I turned those things down. The reason I mentioned the fact I failed my English GCSE and didn’t go to university is because I was having, both times, borderline emotional breakdowns.

That’s how my mental-health obstacles have impacted the way I interact with the arts. They have physically stopped me interacting with life and by extension, the arts, because my mental-health obstacles, specifically for me bipolar type 2, has incapacitated me at times, has disabled me physically and mentally and emotionally for obscenely long stretches of my life. It stopped me engaging with anything, never mind the arts.

I wrote a lot in my late teens. In my early 20s, I used to write reviews of art exhibitions I went to for my own amusement. I’ve always been able to generate or form ideas in my head through a dialogue. I’ll either talk to myself or write a conversation with someone else and that’s come out in reviews as well. Then I had a really severe emotional breakdown, I suppose I was about 24. It was the first time I ended up in hospital. It was only a short stay but it was a big thing to happen.

I stopped writing at that point. I didn’t write again until I was 33. The spring of 2014, I was admitted to the Maudsley psychiatric hospital in South London and I spent five weeks there. In there, I was encouraged to write. I had issues with compulsive and impulsive thoughts and I was encouraged to write these down because I couldn’t articulate them at the time. I’ve never really had any problem talking about my mental-health state, but at that time, I was emotionally exhausted and couldn’t articulate it. So I was encouraged to write these things down and when I left, I had these notebooks of lists, of phrases and sentences, which looked like poems but didn’t read as poems.

This is one of the things about this being a journey, or an education, for me in poetry. I now know that they are just found poems, ‘list’ poems. I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know what these things were that I was writing. Going back to the start, I then went and saw an open-mic event at the Dragon Café, which was a support group I attended and I saw someone read a poem. It was one of the few times in my life where it really felt like a lightbulb had gone off in my head.

I realised that what I wanted to do was talk to people and that perhaps there was something in this medium that would allow me a way of articulating a truth about what I was feeling, but communicate in a way that wasn’t centring myself and was accessible for other people to recognise aspects of it. Having spent five weeks in that hospital, a secure psychotic specialist ward called John Dickson, it taught me very, very plainly that not everyone that goes through those things has the ability to talk about their experiences afterwards.

I sort of came out of that feeling as though I had an obligation because if I ever felt I could talk about mental-health problems, then I probably should. I suppose the last four and a half years since coming out of the hospital, what I’ve been trying to learn along the way, is what was an appropriate time to share those feelings in conversations. What is the right way of talking about your own experiences that would allow space for other people to talk about themselves?

I haven’t found the answer and I am probably unlikely ever to find that answer, because of course it varies from person to person, experience to experience and moment to moment as well. Again, it goes back to your motivations. If you’re seeking that, people will probably sense it and trust you more.

AP:       That’s a really beautiful way of addressing a destabilising experience and also it really resonates for someone who also has to physically check out of a scene and come back in. I think having a physical record of the conversations you’ve been having since 2014 and the learnings you made that in a way, does enable other people to track that journey, that’s a really valuable thing to have.

DT:      Something that’s suddenly fallen into place in my head is that when I first started interviewing people and Lizzy, my wife, was my main co-host, mainly because we were both happy to work for free on this project, and we didn’t mind, because poetry had become our life anyway and it wasn’t an intrusion to have these conversations. Early on, the first question would always be ‘why poetry?’

I’ve sort of stopped asking that, or I do ask it, but in more nuanced ways and I try to tailor it to each guest, but it was really important for me to find out why would you be doing this? Why are you here, sharing these ideas, to what aim, to what end? Because there’s a really strong link with your mental health, because there’s nothing more poisonous than wondering what the fuck you’re up to, but questioning what you’re doing, questioning your own motives, because that can really eat away at you.

You’re absolutely right, it was really nice to look back on this archive of evidence of what I was doing and why I was doing it and when I came out of the hospital – I’ve never really thought of it this way – but I needed something to do. I needed something to fill my time that wasn’t destructive. I needed a space where I could talk about those destructive things, because that’s what my poetry is. Not that it’s destructive, but it is facing up to these hard things in my life.

I think this project, this series, has given me a way to keep shouting into the void that is the internet: Why poetry? It really could be: Why anything? It’s the why that’s the important bit. I don’t understand why people listen, why people come on as guests, I don’t understand why I’m doing this, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s happened and I can’t say it isn’t happening, because it’s there, isn’t it?

It’s a very real thing that’s happened in my life, a very real thing that’s happened in my life that my mental-health issues and my predilection to look at more negative things in my life and focus on them, I can’t turn this into a negative because it hasn’t been a negative.

AP:       The Why? question is almost every poem ever written, isn’t it? What you’ve got is a series of Whys? framed in different language. When people are reading their poems and you’re having different Why? conversations with each guest, that’s what a poem is, isn’t it? Different ways of having the same conversation and using language to explore this big, existential hole we’re in. Why do we need arts funding? Why is it so important that in this country, we have access to things that aren’t solid fact?

I think the politics of the podcast is also an interesting aspect. An interesting thing about poetry is it’s something that’s lorded by both the left and the right wing in different ways and it’s held up as this high art, but also this waste of time.

DT:      This has been the most productive waste of time in my life. I think we’re really lucky as humans in the West that we are afforded a space to waste our time and it should be embraced. It’s difficult, sometimes, if you say to a poet ‘It’s really great you’ve got a way of wasting your time’, people take it personally, as if you’re saying it’s not any good or there’s no point.

It’s the very thing with how we view what art is in the West because it’s a very Westernised view of what this kind of artistic representation is, but it is what you do in your spare time and this is why class politics is so important to me, because not everyone is afforded the time to play around.

Not everyone is afforded the time or permission to waste their time, whether that’s because they’re from a background where it’s heavily frowned upon and they’re judged for what they’re doing, or they physically can’t engage with something, or they are not allowed to identify their own gender or sexuality in public. Or – and I suppose you have to be open-minded – they’re not also allowed to write a love poem to Theresa May. I don’t know. As disgusting as I imagine that piece of work may be, it’s important that someone would be allowed to do that. You can’t deny that person this shit they want to make.

AP:       I was going to say a really profound thing, but I’m suck on that love poem now! I was just thinking about the luxury of self-expression linking to the luxury of self, that’s what it is, isn’t it? The luxury of being allowed to be exactly who you are, even if that is a love poem to Theresa May. The only way we’re going to answer the Why? questions which lead to language around, for instance, the new language, the fact that non-binary is a recognised term, is a new experience for a lot of people. The fact there are words for certain types of trauma, certain types of experience. If we didn’t play with language and create space for questions, we wouldn’t have the language to identify what’s actually going on in our lives.

DT:      Politically, if you see campaigns about other governments and other regimes, to varying and horrifying degrees of punishment, very often what we’re complaining about is denial of freedom of expression and it’s really poisonous for people. It’s so destructive to somebody’s being to be denied the chance to define themselves and express themselves the way they want to and if I can play any role in allowing someone to express themselves in the way they want to, I view that as more important than anything I might write myself or any chance to be published or lorded as a podcaster.

Some people may not believe you and I don’t give a fuck what they think, because I know in myself that is my motivation. That is what I want to do, give people the chance to chat, even if that’s a chance for someone like Donald Chegwin to come on and do his King Prawn poem, something that might seem really stupid to some people, or not stupid, but less important than certain things.

AP:       Also it’s worth acknowledging the experience of Lunar Poetry Podcasts now being archived in the British Library. They’re now a body of literature that’s been collected. What did that mean to you?

DT:      I was hugely proud of that. It, sort of, runs up against my naturally self-deprecating personality, but I really felt I’d achieved something, because it meant these disparate voices were suddenly in a really established archive. It meant that someone like Mishi Morath, someone that doesn’t even class themselves as a poet and in his own words is ‘just an open-micer’ is now in a national archive, which will be, until we’re taken over by the ants, forever preserved.

AP:       Ants love podcasts.

DT:      My aims when I started were to learn to make a podcast, to make 100 episodes, that was completely arbitrary, I don’t know why I chose that, and to be accepted and archived somewhere. I don’t know why that was in my mind. It just felt like that would be… I tell you what, I think it would be that was then my permission to make something and whilst you shouldn’t go through life wanting permission, it is a very real thing.

You do want that affirmation and more than that is the permission to do something. I think that’s why I felt so strongly that I had an obligation to give other people a place to talk, because I felt like I had no right to be here, because of my background. It’s not you can’t be published as a working-class writer, it’s none of those things, but whilst that is now becoming an easier thing to achieve, it is not the accepted status quo in production and editorial roles.

You are not given the permission to run something as a marginalised voice. It isn’t that I don’t feel I can be a writer, I feel I can because I physically write and you’re not defined as being a writer by being published and you’re not defined as a writer through anything other than writing is what my belief is. Taking the next step up, when you’re in some position of responsibility and in control of a project, that is not available to people.

That is still only available to a very select group of people in this country. I think I needed that permission and that kind of affirmation to be able to turn around to anyone who ever questioned anything I’d done and just say ‘well, they think it’s worth archiving’. When I had a meeting with them, they sat down and sold themselves to me, because they knew I had a collection of voices that they hadn’t gotten hold of before.

There are many poetry archives within the British Library and they were themselves surprised that there were so many poets they hadn’t heard of. That made me really proud. I was really happy that day.

AP:       We’ve now come to the point where we’ve got an anthology about a podcast about poetry that is now going to be a collection of poetry. What made you want to put a book out in this form?

DT:      Right from the beginning, I didn’t shy away from the fact I wanted to keep the word poetry in the title, so it became Lunar Poetry Podcasts because when I started, the fashion was to talk only of spoken word and to frame it as a spoken-word project, but I wanted to root it firmly in the act of writing poetry and the tradition of printing poetry on paper because whilst the oral tradition in poetry is much longer and the oral tradition of storytelling is much longer, it was only the advent of the printing press that made any form of literature accessible, because it meant you didn’t have to be sitting in the presence of the person telling the story.

I didn’t want to lose touch with that. It seemed natural to go from the written word to the spoken word to the recorded voice to a digital form, to then return back to a paper form. It seemed the natural thing to do. All of this is pointless speculation without a publisher and it wasn’t until Stuart at Verve Poetry Press said ‘we’ll do it’. I was like ‘yes, OK’ because while I had an idea of what it might be, you may as well just be imagining anything at that point if you haven’t had a firm offer.

Things like including quotes to go alongside the poems was an idea Lizzy, who’s co-editing this book, had. She suggested it would be a really good idea to have them in. I didn’t dismiss it, but I didn’t imagine a publisher would want to go with that idea and then Stuart said he loved that idea as well. It was just a really perfect way to frame the poems, retain another dialogue, not just dialogue through the poetry but retain elements of the dialogue and root the anthology firmly within these conversations again. That was really nice, that something that leapt to Lizzy’s mind immediately, we were able to put that in place.

AP:       I’ve seen the range of writers that are included and some of the quotes you’ve pulled. I was really interested to see some of the quotes are a lot about the diversity of poetic practice, there’s a lot about process, so not just Why? but How? It’s fascinating to read as an external observer who doesn’t know which poem has been chosen from each person and see it framed like that. Has that been a big part of it for you? It was exciting to hear that’s a big part of it for Lizzy as well. You’re a husband and wife team, you married a year ago tomorrow.

DT:      I met Lizzy at Poetry Unplugged.

AP:       So poetry has been a big part of your relationship and the support network you provide each other, I’m also fascinated by and in terms of the dialogue and roles you have. Is the dialogue about practice a big part of the anthology for you? I want to pull Lizzy into that question as well.

DT:      The editorial and production process in the podcast is far more weighted towards me. It’s a project I started and it is identifiably my project. Lizzy has provided a huge amount of physical, logistical support. She is beyond anyone, the person I’ve ranted ideas to endlessly and she’s enabled me to talk things out and given me a space, because I don’t talk about my own ideas that much on the podcast, I need a space to work things out.

We have those conversations over dinner, over breakfast, on the way to work and at night and there wouldn’t be a podcast without her. It would have fizzled out. I don’t think I would have been able to maintain the energy without having someone else involved. When it came to the anthology, I wanted to make sure she was more involved.

I would say the selection first of all, we each wrote down 30 names of people we would invite to the anthology, then we compared them. Any overlaps went immediately into the invitation list, then the remaining five, six or seven, we discussed and debated about who we should add to the list. As poems started coming in, we each read the submissions independently and again, made a top four, depending on how many submissions there were and the ones we agreed upon went in. We’ve got fairly similar taste. Where there were divergences, we discussed them further and re-read them. At some points, we said to each other ‘This person is probably more to your taste and it should be your choice’.

So there were a couple of times where we allowed the other person to choose the work.

AP:       Your invitation to submission definitely didn’t mention anything to do with the poems having to have featured on the podcast. Are there poems that have featured on the podcast?

DT:      I would say maybe two, three possibly. Most people have been really generous and submitted new work. Some people have submitted previously published work and that will all be credited and listed in the back of the book if people want to know. It just seemed natural and in keeping that we said to people ‘all we want to do is give you page space, we don’t want to tell you what to submit’.

It reflected more the desire behind the podcast, to just say we want you to be part of it, but we want you as much as possible…and again it’s about this collaborative aspect that ideally, we would just give you the page space for whatever you want to show, but in reality, you’ll have to submit some work and we’ll see what’s appropriate and what fits. We’d like to have some idea how it’s framed, but essentially you get to choose the four or five poems you submit and it won’t be anything other than the things you’re happy to submit. It’s about finding that blend.

A lot of people that come on, I have favourite poems and there are things I’d love them to read to me, but I won’t request them. I want the person in that moment to be happy with how they’re represented. We wanted to have that as much as possible in the book as well. There’s a huge range of writing. If you think Helen Mort was a guest in episode three back in December 2014 and her work is hugely different, there’s no way of saying ‘Can we have something like what you did?’ but she’s since had another fantastic collection, No Map Could Show Them and numerous other publications. Her way of thinking about writing I’m sure has changed immensely.

AP:       Both being a guest and also listening to the podcast as a collection and a series of dialogues is the sheer number being churned out one after the other and the sheer number of conversations, how they’ve grown, how they’ve evolved and the different shapes conversations can take. It’s a good reminder that art isn’t a fixed object and that we, whether we’re listeners, whether we’re actually engaging with the form that’s being discussed or whether we’re an audience, we’re not finished yet, any of us.

DT:      You’ve just reminded me of a quote I pulled out for Keith Jarrett and I think it’s a really beautiful summation. I had said ‘I can’t understand why people ask you what are you trying to say with your work and not what are you trying to ask of your work.’ His reply was ‘I’m full of loads of opinions, but I’m not exactly full of answers. The more I respond to what’s going on around me, the more questions I find.’ It’s almost so succinct, it makes the podcast irrelevant. It just says what everyone has said constantly for 100-odd episodes.

