Plethu/Weave Project

Friday, 19 March 2021

When I was asked to write a poem for a collaborative project with a dancer for Plethu/Weave, a cross-artform collab between Literature Wales and NDC Wales, I was super excited. I've always loved dance, even though I left those skills behind in my teen classes, and working with a dancer has been something I've been wanting to do for a while. I was paired with Iestyn James, a dancer and choreographer, and we had a 4-week creative timeline to write and produce our poem and film. 

In our initial conversations, we responded to each other's previous work, and this led to conversations about finding inner peace, feeling restricted in lockdown, the causes that drive us, and how we've connected with nature during the pandemic. I've been thinking a lot about joy; what that is to me, how I can create joy in my everyday life, finding it in small places. We discussed the power of just being present in our bodies, existing, of slowness, rejecting the pressure to always be productive and busy with something. We were both drawn to the water and the calmness it brought us, having lived by the sea, and that was a vision in our minds from the very beginning. 

Writing has been difficult for me over the last year, as I know it has been for many others. Some days over lockdown, just getting out of bed and showering has been enough. I've had to make peace with the fact that some days will be hard and that I'm not running at my usual capacity. Working on this project has been refreshing; having a deadline, people counting on me has given me the push to take a poem beyond a half-draft for the first time in a while.

It's a very rare occurrence that the seeds of a poem come to me in some sort of mysterious subconscious way; in dreams, on walks, through pictures, out of nowhere. The 'magic' of this is something that's romanticised, but when an idea does come in this way, I find that they usually end up being my best work. In this case, I woke just before sunrise, and just getting up and going unplanned, out into the cold to wherever my body took me, felt like an act of defiance against the slow repetition of my everyday routine (and about as wild as things get in lockdown!) I took this feeling and ran with it, imagining what it might be like to have the world to yourself, being let into the secret language of nature and asking it for the tools to spark a new beginning.

I kept Iestyn updated as I re-drafted and picked apart the poem, sending snippets of voice recordings, sounds I took of the sea and birds, and he responded with small sequences of movement to my voice. Watching my words evolve into movement has been a beautiful thing, and Iestyn really brought the piece to life, with his choreography and film adding layers to the piece. Our vision coming together, despite working remotely, has been a great experience. I can't wait to share the finished film!

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi Review

Thursday, 7 January 2021

 Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi 

“Sometimes I refer to Ma in the past tense even though she is still alive.”

I worked my way through this pretty quickly, here are some whistle-stop thoughts:

Burnt Sugar is Avni Doshi’s debut novel, and tells the story of Antara, an artist who’s stifled by her mother’s dementia, family life and childhood trauma. 

It begins with “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure”, which shows how Antara’s dealing the complexity of her situation – she’s watching her mother suffer, who has inflicted suffering on her, whilst feeling both pleasure and guilt at this sort of ‘redemption.’ But it isn’t even that straightforward; how do you blame someone who can’t remember? How do you find pleasure in watching your mother deteriorate, as if you can be separate from each other’s pain? It’s clear Antara and her mother’s lives are inextricably linked, in a way that the complexities and suffering of their fragile relationship makes it feel like their bodies are too.

I can see why people won’t get on with this book. Antara is at times ungrateful, spiteful and we can’t trust the way she sees the people around her. Her descriptions are heavy. The mother-daughter relationship stained by the past, is also something that’s been done before. There are characters who are only explored fleetingly and never brought to life. 

But what I like most about Burnt Sugar is that it isn’t afraid to be ugly or provoke discomfort. Antara often has dark intrusive thoughts and is disgusted by the mechanics of her own body. Her environment and city are suffocating, and she fixates on ugliness. The things that she loathes about her mother’s behaviour; the way she was ‘wild’, resentful as a mother, her inability to conform to expectations, are soon behaviours Antara mirrors herself. 

Burnt Sugar is a heavy read, and I’m still not sure how I feel about Antara. It got me thinking about the complexity of trauma, what it might be like to care for someone who never properly cared for you, and what it takes to be a mother.

Have you read the book? Let me know your thoughts! 📚

Monday, 8 July 2019

Welsh Tour with Nescio Ensemble

It's too easy to throw yourself into new, scary experiences and muddle yourself through instead of truly throwing yourself in head first and absorbing everything you can along the way. When the experience is over, it feels natural to quickly snap back into reality so that the experience settles into a far away half-dream, and you go on unchanged. Writing this post is a way for me to reflect on the recent week I spent with Nescio Ensemble, a 13-person classical string orchestra from the Netherlands, on their Welsh tour.

