Monday, 28 October 2013


Yesterday I took part in something called "Sunday Assembly". For the uninitiated, this is best described as a humanist celebration of life, where people enjoy a lot of the good things about religious gathering (starting the day with energy and ritual, meeting like-minded people from across the wider local community, listening to good advice about how to live life in a more enriched way, singing together, listening to readings, messages of hope, drinking tea and eating cake, catching up on people's news, getting together for something the whole family can do together, raising awareness of community issues, a brief moment of meditation, etc.) without the bits they don't want (religious doctrine, guilt, being told you're not good enough, strict dress code... Help me out here: I'm not super-religious).

You can find out more about what TSA do here: and plenty of other people have already been writing about the Cambridge angle, as the 40 Days and 40 Nights tour spreads across (parts of) the (English-speaking bits of the) globe - do the Google!

I very much enjoyed the experience. I first met the founders - Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones - when they'd put a call out for poets for their Edinburgh Fringe Assemblies. A friend tagged me in, I applied, and - almost before I knew it - I was walking into a bingo hall, watching the band warm up and being enveloped in the whirlwind of relentless energy that is Sanderson (in all his big-voiced, 6'6", long-haired, bearded, cult-leader-cliché glory). I did them a couple of standard poems ("Blissful Chance" - greeted mainly with indifference/ incomprehension, and "Swarm" - more enthusiastically handled - if you're interested), sang and clapped with the congregation, watched Arthur Smith deliver a talk, listened to an enthusiastic but scientifically dubious "sermon" by Sanderson, shook hands with randoms, handed out flyers, then changed and went flyering on the Mile. I thought no more about it until Sanderson got in touch, asking if I was free for a Cambridge Assembly meeting. Sadly, I was working, then doing Hammer & Tongue - did he want to come to that after his meeting?

He did, and rocked up to our Final with a networking fervour that was close to terrifying. Several people found themselves agreeing to get involved, including me (it's hard enough to say no to an invitation to perform at a local community gig without it being delivered at super-close quarters by someone resembling a genial Norse god).

Shortly before the gig, I realised that I didn't want to short-change the good Assemblers by just rocking up with something old I'd shoe-horned into "new beginnings" so, at 1:30am, having got back from a gig in London (watching - and dancing to - Dizraeli and the Small Gods), I decided to write a new piece. Since the clocks went back, I technically went to bed at 1:30am...

"Write drunk, edit sober," apparently. For this teetotaller, it appears that "Write while tired and elated, edit while slightly less tired and somewhat less elated" is the equivalent.

I gave them this (and gave them drums to accompany "Swarm" afterwards):


It starts with a breath
Deep as oceans,
Echoing everywhere,
The prelude to that first cry.

You are forgetting to remember:
You are a torrent,
The wellspring of everything

Reach out, touch fingertips
With existence,
embrace it,
Toe to toe with the moment

You are the boldness,
The heat in the heartbeat
The spark in the dark
That heralds the flourish of day

You are birdcall
And dewfall
And all that stirs before

You are thirst,
And its quenching,
You are strong muscles clenching
Before the first step

You are the elegance of
Potential catastrophe
And the forces summoned
To meet it.

And you are not the one
Who slept on
The one who kept
In darkness

You are the sunrise
You are the brightening skies
You are the one
Who opened your eyes.

Open your eyes.

You are the one who
Took breath and raised your voice
You are the billowing echo
Of making a choice.

Stand up,
Reach out, and
Don't stop.
It is a new day.

The whole thing was a properly joyous experience, with the emphasis on the positive (what's great about people) as opposed to negative (what's not about religion - there was none of that). The talk (sustainable lifestyle) was fun and useful and un-preachy, and the band (check out Tiger Blue) were exactly the right kind of awesome.

It was particularly fab to meet old friends afterwards and have some great conversations with them and lovely new folk.

The next one in Cambridge is on 1st December (somewhere!), and you should totally check it out if you like people, sharing joy, and getting your Sunday off to an energising start. You don't even need to be an atheist...

Friday, 18 October 2013

Women's Work

I was asked, back last year, to perform in a show in February 2013 called “Women’s Work” – an all-female line-up of poets, musicians, a dancer, a storyteller, and anything else we could make happen.  It was in aid of the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre (CRCC) and, as far as I know, our donated time, effort and merchandise raised good money for a good cause.