AP:       I wish that’s what arts education in this country did, I wish it’s what GCSE English did. I’ve tutored GCSE English for years and having to explain to disaffected 16-year-olds that poems aren’t trying to tell you one thing is a constant job. I wish they printed that at the beginning of every GCSE syllabus in every country.  I wish I’d known that when I was 16. The fact there isn’t a locked door. This is the myth of poetry, that there is a locked door and either you get it or you don’t and you’re constantly trying to solve a riddle like Sherlock Holmes. But the idea of poetry being a riddle is so offensive and sad and so much part of education and what’s wrong with aspects of literature education.

DT:      It’s an idea that’s supported and perpetuated, isn’t it? The more that was held up as an example and benchmark, the more poetry was written in that style. By far the biggest regret that most poets had on the podcast is that poetry has been traditionally taught so badly in schools and taught as this exclusive club you can only join if you understand and fully engage or can pretend to, with a very select band of dead poets. That is not a rejection of those poets’ works, but most of those poets are writing in a way that supports a particular type of government and a particular idea of what empire was, national identity.

It’s so easy to imagine why people reject it. That doesn’t mean that everyone will come round to love it, because that’s the world we live in. Some people will never want to engage with poetry and that’s fine, but I do think if you taught something closer to the breadth and depth of what poetry actually is, then more people would respond positively to it. I hope that’s what the podcast has done for some people.

AP:       That’s a really nice point to end it on. Is there anything you wanted to add?

DT:      No, I think we’ve covered everything. We should have done, it’s gone on for a while!

Outro:

Hello, you stuck around. Grab a biscuit as compensation for sitting through me talk for an hour! Thank you so much to everyone that has downloaded/listened-to/shared an episode over the last four years. I’ve really loved having the space and time to talk to you all and share so many wonderful poets with you.

If any of you out there are thinking of starting a podcast I would say just go for it. Bear in mind that it’s a lot of work but anything in which you’re going to pour your creativity into is a lot of work. Don’t let that put you off. Also, don’t listen to anyone that says it costs thousands of pounds to get started, that’s just rubbish. I produced my first 76 episodes using smartphones, tablets and a USB microphone. And if you don’t have those then get in touch with other podcasters, they’re a very friendly bunch and likely to help you out in some way.

That’s it for today, for more from us visit lunarpoetrypodcasts.com, find us at Lunar Poetry Podcasts on FaceBook and Instagram or @Silent_Tongue on Twitter. I’ll be back next month with episode 119 chatting to Bristol poet Shagufta K. Iqbal.

I’m going to leave you with a poem by one of my favourite poets Susannah Dickey which is accompanied in the book by this quote from episode 108, November 2017 in which Susannah says:

It’s not the most important thing, to be published, because it’s the act of writing and what that gives you […] It’s really lovely to feel like you’re getting closer to that stage of producing the kind of material that you really respond to; because, while you like to feel like your work is saying what you want it to, it’s also a really nice thought that someone else might be responding to it similarly, in the way that you respond to others’ work.

Which is quite a nice summation and open-ended question as to why people not only write but try to share their work…

This is;

To read this poem download the full transcript here.

 

End of transcript.

 

 

 

Episode 111 – Jackie Hagan and Nuar Alsadir

safe space promo.png

Good morning everybody! How are you all? I’m very pleased to say that episode 111 has just gone online. It’s in two parts, part one is me chatting to Jackie Hagan and part two is a short chat with Nuar Alsadir recorded in front of a live audience back in February at Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham. The episode can be downloaded via SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, Acast, Overcast… and hopefully anywhere else you download your podcasts! Here’s the episode description, followed by a full transcript of the conversation:

Part one

David Turner talks to poet and playwright Jackie Hagan talk about Jackie’s new play, ‘This Is Not A Safe Space’, which she’s just started touring. The play, presented by Unlimited and Big Feast, is based on interviews with over 80 people and in it, Jackie examines the impact of benefit cuts on disabled people and others on the margins of society. Perhaps predictably, considering the theme of this work, we discuss class – a lot. More specifically, when the idea of class entered Jackie’s consciousness and the effect it had on her gall bladder and mental health.

Dates for ‘This Is Not A Safe Space’:
23 and 24 March 2018 at the Attenborough Centre in Leicester as part of De-Stress Fest
25 March 2018 the Alhambra Theatre in Morecambe
29 March 2018 at the Creation Space in Basingstoke
30 March 2018 at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield
17-21 April 2018 Camden People’s Theatre in London

Part two [00:58:33]:
David Turner is in front of a live audience at the Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham talking to Nuar Alsadir about writing for an imagined reader and treating our notebook and pen as tools of the trade.

Transcript

Intro:

 

 

DT:      Hello, welcome to episode 111 of Lunar Poetry Podcasts. I’m David Turner. I hope you’re well. This episode is in two parts. Coming up at the end is a short conversation with Nuar Alsadir, recorded live at this year’s Verve poetry festival. More about that later, so stick around until the end. First up is a chat with poet and playwright Jackie Hagan. Jackie is originally from Skelmersdale, just outside Liverpool, or Skem as it’s known locally and throughout this conversation.

 

We met up in a function room in Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre to talk about Jackie’s new play, ‘This Is Not A Safe Space’, which she’s just started touring. The play, presented by Unlimited and Big Feast, is based on interviews with over 80 people and in it, Jackie examines the impact of benefit cuts on disabled people and others on the margins of society. Perhaps predictably, considering the theme of this work, we discuss class – a lot. More specifically, when the idea of class entered Jackie’s consciousness and the effect it had on her gall bladder and mental health.

 

We also get onto what it’s like to be a working-class person moving in poetry and theatre circles, though we did also attempt to imagine what it must be like when the tables are turned and middle-class people are surrounded by scallies and Herberts. Jackie and I are both bipolar, so steel yourselves for tangents aplenty. Before I forget, if you’re looking to hire a function room in Manchester for an event, the folk at the Royal Exchange Theatre are very helpful and really accommodating and rent out rooms very reasonably.

 

I wouldn’t recommend recording a podcast in the room I used though. As you’ll hear, the acoustics are very sharp, but it’s a great space for meetings and you’d fit a killer Iceland-based buffet in there. You can catch ‘This Is Not A Safe Space’ at the following venues: the 23 and 24 March 2018 at the Attenborough Centre in Leicester as part of the De-Stress Fest, 25 March 2018 the Alhambra Theatre in Morecambe, 29 March 2018 at the Creation Space in Basingstoke, 30 March 2018 at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, and 17-21 April 2018 Camden People’s Theatre in London. I’ll list all of those dates in the episode description.

 

This episode was only made possible with the aid of funding from Arts Council England, specifically their south-west regional office. If you’d like to keep up-to-date with everything that’s going on with this podcast and our fledgling A Poem A Week series, follow us at Lunar Poetry Podcasts on Facebook and Instagram, @Silent_Tongue on Twitter or go over to lunarpoetrypodcasts.com, where you can also download a transcript of this episode.

 

I’ll have to take a run-up to this bit. Download and subscribe to everything we’ve ever done over at SoundCloud, Stitcher for Android devices and iTunes for Apple users. Oh dear, that’s boring. Please do us a favour and tell your friends, colleagues and loved ones about us. It’s the best way to help us reach new people. If you want to make us really happy, head over to iTunes and leave us a lovely review. I feel a bit dirty now so as a palate cleanser, here’s Jackie Hagan. It might just be the first time she’s been introduced in that way.

 

 

Conversation:

 

 

JH:       Hiya, I’m Jackie Hagan. Where many of you have got a tube of meat, I have got a steel pole. I’ll let you figure that out for yourself. I’m from Skem and I’m a writer, performer, playwright. This poem is called ‘I Am Not Daniel Blake’ and it’s about all the things that us council-estate people do that piss people off.

 

We do not have permission to reproduce this poem.

 

[0:07:58]

 

DT:      Thank you very much, Jackie, thank you for joining me on the podcast. I really love that line and image about Schrödinger’s scratchcard and buying yourself hope. It’s really nice. It’s quite odd to hear that poem read in this room we’re sitting in. It’s luxurious, oak-panelled.

 

JH:       The plushest room in the world.

 

DT:      I believe it’s the former executive suite of the Royal Exchange, the boardroom.

 

JH:       It’s very brown, isn’t it?

 

DT:      Very brown and trying to be imposing, but it’s not very imposing anymore.

 

JH:       It feels like a headmaster’s room in a boarding school or what it would look like on the telly.

 

DT:      We will definitely have to imagine what that looks like on the telly, the pair of us. We were chatting briefly before we started recording and you mentioned you were from Skem. You mentioned it again there. It seems like a natural place to start after that poem.

 

JH:       Totally. I love Skem. It’s an overspill town from Liverpool that was built in the 60s because there wasn’t enough social housing in Liverpool. They just kind of picked people up and plopped them there. It’s actually in Blood Brothers, that’s where they moved to in Blood Brothers and they’re made up. They’re like: ‘Oh my God, look at all this green!’

 

At first, it was one of them Utopian new towns, but the people who designed it were up in the air, they weren’t down on the ground, you know what I mean? They had the best intentions, but they fucked it up really. It just became people fighting, you know? You know what happens when people don’t have enough money and resources and are all repressed and everything, they just kick off. So it became like that.

 

I didn’t know that I was working class when I was a kid, because it just never came up in conversation. There’s no class system really in Skem. There’s just people with slightly nicer shoes. Everyone’s poor. I had slightly nicer shoes, so I thought I was fine. Alan Bennett says this so I’ve stolen it off him: Skem’s like my inheritance because, my God, a lot of what Britain is, is flavoured with Skem. You’re not going to get an actual inheritance, so you may as well get some of it, you know?

 

I’ve told you this before, but the audience don’t know this, it’s studied on the Geography GCSE syllabus now as a failed social experiment, which I think is amazing, but in the bigger picture, it’s not. My source for that was a fella in a pub so it might not be true.

 

DT:      Surely these fellas in pubs must always be believed.

 

JH:       I get most of my information from there, then most of my history comes from Blackadder.

 

DT:      So was it a shock when you discovered you were working class?

 

JH:       Yes. I went mad. I don’t mean I kicked off, I mean I went mental. I went to university and it took me two years to figure out why I wasn’t fitting in. You act differently. The whole class thing, it’s not just money, is it? There’s loads of cultural differences I hadn’t cottoned on to. You might think ‘Oh, what a stupid girl,’ but I do live slightly in a different dimension in my head. Just stuff like you meet someone, you’ve never met them before, you slag off whatever’s going on around you to bond, rather than being lovely. I hadn’t learnt that yet.

 

I mean, my dad died at the same time, so that’s not handy, is it? I burnt down a kitchen and ended up in a psychiatric ward and it just went on for ages. It went on for about a decade. But it was horrible. It’s awful finding out that other people have had loads more opportunity and stuff. They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going skiing in a minute.’ It’s like, ‘Fucking hell, I’m going to my job.’ So yeah, it was awful.

 

DT:      Having chatted briefly before, I think we’re from fairly similar backgrounds. But I was born in Westminster in London. We lived in Housing Association, but we lived behind the Houses of Parliament basically, Old Pye Street off Victoria Street. You could walk to Big Ben in two minutes, you could walk to Buckingham Palace in about 10 or 15 minutes, so growing up, you couldn’t escape the difference.

 

JH:       And it was looming over you as well.

 

DT:      I’ve got no concept of what it’s like to suddenly find out, but it seems to be just as insidious and damaging even if it’s slow-burning. I can imagine the extreme shock, or try to imagine it because I think I had a similar thing when I was first diagnosed. I knew I had mental health issues but when I was first diagnosed with being bipolar, that appeared to send me crazy, having to face up to this truth about yourself. You may have been aware of it slightly, but it hadn’t been forced upon you to accept it. Suddenly it was just dropped on you.

 

JH:       It’s like the world is suddenly a different colour, isn’t it? You’re suddenly seeing everything anew. Like at the end of a story when you find out the twist. I’ve been diagnosed with a lot of things in the mental world. You get a button now that’s settled on bipolar for the minute, but actually, I want to go off on one about that. So women and girls get diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Loads, it’s loads higher than for lads. Lads hardly ever get it. It’s a bit of an umbrella term. It seems to be that you’re put into that category when they don’t know what to do with you. You’re just being a pain in the arse.

 

One of the big traits is that you are manipulative. I think this ties in with loads of other stuff. Being manipulative, obviously doctors just say that is a bad thing, but if you’re in a world where the person, or the system, has got what you need, that doesn’t have to be food and shelter, it could be validation. There’s loads of stuff we need. Or love. So if you can’t get that, well, you’d be manipulative. It’s a smart choice, isn’t it, in terms of class stuff? You’ve got to go about things in odd ways. Your body and mind are always trying to heal themselves, but sometimes things get in the way and so whatever trauma, or your immune system is just a dickhead, like mine is, and so your mind will do something.

 

I have, as a common hallucination, I hear applause, which is really nice and really egocentric. That’s like mental health gone right. The body goes about it in funny ways. My body produces far too much collagen. You’d think that would make me have nice lips and stuff, but it’s really damaging. I just think that manipulation is an interesting thing.

 

DT:      I definitely notice the difference between women in my family that have been diagnosed with similar conditions to mine. The term manipulative was never used for me, but I saw it used for women. I think there is a definite issue with people’s motivations being questioned as to why you’re asking for help.

 

There’s a big issue, I think, with mental health services in this country with men always being able to find redemption through asking for help, in a way that isn’t available to a lot of women. The motivations behind why you might be seeking medication or therapy. Validation is seen as not being completely on the level, in some ways. You must want something else, or you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

 

JH:       It’s all so old-fashioned, isn’t it? I know society clings on to old stuff, but mental health services are way behind aren’t they, what are they playing at? I have had good psychiatrists, I just think some of them could be a bit… It’s a surprise, isn’t it, that they’re not better at people and interaction with people, seeing as they’ve chosen a job that’s to do with people and psyches. I think they should do all the psychiatrist stuff you do and at the end, if they ask horrible shit, which they always do, and you become a bit monotonous and stoic and robotic about telling them horrible answers about things that have happened in your life, but I think it would be nice if they sort of looked you in the eye at the end and said, ‘I’m really sorry that happened to you.’

 

I think that would change appointments loads. I don’t know, I guess it might be about boundaries or something. I’ve had ones that have said that. I had a really cool one who drove an orange Beetle and had long ginger hair and a pin-striped suit, so obviously I fell massively in love with him and started giving him presents, then I wasn’t allowed him anymore, which was awful.

 

DT:      Obviously, the people of Skem played a big part in the writing of that poem you just read. How much does your work feed through those people?

 

JH:       It feels weird saying ‘those people’. Yeah, totally, but I don’t want to slag off Skem and say everyone’s an ‘alcy’.

 

DT:      But I found that to be quite tender. Even though you were talking about those sides of things, it wasn’t exploitative.