We spent the week at Chapel Cottage Studio, a beautiful self-built open home and artists' retreat nestled in the middle of the Welsh countryside. Spending the week outside of my city-reality, surrounded by farm animals and the sounds of violins was idyllic. It also served as a reminder of the importance of stepping outside of yourself, to talk and eat with strangers from different walks of life to you, and the ways this can enrich your perspective of your own life and environment. 

Before our first gig, we spent an intense day and a half rehearsing. Taking my poetry and their music apart and working to make them fit as one coherent performance. We worked to modify the music and my words to accommodate each other. We were all surprised by how naturally they fitted together; their instruments amplifying and complimenting my words, my words adding another layer of meaning to their set. The more I write and perform, the more comfortable I am with sharing this part of myself with people who are complete strangers — I thrive on this strange intimacy.

Over the week we performed 9 gigs in different parts of Wales; from small village churches to city architects' offices. Before the tour, I knew nothing about classical music. To be honest, I thought of it in a generalised, stereotypical way as being snobby, intimidating and 'not for me', an attitude I think many share. Nescio, though, an innovative group of passionate and talented musicians, have encouraged me to think of the genre in a different light. The ensemble break down the barriers between performer-audience and challenge the formal conventions of classical performances. Each song is introduced to the audience and explained with a personal approach. Nescio also seek to collaborate with artists of different mediums on their tours (luckily this time they found me!) and aim to create something unique to bring to their audiences. They were all clearly very passionate about bringing classical music to everyone, especially those, like me, who viewed it as not for them or inaccessible. I think their personal approach, performing outside of the typical concert hall environment and the fact that most of the gigs were free to attend helped to make our performances more accessible. 

Performing with the ensemble was a completely different experience to how I'm used to performing. Instead of just getting up, reading a piece from start to finish then moving onto another, my pieces were picked apart and spread out between musical interludes. I had time to really savour the experience, to reflect on how the music was informing the words and how the audience were reacting.   It was a challenge for me to bring my work to people that may not be my typical audience, or knowing that many would have been attending primarily for the music and not for my poetry. But our audiences listened intently and gave useful, positive feedback post-concert.

Lately I've been lucky to work on some collaborative projects. This year I've worked on other music collaborations, made videos and co-written an audio story. It's opened me up to the different ways in which my work can grow and develop under the influences of others. With the ensemble, my performance was more than just standing up and reading but a shared experience between us as performers and our connection with the audience. I'm certain that my work and myself personally will benefit from the tour and everything I learned along the way.

You can watch Nescio's Vlogs of the tour on their channel

Monday, 20 May 2019

Exciting Announcement!!

I'm super excited to be joining the team at Where I'm Coming From Cardiff, alongside the inspirational Hanan Issa and Durre Shahwar. WICF is a Cardiff open mic that was created to predominantly promote the work of local BAME writers, but also includes everyone. I've been attending the open mic since it started a couple of years ago, and it's been a big part of me finding myself as a writer and helping to build confidence in reading my work aloud. At WICF I'll be managing social media accounts and generally helping to host and organise events... we're already planning some exciting events and projects. Below is a quote used on the WICF page to introduce myself as the newest team member!

Sunday, 12 May 2019

In Bloom Music Collaboration 

I'm super excited to share my poem, In Bloom, transformed into beautiful, ambient music as part of a collaboration between Goodparley and Lucent Dreaming! In Bloom featured in the debut issue of Lucent Dreaming, and the project will see 5 other creative writing pieces transformed by the talented Oli of Goodparley. We launched the collaboration at Lucent Dreaming's first birthday event, where I read some new poems and Oli played a mesmerising music set. You can read a cover of the event on Creative Cardiff

You can also stream In Bloom from Spotify below. The poem was inspired by the old wive's tale that many of us were told as kids - that if you ate a seed or the pip of fruit it would grow inside of you. I experimented with the idea of this in a literal sense, as in the poem two sisters eat sunflower seeds and wait patiently to bloom, before sprouting stems and petals from their skin and mouths. The lovely illustration that sits with the poem is by Jannat Ahmed. Thanks to Goodparley for transforming In Bloom so beautifully, hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

On Feeling like You're not Good Enough

The make ups of the society we live in, with all the instant access to information we carry around in our pockets, can make it difficult to feel confident and value your achievements. Spending 3 hours of your day on Instagram or Twitter (thank you Screen Time for telling me how many hours of my life I will never get back) tells you that everyone is doing better than you, looks better, is achieving things you'll never achieve. When self-care has become another marketing tool for bath bombs and face masks, how do we learn to genuinely nourish our self worth?

