Ep.109 – Byron Vincent

Byron Vincent

Episode 109 is now available online at SoundCloud or via iTunes for Apple Users and Stitcher Podcasts for Android users. David Turner is in Bristol chatting to documentary-maker, performance poet and director, Byron Vincent. Byron talks about the role that slam poetry played in his development as a writer and how it allowed him time on stage to shape his writing style. The pair also discuss writing as a mental health service user. Byron reads two poems: (00:40:35) – ‘Wot’ & (00:42:50) – ‘Citroën DS’. A full transcript can be downloaded here or a version (without poems) is available at the bottom of this post.

Transcript edited by David Turner

Host: David Turner – DT

Guest: Byron Vincent – BV

 

 

Introduction:

 

 

DT:      Hello welcome to episode 109 of Lunar Poetry Podcasts, I’m David Turner. Happy New Year, at least we all hope it’s a happy one, eh? Today’s episode was recorded on the 18th of December last year, but these things take time to edit and release. Also, with the podcast, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything worth putting out over Christmas because everyone’s busy or so it seems. Today’s episode is with the wonderfully talented Byron Vincent, we met up at the Workhouse Kitchen in Bristol to record the chat.

If you’re in Bristol and you’re looking for something good to eat and a coffee or something, or juices and all the other stuff that cafes do, you should pop along there, it’s really good.

I met up with Byron just before he went to perform a gig and we chatted about class, mental health, trauma… I think we might have chatted about some lighter stuff as well but I can’t quite remember. We laughed a lot, so it must have been funny and I’m sure it wasn’t just the laughter of two ‘service users.

Byron has recently had quite a long break from doing spoken word stuff as he’s been away working in theatres and on the radio, with documentaries and such. It was good to chat about what he’d been doing and why was coming back and it was really good to see him at the gig afterwards.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much time to chat because there were some travel issues with Byron getting into Bristol so we ran out of time a little bit. To save some time we didn’t record any poetry readings but Byron kindly recorded a couple of poems and emailed them to me, so they’ll come up at the end of the interview. So, when the chat’s finished stick around for two poems. Links to Byron and Milk and as much as possible that’s mentioned in the chat will be in the episode description.

As usual if you want to find out more about what’s going on with the podcast go to ‘Lunar Poetry Podcast’ on Facebook or Instagram, @Silent_Tongue on Twitter, or http://www.lunarpoetrypodcasts.com where you can also download a transcript of this episode and just about all the episodes in our archive.

One bit of news for 2018 is that myself and my wife Lizzy have started an accompanying podcast to run alongside this series called ‘a poem the week’ in which we’ll bring you a poem a week. So far, episode one features Byron Vincent reading his poem ‘Wot’ which will come up at the end of this program. Episode two is me reading a fantastic poem by Susanna Galbraith called ‘to’ which features in the latest issue of The Tangerine Magazine. You can find all those episodes over at SoundCloud by searching ‘a poem a week’ or following the links in the episode description or following a poem a week, all one word, on both Facebook and Twitter.

I’m quite excited by this little side project because it will return me and Lizzy back to why we first got interested in poetry and that was the individual poems themselves and really the whole basis of running this podcast was to just provide a platform for poems and for people to share their work. Whether it’s the author themselves reading their work or that week’s host.

As usual, if you like what we do, whether it’s this Lunar Poetry Podcasts series or the new a poem a week, do us a favour and tell your friends. It really helps. It works better than any other form of advertising and we’ll love you forever. That’s enough from me… well here’s some more of me but least Byron’s taking up most of the space. Cheers.

Conversation:

DT:      Hello Byron. How are you doing?

BV:      I’m really well thanks.

DT:      Thanks for joining us.

BV:      Glad to be here.

DT:      I was going to comment on the weather outside but it’s really misty through the windows so I can only presume it’s still cold.

BV:      Yeah, you can feel it, even though you can’t see it.

DT:      We’re meeting up in Bristol, because as regular listeners will know this is now where the podcast is based, but maybe we should just talk a bit about your connections to the city and why you’re here doing the gig?

BV:      So, I’ve got a lot of connections to the city, I came here in about 2005, I think, and in fact the very first week I was here I went to a poetry night at Bristol Old Vic. There’s an old guard of Bristol poets who I love to bits, Julian Ramsey-Wade, Lucy English, Rosemary Donne. I went to a slam and I’d never been to one before, I didn’t know what it was that I was attending. I just saw them and thought, “maybe I’ll have a crack at that” and very quickly became immersed in the poetry scene here.

I’m not a mad fan of slam poetry, by the way, but it was really good for me at the time, just to give me a little bit confidence, get me out on stage. I went through my little ‘derivative phase’, as everybody does, of looking at other people and soaking it up like The Borg. It was useful and handy and has led to a career.

DT:      It’s a really welcoming space if you want to just get onto a microphone isn’t, it?

BV:      Some might argue too welcoming! But, yeah, it is very welcoming and Bristol is a very friendly town and [it had] those gigs in very rough pubs where you would have to shout over bar fights and whatnot. I think it’s become more civilised since then.

DT:      It’s a shame, isn’t it?

BV:      Yeah, it is a bit.

DT:      South London used to be like that. I remember a gig we did and the pub was still rough enough to get some really angry comments from the bar. Even that place has changed now, that’s completely gone. I quite like it when people tell you that they don’t want you reading. If that’s not what they want, they should be able to tell you to tell you.

BV:      Well, I’m very strongly of the opinion that you shouldn’t force poetry on people that don’t want to hear it. It’s cruel and it’s not fair. Throughout the many years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen that happen a lot. Just as an aside, once for a popular poetry organisation that shall remain nameless, that used to have a lot of wacky ideas about where to send its rota of artists. They would always put you into positions that were soul destroying.

There was a place in London called, Shunt, I don’t know if you remember it was under London Bridge. It was this vast array of catacombs, it was a nightclub. They put me in a ‘Britney Spears Mic’, they had Helen Mort standing on a podium, I can’t remember who else was there… Molly Naylor was there, sat on a shelf. They made me stand on the bar like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, literally preventing like a ten-deep bar from getting their drinks with the power of poetry.

Can you imagine this sea of really drunk people really angry, that they’re not getting a drink, and me in a ‘Britney Spears Mic’ sort of trying to do iambic pentameter or whatever? It was just a nightmare. A lot of that used to go on.

DT:      Actually, that was the particular problem in that pub when we did that night, was that the woman that ran the boozer and she told people to please be quiet while people were reading poems and that she would serve them in between poems. People just lost their shit, because… of course they would, it’s their local.

BV:      You can’t prevent people from their booze in a local boozer without causing some kind of resentment.

DT:      For how long did you the slam gigs for and how long did it take you to find more of a natural home?

BV:      I did slam for a couple of years because… To explain all of that… My personal background is, I didn’t go to school much. I was kicked out of school at 15, I wasn’t very literate when I left school because I’m dyslexic. So, moving into a world where… I performed before but not to the same extent. Moving into that poetry world…. I didn’t really know it. I’d read bits and always soaked stuff up and I was a fan of reading but I wasn’t writing anything like [the poetry] I enjoyed. I was writing for performance and I still do, my favourite poets and my favourite poems have got no or little relationship with my writing.

So, I did that for a couple of years and I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was probably performing for the wrong reasons. I was enjoying the gratification you get from a kind audience and the attention I got. I never called myself a poet but other people were and that was gratifying to me because of my lack of, well because of my personal history. Because I, very much so, was told that I was thick and wouldn’t amount to much. So, on a very superficial level it was gratifying.

DT:      Bits of that resonate with me and I think and [while] I do agree and get what you’re saying and it’s easier when you’re not the one saying about yourself. But I would counter that with saying that it’s not all superficial, is it? There’s a very important role that those gigs play in making you realise that literature could be part of your life. If you’ve been told previously that it shouldn’t be or, in your words, “you’re too thick” to engage with it.

BV:      Yeah. I’d always written poetry, even when it was a dyslexic scrawl that looked like smashed spiders on a page. I’d always written poetry and then in the early 1990s I did get up and do some stuff at [music] gigs but it was very angry. I was straight off the estate back then and I was carrying a lot, so it was really of that political ranting lilt with a smidge of surrealism because I can’t help that, I can’t curb it. [Then I started] experimenting with who I wanted to be and what my voice was.

But that world of slam poetry is [just] three minutes of entertainment and it creates a certain voice, you know, it pushes a certain voice. I never had ‘slam voice’, thankfully but I did fall into a couple of cliché coffins, you know. But it’s a process, getting better at writing, in all forms and it did help, it certainly helped me in terms of getting up in front of a crowd.

DT:      It’s really odd, there aren’t many art forms where you’re thrust in front of a microphone and now video cameras and camera phones to be forever on YouTube at such a novice stage of your career as it were. And younger writers starting out now… so many spoken word gigs now are filmed as standard, even the open-mics. I just can’t help but wonder how they’re going to have a chance to get past that [developmental stage].

BV:      Personally, anything that was written more than two weeks ago is my juvenilia, that’s the way I see it. It’s binned. It’s been a long and evolving process and some of the early stuff… You know what, now I’m so far away from it, there are gigs from ten years ago that I couldn’t watch at the time or relatively closely after, because my cringes would get cringes. [But] I saw a couple and yes, they are of a type of performance that I wouldn’t do today but, you know, I’m not as embarrassed as I used to be about them. They’ve got a lyricism and a charm.

DT:      Do you think it just takes time to accept that that’s part of the process and you have to go through that embarrassment?

BV:      I think so. I’m far enough removed now and I know who I am and what I want and what I’m attempting to achieve and all of the mistakes I’ve made have been a part of me getting to that place so I’m less uptight about it, you know.

DT:      What’s that comedy rule that trauma plus time equals funny? Maybe you just need time to pass or maybe there’s so much to be embarrassed about that you just have to let some of it go?

BV:      [Yes, I agree] otherwise I think I’d just be overwhelmed by embarrassment if I let it bother me.

DT:      I just reconcile myself with the idea that I’ve done far more embarrassing things outside of writing that this is just the tip of the iceberg and [the writing] doesn’t matter!

BV:      Well yes and because of the nature of a lot of the work I make both in and out of art, a lot of the documentaries especially and a lot of the autobiographical ‘arty’ stuff… my life’s an open book, I don’t have any secrets. I’ve got a Wikipedia page that tells the world I’m a bi-polar, former heroin addict, so I can’t wander the world shamed by my past. It wouldn’t work for me.

DT:      I read [in public] for the first time at Poetry Unplugged where a lot of people in London start, currently hosted by Niall O’Sullivan that and it’s been alive for 20 years. Mainly because if you Google spoken word or poetry gig in London it’s the first hit and it’s every Tuesday and you can go and slink around at the back come up. But I’d been in… the most recent time… spent some time on a secure psychiatric ward and been encouraged to write as part of that and I came out and saw someone doing some performance poetry and thought, “shit seems great, I wouldn’t mind trying this as a way of communicating.”

I think the reason I like watching you… I’ve seen you live once but I like watching your videos. I like the way you bridge… you categorise it as oversharing or your life as an open book while adding elements of surrealism to it and the daft elements. I found it really difficult, I couldn’t add those elements at the beginning and it felt really, raw.

BV:      Yeah.

DT:      I think my question was supposed to be, was it a conscious effort to add the humour or surrealism?

BV:      You know, political poetry is usually pretty awful and mine was no exception. I was just angry and I felt like I had a right to shout that at crowds of people and that imposing some kind of rhyming structure on it made that acceptable and it doesn’t. In fact, it makes it worse. So, I’m very conscious of this and the second time around, you know, I was very conscious of anything that came out of my mouth and I wanted to be sensitive that I had an audience in front of me. I was overly sensitive about that at first and I went too far the other way and was avoiding things that I wanted to express.

Then I got to a point where I couldn’t do that anymore, to just get up onstage and not say the things that I needed say. So, when that happened I went through a process of trying to make… and it was rocky, I made some bad stuff and some things I’m not very proud of, but it was essential because I really wanted to get to a point where I was making things that meant something. Which in itself is a cliché and I feel a little bit sick just saying it out loud, but also, we’re in entertainment.

Primarily, everything I do is supposed to have this little journey where people have a feeling, and that might be laughter or it might be warmth and then it’s flipped into something that means something else and that transition is the important bit for me. Usually these days it’s fear and love, in its most basic form, you know, we’re all just to some extent these frightened, destabilised people and I’ve got a lot to say about fear. I’ve got an anxiety disorder and I’m diagnosed with a panic disorder as well. I collect diagnoses like Pokémon, I have loads of them.