 

JH:       Yeah, but some people would be like, ‘I haven’t got a big massive telly,’ and all that. You need the whole show that I do to genuinely try to change opinions. If people from Skem listened to this, they’d be like, ‘what a cow.’ I think I’m from a bit of working class that’s different. My God, the words working class and middle class cause bloody chaos, don’t they? Because obviously, there’s loads and loads of different levels. I’m just opening a bracket and not going off on one, I’ll close it.

 

My boyfriend’s from Southport and he set up the free newspaper in Skem, so it was dead handy, because he knew what Skem was, because it’s quite a weird, isolated place. It’s not just working class. Obviously, I’ve never come across as middle class somehow. Just because he knew what Skem was, that helped. I think I’m from quite a poor version, we’re not aspirational. In no way would my mum want to be middle class, that would be like the worst thing in the world for her.

 

I clung on to my working-class identity so much at university, you know with lager and lard, all that sort of stuff, that I had to have my gall bladder out. Lager, lard, Angel Delight and repressed class fury isn’t good for your guts. Now I’ve opened too many brackets here, haven’t I?

 

DT:      I think it’s completely the right thing to bring up, that in that term ‘working class’, that is not one group of people.

 

JH:       I’ve got it, it’s all right. Sorry, that was like going ‘shut up’, wasn’t it?

 

DT:      Tell me to shut up, that’s fine. Just because I own the microphone doesn’t mean I should be allowed to just carry on speaking.

 

JH:       There’s a version of working class, maybe on the level where Peter Kay was, where you don’t want to be middle class at all, you’re not aspirational, you’re just about getting by. Also, the way they put us across on Benefit Street, we’re not like that either. You do nice things. You’ve got a bloody bin with nice red fringing on it and stuff like that. Yeah, I think I’m from a version of working class that’s not often seen, so I have to put all the bad things in, because that’s what people are pissed off about. I’m not going to put the nice, red, fringed bin in, because that’s not what needs to be explained. They don’t care about that. Skem’s [INAUDIBLE] everything, the end!

 

DT:      I might put out two versions of this interview. One will be five minutes long where you just wrap everything up succinctly, then we’ll put out an extended version.

 

JH:       This is the first question, isn’t it!

 

DT:      That’s alright. You mentioned this poem is part of a larger show, so it might be a natural thing to talk about that.

 

JH:       Yeah, so the show is called ‘This Is Not A Safe Space’. I’ll come to the title later because it’s nice to talk about that, but it’s not the biggest thing in it. I did a couple of shows before that, but it took a while to build up to actually talk about this stuff. I went round and interviewed 80 people on benefits, disabled, people on the brink and just working-class people as well. And people who had interesting things to say about class, because I think being working class, then being shoved into a middle-class environment because that’s your job or whatever, is a bizarre place to be in.

 

In the arts, you have to like drag up as middle class to get through and network and things. I’m really, I’m going to say steadfast instead of stubborn, I think that’s nicer, about not doing that, but I do see how that holds you back and how people perceive you as frigging lairy and unprofessional and stuff like that, and it’s just rubbish. So this show has real voices from the interviews put in so you hear them and the spotlight’s on these voices. The stuff is brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking and funny. Dead funny. Then I speak in between about various things.

 

At the start, I give you not a warning, but a thing I tell you, like I do know that middle-class people have problems too. I want to make people relax. Even though it is not a safe space, it’s not about going, ‘middle-class people, we hate you,’ because that’s not useful. This idea, which is constantly everywhere, that middle-class people have had everything handed to them on a plate, or there’s no problems if you’re middle class, that just totally invalidates someone’s struggle or any sort of suffering or you know, just hard graft to get where they are. It just ruins it so we can’t have a conversation about class.

 

I try to put that on another table – it’s all funny, by the way, it’s a comedy show – put that on another table so we can talk about class, but what I don’t do is talk about definitions and I’ve realised that is just as in the way, so maybe I’ll do a few poems about that in the future.

 

DT:      In what way do you mean ‘definitions’?

 

JH:       That thing I was saying about working-class and middle-class terms. They get in the way. Imagine whatever, Facebook, or you’re at a pub table on Christmas Day if you’ve got a family with lots of different types of people, and as soon as you start talking about class, everyone starts shouting at you what their class level is. We all have to set out where we are, and guilt is edging in, it just becomes a bit like when you ignore a homeless person because you haven’t got any money or energy to do it.

 

I could definitely do a comedy version of that, an outline of a middle-class person, an outline of working-class people, what we all think it is and if it’s light enough, we can get all that stuff on the table and go, ‘look we’re just people, let’s try and figure this thing out. Let’s try and figure out the attitude thing.’ When I say the attitude thing, I mean like class isn’t just about money, it’s about expectations and what you could be. Are you factory fodder or are you headed for something like this room that we’re in now?

 

And opportunities given to you and are you perceived as a human? The biggest thing, and I do address this a bit in the show, but I’d like to really unpick it more in future because I’ve realised how fucking big it is, is this idea that if working-class people just would work harder, then they could become middle class. It’s like ‘Why give them anything? They just need to work harder,’ forgetting the fact someone is working as hard as they can. Or if you feel society is looking at you as not being worth much, how can you have any self-esteem yourself, how can you fight against all of that when you’re knackered? Obviously, the problem is much more complex than ‘just work harder’. That’s just a way of not making yourself have to deal with this massive problem we’ve got in society.

 

DT:      It’s really poisonous, isn’t it, this idea that in order to be accepted, and to improve yourself, you have to redefine yourself? You can’t be accepted as being working class, you have to climb that ladder, be aspirational, seek to achieve something. It feeds into the idea, ‘don’t complain about your low-paid job, get another job,’ as if that’s an opportunity or a possibility for a lot of people.

 

JH:       As if you’ve got time to do that as well, just go to 30 interviews this week.

 

DT:      It came up on Twitter recently. Sabrina Mahfouz wrote a long Twitter post about how she’s constantly asked what it’s like being a woman of colour – I think I’m remembering this bit right – child of a migrant, working within theatre and working in the arts. No one ever asks her – and this was her reason for the post – no one ever asks her what it’s like being working class in the arts. That’s what she sees as being the real barrier. The general gist was that the class barrier she faces feeds into all of those other issues. To her, that’s where it starts.

 

JH:       Yeah, totally. I get – I’ll give away the answer to the riddle, I’ve got one leg – I’ve got one leg so I get invited to loads of diversity things. The way I said loads then. I do appreciate those things, keep booking me, but yeah, loads of talking on panels and stuff like that. I get invited on the leg ticket, so I go and I do a few gags about the leg and then I start talking seriously about class because no one’s ever, well they have now, because I haven’t shut up about class for a year and a half, and I’m not going to shut up about it. It’s like I have to say the word first because it’s an elephant in the room that no one really cares about as well.

 

It’s nice, I’ve got a really good gaydar for working-class people who’ve had to drag up as middle class to get by. I can spot you. It’s great because often we smoke. You can go out and just be working class together for a minute and it’s a delight.

 

DT:      This has come up quite a lot in conversations, mainly because I’m the one leading them and it’s just my experience…

 

JH:       Yeah, and you’re good.

 

DT:      But one thing that doesn’t get spoken about that often on the podcast, mainly because we’re talking about people’s work, but I’d like to pick your brains a bit on it. We’ve just discussed what it’s like to be working class in a very middle-class scene, especially poetry and theatre. Out of all the arts, it’s probably only then contemporary dance that could get any worse for a working-class person. How is the other side of the coin when you then come home as an artist?

 

JH:       I thought you were going to say what’s it like for middle-class people being in a room full of working-class people? Because that’s hard.

 

DT:      That’s what I’m hoping for in a future conversation because I’m very aware it can be equally as isolating and exclusionary.

 

JH:       Part of it’s not knowing the etiquette isn’t it, and people being wary of you. On the question you didn’t ask, when I went round in the interviews, my sound man is a fucking gorgeous human, dead lovely, he’s a big fella, you can’t miss him, I think he probably says he’s middle class, but in Skem, he’s really perceived as, ‘ooh, get you,’ but less camp than I just did. So in every interview I had him next to me, holding the mic, trying to disappear. He’s surprisingly good at disappearing, so yes, it was like oh fuck, this is going to be interesting.

 

I mean, people are fine. I think it’s when people are in a group situation that they have to do that bravado thing. I understand. I love bravado. I think it’s heartbreaking, but I love watching it and writing about it. But on a one-to-one… I’ve run out of steam there. So what’s it like going home? Oh my God, me going back to Skem now, so it’s been quite a while, I don’t mean… I go back to Skem all the time, I’ve been this arty-farty wanker for quite a while now, I said the word ‘integral’ in front of my extended family four years ago and that’s been my nickname ever since. So it’s a jokey, nice, constantly taking the piss.

 

I mean, also I’ve got loads of mates who are not into arty stuff, who are just normal, well to me, normal, working-class people. Very working class. I just forget and I come out with stuff, like I’ll say ‘aesthetic’ at the Labour Club or something like that, so yeah, I’ve got plenty of people around me, reminding me.

 

DT:      Do you ever catch yourself really ‘estate-ing’ it up?

 

JH:       Oh yeah, Christmas Day, my accent went all over the place, then I felt like I was being too posh. But I was doing the dinner that day, so it was already stressful, you know? I still really want to impress my mum and our Mike, my brother, it’s the performer’s personality, isn’t it? You just want to impress your family all the time, so you do it by doing gigs above pubs when they’re not even there. I dunno if it’s like I’m trying to fit in, I’m trying to remember me as Skem and I’m going ‘all right there, lad?’ I also want to impress them because I’ve done all this shit, so I’m like, ‘oh yes, the aesthetic of my new piece…’ I’m bonkers in Skem.

 

DT:      We’re now getting around to 2018’s version of what is now an annual event. This happened a year ago. I’m really happy for it to have happened to the series, but we’ve been shortlisted for a British Podcast award which is a great thing, the only independent literature podcast to be nominated in 13 categories, I was really made up about it. I’m really close to my aunt, my mum’s sister, I tell her everything. The look on her face! She knew it was really good, but she had no concept of what it was. We were talking earlier, not only is it an arts-based thing, but still in a medium that people still don’t quite understand what a podcast is. They know it’s sort of like the radio.

 

I’m hyper-aware of not questioning the reason people don’t engage with the arts, they can do what they want with their life, it’s not a failure on their part, but it’s funny that I do what I do, it sits in two areas that people don’t have any idea about. Doubly obscure. Word got around the family, because it’s on social media and stuff and family members follow the podcast stuff on Instagram and Facebook, everyone was really pleased this thing had happened, but no one understood what this good thing meant and what it was about. It was really funny. I found myself going, ‘it don’t matter, it’s just some old bollocks,’ but I don’t mean that, I only said ‘some old bollocks’ because I was down the pub.

 

JH:       Flippancy is a very working-class thing, isn’t it? You’re not allowed to care or be passionate. You can be passionate about football.

 

DT:      You’re allowed to mention a thing once, it gets the reaction it gets, then you drop it. You can’t keep bringing it up. But I found that one thing that sort of linked me, or tied me back in, even though my life was becoming more engrossed in poetry, this art form has taken me further from what I felt my roots were, but that isn’t actually what’s happening, that’s just what’s in my head. But I thought, as long as I go to the pub still on a Sunday and have a chat with the same people, it’s still alright. But I’ve stopped drinking now so I can’t go to the pub and I’ve lost that tie.

 

It’s this idea of what have I got to continue to do to still be alright in people’s eyes. I think the reason I’m thinking about it is because I’ve noticed a lot of people who clearly aren’t working class within poetry sort of dropping their H’s because the pressure’s there, because that’s where the funding is. The funding is there if you’re from a, whatever the Arts Council think is marginalised. There’s also the issue around people who are working class but don’t necessarily look or sound it, that problem they have. I’ve spoken a lot with Josephine Corcoran who runs And Other Poems, who grew up in a low-income household, a Catholic family with loads of kids, and next to nothing growing up, but if you met her, she sounds really middle class. It’s just the part of the country she grew up in, she doesn’t have a particular accent. I was really surprised when she told me about her upbringing. I’d completely pre-judged.

 

I think it’s really good to know that funding is going towards platforming whoever we consider to be marginalised, but it’s sort of forcing us to wear our identity as a badge and that’s not always that positive. Do you think this work around how we identify as working class has a finite period? Is the aim to continue to identify in this way or is the aim to reach a point where it doesn’t have to be spoken about?

 

JH:       Personally, I won’t want to make art about the same thing all the time. Something else will piss me off. Bound to, isn’t it? Do you know what, you get mascot-ised, you become like a token thing for whatever it is you’re going on about. I don’t mind doing that even though it’s shit, but I’m happy to do that if it means I get to do whatever show I want. I was the token disabled person for ages. I’m a bit sick of that. I think you just do it until you’re going to cry sick out of your eyes and hope you’ve done something good in that time, I think.

 

DT:      How do you manage other people’s expectations of your work? Do you physically withdraw for a while? Presumably you’re not creating work that’s that different, it’s still your voice, it’s just about how you emphasise particular parts of the work. Do you physically have to withdraw from performing in order to come back and redefine, in order to avoid the same bookings?

 

JH:       Do you know what, I’ve just gone with intuition. I’ve got a producer who tells me what to do. He seems to know what he’s doing. I don’t think this is a good thing. I don’t think people should aim to do this, but I just kind of ‘rrrrr’ until I burst. I’m not as clever at managing it.

 

DT:      The main reason I ask is because probably quite a few people listening will be thinking the same thing, because of the way funding works. Just because there’s a pressure on all of us I think, where do you earn your money? You very rarely earn money through book sales or ticket sales. A lot of the R&D is Arts Council-funded, a lot of the tour costs are Arts Council-funded. There are other funding bodies, but it’s mainly the Arts Council and the process of going through that application is just a series of ticking boxes. It’s not to knock, I think there’s a lot of really great work that comes out of the Arts Council, but-

 

JH:       I think you should credit funders slightly more. I don’t know how to say this without going ‘I’m awesome,’ so just be aware I’m trying not to say that, but they do also just choose good work, don’t they?

 

DT:      I think it’s more the middle layer. I think the funding bodies do a really good job of spreading money out, but then there’s the pressure on producers, I found that pressure, of then trying to direct a project to be representational rather than diverse but then hit those diversity quotas. That feeling then filters down to the participants of the project, that’s a natural thing. If I take myself out of the production role and put myself in more of a writerly or artistic role, how do I avoid the pressure of being the writer with bipolar? Because I’m so clearly defined by that and I’m happy to talk about it, you drive yourself into those boxes almost, don’t you?

 

JH:       Yeah, my mate’s show was sort of about this. Sophie Willan, she’s dead good, she’s not a poet, she’s a comedian, about the way you get branded as different things. I think I’ve been lucky in the fact that the things I’ve wanted to go on about are the things the funders want me to go on about, it’s just accidental. That doesn’t mean it’s not like sophisticated work… people just love a bit of Skem and I do as well. People love disabled people. They don’t, society hates us, but funders like us.

