What’s that Dylan quote about calling yourself a poet?
“You don't necessarily have to write to be a poet. Some people work in gas stations and they're poets. I don't call myself a poet, because I don't like the word. I'm a trapeze artist.”
I’ve always found it the weirdest thing to have to declare. Kirsty Allison, poet. LOL. Doesn’t everyone have a poet’s heart? Well, no. Clearly not (judging by the state of things in London). But describing oneself is never easy. Writer. Of course. But poet? An old friend said, well, you’ll never be rich, when I began dipping my nib on the spoken word stage - as if employment was a gauge of success, I laughed. (He’d worked a few days in his life, and knew it wasn’t for him.) I’ve never been one to care for gossip, or labels, or the kind of puerile comparisons that arrive from salaries. A lot of that is largely likely due to my privilege, and having got many T-shirts in journalism where Truth is our only guide, I still consider myself rigorous on facts, but for me, it became clearer that making my own world, and poetry, and poetry films was a stronger truth.
Democracy is piss, at the best of times, and the distilling of multiple decision makers - sure, without experience it’s the best check and balance, but ultimately it waters everything down to mass sludge. I’m sure Marcuse would say it better. Real facts, not sponsored statistics - and true democracy, where decisions are made for the maleducated as a duty of care, when has that ever worked? Exploitative estates maintained by greedy vassals have always taken the land in this utopian pleasuredome, letting their conflicts of interest allow only one ladder to heaven for elitist thieves. So I am left with poetry, in a right-wing media world.
After watching Hurt By Paradise, a film by Greta Bellamacina, she is, and plays a poet. “No one understands the pain, the compulsion” - she says it better, but THAT IS GOOD ART, it’s where it comes from. Poetry is the highest art, Dr John Cooper Clarke once said to me. It has to be meaningful. But with the explosion of InstaPoetry, and Motivational Quotes, and pithy one line motivational fridge stickers taking up more space than the miles of rent-a-bookshelf for Zoom - maybe half of my problem came from society’s attitude against poets, or my own Thatcher-youth shoulder pads having to barge into the patriarch that has made it such a hard thing to proclaim. Now we can all publish everything and call ourselves anything.
Despite having pulled together a collection of poetry, much of that was designed and rhythmed for the stage, barely thought anyone was watching, but it allowed a freedom.
And it frightens me both how we used to live, with absolute freedom, when there weren’t camera phones at the Manumission Motel, because it is so different to now - but also whether the kind of poetic expression that I participated in there would now ever now occur.
I read a post the other day on What Is Poetry? It was hilarious. “Marketing for super-wankers” was my favourite. I would never wish to deny someone the freedom to express themselves but the need to stick a flag in it? Maybe it’s because I have always been in awe of poets. So it’s a fear. I certainly feel that about getting called a singer, having interviewed so many musicians I love. But as much as these times when all the metadata of identity hangs above someone before we’ve even said hello, and I’ve watched Influencers calling themselves Public Figures check out someone they’ve met IRL sneakily, or not so sneakily, on their phones, before deeming to talk to them- it’s a negotiation, I suppose, of finding one another. It’s no different, and actually far more targeted than the clubs I grew up in. But mega-brand, experiential holidays from drabness are a fantasy with nearly 70m displaced in the world, I can smell the return of festivals, and they’re going to be more full on then ever before - full of Public Figures, clamouring above others, and you may as well be pressing the button on the gas chamber when you like that shit. It’s another sign of privilege in today’s times to say, can’t we just be cool, and live beyond labels? Well, no. We have to call shit out but there is so much at risk.
As a womxn, the metadata of identity has floated above me like a tag that leads to assumptions/ desires/expectations/belittling behaviour and I’m eternally embarrassed that about 10 years ago, the third wave of feminism hadn’t really begun to rise until Vagenda and Everyday Sexism, which made Me Too possible. The Riot Grrrrl movement before it was largely TomBoy-esque, angry, and altho I wrote on that, I remember a student who was Islamic and worked as a stripper asking me to recommend her some feminist titles. I barely understood the word Object - having trained in a lads environment, on fashion titles where I’d also get roped into modelling nude, writing 'poetry’ on a tabloid - but the best I could do was Germaine Greer and the Vagina Monologues. I just felt awful. Within 10 years, the world has changed, but part of the reason I get called punk is because I call things out, in poetry, it can be direct and veiled. We have to claim our corners, to know what we’re fighting for, and yes, I am updating my social media biogs having written this, but why I began writing this is because the nomenclature of Everything is just so problematic.
