I feel like my past year in poetry can be summed up in a few words: AUUGH YAAAAH WHAT THE AAARGH. In the best way possible. In parts beautiful, orgasmic, terrifying, exhilarating and triumphant.
I found myself saying ‘I am a poet’ to strangers more often, being asked to perform at more things, and found myself thinking ‘wow, this is kind of legit’ more than once. Gigs begot more gigs. I WENT PLACES. Did my first 50-minute show, made a zine/chapbook, started hosting for the first time (at least, the first time since hosting the Asian Culture Club Lunar New Year celebrations in college in Ohio), and started to understand the tricky business of making friends with/getting an audience to stamp you with the stamp of ‘CAN’.
In short, its been an INCREDIBLE year. And yes, I am going to list out the ways.
- Foreigner Go Home (with me)! at the Edinburgh Free Fringe 2012
The biggest challenge I’ve given myself poetry-wise. Some time in December 2011, Richard Tyrone Jones’ sent out a Round Robin newsletter saying he was directing the Edinburgh Free Fringe’s first Spoken Word Section with Peter Buckley Hill and was looking for spoken word shows . Realising this might be my last summer in the UK, I sent him a proposal about Everything I Ever Wanted To Say To The World (something about identity and colonialism and mousedeer). Then it was six months of AARGH HOW WILL I FILL 50 MINUTES and ARGH I MUST NOW CONVINCE EVERYONE I’M LEGIT/START MEMORISING POEMS, then ARGH HOW WILL I CUT IT DOWN TO 50 MINUTES. The result? Learning more about promoting and performing poetry in 14 insane days than ever in my life in the basement of a pub in the greatest arts festival in the world/Edinburgh turned upside down with artists and star stickers, making friends with loads of inspiring people, surprising myself that I pulled it all off. Somewhere in the 14 days I think I got a bit less amateur. Most of all, getting a story out into the world whether the world liked it or not.
2. Hammer & Tongue Hackney
Went to the Hammer and Tongue Hackney Slam at the Victoria pub in Dalston Junction for the first time in February to see Dizraeli feature. I performed a poem about my mother and won myself a place in the Hackney Slam Finals. In the summer I got the chance to help Sam Berkson promote it and run it, along with a team including Raymond Antrobus and Kit Caless. Got a taste of hosting the slam in July, where I met a newish, really enthusiastic poet Matt Cummins who would later become a great PoetreeFriend (kind of like a HappyTreeFriend but more articulate and less bloody).
In September, fresh from Edinburgh and the Waveform Electronic music festival, I took part in the Hackney Hammer and Tongue Finals which seemed really intimidating, competing against talent like Poet Curious, David Lee Morgan, Rhael Lionheart and Richard Purnell (who won twice), but also proved to be a really fun night of really moving performances.
Hosted throughout the rest of Fall/Winter, getting the chance to introduce features like Salena Godden, Bohdan Piasecki, Sophia Walker, Byron Vincent and Rob Auton, and the chance to host alongside amazing poets like Michelle Madsen and Deanna Rodger. The cool thing about the Hackney slam is that you can’t really tell who’s going to win. Winners have included people I’d never seen like James Bran the haiku man and a bearded Dave Rock who performs in socks.
3. Rap vs Poetry Night
I was on the poetry team with Keith Jarrett, Kat Francois, Sam Berkson and Poet Curious. The challenge was to get poets to perform with music and write something on the spot about how poetry was better than rap. With the reverse rules for the rapper team. All in all, a fantastic night in the heart of Hipsterland (the Bedroom Bar in Shoreditch) with loads of people who’d never really seen spoken word before but loved us anyway with a magical silence when we were up onstage. I never thought I could get more applause than a rapper, but there you go.
4. Summer Festivals
Having made no plans to go to any festivals at the start of the summer, I ended up performing at three festivals this year through a mix of serendipity and luck. I met a poet named Spacegirl through a call-out on Facebook, saying she was looking for poets for a festival in Leicestershire. Not knowing what to expect, I went and met the SpaceTree Family (Spacegirl, her husband Rik the PoeTreeman and their kids) and had the privilege of becoming part of the Spacegirl’s Poetry Salon, a collective of magical people who have been making music and bringing poetry around bonfires and beautiful energy to small festivals for years. Also went to the Waveform Festival in Taunton with Louise Loudspeka and the Earth Angels with a group called Worldshift Media.
5. Temporary Autonomous Arts Spoken Word Night
The Temporary Autonomous Arts is a group that has been squatting buildings and turning them into art exhibition spaces once a year. This year I offered to help to find poets for and host the spoken word night on Halloween, sent out messages about a poetry night in a squat on Halloween and that chaos was expected. This resulted in an explosive 4h-long poetry extravaganza/marathon which, amazingly, people stayed to watch. Everyone was on top form, squatters and poets got on fantastically, there were dogs and children and beer and a guy who came up on the open mic to give us the sound of rolling a cigarette. Highlights included Gary from Leeds throwing teabags and shouting YORKSHIRE, Richard Purnell with a cape and sword and Josh Seigal without a shirt. MASSIVE THANKS to all the poets for one of the maddest nights this year: Jason Pilley, Cat Brogan, Allison Brumfitt, Errol McGlashan, Loudspeka, Hannah Eisemann-Renyart, HemZ, Nabilah, Becky Fury, Gary from Leeds, Richard Purnell, Joshua Seigal Ant Smith, and Dan Hunt.