 

DT:      I’m really glad you brought up the false leg, because on an audio thing, I don’t know how I’d visually tick that box.

 

JH:       It’s normally got little lights on and stuff like that. It’s a new leg and it’s shit and it’s not getting decorated until it starts to behave. It’s horrible, green with a big bulbous thing on it. Yeah, I’ve got a big false leg and I don’t mind, I quite like it actually.

 

DT:      I’m going to send that two-minute clip to the Arts Council in my evaluation. See? Since we’re talking about funding, maybe we should talk about the Jerwood, is it a prize or a commission? Congratulations, by the way.

 

JH:       It’s a fellowship. Like Lord of the Rings. They give you loads of money. So to put cards on the table, they gave me 15 grand.

 

DT:      Along with Jane Commane and Raymond Antrobus?

 

JH:       Yeah and 15 grand is like, what the fuck? Someone did say to me, ‘You do know that to some people, that is not a big massive lot,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck off!’ Still, my God. For me, what that meant was, this is like that bit on The X Factor, like ‘poor me’ because I’ve got one leg because I’ve got systemic sclerosis which is an autoimmune disorder, which is life-limiting, so it’s like you die sooner, which is like ‘oooh.’ I’m not blind, I’m not going to go through all the things I haven’t got, but my eyes are shit, that’s what I’m trying to say and my hands don’t work.

 

I’ve got loads of shit wrong with me basically and chronic fatigue and that, so what the money meant was I don’t have to run around the country doing workshops and panels and all that stuff. I do love doing that stuff, but I need a rest. I need to just frigging sit down for a minute. I do a lot of stuff for free, I’ve done over 1000 workshops for free. So that meant I could have a rest, which was just amazing. Also they give you mentors, pay for mentors, so I’ve got Clare Shaw, do you know her? You should interview her, she’s dead good, from Burnley, she was the second biggest baby every born in Burnley. You should get her off that fact. She’s amazing.

 

I feel embarrassed now because she’s my mate as well. She’s mentoring me, kicking me up the arse, so I’m writing a new poetry collection, and Henry Normal because I’ve got a sitcom with him as well. It’s what, in the tube?

 

DT:      Yeah, cos it’s not in the can yet, is it? It’s in the tube before it ends up in the can.

 

JH:       It’s sort of quavering at the start of the tube. So that’s what Jerwood is. Joy Francis runs it, she’s just one of them people, you talk to her for five minutes and it changes your life. We were talking about, I feel like I’m not doing as much here, because you’re nice. You know on a radio thing, I had to do loads of gags, all whistles and bells and it was like a persona, a bravado, acting a bit stupider than I am and she saw that and she was like, ‘all that extra, you know you don’t have to do that,’ but she put nice things in, like ‘you’re a smart cookie, I know you already know this, so you don’t have to do that.’ It was like, ‘oh, I’m a smart cookie!’

 

So yes, they’re just dead good and it was so much validation for me because I thought I was crap, so it sort of added to the role. I need outside sources because I haven’t sorted myself out yet, to keep telling me I’m good.

 

DT:      I follow the Jerwood Foundation quite keenly and I know quite a few poets and writers that were up for that, that reached the shortlist.

 

JH:       I saw people coming in for the interviews and waiting and it was like, ‘ooh, what am I doing here?’

 

DT:      It’s a really big thing.

 

JH:       Some people will hate me now.

 

DT:      Maybe at the time.

 

JH:       Thanks!

 

DT:      No, but it ties into that idea that for a lot of people on the shortlist, £15,000 is a huge amount of money, but I think it’s important to talk about the fact that for a lot of people, it isn’t much money. The first lot of Arts Council funding I got was £13,000. £3000 of that went straight on equipment, so I was left with 10 grand to pay other people, some for me, but most of it was for travel. I couldn’t believe it, I’d never seen that amount of money in my bank ever, it was insane, but when you think about it, it meant I was working for about £2.20 an hour. It’s not much money for the amount of work that goes into the project.

 

It wasn’t why I wanted the funding, it wasn’t to turn it into a job, it was to make it happen and give me more time to focus on it, but one issue around the funding, it’s not the problem for the funder, it’s the idea that more needs to be done to realise how desperate a lot of people are for this money, because it’s the only thing that’s going to pay your rent, allow you to remain as a full-time artist. Sometimes the attitude of some funding bodies is we’ve done a really good thing, we’ve given £3000 to this person, pat ourselves on the back, and you think it’s still not really going to do much.

 

JH:       Artists On The Brink. That should be a podcast, shouldn’t it?

 

DT:      I think that’s pretty much what this is anyway. The main reason I was asking about mentoring is just yesterday, I had a meeting with a young producer in Bristol and I’m going to be using some of the Arts Council funding to start a mentoring scheme, to help someone else start their own podcast. I found someone that’s, similarly to me, from a low-income background. I’m suddenly thinking I now need to pretend I know what I’m talking about, or at least look like I know what I’m doing because I haven’t actually spent much time explaining to people my process around the podcast. It just sort of happens. Now that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility to sit down with someone, and…

 

JH:       There’s all the electric cable part of it to explain, and whatever that means.

 

DT:      How not to hang yourself with your own cables whilst interviewing someone is the main thing.

 

JH:       Yeah, but it’s the talking to people. You do it differently.

 

DT:      What role do you see yourself in as an artist? Do you see yourself as mentor?

 

JH:       Even just on the bus, I’m being a frigging mentor because I get asked. I’m not slagging off all these people, but I’d say I get five messages a day on Facebook asking ‘How can I get my work published? How can I be in the place you are overnight?’ I also don’t like the thing ‘overnight success’ because I have grafted my fucking arse off. It’s been 12 years. I’ve hardly said no to a gig, until I got ill. That’s the answer, often. If you love it, work your arse off. There are things you can tell people about publishers, I can do that. I think that’s got missing somewhere because people see Kate Tempest and stuff like that and say, ‘I’m as good as them, why aren’t I there?’ Or, ‘I’m better than them.’

 

It’s four types of inspiration isn’t it? It’s like watching people who are way, way better than you and becoming really despondent, watching people better than you, like the normal type and you’re like, ‘whoa, I really want to do this now,’ watch people who are shitter than you and being like, ‘oh fuck this, this whole art form is crap,’ to people who are shitter than you and going, ‘yeah, I’m going to do this!’

 

DT:      There’s this other podcast called The Comedians’ Comedian, and similarly to this, it’s just chats, quite relaxed, but there’s always a question about ‘how did you get started in stand-up?’ I would say 95% of his guests, and he’s had a lot of people on, would say, ‘I went to a stand-up night, and thought everyone was shit and I could do better than this.’ There’s a particular type of ego that leads you to want that kind of validation from the audience. That’s probably a natural segway into asking you what your relationship is with the audience and what kind of validation you look for from your work.

 

JH:       It’s changed loads. I think I’ve become a tiny bit of a grown-up around that area. To begin with, it was totally, ‘look at me, look at me, I’ve got something to say, I feel like no one else is saying this, look at me, I’ll do a little dance for you,’ which is the same as say, every time I’d get a taxi or something like that, it was just how I lived. I think it’s a bit bipolar and I think it’s a bit the youngest child, that seems to be a thing. Some people didn’t get enough attention as a kid, but with me, I got a lot of attention as a kid, I was on stage and stuff. My mum’s bipolar as well, so I had this flamboyant… I feel like the 80s were like cerise and electric blue. When I came home as a little baby in a Moses basket, because that was all the rage, they put it in the middle of the floor, they turned the telly off and they looked at me instead. That was the role.

 

So to begin with, it was all about that. I’d love it if people came up afterwards. And then it sort of changed. When I was doing the leg show, ‘Some People Have Too Many Legs’, I sort of, maybe did it too early because it was like, I was writing it when I was in hospital and didn’t know if I was going to die or not. I was clinging on to it a bit, but I think it was a good show. People were coming up afterwards and they’d tell me all about stuff. My life at that time was 100s and 100s of people telling me their story and it can kill your brain a little bit. It’s like empathy fatigue, especially when it’s a thing you’re trying to process and you’re doing on stage every night.

 

So then I started wanting to be on my own a little bit. Then with this show and then with the play, it was weird because it’s a play and you’re not in that, you’re not present, I wasn’t there half the time. Then with this show, my mind, it’s like I’ve finally thought about it in a considered way. People clap. Wonderful. People have to clap, that’s the tradition in life and people join in, so I’m kind of like, ‘OK, that’s what happens at the end.’ If they’re like ‘wooo’ then OK. But also this show, the fact that it’s not a safe space and I’ll go there. It’s not the type of show you go ‘woo hoo’ about, it’s the type of show you go ‘fucking hell’ and sort of leave and ruminate over. I hope.

 

The other reaction is people come down crying, going – sorry, I sound like I’m saying I’m amazing – but some of the reactions are like, ‘I’ve never felt myself represented on the stage before,’ except we don’t really say it that way in working-class land. It’s that sort of sentiment and that is lovely. I fucking love that. It is a little bit exhausting and makes me feel like, ‘shit, I’m in a position of responsibility, OK, let’s fucking bring it,’ but now I’m like fine.

 

I can’t see… People laugh when they’re happy and clap. There’s no noise that people make when they’re inspired. That’s a joke. I was trying to do it deadpan. I don’t mean that, I just mean it’s in their own heads. It’s more of a big-picture relationship with the audience. If people hate it as well. I just want to start a fucking discussion about class, so that was a very long answer.

 

DT:      No, it was perfect. I was just going to say to the listeners, if you want to go and make a noise for being inspired and be involved with this discussion about class, you can check out ‘This Is Not A Safe Space’. We’re not going to mention dates, because what I will have done is mention the dates that are still available in the introduction to this episode, so you should already know the dates and venues. It sounds great. People should definitely get along to see it if they can. Follow us or follow Jackie on Twitter and the other places we exit now, in the ether.

 

JH:       Are we still doing the thing?

 

DT:      Yeah, it’s fine, I’m really professional, I just slipped into it.

 

JH:       I thought you were just talking. And the sitcom.

 

DT:      And the sitcom as well. We exist online.

 

JH:       And the kids show.

 

DT:      We haven’t got round to that. People need to check you out online.

 

JH:       I still don’t know if we’re doing it.

 

DT:      Yeah, it’s still happening. Thank you, Jackie.

 

JH:       Thank you, David.

 

 

 

Part two [00:58:33]:

 

 

Host: David Turner – DT

 

Guest: Nuar Alsadir – NA

 

 

Intro:

 

 

DT:      You stuck around. Thank you. Next up is a short conversation with Nuar Alsadir. Late last year, I was completely made up to be invited to record some live interviews at the wonderful Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham. I was lucky enough to go along to their first event last year and it remains one of the best literature events I’ve ever attended.

 

The organisers, Stuart Bartholomew and Cynthia Miller, asked me to come along and host four 15-minute conversations with Sandeep K. Parmar, Roy McFarlane and winner of the Verve Poetry competition 2018, C.I. Marshall. And of course, Nuar. The loose idea for the conversations was to ask each writer about the role that live literature events play in their writing, but as you’ll hear, it quickly fell apart. But in a good way.

 

Instead of editing them together into a single episode, I’ve decided to put them out as sort of bonus tracks at the end of this and the next three episodes. It seems like the right thing to do, though I might regret it. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision and stick with it, right? Up now is me and Nuar talking about writing for an imagined reader and treating our notebook and pen as tools of the trade. Tell your friends about us.

 

 

Conversation:

 

 

Hello, everybody. Welcome to Lunar Poetry Podcasts at Verve Festival in the wonderful city of Birmingham. I’m joined for the first interview in a series of four this year by the fabulous Nuar Alsadir. Nuar is a poet, writer and psychoanalyst. Her collection ‘Fourth Person Singular’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Forward prize for Best Collection. I was going to say this interview wouldn’t be as shambolic as my reading earlier. It might be. We’ll start with a reading please, Nuar.

 

NA:      Sketch 27. A man entered the subway car at Borough Hall, was about to sit, but just as his knees began to bend, the train jerked into motion. He stood up as though regaining composure after a brief humiliation, as though it were somehow shameful to be subject to gravity’s impersonal force, caught in its grip, an object controlled by physics.

 

DT:      Thank you very much, Nuar. This is the most intimate stage I’ve ever stood on. It’s almost like being on a milk crate. I have to remember that for the majority of the audience for this, it will be in audio and descriptions of where I’m standing are of no use to anybody. The series of four talks we’re doing for this weekend, I was asked by Stuart and Cynthia to provide an idea of what we’d talk about. I suggested that, because we’re at a literary festival, we would talk about the importance of those festivals to the individual writer, so we’ll begin with that question, Nuar. I’m excited for the answer, I sort of already know… What role do these types of festivals play in your development as a writer?

 

NA:      This is my first festival so it’s to be determined.

 

DT:      When writers do this to me on the podcast, it’s my favourite thing. Just to leave me floundering. I do have to remember there are people watching me so I can’t bask in it for too long. You were saying before that you’re usually more isolated, did you use that word?

 

NA:      Reclusive.

 

DT:      How does that inform the way you write?

 

NA:      I think it informs it completely. I don’t know how to answer that question, that’s so hard. I am reclusive, so I write from the reclusive space that I occupy and the work is coming from an internal space where I’m addressing an imagined reader that understands me. What Bakhtin called the ‘super addressee’, someone whose complete understanding and goodwill is part of how I imagine them.

 

DT:      Did you at any stage of your writing development design a reader in mind to write for?

 

NA:      Yeah, I think I always have a reader in mind that I’m writing for, but it doesn’t necessarily match up with a person in the world, so when the work goes into the world, whether at a festival or in publication, it’s going to reach readers who are real people in the world and not just my imagined reader. And I go… because I can’t control who’s going to read it and how they’re going to read it, but I think when I’m writing it, I have control over my addressee, who I’m imagining as I’m writing.

 

DT:      I’m looking at this wonderful… I was going to say sea. Fishpond of faces in front of us, it’s quite an intimate room, it’s not that big – I just find it hard, how you would ever write without looking at these people, and how this is your first experience.

 

NA:      This is my first time looking at the audience, actually. I was blocking them out.

 

DT:      This actually came up in a conversation with Caroline Bird, which will become Episode 110 of Lunar Poetry Podcasts. We were talking about the idea of an imagined reader that you might be writing for. How do you avoid the safety that comes with designing that reader yourself? How do you challenge yourself?

 

NA:      Why would you want to?

 

DT:      OK.

 

NA:      Why would you want to imagine an unsafe reader? What would that do to your speaking, writing self?

 

DT:      Isn’t it natural for most people to eventually move towards the safe zone?

 

NA:      I don’t know if I can speak for other people, but why would you want to do that in your writing? I’m not quite sure. To imagine judgement or criticism, I don’t know how that would be a goal, or helpful.