I believe that fear is responsible for all the terrible things in the world, anger comes from fear generally and trauma and all these things that cause great ills in society. I want to share… we all go through these things to some extent, so I want to create a sense of that through language in some way and then say, “it’s all right though because we’ve got people, we’ve got each other”. And I know how crass and cheesy that sounds but I would be being disingenuous if I told it any other way because that really is what I’m trying to do. So, I have to just fess up to it now I think rather than be cool and cynical about it.

DT:      I’ve spoken a lot about this with… do you know Emily Harrison?

BV:      Yes, via social media.

DT:      I’m quite good friends with Emily and we talk a lot about both being diagnosed bi-polar and we seem to have spent the same amount of time in hospital and have got fairly similar backgrounds… This idea of trying to speak truthfully which is partly being open and honest and I’m really open with people about my mental health issues and those of family members without being oversharing regarding other people’s private life. I think the only way anyone is ever going to get understanding of this is if we all talk about it and we all share it.

But how do you how do you share it in a way that doesn’t fall into the accepted narrative of how does Emily put this? ‘The Good Survivor’, or something like that. As if the only way you can be accepted with a mental health issue is if you’ve overcome it somehow and you haven’t lived with it or embraced it and I think that’s what I found hard putting into my writing is how you then show…

BV:      Because audiences want to feel safe and people want to feel safe but I kick against that and there’s a reason why, there’s a lot of… I did a panel [talk] the other day and the Being A Man conference at the Southbank Centre with Jack Rooke hosting it, who is another poet and spoken word performer. There were four of us on the panel and we all kind of agreed that it’s great that men are talking more about [their mental health] because that has been a hindrance in the past.

It’s great that people are talking more in general about their mental health and feel free to do that but just having conversations isn’t enough and I feel strongly… I work as an ambassador for some mental health services and I’m not quite sure about how I feel when things are going awry and I do feel things are going awry in that we have this very sanitised view of what mental health problems are these days.

Stick somebody ‘a survivor’, I hate all these terms, next to a celebrity, somebody who is… you know it’s past tense but. It’s not marketable, is it? Poor mental health is a messy thing and it’s a cruel thing and it’s upsetting and it’s disturbing and it’s awful but it’s never sold as any of this by the charities. Of course, I understand why, they want to market things in a way that will get them money so that they can put that money in a good place and that’s not a bad thing. But in terms of the art we make, we don’t have to fall into that category, nobody’s saying we have to. I want to tell the truth because without that, what’s the point? What’s the point in talking about it all? So, I do talk a lot about the smelly guts of it.

DT:      I think that’s what surprises me, that more people that talk about the issues don’t also use surrealism because the two things go hand in hand, I feel. There’s no disconnect, I think, in your work that it becomes…

BV:      I’m glad you say that. It’s all part the same thing to me and part those little arcs on stage that I’m trying to create they do mirror to some extent the little arcs I have when I’m not very well. You know, a journey up to mania and then the big crash back down, I might reverse it for this stage.

DT:      Yeah. I suppose it depends what my mood is as I’m watching [your work] or listening to it but a couple of times it has felt like someone’s recorded something from my head. That internal dialogue I think is really important but I would say also that this ties a lot into class as well because I think a lot about working class roots and how that can be expressed within an extremely middleclass art form. But this idea that to be working class is to be miserable through your art and to be mentally unstable is to be constantly miserable and that isn’t my life, that wasn’t my life growing up.

There was a lot of trauma of growing up, but my family also laughed a lot, I had a great time, at times, growing up. There was a lot of shit going on around it but it’s just that this accepted narrative isn’t recognisable to me.

BV:      Because it’s not our narrative, we didn’t write it, that’s why. Especially with class… and another thing! Especially with class, we [the working class] are ever more ostracised from the public conversation. We are becoming economically ostracised and culturally we’ve been ostracised, demonised as well, scapegoated, for decades now. You look at the 1980s, right, watching an advert and there’d be some northern working-class voice representing what it means to be salt of the earth, trustworthy and reliable. Now, when you get that same voice it’s only ever represented puking in a Faliraki gutter or fighting in the street or doing something that is related to this ‘Benefits Street’, angry, stupid low-culture-narrative.

I’m all for redressing that because it’s not ours, we have become a cliché but we’ve been painted that way. Most literary fiction is some Uni lecturer disappears to the Isle of Arran to have a big think about something there are never any working-class stories. I’m really excited at the moment about people like Jackie Hagan, do you know Jackie Hagan? And what she has to say on class.

I’m putting together a book of essays… I robbed of the idea of Nikesh Shukla… about class and I’ve got some great people, Jackie’s one of them. There are loads of good people, the full spectrum, you know.

I’ve had my run-ins with the sharp end of underclass culture but you know if you’re a third-generation drug dealer from a Peckham estate or if you’re a lollipop lady from a Hebridean town, you’re both working class but the only thing that you’ve got in common is the fact that your voice has no cultural capital, you know. We’re a broad church, the things that we have in common, generally, are… well the one thing that we have that unites us that relates us to poetry is we have a really incredible inventive use of language. Slang is working class and it’s constantly evolving and it’s a beautiful and brilliant and clever thing.

DT:      I don’t think we’ve got time to go down this route too far but… slam poetry plays no part in my writing. I don’t go to slam events, I don’t take part but I do spend a lot of my time defending it because I find a lot of the criticism is hugely classist and a lot of the criticism thrown at slam poets is based around the use of language and the themes that they’re talking about.

But, the other side of that and one thing I do worry about with slam is that the more the BBC and other media channels pick up on it, the more that trauma narrative is rewarded. Because you are rewarded with performances at the Royal Albert Hall or prizes or the chance to get on the telly and adverts. It seems prevalent [to me] that the only narrative that the BBC can understand is one of trauma because, “of course that’s what you’ll be talking about because you’ve grown up on some estate in whatever city around the country” and it does worry me that that’s what’s going to be picked up on. And whilst that’s a huge and important part that people have got a chance to come and talk [openly] about trauma, that is not the only thing that happens that these poetry events and I do worry about those two sides of things.

BV:      Yeah. I think you’re right to worry about it because, you know, they are the people that are commissioning the programs and there’s a culture of head tilt, “let us let us explore your sordid past”. So, there does need to be a balance to that, it’s really important and it’s good that you’re thinking about it and that people out there are thinking about it. And more important than thinking about it is making work to counteract it, which people are doing.

DT:      Absolutely, I see it all the time. It’s just the annoying thing is and this is just the reality of all art forms… I know lots of promoters that are spending their whole life building something up and should the BBC… I don’t mean to just keep picking on the BBC… but should they just choose to come and make a half-hour program on TV, that is what would be seen by the vast majority of people and that will be taken as what this art form is. I think it’s a shame that so much good work gets ignored because it can’t be packaged into the narrative that’s wanted by those producers.

BV:      Yeah.

DT:      But I also know Radio 4 producers in Bristol who are doing a really good job of trying to show the breadth and depth of poetry in this country and they’ve only got a certain amount of time because there’s only so much poetry that you can get on the radio, never mind the telly.

BV:      It’s not the money spinner I hoped it would be, poetry.

DT:      We were lied to Byron!

BV:      Where are my riches? Where’s my rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?

DT:      Actually, talking about the radio, I suppose that’s quite a good point to talk about the documentary work that you have done and most recently was the fantastic programme, ‘The Glasgow Boys’ maybe we could just chat about how these opportunities come up? Do you feel like that’s a complete diversion in your career or is it still part of what you do as an artist?

BV:      There’s always been an element of autobiography and there’s always been an element of talking about myself in public, so I guess not in that sense. You know, I am addressing a lot of my own personal history and I feel very lucky, in a way, that I get to address the stuff that I’m passionate about in documentaries on the radio.

DT:      You’ve recently come back to spoken word after having a break. Has that mainly been working with charities in these organisations and radio producers?

BV:      Yeah, for five years I’ve been making theatre. I direct theatre, I work a lot with the BAC [Battersea Arts Centre], I’ve worked with a youth company Homegrown and directed stuff there. I’m currently working on several plays and I made radio… bits and bats… you know, I’m a sort of jack of all trades, master none really. That’s my thing. Again, it comes a little bit back to personal history, I never really had a proper job, I’m 42 now and I don’t really know where my life’s going or what I’m supposed to be doing.

I do enjoy the work I make, I really enjoy it and I do feel privileged to be able to do it but it’s not any real coherency to it. You know, I’m going to make more documentaries and some people know me from making documentaries, some people know me for doing spoken word stuff. But who knows what will happen in the future?

DT:      This is partly thinking about [class]… I’m always worried that… Part of being diagnosed as being bi-polar is always wandering around wondering when people are going to find me out and that this [metaphorical] curtain is going be pulled back and everyone’s going to go, “oh yeah, we knew it was bullshit all along”… but it’s really heavily ingrained in the writing [process] as well…

But I wonder if it’s also tied in with the fact that I didn’t finish school, I was allowed back to do a few GCSEs and then I went and did the carpentry apprenticeship, so I’ve got no literature background other than I read all the time and I love literature. But I think because I didn’t do A-levels and then I didn’t go to university and I didn’t choose literature in that way, I don’t feel pinned to it either. Does that play into how you define your career?

BV:      Not only do I not feel pinned to it but I don’t feel like I belong in it, either and I feel that way about a lot of things. Less and less so, I guess, as the years go by but there’s still an element of, “what am I doing here?” If I’m sat in Random House [Penguin Publishing’s main office] or something, I get giddy but also trying to play it cool. Though, almost everywhere I go I feel like that because I feel like an interloper in most places.

DT:      Yeah that’s definitely something that resonates with me. I suppose the reason I jumped into podcasting was because I didn’t really think about whether I had a background in broadcasting or journalism because I was already pretending to be a poet so it didn’t matter if I pretended to be something else.

BV:      That’s exactly how I feel.

DT:      Maybe because I served an apprenticeship, I’m very concretely a tradesman, I’m a carpenter and [because of] that working-class hangover I still find it hard to introduce myself as anything else. Even if I’m at Random House or if I’m meeting the Arts Council or meeting a group of publishers. It’s funny, if we do a roundtable introduction, I always feel like I should introduce myself as a joiner or mention the fact I’ve got a City & Guilds certificate at home.

BV:      But, that’s the thing, I’ve never done anything real so I don’t [even have that]. My friend Karen McKlusky calls it the ‘terror of error’, the fear of failure or the feeling that I’m supposed to succeed at something. Nobody expected me to do anything good, you know, so everything’s a bonus to me. So, I don’t have fear of failure, so there are positives as well. I am able to throw myself into a situation that might intimidate other people because I don’t have any expectations about the outcome.

DT:      Maybe because I don’t have any training in journalism or broadcasting I find myself, rather than asking questions I make assumptions and then allow the guest to completely knock it back… but in my mind, it seems like that constantly battling and trying to prove yourself as an artist, is almost the same thing as trying to work with ‘at risk’ people. When you’re working for a charity and trying to engage these people in something.

When I’ve been feeling well and I’ve been involved with outreach programs and just gone to talk to people, there’s a similar thing going on in my head that I feel at literature events where I’m trying to convince that person I’m part of what they’re feeling.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say is, does this sort of background help you when you’re trying to then engage with people.

BV:      I know what you’re saying about… You know, you may have been in a position yourself where you’re sat around in a room with some mental health professionals, trying to convince them you’re sane, whilst drugged. I’ve been in that situation and I’ve been in a lot of situations in my life where I’ve had to ‘fake it till I make it’, kind. That’s a real skill, I think, or I hope it is because I use it a lot. I’ve had to use it, I’ve had to pretend that I wasn’t a broken, underclass, former recidivist, you know.

When I first started turning up at venues and engaging in conversation with people about things I knew nothing about and had no cultural connection with and listened to people’s prejudices as well, because they didn’t really know where I was from and what that meant. Yeah, all of that helps, being a lateral thinker and being able to communicate in a way that is hopefully in some way engaging to an audience is exactly the same skill as telling a psychiatrist that you’re fine to get out of hospital.

DT:      On the other side of that as well… because, definitely the amount of times I told youth workers school psychiatrists or whoever they were claiming to be at the time that I was fine and nothing was happening at home. That definitely plays into… I used to do a lot of improvisational stuff on stage… You know, I can get up and tell a story for five minutes, that’s easy. I could stand up for much longer if the open-mic slot allowed.

But thinking directly about The Glasgow Boys documentary. How does that, if in any way, does that allow you to engage with people. Does it at all help you engage with people afterwards or are you relying purely on the fact that you understand part of what they’re going through?

BV:      It’s funny, I’ve got quite severe social anxiety and doing The Glasgow Boys, I just really enjoyed talking to those lads because it’s easier for me than talking to people in the world that I actually live in. So, in that sense it was very easy and they’re very open, you know, because of the journey that they’re on, they’re very open and empathic communicators. They don’t really have many secrets and that bravery in the way that they communicate, I respect it and I try to be that way.