Confidence is a tricky thing to master. Particularly when it comes to withstanding the inevitable setbacks of life. Egos are fragile, and when things don't go your way, the easiest option is to either put the blame on someone else, or yourself. As an aspiring Poet, rejection is something that I'm going to have to get very cosy with. Submitting my work to journals and entering competitions can be a difficult process, with most submissions ending up as rejections. I'm certainly no master of confidence, but here are some things that help me along the way.

Check yourself. That niggly voice in the back of your mind thrives on anxiety. Whatever you're feeling nervous about, it will latch onto. Writing this blog post, part of me is thinking that nobody cares what I have to say. In social situations, it tells you that you're an outsider, that people just tolerate you. It wants you to think your work is never good enough, that you shouldn't even show it to anyone for fear of pure embarrassment. Its focus on what is lacking can suffocate the positives. It's important to recognise that nothing will ever be good enough to satisfy the voice. After poetry readings I often feel a weird mixture of feeling both dejected and exhilarated, wanting to do it over again but better, because I'm disappointed with my performance. This energy can be turned into a positive thing, a way of figuring out where there's room for improvement. Instead of putting a lid on this voice and trying to stifle it, why not confront it? Reason with it. I feel this way after a reading because I can do better, but I'm still learning and improving each time. So I might not be the best performer but how about how much better I've got at projecting my voice? People just listened to me talk for 15 minutes straight and actually looked interested! 

Celebrate all of your achievements. Even the tiniest ones. When you achieve something it's easy to look around and think your achievement is minuscule compared to what others are achieving. But every single achievement is progression that is getting you closer to where you want to be, and everyday achievements are important too. Completed your first post-uni job application? Had a particularly bad mental health day and managed to take a shower? It's important to take a moment to think about what you've achieved, and reflect on how far you've come.   

Practice true self care. This means different things for everybody, but I think it mostly comes down to taking time to yourself to re-charge and re-fuel. Don't let yourself get burnt out. Feed yourself properly. This is easier said than done, but there's this toxic ideology that glamorises the idea that you need to be constantly grafting to be a good worker, up at the crack of dawn doing yoga and drinking a freshly Nutri-bulleted Kale smoothie, never taking a break, working into the night. This may be your bag, but I know that for me, I need to take some time to gain a new perspective when I've got a lot on my plate. I'm definitely going to write a better 500 words of that essay after 8 hours sleep than I would sleep-deprived at 3AM after completing a load of other tasks I've set myself for the day. 

See rejection as part of the process. Setbacks are inevitable, and sometimes they hit where it hurts. Being able to take on board criticism and use it to grow and improve is only going to move you forward. Sometimes things happen which put you on a different trajectory than where you thought you were going, and it's ok to wallow in it for a little bit. But ensure that you're able to pick yourself up, adapt to new changes, and you'll still get to where you need to be.       

Your voice is unique and valuable. Probably the most important thing I've started to learn this past year is to have confidence in my voice and my perspective. Everybody battles with imposter syndrome. Your voice is truly unique to you, nobody else has all of the same little components that shape you, therefore what you bring to the table is always valid. Having confidence in your opinion is such a vital thing to carry forward, both socially and professionally. Others may have more authority than you, speak with greater assurance and experience or have a louder voice than you, but this shouldn't silence you. Your perspective needs to be represented and understood. 

Friday, 8 March 2019

International Women's Day 2019

Happy International Women's Day! In celebration, I'm sharing my poem, Lady in Pink. The poem explores the ways in which women are connected to each other, through the lens of a chance encounter on a train. You can find the video of me introducing and performing the poem below, which was shot and edited by Matt Ashwell. I'll also be reading poems this evening at Lush Cardiff's Goddess event!