 

DT:      I think more that I was wondering how you maintain that reader as being… pleasing that reader, how that becomes a challenge or stays a challenge if this person’s imagined in your head. Because it would be easy to imagine them being really pleased with what you write as well.

 

NA:      I think that if you’re not worried about pleasing the reader, if you’re worried about or concerned with being understood, pleasing isn’t really part of being understood. I feel like pleasing the reader is about narcissism and wanting to be rewarded and to win, win in the eyes of others and I feel like I write out of a very different space, where I’m trying to communicate and connect. If I imagine the reader to be someone who in my mind is alive and feeling and attempting to hear me and see me and understand what I am expressing, then hopefully it’ll be universal enough that it will reach the universal part in other people who weren’t part of my imagined reader, but have some core of universality and humanity in them, which hopefully the work will reach.

 

DT:      Do you have any other writers you share your work with, obviously we’ve established that you don’t necessarily share it with live audiences, but do you have other writers you share your work with in order to maintain that sense of universality?

 

NA:      Well, this book, ‘Fourth Person Singular’, when I wrote it I actually didn’t show it to anyone until I was done and then I showed it to one friend, who’s a writer, and my editor and that was it. Then as it went through production, there was an intern at Liverpool University Press, who was a senior there, Natalie [INAUDIBLE] and she worked on it as well. That was it.

 

DT:      I’m finding it hard to completely process it, because most poets I talk to claim to be reclusive, but you’re really seeing this one through. You live the life. Would you be able to explain a little bit more about the process behind this collection? About the form that it takes, and the structure.

 

NA:      It’s largely a book in fragmented form, so there are some fragments that make up a long poem in the beginning and then there are a few lyric essays and some what I call sketches, which are actually written in a sketch book, but they’re verbal sketches as opposed to drawing sketches. Then there’s an autobiography in footnotes, which is something that had come to me in a dream. I dreamt I wrote my autobiography and the pages were blank and the text was all in footnotes.

 

It kind of took its own form, but I also was writing it in a short period of time because I’m a massive procrastinator and I was coming up against the deadline for the book, I had a little over a month and I had to write it or miss the opportunity. I kind of went into an isolated space and I didn’t do anything else while I was working on it. I think it comes out of an enclosed state of mind and time period. Sometimes I look at it now and I almost don’t remember writing it. Although I recognise it as mine, it’s sort of separate for me.

 

DT:      I find it interesting when writers talk about moving into writing in sketch books, freeing themselves from lines. Is that a conscious decision or did it reflect this idea that you’d seen what the story might be?

 

NA:      I’m actually really obsessed with drawings and notebooks. When I go to museums, I try to find the drawings of the artists I love. I feel like they’re really intimate and I love when the drawings have places where something has been erased and it’s smudgy and you can see the layers of the process. That’s what I love to look at and to contemplate. I think in some ways this book was really my attempt to make the work I would like to read and that I enjoy. Even if it’s visual art or writing.

 

DT:      Do you sketch as well?

 

NA:      No. I used to make pottery, that’s the closest I’ve come.

 

DT:      I’m a furniture maker. I carry sketch books around with me, but I hate drawing, it turns me inside out because I’m really bad at it, basically. I’m still obsessed with this idea of creating images. I think that’s what first drew me to poetry. I was determined to create images with my words. I was still trying to draw it in a way.

 

NA:      That’s really interesting. Heidegger actually has this moment where he talks about a carpenter and he says that if a carpenter wants to make something with wood, the carpenter can have an idea in their head of what they want to make and then the idea goes from their head to their hands. But once their hands touch the actual wood, the wood has its own volition, the grains go in a certain direction. It can be wet, it can be dry, so in touching the wood, an idea then has to be altered, so the idea has to go from the hands back to the head and be altered.

 

So an idea should always move in two directions, from the head to the hands, then from the world back to the head in order to be adjusted. If you’re really writing something to have it work in the world, you have to also be listening and taking in what the world is telling you.

 

DT:      That’s really fascinating. I think it sort of ties in with my obsession about the right type of paper and the right type of pen.

 

NA:      I have that same obsession.

 

DT:      What’s your pen of choice?

 

NA:      At the moment, I’m really into those Le Pen pens. They’re really thin, fine-pointed pens.

 

DT:      Why anyone would want anything other than a fine nib is beyond me. You can leave if you have anything above a fine or micro nib.

 

NA:      And they have some great blues, French blue, Peacock blue. I think they call it Peacock, I call it French in my own mind. I like that colour. That’s what I’m into now, but notebooks, I’m having a hard time with. I keep trying, I have to switch it up, I can’t keep writing into the same notebook. I feel like I go through phases, in the same way that my process, sometimes it’ll work for me to wake up at 5am every morning and write first thing. And then it’s almost like I exhaust that and it doesn’t work anymore, then I have to change it up and develop a new process.

 

I have to do the same thing with paper and pens. I’m in between notebooks. I’ve been trying a few, but I’ve realised that what has been working is no longer working and then what I thought would work really doesn’t. I think I had an idea of what I was going to write next and I felt like it should go into a certain notebook, but then it’s not right.

 

DT:      I can’t believe we have to stop now. It’s very frustrating. I could go on about pens and paper forever. I’m holding a small notebook in my hand now.

 

NA:      What do you have there? Describe it for the listeners.

 

DT:      I’m not going to because it’s horrible and I’d have to mention the brand name.

 

NA:      Moleskine.

 

DT:      As if anyone’s listening from Moleskine. We’re going to finish with a reading.

 

NA:      I’ll read another sketch. Sketch 64. Pleasure and disgust, the border of desire, of aesthetics, where beauty and the uncanny meet. Is this the brink one must always live on, bear and bare? The vulnerability necessitated in feeling alive. When I’ve bared myself, I feel a compulsion to send out a flurry of signals to adjust the reception of others, to scramble the image that may have been momentarily revealed of me.

 

DT:      Thank you very much, Nuar. Thank you, Verve. Give yourselves a round of applause.

 

 

 

End of transcript

 

 

Episode 105 – Access to Publishing

Access To Publishing - Fin

So, the last episode of the series has gone up online and what an amazing end it is. Khairani Barokka is joined by poets Raymond Antrobus, Sandra Alland and Giles L. Turnbull for a discussion about access to publishing in the UK. Link to transcript here. The quartet discuss the variety of barriers they have faced or addressed during their careers. Taking the recently published anthology, Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back, as their starting point, they move on to cover magazine submissions, live reading, poetry competitions, and the often ‘tokenistic’ approach to diversity within poetry publishing. A description of the header image, also used as the episode artwork, can be found at the bottom of this post.

This episode has been a long time in the planning and I’m just so happy that it’s happened and that it has marked the end of the Arts Council funding I received last summer. A breakdown of which can be found here.

Below are listed some excellent resources relevant to the discussion but first I wanted to list the places you can find the four wonderful guests and gigs they’ve got coming up which I just didn’t have time to squeeze into the podcast introduction…

Khairani Barokka (Okka)’s website can be found here, she can also be found on Twitter @mailbykite. Okka’s book Indigenous Species is available, in various formats, from Tilted Axis Press. Her debut, full-length, poetry collection Rope is due out with Nine Arches Press in October 2017.

Sandra Alland‘s website can be found here, and you can find Sandra on Twitter @san_alland.

Sandra and Okka, who are two of the editors of the anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back, will feature, along with several anthology contributors, at Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh on Wednesday September 27th, from 6:30pm-9pm. Access includes: BSL interpreting, BSL content, projected text of poems, captioned films and audio description. This is a relaxed event with quiet space provided. £4/£3 concessions. More info at scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk

You can also catch Sandra appearing on a panel as part of a film event highlighting the representation of bisexual and queer disabled experiences, for Bi Visibility DayVisibility and Representation takes place Friday 22nd September | 6.30-9.30pm. LifeCare, Edinburgh, 2 Cheyne St, EH4 1JB. Venue wheelchair accessible via lift. Films subtitled, BSL interpreting provided.

Giles L. Turnbull‘s website can be found here. Giles can also be found hanging out on Facebook and Twitter @Bix_cool.

Giles will be reading at Putney Library on the 11th or 12th of October (date tbc, see website) as part of the extended celebrations around National Poetry Day. You can also catch Giles reading at Voices on the Bridge in Pontypridd in October and Abergavenny Writing Festival, 19-21 April 2018.

Raymond Antrobus’ website is here and he’s on Twitter @RaymondAntrobus. Ray is gigging all the time so the best thing to do is check dates on his blog or get in touch via Twitter. Raymond is the co-editor of Magma Poetry Issue 69 – The Deaf Issue due for release in November.

Resources recommended by the team behind this episode:

1. In the podcast discussion, Sandra talks briefly about research on the barriers faced by trans and/or non-binary people in further and higher education. If you’re interested in more details about some of this research being done in the UK, including about people who are trans and also disabled or D/deaf, you can follow Scotland’s TransEdu project as the research is developed. Go to www.trans.ac.uk for more information.

 2. In the podcast the group discusses the excellent accessible content of the online literary magazine, Deaf Poets Society. Find it at deafpoetssociety.com

 3. For people searching for audio content in publishing, San suggests an offshoot of Manchester’s Comma Press called MacGuffin. They have a website and apps that feature text and audio recordings of poetry and short stories. For details go to commapress.co.uk/digital/macguffin/

Artwork Description:

Access To Publishing - Fin

The accompanying artwork is a square image roughly divided into quarters. Everyone supplied black and white pics.

The bottom-left corner is the podcast logo, a black circle on a white background. In white lettering on the black circle is ‘L.P. Podcasts’.

The bottom-right corner is Okka, an Indonesian woman sitting on some tree trunks (in Camberwell), right arm across her knees and looking to her right deep in thought about poetry or maybe dinner (definitely dinner)! Dark-coloured, long-sleeve top under a yellow vest style dress.

Top-right corner is Sandra. The image is shot from above so Sandra is looking up and straight into the lens. White with short and medium-dark hair, eyebrow piercing above the left eye, dark jumper over a checked shirt. Trousers and boots. Walking stick in left hand. Reminiscent of Manchester-based indie band LP covers from the 90s. Photo by Tiu Makkonen.

Top-left corner is divided into two portrait-format pictures. To the left is Raymond, shot from chest up. Ray leans against the edge of a stone doorway. Short dark hair, dark shirt open over a crew neck t-shirt, pendant hanging from a leather necklace. Ray seems to be asking us to buy his latest collection or his latest pop record.

To the right of Raymond is Giles, also shot from the chest up. Giles is sat in front of the architrave surrounding a box sash window and wears a wool jumper over an open-necked shirt. All of which seems to tell us that Giles has thoroughly enjoyed this rural writing retreat and we should all join him next year when the theme is ‘Birch Trees. Nature’s Lampposts.’

End of artwork description.

 

Thank you again to everyone that has listened or taken part in the series in the last 12 months. It has been insightful, exciting, tiring, frustrating but mainly just brilliant. Much love, David.

 

Transcript:

 

Introduction:

 

DT:      Hello, this is Lunar Poetry Podcasts. I’m David Turner. Hello to our regular listeners and anyone who’s tuning in for the first time. Today’s episode is the last one to come out of the funding we received last summer from Arts Council England. A big thank-you to them for the financial support over the last 12 months.

 

I will, incidentally, be publishing a breakdown of what the funding was used for. You’ll be able to find that over at our website from September, so if looking at spreadsheets and pie charts is something you’re interested in, then go over to http://www.lunarpoetrypodcasts.com . where you can also download a transcript of this episode, along with over 70 episodes from the archive.

 

After today’s episode, we’ll be returning to uploading one per month. I’m in the process of applying for more funding from Arts Council England and depending on whether that’s successful or not, I’ll be giving more details about what form the series will take as soon as possible. You can follow the progress of that application by following us at Lunar Poetry Podcasts on Facebook or Instagram and @Silent_Tongue on Twitter, though regardless of the funding application, the series will continue, as will the transcripts.

 

One final piece of news before I introduce the episode. The British Library has chosen to archive the entire series in their national audio collection. This is a pretty big project and will take a few months to process, but it won’t affect the way you access these podcasts. I just wanted to mention it because the archiving of podcasts is still unusual and if you lot hadn’t continued to listen, I wouldn’t have continued with the series and I wouldn’t be sitting on a series that contains over 200 poetic voices, many of them working class and/or from marginalised parts of society. I’m just made up that these voices will now be part of a national collection.

 

So, today’s episode. It was recorded in a space given over for free at the Albany Theatre in Deptford, South East London, by the literature organisation Spread The Word, who do fantastic work. You should check them out. Thank you in particular to Aliya and Laura for their help and advice there. We’ve spoken a lot in the last 12 months about access to the arts and literature and I thought this topic would be the perfect way to wrap up this current series, if you like.

 

This discussion, ‘Access to Publishing’, is hosted by poet, artist, former Lunar guest and friend of mine, Khairani Barokka, or Okka, as she likes to be known. Okka is joined by Raymond Antrobus and Giles L. Turnbull, and also Sandra Alland who, along with Okka and Daniel Sluman, co-edited an anthology of poetry and essays by D/deaf and Disabled writers called ‘Stairs and Whispers’, out through Nine Arches Press, to which Ray and Giles were both contributors.

 

Taking Stairs and Whispers as a starting point, the quartet go on to discuss many of the barriers that writers from marginalised groups face when trying to get published. Talking from personal experience, the discussion aims to give an overview of some of the issues faced by writers all over the UK. This of course is a starting point for further discussion and not a final statement on any subject and an hour or so is not enough time to cover everything and go into enough detail on each particular topic that came up in the discussion.

 

If you have any feedback or would like to get involved in the discussion yourself, then please get in touch with us via social media and our guests will engage when they have time and energy. Okka, Sandra, Ray and Giles all have gigs coming up, which I would like to plug, but that would make this intro even more rambling than it has already become. I will, however, write a blog post listing all this information, which you can find over at http://www.lunarpoetrypodcasts.com.

 

Alternatively, follow the link which I will post in the episode description. That’s probably enough for now. If you like what we do, please support us by telling people. Word-of-mouth recommendations, either in person or via social media, really is the most effective form of advertising for us. Support the arts and literature. Again, thank you all for listening. I can’t believe we now have over 100 episodes. I’ve really enjoyed doing this. Here’s Okka, Sandra, Raymond and Giles.

 

 

Conversation:

 

 

KB:      Hello, my name is Khairani Barokka, I go by Okka, you may call me that. A while ago, David and I had a conversation about interviewing some people we respected and admired, about issues related to access to publishing. Who gets published? What are the barriers to getting published? How do people get published in different ways, and what impact that has on the form of literature, the content.

 

And so, I have the pleasure today of interviewing three other associates. I will be asking all three of them about their experiences and opinions related to this. So first of all – elephant in the room – all four of us have worked on a book that we’re all very proud of, called ‘Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back’, out with Nine Arches Press right now, go buy it. It was co-edited by myself, Sandra Alland and Daniel Sluman and features 54 contributors, contributing essays, films and of course poetry.

