If you’re new to ‘event promotion’, as I am, and stumbled into it by accident – a rainy Thursday evening, and a non-central London venue, look daunting. And I was daunted, setting out for Burley Fisher Books on the Overground, with an hour in hand, and my bag rustling with family packs of crisps, bought to sustain our poets and their audience. But I didn’t need the spare pair of shoes, packed in the event of a sudden downpour. And the warmth with which I was greeted, and offered a barista coffee from behind the Burley Fisher counter, lifted my heart, and steadied my nerves.
Even before our 7.00 door time, people were piling steadily into the Hackney/Dalston booksellers. Some I knew from our workshop, and others I didn’t. Each person through the door was a fist punch of joy – because they had come from all parts of London to join in our workshop’s first MASS PUBLICATION CELEBRATION, and to hear our ‘less welcome’ poets read from their debut pamphlets.
We ended up with so many people that we had to carry all the cafe seating downstairs, to supplement the event chairs. People still ended up ramming the basement venue to its back wall. What followed was extraordinary – fierce, warm, challenging, unafraid, readings, and energised, flowing discussions, right up until we had to leave at 9.30 when Burley Fisher needed to close.
To make a record of this extraordinary night, and share it with supporters who were not able to be there, I’m uploading what I said about our creative project, followed by the introductions for each of the poets who read, with a single poem from their set, to give you a flavour of their work, and a buy button for their pamphlet.
Below: Natalie Linh Bolderston and Edward Garvey Long, ready to go at Burley Fisher.
A huge thank you to everyone here tonight – and to Burley Fisher for welcoming us so warmly to host our first MASS PUBLICATION CELEBRATION. I’ll be introducing our poets individually – but I wanted to begin by saying something about our stanza workshop group, which has been running for 18 months now.
Our tag is ‘the less welcome’. It relates directly to the difficult elements which our work engages with – and which we support each in realising, technically, editorially, and emotionally. We do this not for therapy – but because we want to get our poems into print –so we help can change how the world understands itself.
If you write about your complex experiences of migration, or of class-based exclusion, there will be people within the dominant cultures who perceive that as an act of aggression. If you write about your queerness, religious and hetero-normative groupings will be quick to come back at you. If you write about mental health, sadness, or difficult family situations, many will suggest that it’s better to keep quiet. And if you write about your experience of sexual abuse in childhood – as I do – then work on your resilience. Because you’re going to need it.
But these all ‘less welcome’ things have to be said – and, just as importantly, heard – as you are hearing us tonight. They have to be said because they are our lives. They also have to be said because the act of saying them, and claiming their rights to be represented, is beautiful and powerful, as we who stand before you to speak them in our own voices, and witness to them with our own beings, are beautiful, and powerful.
Above : Audience piling in.
On that note, I am honoured to introduce Natalie Whittaker, who will also be reading with Julie Irigaray and I at the POETRY CAFE poem-a-thon on 18 May. Natalie is prize-winning poet, and secondary school English teacher, fresh back from reading at the Newcastle Poetry Festival. The poems in her debut pamphlet, Shadow Dogs, published by Ignition, grow out of South London’s tower blocks, bus routes and public parks, but move through them into a darkly witty, surreally symbolist, landscape – and much larger, wilder, stranger worlds.
Natalie Whittaker has chosen ‘Not Again’ from her pamphlet Shadow Dogs published by Ignition Press.
Above: Joanna Ingham and Isabelle Baafi
Isabelle Baafi, our next reader, is one of our many rising stars. A writer, poet and filmmaker, so far she has published in magazines, but her pamphlet and collection are only a matter of time. Isabelle’s part of the London Library’s Emerging Writers Programme. and recently performed at the Battersea Arts Centre. Taking beauty as their currency, Isabelle’s poems question what is done to, and said about, those who have no say in how they are treated and spoken of. Her poems give those people, and places, back their voices.
Find out more about Isabelle Baafi’s work here.
Our third reader, Karen Smith, is another London girl, now living near the South Coast. A cataloguer at the Poetry Library, her pamphlet Schist was chosen by Carol Ann Duffy to be one of the final Laureate’s Choices, published in February by Smith Doorstop. Karen’s poems whirl us round fairground rides, and lose us in sea fogs, the better to understand the complex and fragile mental health of her parents, and its impact on herself and her sisters growing up. Karen’s poems also show what it means for radiance to enter our daily lives.
There is also an interview with Karen Smith on this blog .
Here is the link to buy Karen Smith’s ‘Schist‘.
The final poet of our first half, Edward Garvey Long, is launching his debut – The Living Museum – with Selcouth Station Press today. On twitter, Ed fabulously describes himself as a “poet of queer feelings, gif queen, and crafty bitch.” His poems encounter queer love in London, the Fenlands, and Stockholm, negotiating tilted cathedral towers, and arctic chills. Probing the murky recesses of queer taxidermy, they also hang out with George Michael and Kenneth Williams. It goes without saying that you’re going to love them, and him….
You can buy The Living Museum by Edward Garvey Longman here.
An editor by day, Natalie Linh Bolderston is our other poet launching tonight. Nat was asked to copy edit Nuar Alsadir’s Fourth Person Singular when an undergrad at Liverpool University, was a Silver Award winner at Creative Futures last year, and today brings us her stunning debut The Protection of Ghosts, from V.Press. Working with three generations of female voices, Nat looks back to Vietnam before her family were forced to flee as refugees in 1978, and questions who comes with us when we migrate countries, and cultures, how we are welcomed, and what we leave behind.
You can buy ‘The Protection of Ghosts’ by Natalie Linh Bolderston here.
Joanna Ingham’s pamphlet Naming Bones, is coming out with Ignition in July, so she’s giving us a preview of the really wonderful, original poems it features. Like Isabelle, Joanna is a cross-genre artist, encompassing poetry and prose. Her work has been published in many magazines, including The Sunday Times. The poems she’ll be sharing question how we inhabit our bodies, what it means to know love – as a parent, as well as a lover – and why the the places through which we pass remain present within us.
Joanna Ingham will be launching ‘Naming Bones’ at the Poetry Cafe in Betterton Street in London on 22 July at 7pm. Book your free tickets here.
Jeffery Sugarman with Natalie Whittaker before reading.
Our closing reader, Jeffery Sugarman, is launching his debut Dear Friend(s) with Emma Press tomorrow. One of this year’s Jerwood Arvon mentee’s, Jeffery came to writing through his practice of architecture. Dear Friend(s) maps the geographies of Jeffery’s life from a complex Florida childhood, to a queer coming of self in New York, and then London, where he now lives with his husband. Through all the parts, runs the “long elegaic poem, ‘Dear Friend’, addressed to one young man, but a paean for all those lost to the genocide of AIDS.”
You can buy ‘Dear Friend(s) by Jeffery Sugarman here.
Alice Hiller introducing our MASS PUBLICATION CELEBRATION No. 1 at Burley Fisher Books.
Photos by Julie Irigaray, Mary Mulholland and Alice Hiller.
With thanks to everyone who joined us.
Less welcome poets feeling warmly welcome. Ed Garvey Longman is out of shot.