So, actually in that situation… and we’ve got a shared history, we’ve got a shared trauma and that’s a bond, you know. I didn’t have any issue talking to those guys, but other people… I mean get me in a group dynamic in a situation that I don’t understand, and I don’t really understand most situations, and I’m a mess. I’m much better one to one, yeah. But, yes, I can skip around things because I learnt those skills you know it wasn’t unusual for me to lie to a social worker when I was younger.

DT:      This whole series which has been going for three years now and is basically based on me wondering out loud how anything connects in my own life and just trying to bounce those things off other people.

BV:      I enjoyed it… Sorry, to interrupt… There is a correlation and a serious one in terms of the art and those interactions and that is that I really enjoyed that fantasy space that I was creating and the narrative of what I was imagining at the time and going anywhere. It was like I was creating an avatar and I could put that person wherever I wanted to put them and they had a great life. So, there is a correlation there because it’s not just writers that have had difficult pasts, I think we all as writers enjoy creating universes that we might like to exist in parts of or even ones that we’re terrified of.

DT:      Yeah. I suppose then maybe it’s natural for some… As we were saying, not every writer comes to writing because of some form of trauma but it is probably a form of escapism for everyone, especially the live stuff and story-telling nights are almost pure escapism. But I suppose, maybe for people that have experienced that kind of trauma, for a select few then having the opportunity to tell other people’s stories… You know, if you’ve gone so long without a voice yourself… and this is a big part what the podcast exists for is because I felt for a long time I didn’t have a place to speak and it’s nice now that I’ve got the opportunity to hand the microphone over to other people.

BV:      Yes, and that’s a good thing. I’ve got a real strong belief in the power of stories and to relate it back to The Glasgow Boys, I went into… I arrogantly demanded a meeting with the Commissioning Editor at Radio 4 and went in and said, “This is what I don’t like about radio 4. It’s always some middle-aged, privately educated white guy goes into an environment, deconstructs the situation academically. Talks about it as though it’s an academic situation even if it’s a deeply personal situation to the people they’re living in, and what I want to do is I want to enable people to tell their own stories”.

“You know we can get artists in, we can get writers in to empower them and get them to tell their own stories in a way that will benefit them culturally, spiritually, economically, the whole lot. So, they are improving their lives with their own stories”. And he nodded his head and was in agreement through it all and I was like, “I want a six-part strand”…

And he was nodding his head and at the end he just said, “Yeah. No, no. I agree there’s a lot of that and we need to change it but you’ve never produced anything in your life. You’ll have to work with somebody”. So as a compromise I got one thing and I got to work with a producer, who I love and is a great guy. But that’s my aim eventually…

I love telling stories and I’ll always do it but I’m really really really really interested in empowering other people to do that. And I think you know marrying writers as mentors with people who’ve got a powerful story to tell…and by that, I mean the right writer as well, it’s got to be somebody you absolutely gets it and who is empathic and not exploitative and not coming in with their own agenda, other than to do a nice thing, to do a good thing. Then I’m all for stories that advocate for people, you know, that advocate for people whose voices have been silenced in some way. So, I’d love to do more stuff around that.

DT:      I think that’s a really nice place to stop.

BV:      Okay, great.

DT:      We’ve run out of time anyway and you’ve got a gig to go to tonight. We’ll give a quick plug to Milk which happens regularly in Bristol so if you’re visiting or if you live in Bristol and you want a regular poetry night to go to then check out Milk, they’re on the social media. But thank you Byron, thank you for joining us.

BV:      It’s been an absolute pleasure, thanks for having me. Continue reading “Ep.109 – Byron Vincent”

Knowing your place.

 

Earlier this week I listened to a fantastic Radio 4 programme, Where Are All The Working Class Writershosted by Kit de Waal and produced by Mair Bosworth. The programme is still available on the BBC iPlayer and incorporates a number of writers chatting about how working class identity informs their writing. It led me, via the poet Andrew McMillan’s Twitter account, to discovering that Kit, Andrew and a number of other writers had contributed to Know Your Place (Dead Ink), a collection of essays about the working class by the working class.

I really recommend listening to the Radio 4 programme (which can also be downloaded as a podcast here) and getting hold of a copy of KYP which, I hope, will be available as a paperback soon as the hardback is a little pricey. Check your local library first, perhaps?

Anyway, these two things pushed me toward writing about something I’ve been wanting to/avoiding for a while now…

I lived in a council house as a kid, passing only four GCSEs (a in English Literature), serving a City & Guilds carpentry apprenticeship and obtaining no further qualifications beyond my NVQ3 (Bench Joinery). All of which is pretty unremarkable considering my working class background and where I grew up but seem almost exotic to a lot of people that I now meet as the Founding Editor of the fantastic Lunar Poetry Podcasts. Even today someone at a reading group almost choked with surprise when I mentioned my background was in carpentry and could they please clarify what they’d meant about the structure of a creative writing degree course.

I’m not going to go into how common it is for people to completely disregard the amount of time, dedication and hard work that goes into becoming a skilled Joiner as it would take too long, plus, wind me right up! It is, however, important to point out that some people choose careers that involve manual labour because they want to rather than it being the only path available to them.

Ever since I started LPP inOctober 2014, I’ve fought the urge to focus solely on  interviewing writers from working class backgrounds. (I believe, strongly, that they need more opportunities to be heard and that established platforms should be doing far more to support and promote w.c. writers.) But making LPP w.c.-centric would have been problematic and not only because I don’t feel in any way qualified to be defining what it is to be w.c. outside of my, relatively, small circle of family and friends. It would have also been problematic because it would have suggested that we are somehow different and in need of a special arena to talk in. As if we’re unable to hold our own alongside those that had grown up with more opportunities and we can only engage in dialogue with ourselves.

It’s nonsense (or bollocks) that w.c. folk can’t occupy the space that middle class writers do so it must also be true that they deserve a space within the discourse around their art form too. I feel like this series is going as well as any independent podcast focusing on poetry could do and I’ve proven that someone without any academic background can lead or facilitate important literary discussions, yet I still feel uncomfortable if I’m in a conversation with a group of writers that I know all have MAs or PHDs. I feel out of place. I feel like I’m going to be found out. I feel like I shouldn’t be there. I feel like I’ve blagged it and time is running out.

I am, however, getting better at telling myself that the middle class/academics that put me on edge are just better at manipulating conversations and ensuring the focus never strays from their area of expertise. I don’t know when the bastards learn this but it can make you feel really bleedin’ stupid until you realise – it’s.just.people.talking… The way we learn to communicate growing up w.c. doesn’t prepare us to engage in that way and leaves us with two choices. We either bend to fit in or we stick two fingers up and do our own thing.

The identity of LPP owes much more to zines than it does to literary journals. Rightly or wrongly I felt that the only way I’d get the opportunity to be involved in conversations about writing was if I started something myself. The first 76 episodes were produced very cheaply and published on YouTube (the only free platform for that amount of audio content) with black and white graphics and no real firm plan as to how it would all pan out. I’d never met anyone that worked in radio so self-publishing seemed the only option.

I’ll get onto this later but as an adult I’ve worked with a lot of visual and performing artists but still didn’t have any idea how literature or publishing worked. That was until 2015 when Elephant and Castle in south London, where I lived, seemed to tip under the weight of gentrification and it felt like middle class media types were everywhere. Even on East Street! I can remember talking to a woman who worked as (something??) and laughing/crying inside as she couldn’t get her head around how I didn’t know anyone at Radio 4 that could just get some of the LPP interviews on air, or how about – buying a houseboat to live on while I had a crack at a production internship. They’re only £5000!! I went for pie and mash to remove the aftertaste of her advice.

I’d never seen that kind of money and was under no delusion that I would any time soon. Growing up w.c. you know that money only comes in when you work for it and I’ve never had a salary that would allow me to save that much. There are no handouts or gifts. We know our place, especially when daring to try to live in zone 1 in London and work in the arts.

In 2016 I’d finally worked through enough shit in my head and reached a point where I felt I could apply to Arts Council England for a Grant for The Arts and I still feel incredibly lucky that my first attempt was successful. (The feeling of luck still overrides the sense of achievement of having produced something deserving of funding). What is interesting is comparing that original application to one I completed last month for a very similar project. My first attempt is almost apologetic in tone, brimming with an unwritten acknowledgement that I was obviously wasting the panel’s time. It was not my place to be asking for money, that pot of cash had not been set aside for the likes of me/us and that as soon as they were done assessing the application I would most definitely fuck off out of their way so that they could get on with the business of funding the off-spring of their friends.

I will never forget how much effort my ACE advisor put in to convince me (and many others) that we were deserving of that funding too. Though, it did take getting the funding, completing and surpassing the funded project, being shortlisted for a British Podcast Award and signing a series-archiving agreement with the British Library before I started to sound like I felt like I deserved a place at the table too.

Not that I feel completely at home. For instance I still haven’t approached any serious poetry festivals about putting on podcast related events as I still haven’t completely shaken off all of my insecurities about drowning in that type of academic environment. Luckily, I have a healthy relationship with what I believe is the most exciting literature festival in the country, Verve Poetry Festival and we’re currently finalising the details of our involvement for February, 2018.

It’s taken me over 20 years to start getting my head around accepting and embracing the contradictions that come with growing up w.c. and choosing to work in the arts. For example, I’m very happy for LPP to exist slightly on the fringes of the UK poetry scene as it gives me more freedom to speak to a wider range of writers but I’ve also been working extremely hard on archiving the entire series with the British Library’s Sound archive, which couldn’t really be more establishment, could it? For the successful working class writer, sometimes getting published or the chance to study at a post-graduate level is just the start of another dilemma; how do they then retain their w.c. identity?

There is a lot of pressure on w.c. writers, poets (artists in general) to be gritty, honest or real in their practice as this fits into the middle class’ narrative of what it is to be w.c. – miserable, angry and vulgar and while we may be all of these things to varying degrees we are also creative, funny, polite, caring and loving. I do worry that part of the BBC’s/media’s current obsession with slam poetry is heavily tied into these stereotypes and that the often traumatic nature of the storytelling at these events feeds into this accepted narrative, even actively rewards it with points, trophies and tv appearances.

The absurd, surreal and avant-garde is off limits to the w.c. writer. I’ve felt, keenly, the guilt attached to wanting to write about subjects purely for the enjoyment of the words or performance. That it was not honest enough to be a true reflection of me. The w.c. are occasionally let in but when they are they’re almost never allowed to play. I do find myself wishing that I could actually have a bit of fun when I’m writing but can’t escape this pressure I’ve put on myself, real or not, to have a proper fucking job and to not spend all my time pissing around with poems.

It’s no accident that I’ve settled so comfortably into an artistic role that involves a lot of bloody work and the promotion of the writing of others over mine. I’m not complaining, by the way, LPP is the best thing I’ve ever done, I just don’t want to kid myself out of facing up to feelings of guilt and shame.

I worked in art galleries for many years, during my twenties, (tellingly) as a technician and played a vital role in a number of major international exhibitions. Even with this acknowledgement I still carried a tape measure into meetings with curators and museum directors in case I was ever asked so what the fuck are you doing in here? and I could point at it in the same way that they would continually (metaphorically) point at their MA certificates(?). The tape measure was my pass.

The guilt (brilliantly!) works the other way too. I still can’t seem to write freely about being a kid and not having a phone at home, moving into a council house after the family home was repossessed or not being able to afford the subs to train with the same football team as my friends. This might seem to contradict the idea that w.c. writers can write about any subject they choose but I’m not choosing in the instance, I’m avoiding the memory of the guilt. Just like a lot of working class artists around my age are having to come to terms with the fact that they’ll never be as w.c. as their parents and don’t feel like they fit in at home just like they don’t at some bullshit networking event.

I’m lucky (possibly) that I went to school until I was 16, unlike my dad who left at 14, I had the option of university and had I wanted to get on the property ladder when I was younger I could’ve done and stayed there. All of these things though pulled me further from the familial identity I’d grown into as a child and adolescent, an identity that I’m now trying to reflect (or not, but deliberately if not) in my own writing.

The biggest achievement for Know Your Place is that the editor Nathan Connolly has managed to show how complex, varied and dense working class identity is. We are not two dimensional characters from miserable soaps, we’re bloody brilliant. We just don’t always realise it.