 

It is the first of its kind, we think. It’s probably the first major UK anthology of D/deaf and Disabled poets. We’re very proud of it, so go check it out. But this episode will not be specifically about that book, although of course it will discuss issues that we have all written about and addressed in the book, whether directly or indirectly. First of all, I’m going to ask you to introduce yourselves in your own words, what work you’ve been doing, what work you’ve got going on and why you’re interested in doing this podcast in the first place. So, maybe start with you, San.

 

SA:       Ah, no time to think. Hi, I’m Sandra Alland, I also go by San, I’m a writer, inter-disciplinary artist and curator. My work tends to focus on creatively-accessible and intersectional arts and community organising, examining the intersections of things like sexuality, Disabled and D/deaf cultures, gender, gender diversity and variation, and then race and class.

 

I write and sometimes read and perform poems and short stories, I also make short documentaries, usually focusing on D/deaf and Disabled people, but not always, mostly focusing on artists, and I make a few poetry films as well, and also curate film programmes, visual-art shows and cabarets.

 

GT:      My name’s Giles L. Turnbull. The ‘L’ is important because if you Google ‘Giles Turnbull’, there’s another Giles Turnbull whose life seems to follow a bizarrely coincidental route to mine. So I use the ‘L’. I’ve been Blind for nine years now, so I’ve written poetry as both sighted person and Blind person. My poetry doesn’t often touch on the blindness, but I often write in prose about the experience of Blindness on my poetry.

 

RA:      My name is Raymond Antrobus, I am a poet, a teacher and a person. I was born D/deaf, my deafness has gotten progressively worse. I don’t want to use the word worse, but yeah, I have to do hearing texts every six months to make sure it’s where it’s at. I’ve only recently started writing about that, in a similar way to what Giles just said about that not always being at the forefront of what is being written about.

 

I’m really excited about this conversation, because I don’t think I’ve ever sat in a room where’s there’s so much- San used the word intersectionality, and there’s so much intersection here in terms of disability but also experience.

 

KB:      And yes, I should mention that I myself identify, have been identifying for the past six years, as a Disabled woman-lady-woman. As a Disabled woman. I’m Indonesian and it wasn’t until I came to the UK that I got proper medication and accessibility for a lot of things, so this is all new and wonderful for me, it means I get to meet people like you. But yeah, writing about a past that does not involve access to what I do now, publishing and the arts, is something I am continually grappling with as well and I’m doing a PhD at Goldsmith’s about that.

 

So without further ado, let’s get into it. First, I would like to quote a few statistics from our friend Dave Coates, he runs the poetry review blog Dave Poems, that’s davepoems.wordpress.com, and he’s really done amazing work, researching from January 2013 to July 2017, four years’ worth of reviews from The Guardian for one, and then so many other insights that he’s got his data set from eight platforms of poetry.

 

With this data set, he’s discovered that articles written by people of colour are extremely under-represented in terms of overall articles. Only 4.3% of all articles written about poetry books were written by people of colour, a total of 44. The proportion of books by poets of colour reviewed is 8.1% of all books, which is still pretty shocking.

 

The proportion of female critics, or women critics that he’s recorded, is 41.5%, a much lower percentage for particular platforms, and likewise, the proportion of books by female or women poets that have been reviewed is 38.6%. Women critics review men and women almost evenly, but male critics, well, unsurprisingly, I’ve got to say, overwhelmingly review other men. Do better, dudes!

 

All of this, as he says, should remind us of just how homogenous this community has been, which for people outside poetry, they might not know, that the poetry scene is still quite homogenous. And so I think this conversation is important because we’re talking about what are the factors that lead to that, and what is changing right now, what can we do to make publishing, particularly for poetry, more inclusive and accessible, so not just talking about Disabled and D/deaf experiences, but also across gender lines.

 

I mean, there isn’t data here for non-binary poets, I think David has acknowledged, and for Disabled and D/deaf poets, but I’d like to hear your thoughts if you would like to go one by one and say something about what access and inclusion in publishing mean to you. I think I’d like to start with Sandra.

 

SA:       I was thinking about what access is. It can be so many things, but it includes reducing, and ideally removing, barriers, physical and mental barriers, social barriers and that includes monetary and governmental barriers, I think we often don’t talk about those as much, and linguistic and/or communication barriers, participation in all facets of life, and then for inclusion, for me, leads on from that.

 

I always like to think of it as leaving no one behind, so thinking about and acting upon how to make something possible for as many people as possible. Ideally, everyone. Also, within that, destabilising power structures so that the same privileged narratives aren’t happening again and again. And then in publishing, because I thought it was interesting you asked what is publishing, so I started to think about that as well, things like books, journals, magazines, zines, chap books, online things including blogs and all of that.

 

I also started to think about publishing as including grant applications, applications to agents and awards, because these things often have such a huge impact on whether or not someone actually gets published in their book form, whether they’ve had access to those things as well, so they’re sort of offshoots of publishing.

 

KB:      We’re going to come back to so many things you just said, I’m so excited that we’re getting right into the meat of things, especially as I think maybe people listening will like more clarification on the linguistic barriers that may be evident to us, but may not be evident to some listeners. Giles, if you’d like to…

 

GT:      I always think inclusion is probably the most important thing. It happens on both fronts. You’ve got to encourage publishers to publish more of the less published writers, but you’ve also got to get more writers in those areas believing that they can publish. I first became aware of this when I looked at contemporary Blind poets and I Googled it and I found out about Homer and Milton.

 

I thought, ‘Is that it?’ I’m happy to say that my name now appears on a Google search like that, but there’s got to be more than that out there and I think there must be work needed, because I’m sure Blind people are writing poetry out there. They need to know that their route to publication is possible. They can do this. It isn’t, it shouldn’t be, some sort of barrier that they’re going to run up against. Working on both ends of the attack at the same time, the publishers and the writers, is important.

 

KB:      Thank you. Ray?

 

RA:      For me, one of the things that’s kept me going as a poet for so long is I genuinely had this belief there was nothing else I could do. I started more as a performer. I wasn’t interested in publishing anything because that’s not something I saw as available to me. I would write my stuff, I would learn it, and then I would be in front of an audience and the powerful thing about that for me, was because I was D/deaf and had so many different challenges and my confidence was really low in talking to other people, I’d lost almost every job I’d had from the ages of 16 to 20 because of my deafness and so it was kind of like, if I’m going to survive, I have to be a good poet and I have to be able to communicate with people.

 

It’s interesting now I’m at this point where I am publishing books, I am teaching, I am engaging with so many other people, but it’s been a journey and I do feel like I wouldn’t have had to have gone through as much had I seen more examples of D/deaf poets and more access, which is what we’re here to talk about. I hope that makes sense.

 

KB:      It does. It really resonated with a lot of my experiences too, like not seeing examples out there, low confidence, misunderstandings, jobs. So in terms of what Sandra was talking about with linguistic challenges to publishing, I’m really interested in hearing from all three of you about how you finally broke through to a point where you felt the way you wrote was validated in a poetry world that is still largely homogenous and has been.

 

I’d like to start with Giles in particular, because you and I spoke earlier about how you have written as both a sighted writer and a Blind writer, but only became published as a Blind writer and I thought that was fascinating and I’d love for you to speak more about that.

 

GT:      Yes, sure. I’ve been writing poetry since my high-school days, which is going on for 27 years now. For the most part, I was doing it for my own enjoyment. I did it as a way of relaxing after a busy day at work. But as my sight failed and I had more time, and had developed more confidence in my poetry, I decided I wanted to actually get it out there and try and get it some publications. So it’s been about five years since I’ve been published anywhere. It’s different.

 

I can’t comment on what it was like getting published as a sighted writer, because I never was. I guess I can imagine what it would have been. I know what difficulties I face now that I wouldn’t have faced if I was doing it sighted. Technology is usually the demon in this conversation. A lot of websites are not designed with good accessibility in mind. The easiest example is those random-word capture images that validate that you are human.

 

How on earth can I read that? There isn’t any kind of screen capture that will convert it into text for me. There used to be a Twitter app and I can’t even remember its name anymore, you could connect to it and say “I’ve got this capture challenge,” take a screenshot of it and then a human operator on the other end of the direct message would send the capture code back to you in text that you could paste into the box.

 

That was absolutely fantastic, but that’s been gone for probably five years now. There are alternatives. There’s a website called http://www.captchabegone.com, which I’ve never tried, but a lot of places these days, you will often see ‘Get an audio image’ and it will read out a set of numbers that you have to listen to and type them in as you hear them, and they are manageable, much easier than the mixed-up, slightly scrambled words that a sighted person has to deal with.

 

So I approve of that, but I don’t know if it really benefits the publisher, whether it really lowers the amount of spam they get, but it’s difficult, if the website’s not designed right. That’s the most obvious example, but if they’re not easy to navigate, it can take a very long time to read a whole page of a website to find information you want. If they’ve used headings correctly, that makes it easier for a blind person to jump, the screen reader will help you navigate from heading to heading, so you can find the heading you want with the submission information, but if there isn’t, you have to listen to the whole page and it’s hard work.

 

KB:      Thank you. Ray, you were speaking about the challenges of going into poetry and not really thinking about publishing and I thought that was super-interesting. What caused the shift? Do you feel a lot more comfortable now that you’re in Poetry Review, you know that your work is validated? What was that shift?

 

RA:      I think that shift was looking wider at the kind of poet… I think the kind of poet that I wanted to be changed. I was very much, in the first few years, about slam and about live poetry. I felt passionately about that space because again, it was something I had, I could kind of claim ownership over, without too many concerns and I think I looked at the publishing world, because I did have poetry books on my shelf, growing up, but that always just seemed like another world.

 

So I guess that shift might have been when I started seeing other poets who were also slamming. I started touring. I went around Germany and Switzerland, that side of Europe, and I noticed how many poets I was seeing, who are respected slam performance poets, also had books. I needed to see those examples and I think that planted something with me. Then, funnily enough, just as I was coming back, Burning Eye started and Clive from Burning Eye…

 

KB:      The publishing house.

 

RA:      …yeah, asked me, no one’s ever asked me before, ‘do you have anything we could publish?’ I just so happened to have been working on these… The timing was just gold. So I gave him what I had, he published it and it became a book called ‘Shapes and Disfigurements of Raymond Antrobus’. And I’m still really proud of that book, of how so many things came together, including the design, the front cover of the book, was designed by a man who’d seen me read poems, said he’d enjoyed them so much that he wanted to give something back of his own creation and ended up making this cover.

 

So it was just like organic collaboration. Now I’m passionate about making sure that other people who have other different kinds of challenges, including deafness, feel like they can submit, feel like they can become published poets as well as performance poets.

 

KB:      We’re going to come back to that, because I think encouraging other poets and creating more of an inclusive community is something that’s common to all of us. I want to talk about strategies for that later, but Sandra, you’ve worked for years on multimedia, interactive, intersectional experiences. There’s so much I want to ask you about challenges to inclusion in publishing. I know a lot of your work is collaborative as well. I wanted specifically to ask about that.

 

SA:       I’ll add a bit to what Giles was saying about barriers in terms of forms and online stuff, because I also use voice-activated software, trying to get naturally speaking, which I collaborate with! Although that’s not the kind of collaboration you were talking about… It doesn’t work with a lot of online forums as well. I think there’s been a lot of problems with things like Submittable for a lot of different programmes, and apps not working, and then the grants and awards, a lot of this is all online now and the autofill forms are not great and they don’t work with everything.

 

It’s also the socio-economic barriers. They’re assuming everyone is online in the first place. That’s a really huge thing, because there are so many people who aren’t. At my local library in Glasgow, there’s a queue to use the computers still. People don’t have that kind of access. Thinking about that as well. In terms of collaborations, coming back to linguistic barriers, I’ve worked with a lot of D/deaf BSL users and there’s hardly ever call-outs for magazines in BSL and there’s no information.

 

There’s also not audio information for people who are Blind or visually impaired, because not everyone is able to use the assisted technology or magnifying glasses or whatever, so thinking about these different ways of getting into things in terms of collaboration, it’s ensuring there are interpreters so people can have proper conversations and that sort of thing as well. Also, easy English, English that’s accessible to people with learning disabilities, that kind of thing is really important.

 

KB:      I want to speak specifically about the process of submitting. Raymond, you had that wonderful coincidence, Kismet, of Burning Eye approaching you directly. We’ve been working with Nine Arches and Jane, who’s open to these things. I would like to ask specifically about whether you think publishers are conveying themselves as accessible and inclusive?

 

Sandra’s about to burst out laughing, because the process of submitting… I know you talked about Submittable. I want to speak about how publishers… for example, one thing you wrote about in ‘Stairs and Whispers’, Sandra, was this need to tour.  I started out in performance as well, but it was really hard and I kept doing it because of this expectation that this is what poets do, rather than ‘how can I protect myself and do this better?’

 

I want to know if you think those conversations are happening more and more with publishers. If I can add one more thing, I would like to see more people in positions of power in publishing who come from different backgrounds and I want us not to only be ‘submitters’ and ‘the poets’. I want us to be publishers. That hierarchy needs to be more inclusive, I think. Are we still completely outsiders to some extent? Are publishers stating they are more amenable to, quote-unquote, ‘diversity’ – I hate that word – but you know, getting people from more socio-economic backgrounds, racial backgrounds?

 

SA:       I would have to say no. I think people who are from the backgrounds that are being included in term ‘diversity’ are often doing this work, but I don’t think other people really are. There are amazing D/deaf and Disabled publications, Deaf Poets Society, that are doing things that are completely accessible, they’re so amazing, everything they do has audio, they’ve got it all covered.

 

We ensured there was a lot of access on this book, but that was from us working towards it. People aren’t just doing this, I think, a lot of the time. I think people are trying to be more open-minded about including more kinds of people, perhaps, but they’re still not doing the work to find the people and to make themselves accessible to people in general. There are exceptions, of course, but overall things are still kind of bland, I think, to be honest.

 

RA:      Just this week, I found out a friend of mine, Sophie Woolley, who is a full D/deaf playwright-poet, she just won mentorship with Penguin Random House. There are some examples in the wider scheme of things, lots of issues, but there are some things. Even speaking for myself, I’m editing the next issue of Magma, that’s been really interesting to be on that side of the table, to be someone who’s asking for submissions and being someone reading those submissions and curating that space, with everything that we’re talking about around this table in mind. That’s interesting.

 

KB:      So you’re co-editing it with Lisa Kelly and both of you are also in ‘Stairs and Whispers’, which is wonderful. I think the different editorial approach of allowing non-D/deaf people to write about deafness is really interesting and I want to ask you about it. Different to how Sandra, Daniel and I curated ‘Stairs and Whispers’, we wanted it very much only D/deaf and Disabled poets, writing about anything really. Can you talk a bit about how you came to that decision with Lisa?