6. The Steampunk Opium Wars
So in the 1800s in which the British government tried to sell lots of opium to China to keep down the price of tea. When the Chinese government tried to stop this, they started bombing them and started the Opium Wars. In February comedienne/journalist/poet Anna Chen retold this story which not a lot of people in the UK know about with an incredible musical at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich with the Farrago History slam at the end. It was an incredible production, beautiful in words, costumes, historical accuracy, music and message. I did a poem I had just finished that day, that I had been working on for awhile, about what my dad told me about the opium wars. Was also great to meet Anna Chen, another poet of Chinese heritage who introduced me with “We are taking over”. Also met up and coming poets Errol Mcglashan and Anthony Fairweather there.
7. A Flock of Poets: Ghosts of Gone Birds
I got invited to perform at my first art exhibition in December, and my first big performance in the UK, outside of London (that I did not invite myself to): Ghosts of Gone Birds, an exhibition at the ONCA gallery in Brighton about extinct birds where I had to write a poem about a piece of artwork. In my case, a sculpture of a nest with large eggs inside. Like I said, it combined my favourite things: birds, conservation and poetry and I could not refuse. It was also the first time I had to write anything about a piece of art. As usual, I spent about two weeks stressing over what to write, then wrote it all the day before the show. And people liked it. Saw some cool art, met some Brighton poets, got to talk about birds for an extended period of time.
8. Forget What You Heard (about Spoken Word)
Matt Cummins and I had been talking about running a night for some time. We were just too unmotivated to actually do one. Then our friend and poet Sophia Walker came to London and we started thinking about it a bit more seriously. Then we got a venue reserved at Ryan’s Bar, and started getting Actually Serious. We got poets Errol McGlashan and David Lee Morgan got on board as features, Matt got his housemate to design a logo and manage the sound equipment and in one night on Facebook that I should have spent studying, we had our shit together. AND IT WAS A TRIUMPH. I was freaking out that something would go wrong, but nothing did. A great moment was showing up at the venue expecting the worst, but there was already music on, poets arrived and Matt showing me our donation jar which already had money in it. Amazing spot-on open mic-ers as well, and all-round good vibes. Ultimately, a great feeling of YESWEDIDTHIS. AND WE CAN DO IT AGAIN!
9. Winning the Farrago UK Slam
Took part in the Farrago UK Slam 2012 AND WON. You knew this already. Which was, and STILL IS, a shock. But amazing. For those interested, I did the Hippy Tiger Mother poem (if you haven’t heard it, you will one day. People seem to find it funny), the 29 bus poem (never did it in a slam before coz its too long but people liked it, even people who told me they hated most English poetry, so did a shortened version and people still liked it) and for the last round, the poem about London which rounded off my Edinburgh show (its on the interview on Indiefeed). And all-round great night of poetry, highlights were Dan Holloway, Kass Man, Richard Marsh the London Slam Champion, Adam Kammerling and Jason Pilley.
10. European Slam Championships in Antwerp, Belgium
I got sent to Antwerp four days later to represent the UK in the European Slam Championships. And came in second runner up! You probably already read this also. But ARGH ANTWERP. MAD BRILLIANT EUROPEAN POETS. I know I should be more articulate, but when I think of Antwerp I still think AARGH DID THIS REALLY HAPPEN. YES. YES IT DID. [Oh, and a special thanks to the bus driver with the weird sense of humour who drove me there for STOPPING at the traffic lights and letting me get back on after looking me in the eye and DRIVING OFF WITHOUT ME in Brussels.] Highlights: 56-year old Jaak Kand from Estonia with the poem about running for his plane to Antwerp ‘because I am the best slam poet in Estonia’, and his granddaughter, Muha Blackstazy the controversial Roma poet from Serbia, Euripidien from France whose poem I helped to translate, Kira Wuck from the Netherlands with her hilarious deadpan reading, Simen from Norway ( a poem: ‘I’m Really Bored of Food’), Jacob Hallgren (‘I didn’t bother translating: its about having sex at a train station. It makes more sense in Danish’), Said of Hungary where slam is exploding, and Zigymantas from Lithuania (where slam poetry is also taking off), who said my American friends lied to me: they did not invent the Jersey shot (lime in your eye, snort the salt, then drink the tequila), apparently it’s been around in Lithuania for ages. Also, meeting French poet Monsieur Dam who knew the folk who helped to run the Indian Ocean Slam which I went to in 2010.
Others brilliant things that really should be on the list (but you’ll be reading this till February): Performing at Slutwalk London and the Slutwalk Singapore fundraiser & retrospective, Harringay Migrant Centre, the Cirencester Christmas Slam, House of Brag, Queer Zine Fest London, the Commie Faggots gig, Occupy LSX, the Balham Free Fringe Festival, SOAS Carnival of Resistance, Dyke March, the Poetry Olympics.
All in all, 2012 taught me a lot. It couldn’t have happened without all the friends, old and new, that I met, who inspired me, etc. If you think its you, it probably is. 2013 can only get better.