David. xx

 

 

Legacy building…

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So… it’s Friday night and instead of going out my wife and I have come home to eat pear and celeriac soup and write a blog post about archiving poetry and spoken word. Though, I have recently given up drinking and I’m still in the limbo of not really knowing what to do on a Friday when the pub isn’t an option. Edit: this post is much longer than I anticipated! Sorry xx

A few things happened today that were so closely linked that they starkly highlighted what it is that drives me to continue to produce this series (episode 108 being recorded tomorrow!). This morning I signed the acquisition forms to officially begin archiving all LPP episodes and transcripts at The British Library, then at lunchtime I headed down to The Watershed in Bristol to take part in an interactive literature project as part of Ambient Literature. This project is looking at how we can use the tracking software in our smartphones to produce a map of the participants’ movements as they follow pre-recorded instructions whilst also reading an accompanying book. It’s much simpler to follow than my explanation and aims to question what it is exactly we’re trying to map or archive during the process. What is the point of mapping our movements and can we ever map the emotions and feelings during the walk?

During the walk a conversation began on Twitter about how to best archive spoken word in the UK. This post is going to be an attempt to explain how I feel poets and spoken word folk might begin to address this issue. I’m going to assume that those of you reading this already feel that it’s necessary to archive what’s happening as the question of whether it is or is not necessary will be too distracting.

The first thing I think we need to do is recognise that there are already established routes for the archiving of our work. If you produce pamphlets, books, zines or any printed material you should be producing a couple of extra copies and sending them to either the National Poetry Library in London, the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh or the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth. This is not an exhaustive list and I’m sure even your local library would be interested.

If you produce audio recordings of any form then you could do what I did which is to contact the British Library ‘Sounds’ department as they’re very keen to archive all forms of spoken word, especially that recorded onto obsolete formats. Dig out your mini-discs!! PennSound in the States also archive unpublished poetry audio.

It’s a little trickier and far more expensive if you produce video work but I learned today that the British Library also have the facility to archive video so if you want to secure the future of your Youtube channel it’s probably worth contacting the ‘Sounds’ department and asking who you need to speak to. I’ll be posting more about this as I find out more.

Some archiving/documentary projects you might not be aware of are The Poetry Archive,  Andrea Brady’s fantastic Archive Of The Now, Muddy Feet Poetry on Youtube as well as Tyrone Lewis’ efforts to document everything that passes his eyes (which is a lot!).

I’m trying to work out a few things in my head at the moment and as I’m so obsessed with process I thought I might list some of the questions that I’ve asked myself (and others) about the process of archiving:

  • Why are we archiving?
  • Is archiving a natural part of our practice or is it an act of legacy making?
  • If it’s a mixture of the two, at what point do you want the archive to be available to the public? Will it ever be?
  • Are we archiving our work only in it’s current state? Are we assuming certain formats always remain relevant? Are you prepared for ink to fade from paper, digital formats to become obsolete? Do you care about any of this? If you do care, have you made allowances for the costs of potentially re-formatting or conserving existing formats? How do these factors differ if you produce both analogue and digital work?
  • Where will your archive be housed? Will you be in charge of this? How much maintenance will this require? Universities offer a natural home for research material but can be a little restrictive when it comes to granting access in the future. The British Library archives are very accessible but their collection is so vast I worry that the Lunar Poetry Podcast episodes I’ve donated will just get lost amongst all the other recordings.
  • Are you prepared to cede copyright to a third party in exchange for the upkeep of the archive? Are you able, in fact, to transfer the copyright if needed? Is it yours to transfer?
  • Are you currently obtaining permission from participants in your various projects for you to potentially hand over some of the rights to a third party?
  • How are people ever going to be aware of this archive? Have you made allowances, both financially and in terms of time and labour, for the promotion of any archive?
  • Will your archive be a simple ‘backing-up’ of published work or do you want it to sit alongside and feed into the work and practice of other artists? Do you want your archive to add to an established and growing body of work? If so, how will this be achieved? I was recently interviewed by Katie Ailes as part of her phd research and whilst the links between LPP and her research may seem obvious, the question of how we physically and academically link them is actually quite complicated.

 

I think I’ll leave this here. If you have any thoughts about all this nonsense then I’d love to here from you. This is not supposed to be a definitive list or set of instructions as I’m very much at the starting line when it comes to thinking about the purposes of archiving. I just think it’s really important to share the thought processes behind ideas like this.

David xx

Begging for lolly…

Just a quick update to say that, unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in my recent Arts Council funding application. The series will continue with monthly episodes (hopefully kicking off again in November) and I’ll announce upcoming guests as soon as they’re confirmed.

The main impact on the programming will be that I’ll no longer be able to pay guest hosts so it’ll just be me carrying out the interviews for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to start asking people to work on the series for free so I’ll be the only one working voluntarily.

My immediate focus is how to continue to finance the transcripts of the series. These currently cost me £1 per-audio-minute, which may not sound a lot but is usually around £60 per month. If you have any suggestions then do get in touch, also let me know if you think a Patreon-style funding account would be better than having semi-regular fundraising events.

The lack of funding will severely impact my ability to travel for interviews but I’ll continue to ruin my wife’s holidays by insisting I take my recording equipment with us.

Hope you’re all well.  David. xx

National Poetry Day 2017 (UK)

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To celebrate National Poetry Day 2017 here in the UK we gathered some poets together to share their work with us. This episode (a transcript of which can be found here) contains some strong language and as it’s in the poems I’ve decided not to bleep the words. Poets and Readings are as follows:

David Turner – “Milk” by Susannah Dickey (00:02:00)
Rishi Dastidar – “Contour” (00:06:10)
Mary-Jean Chan – “Conversation with fantasy mother” (00:07:07)
“They would have all that” (00:08:02)
Holly Corfield-Carr – “Z” (00:10:16)
Lizzy Turner – “Putting the art back in K-mart” by Scott Laudati (00:14:11)
Thomas Darby – “Alfresco in waves” (00:17:02)
Khairani Barokka – “Meteorology” (00:18:40)
“Pineapple” (00:21:19)
David Turner – “over skype” by Sean Wai Keung (00:24:14)

Back to school… Episode 106

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So, it’s exactly a year since the first batch of funding from Arts Council England kicked in. Through the funding I bought lots of shiny new recording equipment as well as beginning to edit on a laptop with Audacity. I probably didn’t allow enough time to get used to all of these changes (this is probably a very common story among people getting funding for the first time) and certain things got a little rushed as I tried to keep the series on schedule.

LPP kicked off with a discussion about poetry in schools hosted by the wonderfully capable Jacob Sam-La Rose with Keith Jarrett and Miriam Nash joining him as guests. Between them the three have many years of experience of leading and facilitating poetry workshops in schools around the UK and they speak very candidly and eloquently about how they got into teaching, what they’ve learned along the way and what they wish they’d known when starting out. There are some great tips contained within for anyone looking to get into running poetry workshops themselves and teachers looking to introduce poetry into their lesson plans.

Originally this episode went out in two parts which I’ve now consolidated into one episode, without removing much of the content. A year ago this wouldn’t have seemed possible but those of you that have any experience of editing conversations of this kind will know just how much time you cut off of an episode just by removing the ums, ahs and repetition. There’s still a long way to go but I’ve learned a great deal about all of this stuff over the last 12 months and I think the episode sounds a lot better for having been polished a little.

You can find the episode here.

You can also download a transcript of the conversation as a pdf here or see below.

David. x

 

Introduction:

 

 

DT:      Hello, this is Lunar Poetry Podcasts, I’m David Turner. I’m supposed to be on a break from podcasting but something has been bothering me since September last year. We started our last series off with a discussion about poetry in schools back when we received our first lot of Arts Council funding. At the time, I had just started using some new recording equipment and editing software and looking back I don’t think I did the best job on editing it so I’ve had another look at it. I don’t think I’ll do this with any other episodes but like I said, this one has been bothering me and with kids going back to school this week here in the UK it seems appropriate to revisit the subject.

 

This conversation originally went out in two parts in episodes 77 and 78 so if you want to check out a much longer version you can scroll back through our archive. Jacob Sam-La Rose hosts this discussion and is joined by Miriam Nash and Keith Jarret, they talk about the work they do within schools with poetry education, how they got into educational work in the first place and what they wish they’d known when they first started out.

 

There are lots of great tips here for those already working as educational facilitators or those thinking about moving into this area of work as well as teachers looking to introduce poetry into their lessons. You can find links to Jacob, Keith and Miriam in the episode description if you want to book any of them to teach or lead workshops in your school. Also, if you want to learn more about teaching poetry get yourself over to Jacob’s website as he’s regularly running workshops and seminars about become a poetry educator.

 

Since recording this conversation Keith and Miriam have both released collections. Keith’s, Selah is out through Burning Eye Books and All Prayers in the House by Miriam is out through Bloodaxe Books.

 

As always you can follow what we’re up to at www.lunarpoetrypodcasts.com where you can also download a transcript of this conversation and follow the progress of our latest Arts Council funding application which I submitted last weekend. We can also be found at Lunar Poetry Podcasts on Facebook and Instagram and @Silent_Tongue on Twitter. If you like what we do then please tell your friends and colleagues about us either via social media or you know in person. This original recording was made possible with funding from Arts Council England.

 

That’s enough from me. I’m supposed to be on a break. Here’s Jacob, Miriam and Keith.

 

 

Conversation:

 

 

JSL:      Welcome, this is the Lunar Poetry Podcasts. My name is not David Turner, this the voice of Jacob Sam-La Rose. I have two lovely, lovely human beings and poets with me, Miriam Nash and if we had a sound board you’d be hearing applause right now. And the one, the only, Keith Jarrett. So, for anyone who doesn’t know you guys, I mean shock horror. Someone who doesn’t know your backgrounds and who you are and what it is that you do. I’m going to start with Miriam. Miriam, tell us something about yourself. Who are you? What is it that you do?

 

MN:     I am a poet, I’m an educator, I’m a sister. Important! I’ve been doing… I’ve been working in education with poetry for about seven years. I was introduced to the work by your good self and yes it’s pleasure today to sit around this table.

 

JSL:      Absolutely lovely. I love that sense of the various different roles. Must not forget that Miriam is also a sister very, very important. Alongside all of the other work that is done. And Mr Keith Jarrett tell us something about yourself.

 

KJ:       Hello, I’m Keith Jarrett. I’m also good sibling, I hope, I’d like to think so. I am a poet, I also write fiction and I’m also an educator and have been part of the Spoken Word Education Project for a few years and I’m trying not to count them because time is flying really fast! And that’s just some of what I do but at the moment I am a full-time PhD student and I’m developing my creative work while also looking at research and religion.

 

JSL:      As some of the 13-year-olds I was working with earlier today might say “deep!”. For anyone who doesn’t know what it is that I do. Hi I’m Jacob Sam-La Rose. I’m the current artistic director and lead lecturer for the spoken word education program. I run the Barbican Young Poets program, I also am the artistic director for the Barbican Junior Poets program and we now have a Barbican Alumni poets program.

 

I support a range of different communities and collectives. The Burn After Reading community, for example. A large part of my work is given over to supporting the development of young and emerging poets, as well as being a poet and performer and educator myself. I’ve been working in and out of classrooms in various different educational facilities and institutions and spaces and community spaces for, oh I don’t know. As Keith was saying, perhaps too long to count but something, if I had to put numbers to it something around 20 years now. So it’s a joy to be sitting in this room about to embark on a conversation around the work that we do as poets in education.

 

So, I was having conversations with two people who were shadowing me earlier today and talking about my first experience of running a workshop and of being in a classroom and how it was that I got comfortable with that sense of leading something along those lines. What were your first experiences, how did you actually get into the work that we’re talking about?

 

KJ:       I think I was just asked… If I’m correct, because I can’t really remember my first ever experience of doing a poetry workshop in a school. I’ve done other things, I also taught English as an additional language. And I should have known better but I walked into a classroom and went, “eek, what do I do now? Right! Why aren’t you writing? Why aren’t you interested.

 

So I think I really didn’t know what I was doing in my first sessions. I think I was just called, and it was probably National Poetry Day, and I was asked to go do something and get the kids entertained in writing. So it was a really loose brief and I just loosely thought, yeah I can do it.

 

And then I did a mentoring project which was really about looking at certain pupils at risk of exclusion and so they wanted me to do a workshop where I’d be getting them to write poetry and Rap and using that as a way of bringing them in. Again it was a really wide brief and I was very inexperienced and I cringe, I really cringe thinking about those early days and the time where I’d just sort of hide in the stationery cupboard and think, what am I doing?

 

JSL:      And how was that workshop that you were asked to do around poetry and rap and that kind of expectation. I mean, was it an expectation? How did that sit with you, how did that feel in terms of that sense of please deliver a workshop that relates to poetry and rap for us?

 

KJ:       It actually… The story of that is a bit longer and it came from some mentoring work that I wasn’t very well prepared for either. Where I was working with primary school age children at risk of exclusion and I wrote a report based on that. Which then went out to a number of schools and one of them picked up on what I did and said, “oh brilliant and you write poetry! How about you do something with poetry and rap?” Which sounds good but then I wasn’t really supported. I was on my own, it was, I… Yeah I do cringe.