I think it's really important to emphasise how International Women's Day should be celebrated intersectionally, inclusive of all kinds of women, including women of colour, trans women, non-binary people, disabled and neurodivergent women, as well as everybody in between. Fighting against the odds is hard enough as it is, we're stronger together. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

In Bloom

My poem In Bloom was originally published in the debut issue of the beautiful Lucent Dreaming magazine. When writing it, I was thinking of the old wives tale that many of us were told when we were young, that if you ate the pip of an apple or other fruit, it would plant and grow inside of you. You can also read my interview with Lucent Dreaming here. Hope you enjoy!


In Bloom

In the summer, we would eat 
handfuls of sunflower seeds.
Wait patiently for them to plant
themselves into our intestines,
root, feed, grow.

My sister wanted to sell hers
on Portobello Road.
Bouquets for men to take home
for their wives,
a piece of herself blooming
in stranger’s homes.  

Hers grew first,
green shoots sprouting
from the skin of her forearm.
She said she could feel the stems
intertwining with her spine. 

I imagine her now, 
her curls under a straw hat,
at the flower market
on Portobello Road.
As I pick yellow petals
from the gaps in my teeth.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

A Poem for Solidarity

Brett Kavanaugh's recent confirmation to the American Supreme Court, despite multiple allegations of sexual assault being made against him, is testament to the mistreatment of survivors of sexual assault.

It is a bleak reality, when victims such as Christine Beasley Ford, who testified before the Senate, speak out about their trauma and are met with harassment and intimidation. It's important to recognise that it was not just men that believed Kavanaugh over Dr Ford, but a lot of women too, particularly white women

The need for women to support each other, and to be inclusive of all kinds of women, is vital in a world where 1 in 3 women experience sexual violence.

Kim Addonizio's To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall is a poem that I re-visit often, and it feels needed at times like this. 

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Summer Reads

Though it feels like Summer is beginning to come to an early end, we've had many sun-soaked days over the past few months. I've enjoyed lazily reading whilst sunbathing on the beach, or at the park, and thought I'd write a few mini-reviews of some of my recent reads. If you're lucky enough to have an upcoming Summer holiday, or fancy recommendations ready to cosy up in Winter, hopefully this might give you an idea of what to read next!

Call Me By Your Name - Andre Aciman

Call Me By Your Name is the ultimate Summer read. It's six weeks of Sepia-toned forbidden romance on the Italian Riviera between teenager Elio and his father's house guest, 24 year-old student, Oliver. Elio nostalgically relays their story years later, giving the reader an intimate look into the mind of a seventeen-year-old boy experiencing a sexual awakening.

CMBYN lingers in the heady lust of the chase. Elio spends his days lazing by the pool, longing for Oliver and seeking excitement. The novel will remind you of falling in love, as Elio notices every move Oliver makes. The smallest touch; a brush of the arm, a hand to his shoulder, is electric. The novel is unique to the film adaptation in that we really get to know Elio and the way that he thinks. His obsession with Oliver is intense, greedy, and at times can be sinister.

This is no glossy, rose-tinted love story, but a bold tale of the reality of human relationships that doesn't shy away from their fragility and ugliness. Too often, same-sex relationships are portrayed in literature and film as two dimensional and lack depth. The best part of CMBYN is the very human, well-developed characters. So naturally their relationship is complicated, and their intimacy both tender and all-consuming.

"I’d lie on my bed wearing only my bathing suit, my entire body on fire. Fire like a pleading that says, Please, please, tell me I’m wrong, tell me I’ve imagined all this, because it can’t possibly be true for you as well, and if it’s true for you too, then you’re the cruelest man alive.”

Calling a Wolf a Wolf - Kaveh Akbar

Calling a Wolf a Wolf is Kaveh Akbar's compelling debut poetry collection. It is deeply personal, centring around Akbar's battles with addiction and recovery. We get to know his hunger, his wavering faith and the ways that addiction changes how he views the world. His willingness to be open and vulnerable makes for a powerful collection. It asks questions, without demanding answers, but seeking to explore life and its fragility.

His poetry is strange and beautiful. Creates surreal, vivid images in excerpts such as 'I used to slow / dance with my mother in our living / room spiritless as any prince I felt / the bark of her spine softening I became / an agile brute she became a stuffed / ox I hear this happens / all over the world'

These poems are surreal in the way that addiction is surreal; lines are fragmented and splatter over the page, their rhythms grow to a fast pace and slow back down again. I admire the way the collection experiments with punctuation and form, whilst consistently keeping every line concise and effective. As each poem flows so well, it all seems effortless, which is testament to Akbar's skill.