 

RA:      That was tricky. I think the way in which the compromise with this issue is, like you say, even with ‘Stairs and Whispers’, it’s the first time we’ve ever done this, so it’s the start of something. I can tell you that 22 of those poets are D/deaf without being published and also first-time publications. 22.

 

KB:      Wow, out of how many?

 

RA:      I’m not sure I can disclose yet how many. It was also very difficult dealing with rejecting a good number of poems, of writing, of material which was credible and important, but didn’t, I guess, live up to the standard of the publication, the standard they were looking for. It was challenging. I’m proud of what we’ve done, but what was really important for me, and I said this going in on this project, is that this cannot be a one-off thing.

 

Going forward, this needs to be a landmark in the way in which access is granted by, this one issue changes the landscape from here on. It’s ambitious. Like you say, we couldn’t take on the entire crusade as it were, it had to be like, ‘I’m going to do what I can with this one thing and begin a conversation or begin an exploration.’

 

KB:      I think that’s all any person can be expected to do. Even if you think it’s a small thing, it’s quite impactful. To do it with heart and to do it properly is difficult, but hopefully, it will multiply. Just seeing how other people are awoken to… ‘Oh, an anthology can be multimedia, oh, there are so many D/deaf and Disabled poets writing, oh, there are trans people writing, LGBTQ people writing, there are Black-Asian minority ethnic poets writing…’

 

It’s funny that people seem to think we don’t exist unless something like this comes out and shows actually, there are so many of us and we have always existed. Giles, when you submit, do you feel like they’re friendly and open to the idea of, a) that you’re a Blind writer conveying your art, and b) that it’s not a charity thing to accept, that the poetry has to be a high standard?

 

GT:      That is true and maybe it’s a reflection on the type of magazines I submit to, but I, probably 95% of the time, feel that the editors are very, very approachable. I have had some experience that they’re not, but most of the time, if I’m having trouble with submitting something, they’ll work around it with me. The bigger problem I have, well, it’s not a problem, but obviously I can’t read a printed copy and probably the number-one guidance thing that editors want is that you’ve read a copy of their magazine.

 

I’d like to do that, but that means I have to ask them, ‘Can I get an electronic format, ideally PDF, because then my screen reader can read it aloud?’ I know it does sometimes feel I’m kind of writing begging letters any time I want to submit something somewhere, but I’m comfortable with that. That’s the only way you can do it. I would like to encourage publishers to think about that and make their publications available in electronic format.

 

There are a lot of concerns about piracy, in the same way there was about mp3 files in the early days of file sharing with bands on the Napster website and things like that. Publishers do say they are aware of pdf copies of their books being shared without being purchased. That is trouble and I want to explore that and talk to publications about ways around that, because it is important, because without that, there’s no way I can read their magazines, but as I say, probably 95% of publishers, maybe even more, are happy and very quickly prepare a pdf copy.

 

Most of the publication process goes to pdf stage before it goes to print, so it’s no big hassle for most publishers, but they’re always really happy to work as best they can.

 

SA:       I was thinking that when people pass things around for free, it’s often people who wouldn’t be able to buy something or wouldn’t buy it anyway, so I don’t think there’s necessarily this loss of sales that everyone feels a bit rabid about. It’s actually in some ways really good for a book to be passed along in that way. It’s the way a lot of indie musicians became known, was people passing things along and saying: ‘Hey, listen to this, hey, read this.’

 

It can only help the publication in the end, unless everyone’s reading it for free, which isn’t the case anymore. People still want a hard-copy book. A lot of people want a designed, e-reader, e-book, they don’t want a pdf. I don’t think it’s going to be an overwhelming thing.

 

GT:      It’s like the whole ethos of public libraries, which are sadly in decline too.

 

SA:       Exactly. You can all read it for free there.

 

KB:      Libraries, yes, absolutely. So another thing I wanted to bring up is higher education and its connection to publishing and the poetry world. I know Ray went to Goldsmiths, I’m doing a PhD at Goldsmiths, I got my Masters from NYU, all not possible without scholarships, but the availability of stuff like that I want to speak to. Also, whether there’s a sort of elitism in requiring higher education, what divides and what benefits poetry in higher education has for inclusion and access.

 

RA:      Actually, I just realised that what you just said earlier about when did I first feel able to publish something, like submit to magazines specifically, and I’d never considered it until Jack Underwood, who was my dissertation adviser, he just read some of my poetry and said: ‘Have you heard of The Rialto?’ I was like no. ‘I’m going to submit.’ He did it for me. He submitted.

 

There’s a picture of him in this room. That guy on the wall took my poems and submitted them to the Rialto for me. They were all rejected and he said: ‘Don’t worry, I could paste the wall with all my rejection slips. Try again.’ Second time I did it, they actually wrote back a note. They rejected it as well, but they said: ‘This is interesting. There’s something here.’ Third time I submitted, I got in.

 

But it was being coached into it and the fact I was coached into it, I guess from within an institution, academia, there is something to say to that because I often felt, again, that those places weren’t for me until I found myself in them through the back door. Even my route into Goldsmiths university, I didn’t even get any GCSEs, I did a whole heap of interviews and written interviews to get in, to make a case that look, I am capable of doing this work at this level.

 

I wrestled with it a lot. I’m someone who’s been very proud of my auto-didacticism and I felt like I’d be giving that up, going into an academic space, but now I’ve gone through it, I’m so glad I did because it challenged so many ideas I had, and myths and narratives I had about where I belong, where my work belongs. I feel like I’ve only benefitted from it.

 

KB:      That’s wonderful. Giles, before this podcast began, we spoke about you potentially applying to an MA programme and your decision to try and go for that.

 

GT:      I’ve never really formally studied poetry. I mean, I’ve been writing it for over 25 years now, and it’s going quite nicely, so I don’t really need an MA to boost it, but I’m in no doubt that studying, spending a year working on it, would make an impact on my poetry, it would change a little bit how I write and give me broader ideas to write about, but there are two other aspects.

 

Everybody always says poetry isn’t a paid job, you cannot survive. You can be a librarian, you can be an accountant, but you can’t really make money from your poetry, and that is very true. I would hope that if I studied a Masters course, it would open a few more doors into publishing kind of roles that I would not have much chance with without it. The third angle to that consideration is my blindness.

 

My big weakness at the moment is my independent mobility. I used to be a lot more mobile when I first lost my sight, albeit it with slightly more sight than I have now, and I want to regain that. I think that living on a university campus, getting out of my room and having to get to classes every day, into the library, interacting socially with other people, would have a huge impact in my life. So it feels like on three strands, it’s a really good thing for me to think about for this coming academic year.

 

KB:      Good luck. Sndra?

 

SA:       I think it’s a difficult question. There’s the socio-economic barriers, there’s people who cannot afford to go to university and there’s not enough scholarships to go around, and coming out with debts of £40,000 these days, it’s an awful lot to put into something like poetry. As well, you mentioned barriers in terms of getting around, that sort of thing, for a lot of trans people, non-binary people, there’s a lot of research being done that people are dropping out of university or not going, because of the social barriers to studying and that sort of thing.

 

If someone decides to transition, for example, and they have to deal with, basically, prejudice around them and changing a lot of things officially, or if they’re a trans person but nobody knows they’re a trans person, they have to show documentation that says something different than their name and their gender that’s on the documentation, these kind of things. Universities are becoming gatekeepers now and this comes into things to do with race, as well, and nationality.

 

They’re checking people have the right to be here, they’re checking people’s genders, they’re checking all kinds of things that are quite problematic and interfere with people being able to study. The mental-health impacts of that are huge, also the economic barriers to it. I think in terms of poetry being studied, it’s great. It’s great to see a lot more people feeling they belong in that canon as well, which is incredible.

 

I do think that with some creative writing programmes, although maybe it’s more on the undergrad levels, is the tendency towards sameness that’s a bit problematic, like there’s a kind of churning out of a kind of poetry that you can just go ‘oh yeah, that’s the programme you studied.’

 

KB:      Speak more about that. What kind of sameness?

 

SA:       Well, it depends on where they’ve studied, but a lot of the time, people are writing to please their professors. They’re writing to please a specific person, maybe just one person, or several, and in a specific way they think is the way, or the university thinks is the way. It’s the same kind of thing with acting courses and things like that. They produce a certain kind of… And you’re not maybe getting that raw writing that happens with people who haven’t been formed in the same way.

 

RA:      That’s not exclusive to academia, that’s general.

 

SA:       That’s true.

 

RA:      I also think what is exclusive to the academia and that sameness is still the required reading list of poets. Really? It’s like John Berryman, yeah sure, and I’m not saying those poems don’t have anything to offer, but when it’s all, when its exclusively that…

 

SA:       That white male canon.

 

KB:      White male straight.

 

RA:      That’s not changing. That’s what’s interesting to me. That’s not changing.

 

SA:       And how often are you seeing Milton taught? Otherwise, you don’t see Nuala Watts on the reading list yet.

 

KB:      Shout out to Nuala Watts, who’s a Blind poet.

 

GT:      I reviewed her pamphlet a little while ago for the Sphinx website.

 

KB:      She’s also a Stairs and Whispers contributor. This  a secret marketing of Stairs and Whispers by the way, we just love our poets so much and she has a fantastic response to Milton’s sonnet on partial blindness.

 

SA:       Again, this is the way people do get started is through Masters, people choose what they study, so that is interesting to have people like yourselves going into that kind of higher education, because then you have different projects coming out that would have normally been produced.

 

KB:      And then you have that gendered term Masters and also the racial connotations of Masters.

 

RA:      Can I just give one subversive thing that happened to me because this is something I’m very open about at Goldsmiths and it was welcomed. Those challenges were welcomed. In fact, I did a whole paper on Frank O’Hara and I chose Frank O’Hara because you know, everyone knows ‘Frank O’Hara’ and I’m not saying he’s not a great poet, he is a great poet, but this dissertation I wrote about Frank O’Hara was basically looking at how his poetics are different to mine, even though we both live in a city, so it’s about the poetics of the city, but it was actually my lowest-graded paper of everything I did at Goldsmiths, but in a very interesting way, a way that was helpful, because the conclusion was: ‘Raymond, Frank O’Hara is bad for you. Frank O’Hara is the equivalent of having cheese in your diet when you’re lactose-intolerant. Because the poems you’re writing, that are directly in conversation with Frank O’Hara, are your weakest poems.’

 

That was an actual…it was great. I was like, wow, there’s such a thing as a bad influence. Reading that is bad for me. It came from O’Hara. I still read O’Hara, there are a lot of poets I read for pleasure, but they don’t influence me. I think it’s a different thing. I enjoy them, but they don’t make me feel like writing.

 

KB:      Wow. Absolutely. Recently, I was on a panel discussing the UK canon, white straight men, not acknowledging the fact that when you’re talking about the UK, you have to talk about Empire, you have to talk about the writing that comes from the colonies and writing from places that weren’t UK colonies but were influenced by English and it’s this whole thing of how marginal or how influential you want to keep people who are scholar-artists, who are women of colour, LGBTQI, to not be niche in university, to really influence what is going on.

 

I mean, the number of women-of-colour professors in the UK is shockingly tiny and I feel like seeking out those women in my life, those people whose experiences resonate with me, has been way more difficult than I thought it would be. I think it also rests on the universities themselves to empower people in higher education who are bringing an interesting quote unquote reading list that speaks to them. In high schools also.

 

Not just universities, we’re talking about the whole education system and going along with earlier, Sandra, you briefly mentioned nationality and one thing I want to cover briefly is the Eric Gregory Awards for poets 30 and under, recently opened to poets of all nationalities and I know myself and a few other people were ‘Aargh!’ because we’re not British, we missed it because we’re heading into the best decade of our lives, we’re in our 30s now!

 

I thought that was a real landmark in terms of ‘Oh, maybe things are changing’. Too late for us. But I think what you’re saying is it’s maybe not changing quickly enough, but what do you say about developments like that, when things are being opening up to all nationalities?

 

SA:       It’s a bit different in Scotland. Things tend to be, even when we voted, did or didn’t vote for independence, it was based on residency as opposed to nationality, and not everything is that way. The Edward Morgan Poetry Award, is a similar one, under 30, but they say you have to be born in Scotland, and/or raised in Scotland, and/or a resident for two years or something like that. So you can just be living there and I think that makes a huge difference.

 

You don’t have to have been living there for a long period of time. But on the same hand, I looked at the list of people who’ve been nominated and most of them tend to be people who were born and raised in Scotland and the last two times they’ve done it, they seemed to be all white faces. So you can change the rules, but it takes a while before things start to filter through.

 

People have to see themselves, or not necessarily see themselves, but people have to feel represented in order to feel like they have a chance and if you don’t have black faces up there or if you don’t see that trans women of colour are getting awards or being nominated for getting awards, you’re going to be, should I submit? What’s the point because it’s going to be the same people? I think that’s something that can be improved from a lot of different levels, just trying to make people feel welcome.

 

RA:      That’s the thing, because even if you do get in, you then question, like wait…

 

SA:       Yeah, is this a diversity thing?

 

KB:      Yeah, am I here as diversity for hire? I don’t know about you, but I have actually been approached by an editor saying: ‘Would you like to submit? We’re trying to diversify.’ I get that quite a bit and I’m like, oh, I’m so flattered, at the same time, it’s is that the only reason why you’re approaching me, because I’m a Disabled brown woman? Or is it because of the quality? When editors approach  people, I think it’s also very important for editors and publishers to think, OK, what is the intention here? Why am I approaching this person? Have I read their work? Do I understand, do I respect and admire their work? Because the main thing is for the work to be recognised as quality, even if it doesn’t fit the award judges’ definition of quality.

 

I think there’s something our silent host David Turner mentioned in an earlier conversation with me – quietly and silently, godfather host David Turner – is this concept of nature writing and awards that privilege this bucolic, pastoral type of poetry and its relationship to race and class. I thought it was really fascinating. When you read award winners, do you think… There’s also the emotional labour that needs to happen, where you think, I’m going to try and burst through and I think my poetry is worth it, it comes down to self-confidence as well.

 

I want to speak about this concept of responsibility because as you have said, the people doing this work to increase inclusion and access, are largely from marginalised communities themselves. We would much prefer to be writing. I mean, I can only speak for myself, but we would much prefer to be writing and editing our own work and of course, editing is fantastic and representation work is important, but it always seems to fall to marginalised groups to do this and I struggle with this, because I don’t necessarily want to encourage students of mine, to be ‘OK, you also have to do the work of opening the road for other people’, I think that’s important but I also worry about the emotional labour that we’re expecting of young poets.

 

Why aren’t people in the mainstream doing more of this work? I guess my question is, do you see that as a burden?

 

SA:       It’s a huge burden. I mean, it’s not a burden because I love to do things for my communities, but it’s a huge burden. For every event I do, I end up doing the audio description, doing the sub-titles myself, doing the stuff other people should be paying for, usually they’re funded organisations, funded publishers, this kind of thing. What I find happens is when they do actually get somebody who says ‘Hey, we’ll cover the access for you’, they’re only doing it for our event, for a D/deaf, Disabled event, they don’t keep doing it for other events.