 

But, at the same time, I see the good intentions behind it. You know, Rap is a part of poetry by it can be a separate discipline and there’s this kind of expectation, “oh, there’s something cool, why don’t you go and do something cool with the kids?” Like, that’ll stop them committing crime and it didn’t quite work out by that. But I did form some really good relationships with young people through realising that I was slightly out of my depth [JSL: right] and then trying to correct it.

 

JSL:      Yeah I have this kind of vexed relationship, essentially I kind of fall on both sides of the divide with regards to the relationship between poetry and rap and expectation around that. I remember the earlier part of my career I did have a period of time where I flirted with hip-hop as a kid. So that was at one point very much a part of my culture but I kind of moved beyond that for my own self.

 

While I still love hip-hop music. I would never consider myself to be an emcee as such and like you I respect that rap is an art form in itself that has ways of working and skills associated. So there is a part of me that remembers a time when there was this expectation because you were of a certain perceived background, “Because you do some stuff with words right? That’s hip-hop as well right? So you say you’re a poet but hey come in and speak to these kids and do some rap stuff with them!” It’s like, not quite that simple. Yeah, I totally appreciate that. So Miriam what are your hip-hop workshop skills like?

 

MN:     I’m occasionally asked if I will rap by a young person [JSL: fantastic!] but I say no because I wouldn’t do it justice.

 

JSL:      I want to be in the room if that ever actually happens.

 

MN:     Although, I am quite good on the Hamilton lyrics. I kind of fell into running some workshops or running a writing group for peers when I was doing my undergraduate degree at Goldsmiths. And through that I met Spread The Word, the wonderful organisation, through that I met the poet Sundra Lawrence and through that I met yourself on a on teaching project, poetry project in schools in Harrow.

 

I wasn’t teaching on that program myself, I was supporting it in a kind of administrative way, which has been another part of the work that I do producing and administering projects for young people. And that was a very formative experience for me, seeing that work and seeing the power of that work and being involved in it but also being able to look at it before I had a go myself.

 

And then I obviously had the incredible luck and the incredible privilege to work with you as one of your ‘shadows’. And I think we worked together for almost the whole year actually. And I remember I worked with you in a number of different schools in a pupil referral units and museums. And so, I really got to see it… Yeah, I was a very, very lucky member of your ‘shadow’ community.

 

Yeah so, I got to see that work happening in some different settings and then some way into that we were both working on a project at Erith School in Kent with the wonderful Doug Bloom. And so, as part of that I ran my first workshop in a classroom on my own but you were there to support that. So, I did have a very supported entry in to poetry and education as a workshop leader which I, you know, think about and talk about actually all the time in my work. Because, part of what I’m able to communicate is that I do this work.

 

Not only the teaching and not only the workshops but you know I feel I am a poet because of the support of yourself and other poets who made it possible for me to even see that this was a job that. However strange and tenuous it may sometimes feel I could see it there and I just thought this is incredible work that I didn’t know was happening. And I was not only shown that but able to be brought into it.

 

JSL:      Listeners I am blushing right now you can’t see this through the airwaves or over the digital streams but yes. Thank you for reminding me of some of the work that we actually did back in the day. I want to celebrate the administrative side of what it is that you’ve done and maybe we’ll come back to that. Because I mean for all of us in the room, we have these varied perspectives so you know, experience of doing this work as teacher as well as poet and facilitator. Experience of not just being the poet in the classroom but also supporting the poets in the classroom and liaising with teachers and venues to ensure that that work happens and to make sure that everyone’s supported.

 

I’d love to come back to some of that a little bit later in the conversation but I also want to pick up on that sense of the support that you said that you had. Because again, I know for me, when I was upcoming and learning my craft and learning what it meant to be a poet at the front of a room that wasn’t a performance space but that was actually a learning space. You know a lot of that I learned ‘on the hoof’ so to speak. There were very few if any actual pedagogical workshops or workshops around the notion or the craft of how you pass your skills on to students or how is that you work with other people in that way.

 

So a lot of what it is that I’ve taken on, I mean obviously I’ve studied since then, but a lot of what I picked up in the early days was just through doing it and figuring out what it was that worked and going into a workshop and saying; “Okay that didn’t quite work as I planned, I’m going to have to rethink that and come back with something different. Why didn’t it work? Okay, let me try this the next time.” But now we have, and I mean this isn’t necessarily accessible for all but there’s more support for these kinds of things.

 

So again, Keith you have an experience of going through the spoken word education program. Miriam you had an opportunity to be supported by not just me but other teachers that you had access to. Tell me something about that experience of the kind of support or the kind of investment in development as an actual craft that you may have had. And what that meant to you in terms of your development.

 

KJ:       I first met Peter Kahn a few years ago and he contacted me via recommendation from someone else, we had a Skype conversation. He told me about this radical project which was starting, which is a collaboration between him, different poetry organisations and Goldsmiths. I thought, wow okay this is very interesting. I’d never heard of anything like that before, an opportunity to do what I’d been doing. By that time my I’d worked in schools doing poetry projects, mentoring projects as well, where I was slightly more comfortable in the classroom than my first experiences of hiding in the cupboard.

 

Going through the process of being in a traineeship almost and then also having that academic backup to it being at Goldsmiths and doing the MA and having colleagues, other people who are undergoing the same process. For me, that’s just been infinitely valuable and I just don’t understand why it hadn’t existed in the way it had before and why there weren’t more opportunities for people to do that.

 

Just even basic things about how you present work and present examples and obviously there’s the teaching stuff of… You know, thinking about people who might have dyslexia or problems with vision or whatever and thinking about how you present your material but then how you demonstrate, how you prompt poems, how really simple basic things which I’d never thought of like; Okay if I’m going to set an exercise for students to do I should have done it myself first and I should have a template poem of my own as well as another example.

 

Things like that, no one told me that until I actually went through that process of training and I thought, ‘wow’. I feel like they were wasted opportunities where I was in schools where actually pupils who weren’t engaged, they may well have been if they got it and if I’d had that, you know, extra background. I’m not saying I’m a perfect teacher or workshop leader and I’m not saying that everyone is going to pick up something from a poetry workshop. But I feel that having that background, having that training has hugely helped me teaching but also generally how present myself to other people.

 

MN:     I think the support that I had was what even got me into the classroom and you know made me feel like I could enter that space. I remember, it used to be so terrifying, I mean the night before I would go into a school… Particularly when I started to go in all on my own, you know first you have to find the school and it’s really early, it’s on the other side of town you know, it’s got several entrances. You know, you have to get in first of all.

 

JSL:      I’m thinking of a particular school in East London that has two different sites, I think that we all are familiar with. And you could be at the lower site and actually realise that your workshop is supposed to be at the upper site or something crazy. Yeah, yeah.

 

KJ:       Ten minutes walk.

 

JSL:      Yeah yeah.

 

MN:     Then you have to find the teacher and you have to be presentable but you’re sweating and you weren’t quite sure what to wear. And finally you get into the classroom. But, so you know that support was really, really important in giving me the confidence to be able to know how to enter into that space and talk to teachers and you know, make sure that I knew what I needed to know and feel that I could ask questions.

 

And I guess even with that support still when I was starting I thought that I was supposed to know things. You know I thought I was supposed to just be able to get on with it and you know that that was a requirement. And you know, if something went wrong I would feel really bad. Whereas now you know I think, one of the wonderful things about having some more experiences you know I think, well things don’t go as planned all the time. And part of your role as an educator is to be able to adapt and see what’s happening and kind of be aware of yourself in the space and not get lost I guess.

 

You know, not get lost among all the ideas of what you think you’re supposed to do because if you’re so caught up in, you know, presenting in the right way. If you’re so worried about getting it right you’re actually not in a position to give support and energy to the students.

 

JSL:      Hallelujah.

 

KJ:       Yeah.

 

MN:     So you know, you need to be able to have that support to be able to do that. To arrive in such a way that, yeah that you’re there for them. I guess every teacher has to go through some kind of wrangling with themselves in order to get there. But it’s so much easier to do with other people.

 

JSL:      Yes. It’s fascinating, the first year of teaching for just about every teacher that I’ve ever, kind of, spoken to or had any kind of interaction with, that first year of teaching is like a hellish experience. While you figure out who you are and how you relate to the work that you’re being asked to do. But then you learn from that incredible kind of, you know, intense period of pressure. And just trying to do right by your students and by everything that you know you’re supposed to be offering them and you come out on the other side of that a better teacher, ideally.

 

There’s so much in what you’ve just said, both of you that I really want to celebrate that… Particularly, three things that come up from what you just said Miriam in terms of our relationships with failure. The notion of being present in any space where we’re teaching and that relationship with improvisation and being able to think on our feet.

 

That thing about failure is such a big thing because we have to be able to hold the possibility that things aren’t necessarily going to work as planned but also we have to balance that against the fact we’ve got these various different stakeholders in the room, right.

 

So we’ve got the students themselves but we’ve also got the teachers or whoever the representatives are of the institution that we’re working in. And they have they all have their various different expectations. So we have to kind of balance that sense of, “well hey, look it might not go according to plan but we’ll do something”. With this sense of, “well these guys are expecting something and these guys are expecting something”, and I’m kind of you know beholden to what it is that they expect!

 

Balancing that can be a really challenging thing, right. So there’s that, there’s that sense of being present in the room. I love that sense of presence and being completely kind of just there, right. Being in the room and alive to what’s being offered and not just following a script. Being responsive, this notion of responsive teaching I love that idea and that’s something that I try and put over to all of the spoken word education students I’m working with now. That sense of responsive teaching being able to shift and respond to what it is that your students are giving you back and how…

 

I mean, the number of times I’ve turned up in a workshop space and what it was that I was told would be, you know, the situation… Or, here’s the brief and you get there and it’s like, this is nothing like what you told me was going to happen. This space is completely different these students are completely different. The teacher who I’m speaking to in the room is saying that actually this is a workshop about, I don’t know, naval history and I thought it was going to be about whatever and we had these conversations, we set it all up.

 

So being able to think on feet is so important and it comes back to that sense Keith in terms of what you were saying around expectation and I’m fascinated by that and I don’t know if you guys have any thoughts on these lines specifically. The notion of facilitating or teaching, there is this expectation of us as kind of creative professionals or freelance literature workers, whatever. That some part of our income will come or be derived from facilitating or working in a classroom environment. And it really comes back to, for me, this question of beyond that expectation, why are we doing this work? Right?

 

Surely it’s not just about the money, it’s not just about I need to be able to earn X amount from this teaching activity in order to be able to survive as a quote unquote poet. Surely there’s something more in terms of why. I mean, why do you guys do this work? Why is this work important? Is it important to you? Why do you guys do this work, what’s it all about?

 

MN:     To me it feels really integral to my work as a poet. Because I feel like writing on its own is wonderful and it’s so amazing to spend time learning that craft and reading and working with other poets. But I think being able to work in education, whatever that means you know, and that really doesn’t have to mean any one particular thing. You know, I don’t just mean working in schools but taking the poetry into different settings. For me that feels really essential to what poetry is, what poetry is for.

 

Yes I have those moments on my own at my desk where I think, yes this is it! But I also have probably even more moments where I’m working with somebody, you know, whether it’s an adult or a young person. Whether it’s someone who has experience or is writing their first poem where there’s this recognition that we’re working with creativity here. And that’s an incredible thing as well, I mean that’s such a privilege to be able to work with people on something that is so personal.

 

Because you know having an audience is about communicating the work that you’ve done but using poetry in education is communicating the process and communicating that wrangling, that learning that you’re doing yourself. I think that’s really important about this work is that whenever I go into a space I’m just reminding myself that the people I’m working with are creators in their own right. And they may not identify as creators at that particular time but they are because we all are, and yeah, so that’s why I do it.

 

JSL:      There’s something beautiful in what you just said that I might come back to after I invite Keith to say a few words about why it is he does its work. But that notion of the relationship between process and product in the settings that we work in and again how a lot of the expectation… Unless you have someone that you might identify as a champion teacher who kind of understands and really does appreciate and really values the work that you’re doing, there’s a sense of, “yeah we want them to write poems”.

 

“All this kind of airy-fairy processed stuff? Nah, nah, nah!” “What we want at the end of this period of time is, we want 30 poems, or we want 10 group poems, or we want this… You know we want the finished anthology or you know…” The focus on the actual product is… You can appreciate the importance but to create space and to actually create an ability, or to allow for that space to focus on the process that can be communicated beyond the session that you’re leading, yeah yeah I celebrate that. Keith why?

 

KJ:       I’m going through a process where I feel really weird at the moment because I spend all of my days, probably about between six and eight hours a day I spend at a computer just transcribing interviews that I’m doing as part of my research. And it’s driving me crazy, in a good way because I know it’s temporary and it’s part of a bigger project which I’m really excited about.

