Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's The Right Thing To Do

What is your connection with the Middle East? The editor of The Arab Review asks me when considering my poem for publication. I wrote It's The Right Thing To Do on the bus to work, down a long London street of local shops, looking out the window at women wearing the full burqa. I think a woman has a right to wear a burqa to express her faith, just as another woman has the right to wear a miniskirt to express herself. But what I find difficult to understand, is how it has come to be believed that the face, clearly designed for communication and interaction, should only be revealed in private. And why is it only a woman's face that is inappropriate for public viewing? Obviously, it is in the reaction of the beholder. But when does the beholder take responsibility for his actions? Can these questions really be down to cultural insensitivity? And in the situation where the burqa is an enforced rule rather than a choice, where is a woman's refuge when she does not want to comply? You only have to read your local newspaper to answer that question... No connection to the Middle East I reply. Just London living.

Today I was supposed to be working on some poems - competition deadlines loom and I'm also editing Orla's Code at the moment but that's a topic for another blog update. Instead I am taking the opportunity to read through the impressive, culturally rich Arab Review. I love this poem by Mahmoud Darwish: I Do Not Sleep To Dream. There are a lot of poems about sadness and loss but this one has something so visceral about it - maybe because it's so physical. Or maybe it's physicality is accentuated because it is written by a man from a woman's point of view. There's so much going on in this journal - fiction, interviews, photography, travel reports... I really like this article about the Egyptian grafftii that tells the story of the revolution: Street Art And The City. And I thought this was an interesting, sober report on the Syrian conflict, by way of book review: Taking the future into their own hands. And of course there's the poignant I Wore The Veil by Farah Chamma.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Performance Poetry Night 3

It's a dirty word but this time I went mainstream. To the Southbank Centre to see Saul Williams and Kate Tempest who are definitely not mainstream. This was in the lead up to the Shake The Dust series - the biggest ever youth poetry slam in the UK. Out of all the events going on around it, these two artists caught my eye and I booked myself a ticket for last Thursday night. Yes, one. I still can't get my beer-swilling friends along to a poetry evening. They don't know what they're missing.

Another overwhelming display of talent but I have to say Performance Poetry Night 1 is still top of my list. First of all, I could have done without the kids-entertainment style hosts who asked us, at the beginning of the evening, to think of people who had annoyed us during the week and shake our hands to get the annoyance out. During acts, they also helped us to practice things like clapping and cheering. What is that all about? There were no children in the audience and everyone there was already a fan of poetry. I don't need to be fluffed, thank you.

Before the main acts, we had an array of young poets reading personal poems. I was impressed with all of them. Loved one actually but I can't find a link to it - the link to this event seems to be gone from the Southbank website. It was interesting to see the mix of styles during this half - ranging from confident and adept to nervous and shy. One woman appologised for the silence at the end of her poem, which showed how new and inexperienced she was. But it was the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre, so really fair play to her for getting up there.  

Kate Tempest is pretty awesome. She seems to transcend to another plane in front of our eyes as she is carried away by her words. And it is contagious. Imagine your soul-felt longings pinged around a pin-ball machine - that's her. Saul Williams is more understated. His poems are long and exploratory and delivered with a scoop of self-righteous authority. But I thought both poets delivered originality and perception and like any good poet, brought us a new way of looking at things. At one point Saul Williams compared close-mindedness to a police state, only allowing to roam free, the thoughts that align with government. He paused to say 'Let me ask you this? What is your immigration policy?' - and the crowed went wild.

BUT, they both spoke so fast that a lot of the time it was hard to catch what they were saying. Every now and then they would slow down to drive home a point - and the crowd would go wild. I wonder if you're not supposed to catch all of it - you sort of catch snippits, get an impression - like impressionist art, a stroke here, a smudge there, add detail to the important points to hold it all together. Jim Morrison used to whip himself up into a frenzy on stage. But before he'd lose it, you could actually understand him and take the ride with him. For me, the ratio of coherent impassioned verse to garbled delirium was just a bit on the self-indulgent side. I'm struggling here because I do think both artists are really talented. From what I could hear, their words were thoughtful and had substance and I really wanted to hear more! I've tried finding lyrics online but can only find links to performances. Check out Kate Tempest's Icarus though. She really is awesome!