We are in the digital dark ages. Locked in our hermits hovels, espousing our energy as data straight into the EVIL hands of mega-corp tech-oligarchs who on one stroke behave like great punk refusniks, but on the second stroke, claim philanthropy as if they have ethics, and have never hustled minerals out of Africa through backdoors. They behave like they’re world government, but having consulted internationally in the old world on Corporate Social Responsibility - I can tell you - it’s never joined up, from the ground up. They are backed by folk like the Sacklers who sell the opiods and the rehab centres. But what were punks to begin with? Hippies. And the natural evolution of punk is to do a Jamie Reid (the Sex Pistols artist, let’s not go there with bad examples), and outgrow disruption into pure hippy zen (like Alex Garland’s brilliant Devs), selling off possessions. But whilst kinda wanting to stargaze from their off-grid zero-trace truck, they kinda also want to lie back and see their power of encircling the world and all the seals, birds and beetles* in a crown of 5G satellites.
*dung beetles use the moon to get around. Satellites really confuse them. It’s the new pesticides on bees.
I was speaking with a friend who was very much involved in punk, about its legacy. It’s an unfinished conversation, maybe we need to do a podcast - but it makes a good analogy for what was complex now being BINARY, so off and on, so bits and bites, with no greys on a chessboard throwing every sketchy Psy Op they’ve ever delivered into the big QAnon Potus Stew Pot. And claim it all colourlous drivel. All or nothing. “With us or without.” That Theresa May slogan. Can’t we just programme some AI to sort these philosophical quandaries out? I think we will. History gets re-written. The word Tory stems from the Irish toraidhe ‘plunderer’ - applied to denote outlaws, highwaymen, robbers, brigand, and stems from the word tóir ‘pursue’. The word was used towards Irish bands of guerrillas dispossessed by English settlers, frequently Catholics forced to live within a black market underground when the anti-monarchist democratic madness of Oliver Cromwell and his silver helmeted elitist maurauders and puritanical New Model Army raised hell in the 9-month campaign against Ireland in 1649-50 which led to the famine, wrongly blamed on potato blight, and a spate of bubonic plague which attributed to reducing Ireland’s populous by at least 25%. The 11 year period of a monarch free British Isles following Cromwell’s murder of Charles 1 before his son Charles 2nd gained control, led to the Tory term being extended to other marauding rebels especially Celts cavorting in the Scottish Highlands. It was then adopted c.1679 as an abusive nickname for supporters of the Catholic James II. It was with the arrival of James II, who married his daughter Mary II off to the William of Orange, and claimed absolute power over Parliament that Tories became associated to Parliament; in a similar etymological journey to the Whigs - basically beards for the Queen, but believers in democracy, rather than gang-type cabal cabinets of the Tories and Freemasons, more into meritocracy than control of industry. (Possibly the Lincoln-esque foundation of neo-liberalism.) Anyway, I’ll leave the history to Hilary Mantel, but Terrorists as freedom fighters, outlaws as big Gs - punks as prisoners. Everything we name is political in the same way that Everything is feminist. And I hold those identity politics clear, despite growing up in a world where unity was the goal, I feel this cult of the individual that we have become, having to define ourselves, so that people can find our ketchup, it’s all a bit fake blood. Defining ourselves by the negotiation of a world of digital economy, where subcultures are simulacra preserving icons, and preservation of the pointlessness in sharing anything. But witnessing a Pokemon-esque IRL scrabble by a friend, to find the dead swan I mentioned that disturbed me, seeing it on Insta, to feel something. The net is real. In the 90s that I grew up in, anonymity was a big part of the culture. It was properly rebellious. It was masked and threatening to the mainstream. But when our only external mediation is digital, in the city, in lockdown, every post requires a buoyancy, just to reach out into that space beyond our internal - I worry - is it too much for those suffering - is it fake? Maybe the dead swan parties are the new shock, and I’m growing out of needing to be. I’m finding myself increasingly sensitive to this overriding conscientiousness of policing what we say to protect the wellbeing of others. LIKE ME! LOVE ME! It’s all so basic desperate. Is it time to become for terrorist in imagery? I used to laugh at the idea of triggering, like just cope with it - if there’s a problem, it’s your problem, deal with it, but in this innocuous war, where I become offended by a porn meme on a school WhatsApp Reunion group, or by someone eating their steak on TikTok - going against my return to veganism (it’s logical, and fake meat isn’t as bad as it used to be, yeah?). OMG. I am fragile. I cannot unsee that trauma. So rather than being a victim to wellbeing, maybe the blood of Foucault’s diminishing spectacle of punishment, where he basically said, the world is getting better, we are moving away from having toilets outside, and because we don’t put people in the stocks for entertainment anymore - and I’m trying to love everyone - but then some wanker in Iran hangs 16 people for defying him. All I’m feeling is we are pitched against each other, in a post-Thatcherite cult of the individual. So can’t help feel it’s time to get occult with the digital. Not cancel culture - but something mystical, beyond data. Maybe I’ve just been on social media too much, in lockdown, as it is the only external connection. iPhone travel, tripping on memories of Berlin lakes and bluebell woods in Dorset.