 

But I know that if I just sat on my own writing poems all day and not communicating in other ways, interacting with people, sharing process and sharing how I do things and how different possibilities is just as important as me having my creative time or my time alone to work. You know, with me and my computer or laptop or notebook or whatever it is.

 

I think as much as I crave that a lot of the time and especially at the end of a long day where I’m in a school teaching and I’m like, “I just want to be on my own and work!” I crave that but if that was all that I had to do in my life I wouldn’t be satisfied either. So it’s a weird thing because sometimes I do almost hate it.

 

And especially working in schools and that was another thing with the spoken word educator project, I’m no longer embedded in a school. And you know, after my last day and after really missing some of the kids that I was working with, suddenly, I was like yeah I’m free! I don’t have to put up with all of the pressure that goes into being in a school.

 

I find schools incredibly depressing places. The institutes themselves and the management and the way they kind of work. But, it does something working in there having those challenges having the conflict between the head teacher who wants no problems, no fuss, nothing controversial. The teachers who want results, the kids who want either to be entertained or to do something that engages them. And you who wants to make it different. Like, all of that, and as a creator as well you want to have your own artistic integrity rather than go into some curriculum or you know…

 

So there’s all of these conflicts and that challenges, it creates a lot of heartache and stress and I’d probably have more hair on my head if I didn’t ever work in schools. At the same time there is something so valuable and so rewarding and I’ve also had some of my… Undoubtedly some of my best experiences just being in a school, getting to know pupils who I learned from as well.

 

I have learned as a poet to write, through teaching poetry and being challenged in all of that. Yeah, it’s something that does scare me, I have to be prepared for it. I have to be prepared to teach and it isn’t easy. It feels like some, you know, it’s that expectation, “oh you write, you should teach it as well.” It’s not easy to do it properly, especially in schools. I think working with younger people is a particular challenge. But I couldn’t see myself not working in some form or another with young people helping them to create poetry.

 

JSL:      I think it’s worth pointing out, part of the model of the spoken word education program. Which was as you said that sense of; Okay, for the first year you’d spend that time working alongside whoever the lead on the program was, having seminars around both the craft of writing and the craft of teaching. But then also you’d be in a school one day a week I think it was for you all year, right?

 

KJ:       Yes.

 

JSL:      So you’re in one day a week working alongside Peter who was leading in that year and with the facility… It was kind of on the job training, that facility to try things out, see how they would work. With, again the kind of support that Miriam was talking about with someone like Peter in the room who would be able to feedback to you after you’d run that workshop. But then the second year, once you’ve gone through a year of that kind of instruction that kind of training, the second year you take on a school for yourself. And you’d be in school. Your generation of spoken word educators, you had, was it four-day weeks.

 

KJ:       Yes, four days a weeks.

 

JSL:      So, I stepped into the program and took it on in the second year of the program which is when you guys were just starting your placement. And one of the thoughts I had that I put in place the following year was that, I felt the four-day week… There needed to be a bit more flexibility for people around that…

 

And again, one of the things you were touching on was this notion of balance, right. Being able to balance your needs as working artists between the work that you do in concert with other people. The work that you do in spaces that are filled by other people. The work that you do that it’s feeding into other people’s development but also the work that you necessarily need to do as a writer in that space between you and the page.

 

And I mean the whole thing about the spoken word education program at the moment is a sense of that balance between you as teaching artist and you as poet in your own right doing that work. It’s powerful stuff to hear you talking about that sense of what it actually takes to be in an education institution. I mean hats off to all of the teachers any teachers that might be listening into this conversation.

 

MN:     Yes, they’re amazing.

 

JSL:      All of us who’ve worked in any of these kinds of roles can appreciate and have some appreciation for the work that it is that teachers have to do. You know, crazy hours Monday to Friday plus whatever time is that they put in from their own time, preparing lesson plans and making sure that they’re ready for the next week ahead. You know there is so much that is asked of them and as a teaching artist in a role, if you have that kind of full-time or almost full-time placement. I mean four days a week essentially becomes five days a week.

 

KJ:       Yes.

 

JSL:      Because you’re there and you are delivering work for those four days but your fifth day which is supposed to be kind of time out for you to be writing and doing you. Really becomes, “do I have everything I need for the next week?” And that’s something I think we forget, regardless of whether you’re a spoken word educator, a resident artist or any other program you might be working on. I think one of the things we sometimes forget to account for is that preparation time, it’s not enough for us to just turn up. “Hey I’m here now. Let’s write some poems!”

 

You know there is that preparation time that when we fail to account for [it] we kind of end up bankrupt in terms of time and we kind of lose that… The time has to come from somewhere and we lose that time for ourselves, which is really important. I know self-care is a big thing that I want to talk about in a moment.

 

But Keith I just wanted to come back to something, you were talking about this notion of relationship with students and how that is formed in terms of, I think it was and you can correct me here. But I think it was that sense of what your needs might be in relation to what it is the needs of the students might be. Was it something along those lines?

 

KJ:       Yeah. There are so many different conflicting needs and it’s a bit like you know if you pick up a children’s book in a bookshop. The bookshop isn’t trying to sell to the child necessarily, it’s the librarians and the parents who have the money. But at the same time the child needs to be interested enough to you know… If it’s a series, they’re going to say, “Mummy, Mummy I want the second one” or “Dad I want the second one.”

 

So you’re or my challenge always is thinking you know, who’s this for? It’s for me, but then actually, what does the pupil need, what do I want to get out of them? You mentioned also, like about you know, not necessarily having the same…

 

Having an idea of what a class is going to be like but then having different expectations. When I’m told that they’re a certain ability or you know… I’m told different things about the pupils, or not, again I have an expectation. Oh, okay so this is what the teacher expects of them and so this is what I want to get out [of them]. And I’m constantly challenging myself to, okay I want to get them to be… You know, if this is someone who has never written I want them to write a poem for the first time. So there’s my own ego in this.

 

JSL:      So you set yourself those kinds of challenges?

 

KJ:       Yeah. But a lot of that is my own ego. Whereas, really you know, what is in that child’s interest? Maybe, actually they just need to chill and have some time where this is the first time that they’ve even had the idea that they could express themselves. But then at the same time if this child wants to express themselves but I know that this school has a particular rigid policy and says you cannot talk about gangs, guns, crime. You know they’ve got a whole prescriptive list then I’ve got that challenge on top of it.

 

Okay, what takes priority? Is my own politics going to take precedence over the schools, or what I think might be in the child’s interests? So I’m constantly thinking about that, I think it’s… I was going to say it’s easier but it’s not. When you’re embedded in a school when you’re there more than just once then you can really take on board those challenges a bit more.

 

Along with the preparation there’s emotional work, so you’ve got to factor that into your preparation time. But then you know, if it’s just a one off, you’re flying into a school like… In that preparation I’ve, sort of, got tiny little key points. Okay. let’s try and make sure that they all write ten lines, but at the same time. You know, let’s really get to what I want from that. Is it to be fun? And for them to not be put off by poetry by the end of the hour.

 

JSL:      Do you have these kind of base line… I mean regardless of whatever the workshop might be. Each of you, do you have your own kind of personal manifesto in terms of… For every workshop that I might go into I want to be able to leave these students with an appreciation of poetry, for example. Or I want to make sure that they have this understanding of how metaphors might work.

 

Do you have your own set of, whatever the workshop is, here are three key points that are just a part of my practice when I go into a space that I want to try and ensure that these students are left with generally?

 

MN:     Yes and no. Yes, in the sense of things that I kind of want to be in the room or, kind of, core experiences. But no in terms of, you know, a line requirement or everyone has to write a poem even. The first one is definitely what you said, it’s fun and that’s something that you taught me very early on. It’s like, you need to have fun delivering your workshop. And that helped me a lot in getting through, kind of, the first fear of going into a classroom in the early days just thinking that, “oh fun!”

 

JSL:      So easy to forget yeah?

 

MN:     And thinking, okay you know… So that’s why, you know, it’s relevant, me being a sister because, you know, being with my sisters is that we have a lot of fun. Like, with my sisters I’m probably sillier than with any other people, you know. And so I guess I try and just get a little bit of that. Often, you know, if I’m going in for the first time I won’t know the students. But to try and have a sense of fun.

 

And then I think there’s something else which is very easy to achieve but I’m glad to kind of think of it as a core thing or experience, is that you know, they get to meet a poet and they get to ask them questions. And, you know, obviously I’m going in so that’s very easy, that’s already kind of ticked. But it’s like there gets to be some exchange where they get to interrogate, “what is a poet, what do you do?”

 

So I have to remember never to take for granted that you know, that they will understand what a poet is or what my role is and why I’m there. So yeah I think that’s a really important one. It’s not so much a requirement but I do find myself working with the notion of specificity and using a detail. Almost more than anything else in terms of technique because even beyond you know, thinking about what a poem is I want them to understand how language sticks with us in our minds. And I want them to have an experience of that.

 

So usually that’s going to be an initial session by me sharing probably a poem by myself, maybe a poem by someone else and asking them like what they can actually remember after hearing that in the air without being able to read. Because that’s helpful in every situation in which they’re asked to write in school. You know, even in speech actually, being able to convey something in a way that people will remember.

 

JSL:      Keith, can you add anything to that list? In terms of the things that you… When you know you’re going into any kind of workshop, whatever that workshop might be. Are there any kind of base principles, base considerations? Regardless of what the specific content of that session actually is. Are there any base principles that you generally adhere to in terms of what that experience should offer the students that you’re working with?

 

KJ:       Well my first one is a negative which is just, I don’t want to ruin poetry for them.

 

JSL:      Right.

 

KJ:       And that’s so easy to do. The other one is, connection and something I learned from being in the school where I was for a year was not to write people of. Which is a tough one because I did it in different ways, because I would target… My aim was, initially I really want to go for the… Because of my background in mentoring and exclusion and all of that I was concentrating on the kids who were deemed bad or deemed at risk of, you know, being… Or having behavioural issues or whatever and then also the kids who are super interested and wanted to come to ‘spoken word club.’

 

So I thought okay I’m going to go for those and people in between I wasn’t that concerned about. But at the same time, I mean, looking back that was really naive. There were a few kids that I think I really could have paid more attention to and one in particular by the end of that year she was so fantastic and helped mentor other kids in poetry and was such a great experience.

 

So, my greatest thing even if it’s a one off is to try and take each person on their own merit as much as I can. But then that, you know, say it’s a class of thirty and it’s an hour, that’s not very feasible. But even just to like get everyone to say their names and just to make sure that I get eye contact with everyone. And just to say… And keep positivity going as the bare minimum, never to dismiss anyone.

 

Even when I’m trying to get them to work, even if they are like, ah I can’t be bothered and I know I’ve only got this one workshop for one hour with this person who I’ll never see again. I’m going to keep an atmosphere of positivity that, one won’t put them off but two will make them think wow actually maybe we’ve connected and there’s something… So yeah, in short, to open doors if I can. To keep them open if they’re already open. [JSL: Yeah.] And that’s it in a short… You know if I don’t really know them beforehand.

 

JSL:      Just in terms of my own thinking around the kind of base principles that I like to bear in mind, I try to give over or try and leave my students with some, some kind of technical awareness. Even if it’s one point, some kind of technical awareness or technique that they can use in terms of the craft of writing or in terms of their poetry, right. And that kind of goes towards this sense of, I want to make sure that they’re left with something that exists beyond me.

 

So it’s not just about me being in the room being the poet who’s arrived, who’s giving them this, “hey great experience!” And then disappears for a little bit. But that sense of, here are some skills and it’s not just about me, it’s about your relationship with this thing that we call poetry.

 

I want to try and ensure… And again I had that experience similar to you Keith of being brought in to work with students who are identified as failing or who have difficulties in the education system or whatever along those lines. And for so many of those students and for so many of the other students I work with regardless of whatever their background is or their sense of attainment or achievement, I want to give them the sense that poetry is something relevant.

 

Yeah, something that is accessible and something that they can claim as their own. It’s not just this kind of old dead thing over there… Which also leads into this, kind of, conversation between poetry and it, kind of, comes back to the poetry/rap thing that we were talking about before… Miriam, I’m still keen to hear you rapping… But that whole sense of the relationship between poetry not being cool and the things that are cool. So that sense of… The relationship between poetry and spoken word, for example. And how we brand things as spoken word to make them accessible.

 

Poetry is a broad field and I want to challenge you, I want to push you a little bit. You might say you like this part of that field, which might be defined as spoken word but I want to show you that that’s just one point on a large map. You can travel across that map as much as you want, there are so many different places that you go.

