As the name suggests, there have been two previous Public Address tours - the first, in 2010, was on the theme of 'Home', the second had a more wide-ranging brief, and this third iteration of the franchise sees the poets involved - me, Jasmine Gardosi, Shagufta K Iqbal, Justin Coe, Joshua Judson, Helen Seymour, and Henry Raby - taking the word 'soapbox' as our theme. The whole thing is being directed by the amazing Hannah Silva, who is just one of the most brilliant, experimental, innovative spoken word performers working right now. I'm absolutely delighted to be working with all of these people, it's going to be great.
So, given all that, what am I planning to get on my soapbox about? Well, one thing I'm not going to be doing is ranting. After spending so much time working on Howl of the Bantee I'm pretty much ranted out, and the result of the recent election has made me doubt how effective the angry ranting thing is anyway. I'll be honest, I had hoped that the references to David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and the whole pestilent Tory junta merrily ruining this country, which crop up in the course of my Edinburgh show, could be laughed off with a triumphalist 'well, we don't have to deal with them anymore, ho ho'. Instead, they sound like the lamentations of the defeated. My kingdom for a Nordic Welfare Model.
And partly I'm wondering if it isn't time in my career to stop asking only rhetorical questions anyway. Increasingly I want to write and perform work which leaves questions hanging, which lets the audience make their own minds up. Or not. Yeah yeah yeah, negative capability, all that jazz. But Keats had a point, y'know?
None of which exactly answers the question of what I want to write, but in the spirit of asking rather than answering questions, I'm not going to tell you outright. Rather, here are a few hints. First, there's Dean Spade's work on the Romance Myth. If you've been following my recent poems on here, particularly those that precede and include the Duke Sequence (aka 'talk about the other things'), you'll know I'm obsessed with the idea that there is a hidden violence inherent in the notion of romantic love we're sold by our culture. I was turned on to Spade's concept by reading this takedown of trans romcom Boy Meets Girl which Tom Leger shared on Facebook, and I think Spade has a good line on the problems inherent in the concept. This is probably also something which is going to play into the show I want to do after Howl..., which I'm provisionally calling Feeling Helpless Safely (or possibly Feeling Helpless, Safely, I'm not sure whether or not it needs the comma), but I have an idea of how these questions of love and violence might be dramatised which I think, if I can bring it off, will be a really good thing to explore for this project.
Second, some pretty pictures. First, here's Hedwig Gorski, New Orleans poet credited by Wikipedia with having coined the term 'performance poetry':
As Gorski's Wikipedia entry makes clear, she theorised performance poetry as a practice 'distinct within and parallel to...spoken word, slam, poetry readings, performed poetry and performance art' (italics mine). It's interesting to think that performance poetry and performance art were once seen as parallel practices. These days, if you asked people to picture a performance artist and a performance poet you'd get wildly divergent images, I think. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Could it be a factor in the concern that slam-format poetry is ossifying into a formulaic template? What would a performance poetics that was more in dialogue with performance art look like? And speaking of performance art...
Here's a shot from Marina Abramovic's Rhythm 0, which I think is one of the most flat-out ballsy pieces of performance art ever created. Basically, Abramovic stood in front of an audience who were presented with a table of 72 objects, which they were allowed to use on her as desired. The objects included a rose, a feather, perfume, bread, wine...and scissors. And a scalpel. And a loaded gun. It started out mildly; by the end Abramovic had been stripped, slashed, and had the gun pointed at her head with her own finger being worked around the trigger.
As Abramovic herself put it 'In theatre, blood is ketchup. In performance, everything's real.' So what is it we do as poets? Theatre, or performance? And what would a spoken word show look like that engaged with issues of real risk in a similar way to Rhythm 0? Would that even be a spoken word show? And how does all this relate to the idea of love as violence?
These are not questions I intend to answer. But I do intend to ask them.