But lockdown is a gift in many ways - the snow, the skies not being heated by planes, I’m so glad to leave youth culture back when the bars were open - I can appreciate you, that’s how it’s always been - I always have to appreciate everything, I had to laugh at the white male jokes that were very different to my school yard, to get in the room. As such, I’ve never been one for dissing the disco - but it has to be okay to say: I don’t like it. To say no.
My forthcoming novel is exactly about this.
How do we manage every post being read as a virtue signal if we’re conscious of the ripples it floats - we’re in very rough seas. There is light though. We are that - and we are able.
Effort equals reward, it’s not about 'fake it till you make it' music industry world of people getting caught up in job titles and personas. It’s about being it. Owning the art school swagger of proclaiming yourself an artist because you are holding a paint brush, that’s not enough. Actions have to speak. We need to not be scared of labels like activist or victim defining how we are perceived, but as someone who’s been advised not to join unions at points of my career, and holding off on sharing something because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to eat - maybe that’s the underlying friction of us being anything you call yourself. For me, it has to feel authentic. We are intersectional beings. But on my darkest days I do believe every name I call myself, believe me.
Gauging for gentleness and kindness has never been more prescient, be need to ohm anger and truth with care in self-aware ripples - abuse inflicts negatively. In this innocuous war fronted by personal well-being, anger, boundaries are retrogressively instated by the feudal hegemony of platforms and Amazon free market, which operates without any ethical consideration for supply, or respect towards wholesalers and makers. Same as the hedge funds of Spotify. Boring.
It’s just difficult to gauge if we are moving into an age of Aquarius bliss set-up where slavery of any form and working for any man is stupid, right now. 80 years, a German hippy told me the other day, that’s how long these dark ages will continue for. Then singularity infinitus. In the meantime, and to get there, the libidinal ecology is something we’re all responsible for, so as we edge towards the anthropocene, and the Disney-glory of luxury apartments on Mars, it’s about mapping our way out of here the best we can. And rippling into our communities. That is the route out of these dark ages of digital.
As the walls go up with strains, we are global villagers close with vaccines. Brexit’s reality does not have to mean that we joined the EU to prevent fascism, and now will be riddled by it, despite that being the toolset used to manipulate the mal-educated, as we topple into Atlantis. But ever in the spirit of contradiction, and full disclosure, to dovetail with Dylan. Our Nobel warrior:
"I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet."
It’s A Sin - Ch4 TV series, it’s up there with the Act Up film, 120bpm
The Serpent - best 70s costume since Boogie Nights. BBC.
Hurt by Paradise, out on various platforms to rent now
Danielle De Picciotto has a new spoken word album on vinyl
Riz Ahmed’s lockdown theatre film, which just won the Critic’s Circle best UK short film, asking about belonging at the brilliantly progressive experimental Manchester International Festival: MIF.co.uk
EVERYTHING at the forthcoming Glasgow Film Festival. Watch it online.
Celeste Bell’s forthcoming PolyStyrene film is there.
Also premiere-ing: Irvine Welsh’s most recently scribed film, Creation Stories, the biopic of music’s ginger Svengali II (the first being Malcolm McLaren), Alan McGee of Creation Records. Produced by Danny Boyle and directed by the lovely Nick Moran.
So much is there. The glasshouses.
I’ve reviewed a high stack of books in Mu magazine - and am doing the same for the second editon. Get yours before they go. The magazine is a project fronted by Youth with the South London Arts Lab. Jarvis Cocker is on the cover.
AMBIT - if you’ve missed our soft little announcements, I’m delighted that the first edition I’m really making an impact on, with a new strand of guest edited editions, is being done by Lias Saoudi of The Fat White Family - and designed by Steven Barrett. Also getting a new web designer. Dream job. Dream boss - Briony Bax, a poet matriarch of a leader. Hail.
And at the end of the month - I’m reading from a new series I’ve been working on about Self-Destruction.
The first was for a book that’s being edited by Dean Stalham on Suicide, and features Benjamin Zephaniah (nice to share the sheets), Jeremy Reed, Mat Lloyd, Carlotta Allum, and more. It’s a brilliant collection - they’re looking for a poetry publisher to take it on.
But the second piece in this new series is called Dreams Take My Fight, and I’ll be reading it at Gallery 46 in socially distanced protocol - but it’ll be filmed, shared, along with a film made by Gil De Ray, around Johny Brown of the Band of Holy Joy’s new album.
Johny is such a light. He introduced me to both Nina Zivancevic and Nina Antonia, who have helped me on this road. And none of us should ever have to work with people who aren’t supportive, and share credit.
Read about the exhibition on ColdLips.co.uk