 

We’ve spoken a lot about our experiences, if we were challenging you to offer up any thoughts, any advice to an emerging poet-educator who wanted to do more work or who has perhaps run some workshops but is looking to ‘skill-up’. Looking to figure out how to do better, how to succeed, how to develop their vision of success and what success means in a teaching experience.

 

What kinds of things would you put forward from your own experience that people should maybe bear in mind?

 

MN:     To come back to the notion of support, that we’ve talked about a lot. I think it’s really important to ask yourself, where is my support coming from. It’s easy when you’re starting out, I thought, “okay what do I need to do, to be able to do this work?” To be able to be there to get there and be in that room and be able to handle it.

 

But I, you know, I was thinking about external things. I need to meet this person, make this connection. I you know… But not about the support that’s needed. And you know, we need to ask the organisations that we work with, the schools that we work with for support. And in order to be able to do that we need to have a sense of what that support is.

 

And so I think, you know, the way to get that starting out is to talk to other poets who have been doing it for longer. The others who are just starting out and even by having a small support group, you know, between poets who are working in different settings. Those things are really important.

 

JSL:      So maybe starting something up for yourself if you’re not aware of something that you can join? Just being able to say, “Hey guys we’re doing… We want to do this kind of work. Let’s say we band together and share experiences?” I mean there is so much that’s happening now in terms of spaces that are being set up for people to learn or… I mean there’s the Apples and Snakes’ masterclasses, for example. You know, there are things that are happening but beyond those to be able to kind of create some kind of community or community of practice for yourself?

 

MN:     Yeah, absolutely and just to make sure that you have support… The support that you need wherever that comes from. Yeah it may take a while to fully understand what kind of support it is that you need. I’m really grateful to certain poets that I work with and in particular this year, Jasmine Cooray who… For reaching out and saying, “Okay I’m doing this work, you’re doing this work, some other people are doing this work.”

 

And we don’t have supervision, we don’t have regular supervision which is built into some other professions. And you know we need to do whatever we can to ensure that the organisations that the schools that we work with help us to get that, but we also need to take responsibility for it and give it to each other and ourselves. That’s, something really important.

 

And again, I guess it takes a little bit of experimentation but to try and figure out what kind of teaching work you actually want to do and what kind of work you are suited to doing. And that’s something that I remember you challenging me on Jacob, from very early on. And it’s great isn’t it, as a learner you know years later you sort of have these moments where you think, “Oh this is really really what Jacob meant!”

 

And now, you know I think yes, it is great to go and experiment and I would encourage people to have the support that they need to be able to bring their work into different environments. Don’t feel like you always have to be the person leading it, go and be a shadow. Go and shadow different artists, expose yourself to different practices. Read books. But also you know, all the time be reflecting on, where does it actually work for you, where does it spark for you?

 

You know, for example I think for quite a long time I felt like I needed to be able to do the ‘one-off’ workshops, where you go and do the assembly in the school and then you work in different classrooms. I occasionally still do that work and it can be great fun but, you know, I had this mistaken idea that I sort of needed to prove to myself that I could go into almost any situation that.

 

JSL:      That you’re capable of it?

 

MN:     Yeah and you know, actually I much prefer working on longer term programmes. I think I’m much better suited to working with a slightly smaller group of students over an extended period of time and it’s very valuable to know that.

 

JSL:      There’s this part of the teaching practice, in terms of the way that I conceive it anyway, which is you have to create space for your students to learn for themselves. And in Caribbean culture there is this phrase, “if you can’t hear you must feel“. And again the flip-side of that can’t hear must feel thing is you’re going to learn. You’re going to learn for yourself if you can’t take it…

 

Again, actually what we’re celebrating there is, it’s not just about me telling you what it is that you should know. It’s about you figuring out for yourself in a constructed space, right. And it’s a joy to hear some of that thinking kind of land. Yeah.

 

But also that sense of actually really, genuinely getting that sense of. Well look, there’s a lot teaching that needs to be done in this city, in this country, across the world. Not everyone needs to be teaching the same thing or in the same way, you’re doing yourself and you’re doing your students much more of a service if you’re figuring out who you are as a teacher. What it is that you can provide and yeah great challenge yourself but figure out where you’re best placed and push that. Yeah, love that.

 

Any other tips that we want to pass on any other tools?

 

KJ:       I would just go on a practical level of just making sure each time you go into a workshop you know that you’ve covered the bases of… From as far as what you’ve been told and to try and get that information. So I know generally speaking I’ll try and do a ‘Prezi Presentation’ but that requires the Internet and a projector.

 

So just making sure basics like that [are in place]. Do they have the Internet do they have a projector? There are some schools I’ve been into which don’t allow USB sticks to be used and I didn’t know that until I walked into a school, tried to like… And I thought, “Come on!” and I couldn’t use that. And so then that created a whole different set of problems.

 

JSL:      That’s like your IT department saying, “We’re not going to accept any foreign USB devices because they might corrupt our network with a virus or something so forget that.

 

KJ:       So I get it now but it’s just so annoying because every other place that I go, like a USB is kind of the minimum and with PowerPoint or even Word I could have done something just by accessing the documents that I had. But I had no way of doing that.

 

Then also just knowing if you don’t know the place that you’re going to, especially if it’s a school or something like that. Just knowing who to go to for specific… If there are any issues come up, who do you refer the pupils to? Are you going to be there on your own, is there going to be someone else there with you? And then again, what the different expectations are. You know, do they want you to do turn-tabling with without your consent.

 

So just having absolutely as much in writing as possible as well as on the phone, just having good contact with whatever space you’re going into. And then again just checking my own motives. Obviously it’s lovely, you know, sometimes I have gone into a place thinking, “Great it’s, you know, a couple of hours and I’m getting paid which is nice”. But actually, I’m here to share my experience and my knowledge and my craft. So, just making sure I’m at the right place to do that.

 

JSL:      And I’d jump in and I’d support… In terms of what you were saying about having things on paper so that you can always refer back to them. You know having those conversations.

 

I know again, with all love to the teachers that we work with. We all know that everyone’s busy so we know that sometimes email conversations are delayed because marking needed to be done and so on and so forth. And really you’re the poet who’s possibly only in for the one session or only in once a week or once every fortnight or something like that so there are other priorities that get in the way.

 

But having that conversation via email so that you’ve got that kind of chain you can look through and refer to and if someone says well we thought you were coming in at this particular time and you were needing this you can actually refer back to. When actually it was clearly said and disseminate to this body of people that this is what we needed just in case there’s any confusion. You know having that kind of recourse is, I think a very good thing.

 

Along the lines of paperwork, making sure you’ve got your DBS, your CRB and your public liability insurance and all those kinds of things. Just making sure that you are covered, it’s the kind of stuff you hope you don’t need but if you do need it’s good to have in place, right.

 

And knowing that there are organisations… So for example, I believe that NAWE still does this. If you sign up as a NAWE member you get your you get your public liability insurance and you can do your DBS through them as well. And there are other organisations that you can approach along those lines. There’s an organisation called The Artist’s Network which isn’t necessarily about literature as an art, but yes signing up for The Artist’s Network gives you a fair amount of cover or gives you access to a fair amount of cover for public liability insurance and indemnity, which I found out about when I was running workshops for the Tate Modern.

 

In terms of, again the practicalities… Having that awareness of what the culture of the school is and what the procedures are if something happens. So from simple things like you know… Again we were talking about appropriate dress within a space, knowing that you’re probably not going to be going to school wearing a cap or a hat because in some settings… You know even if you are dressed neatly but still wearing a hat there is actually a school rule against headwear. You know, knowing that before you go in.

 

Whether it is that kind of stuff or whether it’s if something happens in this classroom then a student will… I mean generally you should have a teacher in the room anyway ideally depending on… You know, if you’re employed almost full-time as a teacher or a member of staff then maybe there’s a slightly different thing there. But if you are an artist who’s being brought in to run a short-term workshop then largely you should have a teacher in the room with you as a representative of the school in case anything happens that needs a member of staff to be aware of or to march things through procedures.

 

We all know, however, that there are circumstances where you’ll arrive, teacher will be there for the first five minutes and then say, “You’ve got this? You’ve got this! Great, good, I’m just going to go off down the corridor and just take care of this other thing from the next…” Never see them again. Yeah.

 

So kind of knowing what the procedures are and what’s appropriate. Knowing or having some sense of… If something happens in the room or if there’s a discipline issue then you’re actually going to that office ‘over there’. An awareness of the rules or the regulations or the kind of procedures around disclosure, for example. If something’s said in the room that suggests that something’s going on at home that needs to be escalated? Knowing who it is that needs to be informed of that.

 

Not putting yourself, for example, in a position where you promise, “Okay, no one else will see this material. I promise it’s just you. It’s just on this piece of paper.” But then you see that piece of paper and you’re like, “Wow there’s something happening”. And now I am duty bound to report this or pass this on to someone else who has a responsibility for disclosure in this space. Have any of you had an experience where a student has cried in one of your workshops?

 

KJ:       Yes.

 

JSL:      How did that feel?

 

KJ:       A few times. There was… Particularly under, I’ll call it a traineeship though I was really shadowing Peter Kahn for a while, going into the school. And he developed one particular session that was guaranteed to have at least one pupil cry.

 

JSL:      Right.

 

KJ:       And I’ve since just done it as a one-off workshop and again like with him, they’re balling. It’s quite a generic thing you know it’s, I mean the title is like, “What it’s like to be… For those of you who aren’t”. And there will always be a few kids who will do something silly you know, what it’s like to be a spaceman, for those of you that aren’t. But then will be someone who like, what it’s like to be bullied and they’ll go really in deep and then suddenly the atmosphere in the whole room changes.

 

JSL:      Yeah.

 

KJ:       People are like, whoah and then the tears come and whatever. And it’s brilliant because I feel, wow, something has been opened and accessed. However, it’s how you deal with the aftercare.

 

JSL:      Yeah.

 

MN:     Yes.

 

KJ:       And how that is perceived by the institutions. Some schools and school managements will think that’s a very negative thing, suddenly there are these kids crying and being emotional and it doesn’t fit with the school ethos. Or, things have come up in that which I then have passed on and disclosed, because I do immediately. And this is something, again a big one…

 

Like before the writing process saying look this is your opportunity to express yourself. At the same time you know, things that we say about each other we’re not going to gossip about each other in the room we’re not going to allow certain things to leave the room. However, if there’s something that I’m slightly concerned about, and it’s good to know the name, I might just have a chat with Mr ‘So-and-so’, or Mrs ‘So-and-so’. And that will be good because, you know, the whole point of this exercise is to open up a bit.

 

That said, we don’t want everything to be going outside the room. So if you couch it in those terms generally speaking it works.

 

JSL:      You frame it so there’s an awareness of the fact that if anything does flag up [KJ: Yeah] you may well pass that on to an appropriate person? [KJ: Yes] Right.

 

MN:     I think it’s a really good example that you bring up, you know, this exercise that people can take in a quite humorous or light direction and if they want to they could go somewhere more serious. But I think it’s really important to have those options and to never be pushing people, even without realising, because that’s…

 

You know, we would never try to push someone to reveal something they didn’t want to but if there’s an implicit feeling that in order to fulfil the task you kind of need to dig deep, you may not realise how difficult that might be for certain students. So, to always kind of make sure that writing a poem about football is as celebrated as writing a poem about your little sister’s illness.

 

JSL:      Yeah. So we’re creating spaces for these things to happen right? Rather than saying you must be this way or that way. [KJ: Yeah.] So in terms of that kind of, “Oh you came in and you made the kids cry. What’s wrong with you? You’re the poet was the fluffy stuff about clouds and things!” So there’s that kind of, on one extreme, that sense of doing the light fluffy work. On the other extreme there’s a sense of, “Well I’m the poet. I’m supposed to come in here and then go deep and bring out all of the trauma.” And all that kind of stuff.

 

That notion of creating the space that the students need, I think is so powerful rather than pushing them in any one direction but giving them those options.

 

KJ:       And that’s the other thing, like, where else is there the opportunity to deal with death in school?

 

JSL:      Right.

 

MN:     Exactly.

 

KJ:       Something like that. But at the same time don’t push it. I know as someone who’s been a participant in a workshop that at any given moment there are things that I want to write about and I don’t want to write about. Things that I feel safe writing about, things I don’t feel safe writing about. So like just providing that opportunity to go with it.

 

The other advice is just to allow a lot of air in the workshops to go in multiple directions that don’t force humour and lightness. And that don’t also force stuff that can be really heavy because, I mean… Yes, sometimes I do want to talk about death and sometimes I want to talk about roses and sometimes both.