 

It’s just like we’ve done this thing, we’ve done our D/dead and Disabled moment, we had the BSL interpreter, we got the photo op and then they move on and never do it again. I find that really frustrating and that puts the burden back on us again, because the next time I do an event, well, I’m going to have to pay for it, I’m going to have to do it.

 

KB:      So much goes on behind the scenes that D/deaf Disabled people don’t even take credit for, because we have to ask, is this place accessible, is the event going to be accessible, how far do I have to walk to get there, all these things, invisible labour. I hate using the word invisible for obvious reasons, but labour that’s just not recognised. Ray, you wrote something down, I know you have something to say.

 

RA:      Wow. My response to that is yes, but I’m going to say how I’ve managed to strategise this for myself, so it’s useful. I have a little bit of a manifesto, which is for myself. When I go into a project, including something like the Magma project, including working with D/deaf young people, trying to get them to become published poets, I’m very clear of what it is I want to get out of those experiences. I write them down and try and just focus on that.

 

I think OK, you’re going to get us to do extra work, someone might see you and suddenly your wires are getting crossed and you’re overwhelmed. Okka used the word emotional labour. So much of that work is giving, giving, giving and I constantly found myself coming to the end of so many different projects, with nothing to give myself. We all know that. It’s like damn, I could have written another book, that emotional labour could have gone into my own work.

 

That’s a real thing. I’m at this point now, I’ve got x amount of time, I’m very clear about what it is I’m going to get out of this project, how long it’s going to last and what I’m going to do afterwards. That’s something I didn’t have in place before. I do think we can only care for others if we care for ourselves.

 

KB:      Self-care is so important and so difficult in these contexts. So much giving.

 

GT:      I think the messages about writers from marginalised groups, almost certainly it’s going to start with the people in those marginalised groups. I think what needs to be done is the non-marginalised groups actually listen to those messages and share them so it becomes more widespread. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’m grateful for, being Blind, I’m much more aware of what’s going on in other marginalised communities.

 

I have written poems responding to D/deaf painters and I’ve spoken to the painters about them. I noticed the other day, there was a tweet about Pride week and I forgot who posted it, but there were about four or five LGBTQI poets’ collections. I downloaded as many books as I could find and I’m going to work my way through them and I shared that.

 

That’s what you need to do. It’s not my community, but I want to read that kind of work and I want other people to want to read that kind of work. I am happy to spend that time doing that. If somebody wants me to write about blindness, I pretty much do it at the drop of a hat. Maybe at the moment, I’m not overloaded with those requests. Maybe it isn’t constricting my time, but I give it my priority really, because I think it’s important the world realises that we all need to be more aware of other people’s troubles.

 

RA:      With the Magma call-out, there was this thing that kicked off on Facebook with a bunch of American poets about the D/deaf issue call out and what this discussion on Facebook was, it was actually among a few Blind poets who said that they refuse the idea of blindness as metaphor and they were saying they felt D/deaf poets should refuse that idea of deafness as metaphor.

 

I understood what they were saying. I thought the policing of those ideas, of what metaphors are valid, was strange. It’s interesting you said you would write about blindness at the drop of a hat.

 

GT:      That’s interesting because I did actually send in about four poems for that magazine, though none of them were accepted.

 

KB:      This is a safe space.

 

GT:      That’s not the main point. My point was that I did like that the Magma theme was open to the use of deafness as metaphor, because I wrote a poem about the unwillingness to listen, which was one of the themes suggested in the Magma page and I wrote a poem touching on blindness. Blindness and deafness have quite a close relationship.

 

When the house is very noisy when I’m at home, I wrote a poem about being doubly blind, because I cannot listen to the screen reader when the house is noisy, so I’m doubly inflicted by blindness because I cannot hear what the screen reader is saying. I think it’s great that the Magma thing was open to all and I’m not upset to be rejected. Magma is fiercely difficult to get into. That was my fourth attempt and I was still not successful, so I’ll keep trying.

 

KB:      This is also a mini ‘confront your editors’ session.

 

SA:       I think what’s important to acknowledge too is there’s such a long history of blindness specifically being used as a metaphor.

 

KB:      In a negative way.

 

SA:       Yeah and in a positive way, but just Blind people existing in other people’s poems and books or whatever as other people’s metaphors, or an entire book by, say Jose Saramango for example. Even just the amount of submissions you get in any publication of people saying: ‘I was blinded’. It gets boring.

 

KB:      And ‘unheard voices’ and ‘invisible voices’, ‘the voices of the voiceless’ really get my goat. I think what’s important to recognise is that there is a multiplicity of views within the D/deaf and Disabled community. There’s a multiplicity of views within the LGBT community, among Muslims. None of these are homogenous monoliths. That’s the most important thing. I think when people say ‘the Deaf community’ or the ‘Disabled community’, these are people with widely-different views sometimes. That’s what editors need to understand.

 

SA:       Also, it’s like D/deaf people using being D/deaf as a metaphor is much different than a hearing person using it and in terms of blindness as well, if Giles wants to write all day long about the metaphors of blindness, that’s a very different situation to me doing it.

 

KB:      Because you’re sighted.

 

RA:      One of the things I’ve been reacting to a lot recently is how much the news reports around Donald Trump use Donald Trump as ‘D/deaf to’. An interesting use of word there.

 

SA:       Yeah and he’s got ‘mental-health issues’, this or that, instead of being an evil jerk.

 

KB:      Exactly. That goes along with the use of Disabled and D/deaf people in popular media as always being evil. It’s always the Blind person or the person who has a limp, a disfigurement in some way, their existence is usually justified as being in love with an evil person or being really accomplished in some way, so this idea of the super-crip quote unquote, who has to in some way transcend their deafness and go beyond these challenges. Sometimes I see people who really use that super-crip narrative.

 

GT:      That is one of the biggest grumbles within the Disabled community, when non-Disabled people write characters and they haven’t really bothered to get to know the sort of issues people are dealing with and how they would approach them. We see it in the TV series and film Daredevil, where a blind lawyer can hear a pin drop across the city of New York. We don’t want those kind of stories.

 

SA:       The superpowers of smell, especially, those are big. Back to publishing, these are the things that tend to get published, whereas Disabled and D/deaf writers are not published and then we’re still carrying on the stereotypes.

 

KB:      Or the assumption still stands we can only write about, quote unquote, differences. I personally have had ‘Ah, do you write about being disabled?’ I think: ‘I can write about unicorns, anything I want.’ Do you ask white men: ‘Do you write about being a white man?’ I want to talk about the future. How do the three of you see publishing and poetry, considering everything that we have just discussed? Are you optimistic, pessimistic, somewhere in between? Anything else you’d like to say as we wrap up?

 

RA:      Recently, there’s been quite a change-over of editors in quite a number of major magazines and literary genres, including the Poetry Review. Just a few weeks ago, the New Yorker’s poetry editor is now Terrence Hayes, who is an incredible poet and you can’t overlook the fact he is a black man.

 

So Sandra said earlier about seeing a different set of people in positions of power. We are seeing that but again, we don’t yet know if this is going to have a long-term impact or is it just the season? Is it diversity season? I don’t know. I think I’m optimistic generally because I think optimism keeps me going. Pessimism doesn’t feed me so well, although I think some pessimism is healthy.

 

SA:       I think all the poets being published in these various publications that have been happening, and that sort of thing, has got more and more people contributing, so that’s going to be more stuff. We need changes in how funding is happening in a lot of ways, in terms of budgets for access. There’s often, at least in Scotland, a section to fill out, ‘What are you going to do for access?’ and everyone lies and says they’re going to do all these things for access, then they get the money and spend it on something else.

 

There’s not a lot of people following up  to make sure that people have the access they’ve promised, but also, putting money into that and thinking about access, you mentioned somewhere at the beginning to do with touring. Disabled people and D/deaf people especially really need extra money when it comes to that. We need taxis a lot of the time. There’s learning Disabled people, autistic people who maybe don’t want to be out in public transit, not all of them, but some of them, there’s mobility issues, that sort of thing.

 

Sometimes, if we’re going out of town, we need to stay an extra night, because we’ll be exhausted travelling from Scotland to somewhere, performing, going back to Scotland. I’ve been asked to do like eight-hour journeys twice in one day. It’s absurd. For anyone who’s not disabled, that’s silly. So factoring in those kind of things. One of my biggest pet peeves now that people need to factor in is paying people back their money immediately.

 

Poets are asked to put out so much cash to travel, spend £200 on a hotel for this night, spend £150 to take this and all your taxis and we’ll pay you back in three months. For me, that often means I can’t pay my rent if someone does that and it’s really embarrassing to say that to a publisher. It should just be a given they give you the money. A lot of the time, they already have it, it’s just not already happening. I think that’s something that needs to happen. In general, I do have optimism, yes.

 

There’s a lot of people doing amazing stuff, but I do think more of the work has to be taken on by non-Disabled people, by hearing people and not just in this way of ‘Look at me, I’m doing diversity’, which I think is what you referred Ray.

 

KB:      I think a big part of that is also giving us the reins, like editorship, in terms of writing for the stage, more directors, more producers, so we can tell our own stories, rather than other people’s platforms. You know, ‘we’ll slot you in for one thing, one show’. Giles, what are your thoughts?

 

GT:      My general mood is optimistic. We’ve made a good start, but encouraging applications and submissions from these minority groups is only part one. On the publishers’ side, they need to reach out more to the groups and say ‘look, we’ve got these opportunities we’re looking for’. If you Google ‘contemporary Blind poet’, you don’t find any entries. So are publishers wanting Disabled people and Blind people to submit to their publication saying to the RNIB ‘Can you circulate this among your members? We are holding this publication.’

 

We need to spread the word. If there aren’t that many people who are Blind saying they are a poet, then they probably don’t know about these events. Education is so much a major part of knowing something is out there. The number of people who are losing their sight who don’t know about the kind of technology I use every day. It would be immensely helpful to them. It beggars belief really. It’s all about communicating this message and it involves the publishers as well as the people who are in the Disabled groups.

 

KB:      Thank you. I have two points to that. The first is I feel we should be paid as consultants for our work and actually, I have been a consultant in the past in terms of accessibility to varying degrees of follow-up. Obviously, this should happen more often, because of the emotional labour we spoke of. It’s for free. We advise people and tell people our point of view but we’re not paid for it.

 

SA:       I get four emails a week at least from somebody asking me for free advice, how to make something accessible, and detailed free advice, like ‘would you recommend somebody who can do this or that?’

 

KB:      You have to say ‘no’ often and tell them ‘I need to be paid for my work.’ Initially, some of my consulting stuff was ‘please give me free advice’ and I said ‘Here’s my rate’. You have to start doing that. The second thing I want to speak about is disclosure because I feel as though it’s everybody’s right to disclose or not disclose, however much detail you want about your body or what’s going on in your life or how you identify.

 

I want to encourage people to really be comfortable with not disclosing also. So many writers for me and I’m sure for you as well will come up and say ‘actually, I’m Disabled too, I have this problem’ and they can’t disclose because they feel it would affect their career so I feel reducing the stigma associated with disability is great. Also the right to disclose or not disclose if you want and that’s something that’s tricky.

 

GT:      I agree with that entirely. I am one who believes in identifying as my life’s an open book. I’m happy to talk about my blindness and anything that’s related to my health. I always say ‘I am a Blind poet, I’m not a poet who happens to be blind’. I am a Blind poet. I want people to Google Blind poets and find there are Blind poets beyond Homer and Milton. I’m proud of being blind. I like the kind of person it’s made me.

 

I’ve just signed up, probably a very masochistic challenge, I’m doing a poetry marathon, which is writing a poem every hour for 24 hours. It starts in about two days. I signed up for it and introduced myself in the group and one lady said ‘you’re my new inspiration, my new hero’, because she’s losing her sight, so I’ve had a good discussion with her off-group about how being Blind affects your writing. I like being able to share that kind of encouragement and saying the world isn’t closed to you if you lose your sight.

 

KB:      Absolutely wonderful and I hope people do use the word ‘inspirational’ for you. More, more, we have two minutes before we wrap up.

 

RA:      I would definitely like to co-sign what you said about advisory. I too, on a weekly basis, get emails, very long, energy and emotionally consuming, saying ‘please help us’ but no mention of my time being worth anything. I think they mean well, but I’ve recently got to the point of being ‘look, my time has to be worth something here. That’s so important because I’m going to give you advice and you’re going to go along and hopefully it will be useful, but then how…?’

 

It’s so challenging because going back as well, we were talking about responsibility, because if money meant nothing, if would be yeah, have all of this advice for free that’s going to make you a better and more engaged organisation, but we’ve got to pay our rent and actually, I am giving something to your branding. I am giving something that’s going to help your brand.

 

SA:       It’s usually someone who does have a brand. If it’s someone from the community asks, that’s an entirely situation, if they’re ‘hey, can you help me out?’ Not that I can help everyone. You give advice but when someone has money…

 

KB:      Absolutely. I just want to say I’ve seen a call to be an accessibility consultant, ‘but we will only work with the minimum amount of budget possible to be cost-effective’. I’ve told them, ‘that is not accessible, some people need more things, taxis and interpreters, etc’ so just evolving that point of view from being cost-effective. This needs to be factored into the budget.

 

SA:       Interpreters for social events, that’s something I wanted to say, because people always hire interpreters just to do the event and leave and D/deaf people who use BSL have no chance to interact and it’s such a big part of publishing, the social part of things, where you meet people and they say ‘hey, I’m doing this magazine and blah, blah, blah’. That sort of thing. Making sure there’s an extra half an hour, hour, there, so people can talk to each other.

 

RA:      So something I was reminded of, I was in the States, New York, Baltimore, all of these different places, including we were talking about Deaf Poets Society and I met some of the people that run that magazine out in DC. The main thing that these organisations have are patrons and philanthropists. It’s a very different set-up for the arts in the States and so much of it is philanthropy-driven in a way. Their advice to me, I guess even to us, was ‘you need to find some patrons. Rich patrons.’

 

KB:      Sugar daddies. This whole podcast is going to end on sugar daddies, sugar mummas, sugar gender-non-binary people. We are here. We create art. We need to pay our rents. We want to be valued as human beings in a capitalist system. Please fund us. We’re wonderful people. I would like to thank of all these people. It has been such an honour and such a blessing to be in the same room and talk to all of you.

 

So thank you, Giles L. Turnbull and his father John, who was here, a silent observer, he did a great job raising Giles, I just want to say, dads don’t hear that every day, come on. Sandra Alland came all the way from Scotland. Raymond Antrobus, wonderful, and David Turner, thank you so much for allowing us to hijack this podcast with some good vibes. Thank you all for listening. This has been Lunar Poetry Podcasts.

 

 

 

 

End of transcript.