"Most days I try hard to act human, to breathe 
like a human and speak with the same flat language, but often 
 my kindness is clumsy - I stop a stranger to tie his shoe and 
 end up kissing his knees."

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing - Eimear McBride

McBride's stylistic approach to A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a key element that makes the novel work so well. Sentences are snappy and cut short in a stream-of-consciousness style, plunging us firmly into the mind of our unnamed protagonist as we follow her life. This style reflects the chaotic and and intense nature of the content of the novel. It tackles a lot, exploring themes of family, religion, sexual assault and death. We see the girl fall at life's hurdles repeatedly, experience the gritty trauma of a having an younger brother struck by illness, abusive male family members and a strict Catholic Mother.

The interesting title is what hooked me into this novel, which I feel centres around the girl's desires to become a 'formed woman' and grow out of being a 'half-formed girl.' Even if the protagonist's experiences completely differ from your own, you feel a connection to her, particularly as a female. She is inherently flawed; she lashes out, is self-destructive and invites in things that will cause her pain, these characteristics make her all the more real and relatable.

The novel can be uncomfortable, graphic, and its style might read as jarring for some. But for me, these elements contribute to its beauty. It is a reminder of the fragility of the mind, of the body, the make ups of faith and family. If you're looking for a more challenging read, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is definitely for you.

“I am tired. Too full of stuff I've done. Where my legs hurt where my scalp hurts. I'll not fight the thing inside me anymore. Let it eat me up. Please God. I want it to.”

Who Is Mary Sue? - Sophie Collins

Who Is Mary Sue? is unlike anything I've ever read before. It's political, takes a stance on the inequality between men and women, particularly regarding the treatment of women in the arts and the way their work is received by both the author and their reader. The title is derived from the 'Mary Sue' of fan fiction, an idealised female archetype which it is said author's use as their protagonist to narcissistically create their ideal version of themselves. 

Collins challenges authority and the objectification of women in society. She explores the idea that it is men who are seen as the 'inventors' in literature, whilst women are viewed as only capable of 'reflecting.' On this view, Collins writes that 'A woman who tries to invent in literature will fail, whereas a woman who succeeds in writing is believed to have done so to the extent that she has been able to accurately portray the details of her own life.' This view is, of course, untrue, and puts female authors in a small box, restricting their creative freedom.

A fusion of poetry, prose, lyrical essay and reportage, the debut collection makes for an interesting read. Collins is inventive, she switches between forms and is creative with the blank space on the page. This is a challenge for the reader, as this at times goes against everything we have been taught is the 'right' thing to do in a creative piece. But this is what makes Who is Mary Sue? so effective and original, when reading it, you must let go of the expectations you have of a collection.

"The village is always on fire.
Men stay away from the kitchens, 
take up in outhouses with concrete floors,
while the women - soot in their hair -
initiate the flames into their small routines."

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Sunday Poem

Against Hell by Kaveh Akbar

With sensitive enough instruments even uprooting a shrub
 becomes a seismic event. So much of living is about understanding
scale - a tiny crystal dropped in a river turns the entire river

red. The hands that folded me into my body were not punishing me
nor could they ever be punished, while the hands of the idol sculptor
were cut off and tossed to the dogs. This is proof of something,

but what? Maybe that retribution has grown vulgar, with sin now
inevitable as summer sweat. Most days I try hard to act human, to breathe
like a human and speak with the same flat language, but often

my kindness is clumsy - I stop a stranger to tie his shoe and
end up kissing his knees. I believe in luck and am barely troubled
by its volatility. I remember too well the knife held to my gut, the beehive

I once spat at for hours without getting stung. The charm of this
particular dilemma: faith begins where knowing ends. The undertaker
spills his midday latte on a corpse, a chariot wheel flies off

and kills a slave, and nobody asks for a refund. The unexpected
happens, then what? The next thing. I feel most a person when
I am forcing something to be silent, holding a rat underwater or twining

shut the jaw of a lamb before it's roasted on the spit. It's only natural to smell
smoke and feel hungry, to lean into the confusion of tongues. If I am
to be punished for any of this, it will be thousands of years too late.

Latest Instagrams

© Taylor Reads & Writes. Design by FCD.