 

JSL:      At the same time in the same poem, yeah. Where else is there for our students to talk about their inner most thoughts and feelings? Their experiences and their perceptions on the world to bring their insides out in some way in a space that is supportive? For them to kind of stand up and read that work, put forward that expression and to have a class or showcase, an audience in that showcase, put hands together and say, “We hear you. We hear you and we celebrate what it is that you’ve just written and offered.” Those are special spaces they really are yeah.

 

Along the lines of these kinds of requirements and things we should bear in mind as people going in to schools and running workshops and working with teachers and working with students and doing this work. Someone talk to me about the notion of looking after yourself in this, because so often we’re forgotten.

 

So sometimes I run workshops, in fact I run a lot of workshops for people who do this kind of work and I’ll say okay so who are we serving when we’re in a classroom? Who are the stakeholders? Who are we thinking about when we’re running a workshop? And the first thing that most people will say is, the students, obviously students we’re there for the students!

 

Okay, that’s good but there’s more. Okay so who else? Oh! Okay the teachers maybe, because yeah actually some of the work that we do benefits the teachers. We’re supporting their thinking around what poetry can be and how poetry can work. And we’re supporting their understandings of who their students are, they get to see their students in different ways.

 

So yes, the students and the teachers, yes! And I’m like, actually there’s more, “Who else?” Yourself, right. What are your thoughts on that, in terms of that notion of looking after yourself in the work that you do. How important is that for you as a consideration?

 

KJ:       Yeah I mean we’ve kind of skirted around it but one of the big thinkers on, you know, pedagogical theory was Paulo Freire, he critiqued that kind of banking model of education where you know you have the teacher who’s like at the top of the pyramid who’s sort of imparting knowledge and sort of pouring knowledge into these empty vessels the pupils and they must get as much logic as they can.

 

But that top down view not only is hierarchical, not only belittles students and necessarily aggrandises the teacher but it also just ignores the importance of the pupils in some way. As people who already come into the space with a lot of knowledge and a lot of value that they can add. So I know whenever I go into a space whether it’s with adults but more often we have young people that I’m getting something from them.

 

Sometimes it’s just mannerisms and ways of talking. And I’m paying attention to that because I love language so I’m thinking, “Oh, wow they’re saying that in that way. Okay interesting.” So sometimes it’s just that, it’s their sense of humour, sometimes it’s their sense of optimism. I can be quite pessimistic at the moment with politics and everything else. But they’re like really young and hopeful you know, they don’t think the world’s going to end.

 

It’s the humour most of all, especially the so-called problematic kids, even when they’re insulting someone, they’ll say something so creative, I’m like wow. That’s amazing, that’s really great.

 

They’re coming with different cultures and different first languages sometimes. And sometimes if I get it right and if I’m getting things out of him they’ll say, well actually in Turkish or whatever we’ll say this. So suddenly I’m getting poetry. So if I pay attention to myself as a learner and as someone who is soaking up stuff then it changes the whole dynamic. And then you know obviously I’m the adult in the room and there needs to be some respect for authority but at the same time it’s not a hierarchical one.

 

It’s just, I happen to be in control and I’m the one being paid. You are the one who’s forced by law because you are a minor but actually you have value. And I’ll try and be honest about that as well and say look, you know I think what you have to contribute is amazing.

 

JSL:      There’s a way in which you’re also being fed by that interaction, you’re gaining from it. With regards to that kind of ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ and all that kind of thinking of ‘the bank of education’ is also a guy called John Maeda who put forward this notion of the relationship between traditional leadership and creative leadership.

 

And the model of traditional leadership is kind of analogous to the notion of the orchestra and the conductor where the teacher is or the leader is the conductor and orchestra follows. Whereas the notion of creative leadership was put forward as being analogous with, the jazz band. Where you’re a player within this kind of collaborative space and you may lead some of the standards, you may lead how things are moving, and again you’re responsive and you’re listening and you’re in the mix with things. And again, that notion of being fed rather than just being solely the lead of that kind of experience is a beautiful thing.

 

Is it fair to say that we teach from the heart?

 

KJ:       Yeah.

 

MN:     Yes.

 

JSL:      We have a care for the work that we do and for the people that we interact with, right? So how do you sustain that energy? Where does energy come from and how do you keep that fire and how do you keep some of their energy for yourself?

 

MN:     Well it is a challenge and I think, you know, in many ways… Because the way that I’ve been working in education is quite different to the spoken word educators program where you’re, you know, essentially a member of staff within a school. And there is a great privilege in that role of being able to come in to a space and come out. You’re not carrying all the weight of that institution in the way that the teachers do every day.

 

You know, they engage with that space absolutely every day and that you know… We all see and know the incredible work that that is. If I’m teaching in the way that I want to teach, it is very much from the heart and that can make me very porous as well that can make me actually quite vulnerable in a way, if I’m not taking proper care of myself. It can be very overwhelming to come into contact with this many people, this many stories, and to be that open.

 

And, I know that I have a sensitivity there and that’s part of what makes me who I am and that makes me want to do this work with writing and teaching. But if I’m going into a space and I’m not able to, kind of, fully hold my own then I shouldn’t be going into that space.

 

JSL:      Right.

 

MN:     And I guess the tricky thing with that is like, with any work that we do is that it’s very easy to up a front. It’s very easy to, you know, get good at what you do and be able to sort of go through it without really being in the right mind set to do it fully, in a way that kind of fully respects the students the teachers and yourself.

 

For me, it’s involved a lot of learning about taking care of myself, taking time off when I need to. You need to check in with yourself and say, “Okay, how are you doing? What are you going to do to make sure that this day is okay for you? Okay, you’re actually going to go out for the lunch break and not be in the staffroom where you’ll have to speak to a lot of people. Or, you know, you’re going to arrive a little bit early in your classroom so you get to see that room and just take a breath.”

 

But, you know, what are you going to build into your day so that that happens? And I think it is about these sort of small actions. Oh who am I going to call after my session just to say, “Oh this went great or this didn’t go so great”? So that you’re not carrying everything by yourself.

 

JSL:      Do you have that experience where you kind of pick up and realise that you’re actually in the middle of a period of time where you haven’t been looking after yourself? And all those good things that you should be doing have just fallen by the wayside because you got busy and it became really difficult to keep all of that stuff up and you kind of realise what it is are you actually missing? Have we all had that experience?

 

KJ:       Yeah.

 

MN:     Yeah of course.

 

JSL:      It’s so important, but it is so easy for those things to fall by the wayside. It needs to become part of our practice.

 

MN:     Also it can be shared. [JSL: Yeah.] I think we shouldn’t underestimate the people that we work with, the teachers you know. If you are on a slightly longer term program you can get to know you’re, the teachers that you work with and you know, be able to have a little conversation. A little wind-down afterwards, debrief, “How did it go?” We need those things, we shouldn’t think that we can just function completely on our own.

 

JSL:      We are not machines!

 

KJ:       If you do find yourself in a situation where you are kind of on your own and you do feel you’ve kind of been left to your own devices… Just the basics of, proper sleep and decent nutrition. Especially if you’re like going from class to class, just making sure you are eating properly and sleeping properly. I find that helps and when I start to let that go it’s usually because there’s other things going on and I’m feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed. And then you know sure enough a few weeks later I am ill or you know something’s not quite right.

 

JSL:      For sure. What is our work worth?

 

MN:     It’s that great question that you get asked, you know, if you have some time where students can ask you questions and it’s the first session, there’s usually someone who’s like, “How much are you being paid?”

 

JSL:      Yeah. What is our work worth? So ya’ll have been teaching in various different ways and guises for, you know, a fair while now, right? Do you still have that kind of awkward moment when someone asks you to come in and run a workshop and maybe they haven’t pitched the fee yet and you’re like, “They haven’t pitched a fee yet! At what point do I actually start to talk about a fee.

 

Do you guys still have that kind of thinking, that thought, that awkwardness around asking for monies for the work that’s done? Or asking for a fair set of monies for the work that’s done?

 

KJ:       I can be really awkward anyway with emails and stuff, with conversations even. It just depends what space I’m in but it’s best to be just upfront from the get go.

 

MN:     Yeah!

 

KJ:       On a couple of occasions it’s been expected that it would be free, which is weird. But otherwise it’s good to know beforehand and just… There are polite ways of doing it and I think that comes with the practice of just saying you know… Even having it as part of a list. You know, so what kind of a fee, how long? You know basic because again when they say half a day you know, half a school a day can mean like from 08:00 till 14:00. Which you know, a full school day is only an hour and a half extra, so it’s like okay. So things like that come as part of it.

 

And I know Apples and Snakes and other places do actually say what the kind of expected going rate is so you can find out, you know, if if people are really being insulting by offering you fifty quid for a whole day. And travelling up to, you know, some place where it’ll cost you that much to get there.

 

I know that I do a better job if I feel that I’m not being insulted. You know, I’m being paid a decent amount and I’m expected to turn up and it’s professional and then I behave like a professional. But if they’re sort of just treating it like, you know, it’s a little favour then of course I’m not going to come in… As good as my intentions are my spirit isn’t going to be the same as if I feel I’m doing a professional job. So yeah that’s my rambling answer.

 

JSL:      Miriam, your thoughts on that sense of awkwardness in terms of what it means to have that conversation around monies when it comes to this work? Because you know there is this sense of, you’re an artist you should enjoy doing this! That kind of thing.

 

MN:     Yeah I think what’s tricky about that as well is that, because we generally get paid daily rates and the daily rates may seem high to people who are on a regular salary. And that’s really understandable but it’s just a very different way of being paid. So you know, if your daily rate is £250, £300 this may sound like a lot of money. But when you factor in the fact that you cannot do that work every day, necessarily and that you’re bringing in your…

 

You’re really bringing in your expertise and the job that you’re doing is not something that you can do in an everyday way, you’re actually being paid to come in to do something special. And so you can’t go about your business in an everyday way you know. So I think that it’s really important that that is being valued and understood.

 

And I feel really lucky in that the teachers that I’m working with at the moment. I’ve been having a really good experience with the schools I’ve been working with in the last year. Because I’ve been trying to work more with schools that are delivering long term programs, there’s already that investment and that’s amazing. To be able to work with teachers who on top of everything else that they have to do, are putting on this after-school program. Or making sure that in the incredibly stretched timetable there is time for this thing.

 

I don’t know that I feel awkward but I still don’t necessarily feel great at negotiating on my own behalf and I think that’s something that we, again can easily take for granted. Like, I’m a writer, I’m an educator I know I can deliver a great workshop and I love what I do but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have all those skills of being a freelance professional. You know, I’m not necessarily great at all the mechanics of that.

 

JSL:      That’s a really important part of it, that notion of… I mean a lot of what we’ve been talking about in this time has been, how we manifest as educators, as poet educators, or artist educators, or teaching artists in educational spaces. But there’s a large part of this conversation that really is about how we operate as creative professionals how we do that work of promoting ourselves, how we do that work of managing the administration and how we do that work of managing the finance of what it is that we do.

 

I mean, we were talking a little bit earlier about the notion of the work that we’re doing of being almost unregulated. As you were saying, there are no supervisors necessarily you’re working for yourself but that also means that you are responsible for setting your pay grades, so to speak.

 

So yeah there’s an awareness of the market that we exist within and what the economy is, right and what a fair rate might be in relation to generally what budgets are available from schools and all that kind of thing. But there’s also a sense in which if you’re constantly going by just what the set rate is… So again for example, we might use the measure of an Apples and Snakes rate which I think is fantastic in terms of an understanding of a baseline.

 

But if we continue to take that as simply the baseline there is, you know, where do you go in terms of, as you grow and develop experience? Are you always going to be at that rate and how is that rate indexed, for example, to inflation? Do you get a pay rise at any point in this career?

 

You know we have to think about how our work can be sustainable for ourselves and how it is that our work, as we consider it as work. How it is that our work facilitates the lives that we live in the same way as anyone else’s work in any other sector or industry will facilitate the lives that they live, you know.

 

Alright, there is so much to speak about, there is so much else that we could talk about but I hope you the listener have gained something from this conversation. I know it’s been a joy to the in this room with Keith and Miriam. Thank you, Keith, thank you Miriam.

 

MN:     Thank you.

 

KJ:       Thank you.

 

JSL:      You are more than welcome and thanks to David Turner and Lunar Poetry Podcasts for making this possible and making this happen. Thank you for listening.

 

 

 

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.

 

Page One Podcast

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Earlier this year I was interviewed by Charles Adrian for his podcast series Page One. I woke this morning thinking of it because I’m meeting my friend Melissa Lee-Houghton tomorrow and we haven’t seen each other for a while.

In the episode I chat to CA about intimacy and love and the fear that comes with aspiration. I read the opening page from MLH’s poetry collection Sunshine as well as the first page from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘A Death In The Family’ and explain how they’ve bookended an important part of my life.

You can listen to the episode here.