So this weekend I went to the Free Verse: Poetry Bookfair in London with Burning Eye Books. We had a really great day, sold some books, did a showcase with two of our 2016 poets Jemima Foxtrot and Emily Harrison which was packed out (much to Clive’s surprise). It was actually pretty nice to feel like a professional at something for the first time in my life, and to be able to do so with offensively bright green hair is a dream come true.
Halfway through the day I took Emily Harrison off for a fancy rum (the rum was standard but the glasses were like mini fishbowls) and an informal chat about how she’s been getting on since her book came out. Naturally, the conversation turned to sexism and we started trading stories about the worst poems we’d sat through. Turns out that both of us had sat through poems about rape, sex workers reduced to the word ‘whore’, body shaming and the putting down women of colour. We were extremely appalled at each others stories and it has now prompted this blog post.
So I don’t go to poetry nights, open mic or slams very often A. because I have social anxiety and trying to find someone to go with me is always impossible and B. because there is always someone that stands up and recites something extremely problematic to a room of people who stay silent and politely clap at the end. THIS IS NOT OKAY. I’ve seen people win slams with poems that are problematic and there doesn’t seem to be a process to discuss why this is an issue. A few years ago I had a guest slot at a night in Bristol and the host stood up and spoke lines from a J-Lo song and then completely body and slut shamed this woman of colour while a bunch of men sniggered and cheered him on and I walked out. This isn’t expression or creativity – it’s a horrendous display of ignorance by someone in a position of authority. So, so disrespectful. This same person has acted hugely unprofessional on other occasions and if he ever reads this, this why we’re not friends on Facebook anymore.
I’m also sick of sitting through monologues of male entitlement, saviour complexes, bitter break up poems and ESPECIALLY ‘feminist’ poems.
Dear men, I don’t know if you know this, but you are damaging these women, you are speaking on their behalf and you are doing it wrong. PLEASE STOP. If you want to write a feminist poem, write about how patriarchy affects YOU not US.
I of course understand that there are factors to consider, what kind of night it is, where it is, etc. But in 2016 can we stop humouring offensive poetry? If we can challenge things in our own work can we not stand up and refuse to give someone a platform to spread their ignorance? I would like to see a more conscious poetry scene existing outside of London, and one that is not dominated by white men saying the same offensive shit and winning slams month in, month out.