Alice Nicholls, who organised the original, asked us to come back and, in slightly different company, we are about to do a very similar thing again in the same place, on 1st November at The Fountain, Cambridge.

I posted the following on my Facebook wall a few hours ago:

“Have just finished putting together a creative fanzine of local women’s work with the aim of raising money for CRCC, featuring work by: Alice Nicholls, Ashley Fox, Carla Keen, Cathy Dunbar, Elaine Ewart, Emma Ormond, Hollie McNish poetry, J.S.Watts, Kay Goodridge, Leanne Moden, Netta Chachamu, and Nikki Marrone.

“Special praise and thanks go to: Leanne, for help, support, and co-production; Carla for a remarkable and inspiring cover design; Alice for getting us all together in aid of CRCC in the first place and, of course, to the Centre itself, for all its amazing work.

“You’ll be able to get your own copy at Women’s Work: A Celebration of Female Performers on 1st November at The Fountain Cambridge.”

I was stoked.  Not only had we produced this in record time, but it was rather beautiful, and will hopefully raise another little bit of money for a very worthy cause.  In addition, I’d managed to say “yes” to someone who’d offered to help.  I even delegated tasks and everything (don’t faint!)…  Yes, we’ll make it available online, but only after the “launch” of the physical version on 1st November.  I’d also broken the back of fear around producing another Allographic anthology (I may go into this at some other point on this blog; who knows…) by just getting on and doing it.  Expect more goodness in the near future.

Anyway, I was then asked (by a friendly, feminist, cis-male friend) on Facebook if there was any justification in having the aforementioned pamphlet raising funds for CRCC featuring only work from female artists (takes action from both sides of an equation to break down inequality, etc.).  Without revealing who this was, and in the interests of keeping everyone informed who’d like to be, opening the debate to anyone who’d like to get engaged with it, here’s the justification (warning: potentially tl;dr):

Firstly, it was meant to be a fund-raising publication of work from the female performers who would be appearing on the night (people seem more likely to donate if they get something back; people like to buy stuff by people they’ve seen; this was a good solution to combine forces rather than providing separate merch so that potential punters had to choose between artists; not everyone on the bill would have merchandise to offer for the donation stall in any case).

But the women from the 1st November gig didn’t respond in sufficient numbers (for a start, not everyone had the right genre of material to go into print) to fill a decent-sized pamphlet, so we expanded it to those who’d been in the previous show, and then to other notable feminists from the local area (Rebel Arts Women’s Radio), etc.

I decided to stick with female contributors for several reasons:

1. It was the original remit as the performers in the show(s) were all female.

I’m not saying that only women can talk about feminism, or sexism, or rape (which involves all genders in all parts of the issue).  Not in the slightest.  However, the CRCC is run by women for women and girls, the night chose to highlight the work of women, and I chose to follow that theme with the accompanying product.

2. The title of the show is “Women’s Work” - producing a pamphlet entitled “Women’s Work” filled with work by women seemed pretty logical.

3. It’s still very much (in fact, more so now than previously) the central tenet of Allographic to provide showcases for “other words, other voices”; since women’s creative work is still, to my mind, under-exposed in many (if not most) fields, I figured that retaining that theme would fit nicely with Allographic’s core position.

4. You know what? Still, and all too often, even strong women get stuck in that “so pleasantly assertive it’s borderline apologetic” mode, so why not positively celebrate the creative work of women rather than just emphasise the nature of victimhood associated with rape, and emphasise not only the fight of feminism against the negative things that happen to women but also in raising the profile of the positive things that women do?  This is something that local homeless charity FLACK does particularly well, for example.

Was the person who opened this debate with me worried about that notion that feminism is seen as anti-men rather than pro-women?  The thing is: to be feminist is to be pro-people; to raise people up who are in a position of being discriminated against is to elevate the whole human race and to improve the lives of those who’ve just been stepped up to as well.  Feminism is a human rights movement while women are still in a worse position than men.  When the lot of women across the globe is as good as that of men, I will no longer need to call myself a feminist, and I’ll hang up my spurs with a smile.

I want the need for “positive discrimination”* to be dead and buried, having done its job and been retired. But, until that halcyon day when 51% of people in the limelight are women, I’m going to keep trying to positively promote the creative work of women, LGBTQI* people, people of colour, disabled people, vulnerably housed people, and anyone else in the margins until I no longer need to.

Have at it, interwebs.


* A friend has just mentioned that “positive discrimination” should more accurately be called “positive action” - I like!