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.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Lucent Dreaming

I'm lucky enough to have a poem of mine published in the debut issue launch of Lucent Dreaming, a local independent magazine that publishes the creative work of new and emerging artists. On Saturday, I attended the launch event to celebrate the debut issue at Rabble Studio, a co-working space for creatives in the heart of Cardiff Bay, which was packed out with an excited audience. Lucent Dreaming is fronted by Jannat Ahmed, who gave a wonderful, inspiring speech about dreaming and the origins of the magazine to kick off the launch. 

Jannat talked about the importance of our dreams, in all senses of the word, and how they change over time as our experiences shape and change us. She asked attenders of the launch to sign the guest book with details of our own dreams; one we have achieved, and one we hope to achieve in the future.

The brand is clear; Lucent Dreaming is all about the surreal and mystical, what lies between the gaps of our conscious mind and our dreams. This prompt has resulted in a range of unique and experimental content, from authors and artists worldwide.

Following Jannat's speech, editors Joachim Buur and Jess Beynon spoke about the benefits of collaboration and what Lucent Dreaming is all about. Their speeches proved that the team behind Lucent Dreaming are dedicated to helping writer's grow. To help submitters improve their work, they offer feedback on submissions. It is rare to receive detailed feedback from a literary magazine, and offering writers this chance to use the editor's constructive criticism to improve their work really makes Lucent Dreaming stand out from the crowd.

It was evident that an incredible amount of passion and hard work had gone into making Jannat's dream a reality, from both herself and those around her. Jannat is the recipient of the Ymlaen Placement, which is a collaboration between Creative Cardiff, Rabble Studio and Cardiff University's Enterprise and Start-Up team. This placement gave Jannat the support she needed through access to office space, mentoring and marketing her idea. I caught up with Jannat to find out more about the story of Lucent Dreaming:

How did Lucent Dreaming start?  
Lucent Dreaming launched its website on Halloween last year but had been in the works for several months before that. Last spring I was doing my Masters Degree in English Literature at Cardiff University. For one of its modules, ‘Project Management and Advanced Research,’ I created a parody online creative writing magazine as part of my portfolio. Not long after I submitted my portfolio (and was reeling from the fact it was utterly ridiculous and I’d submitted it to be marked as part of an actual degree), I was talking with my friend Jess—now also one of Lucent Dreaming’s editors—about unemployment. She was telling me she had exhausted her savings going to publishing internships and still didn’t have enough experience to get a job in publishing. That was when I told her about my desire to start a ‘real’ online creative writing magazine. I asked whether she’d be willing to donate her time to it and she said yes! I had two similar conversations with Jo and Jonas—LD’s two other editors—and so it all began. Over the summer we came up with a name and Jo came up with a logo and by November we were open for submissions!

How has the support from Creative Cardiff, Rabble Studios and Cardiff University's Enterprise team changed Lucent dreaming?

The support I’ve received as part of my Ymlaen placement has transformed Lucent Dreaming from an online only magazine to one that is also being printed. Working around designers and content creators at Rabble who have had experience of printing things before, receiving seed-funding from Cardiff University’s Enterprise and Start-up team, alongside lots of advice and mentoring sessions, has made it possible for me to try print. It’s enhanced Lucent Dreaming and pushed it closer to becoming a viable business.

What advice would you give to emerging writers when submitting their creative work to journals like your own?

Read and follow the submission guidelines! We offer feedback on all *qualifying* submissions we receive in our inbox: these are submissions that follow our guidelines. However, we’ve had submissions sent without a title, a word count, sent as a PDF instead of a document file, even submissions without the author’s name! Give your work a genuine chance to be considered by making sure you check the guidelines. Besides that, be confident and go for it! Creative writing magazines, journals, websites and blogs WANT your submission.

What does the future hold for Lucent Dreaming?

I hope it holds more issues, but more than that, I want Lucent Dreaming to be a springboard and a community for new writers and other creative folk whether or not they want to reach publication. We sell beautiful magazines, yes, but we’ve also set up a notebook subscription because we know creativity in day-to-day life is hardly ever about the business-like outcome of being published. It’s about taking time for yourself each day to craft something, even when it doesn’t feel like a craft. A haiku, a doodle, a list of important memories—they are all produced from a feeling that cannot always be pinned down, but it’s that beautiful, strange, surreal feeling that we want to inspire both through our magazine and everything else we may create in the future. I hope we inspire and keep that feeling alive in everyone who follows us. That’s our dream.

You can find more Lucent Dreaming on their website, or follow them on Social Media

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Eat Up

Ruby Tandoh wants you to eat up. Yes, all of you. Regardless of your size, ethnicity, physical ability, gender identity, health, sexual preference, religion, wealth and dietry requirements. Eat Up is a book about the joys of food and importance of nourishment that is inclusive of everyone.

After getting my hands on a copy of Ruby Tandoh's Eat Up, I gobbled the book up at a greedy pace, which seems the appropriate way to read a book that is based around a true love for food and everything that comes with it. 

Eat up is a refreshing manifesto that dissects food in awe; the inky stain of blackberries on skin, the oozing of sweet honey, the cold-curing qualities of steaming chicken soup. Tandoh is poetic in her descriptions of her favourite foods, often sensual, so that you feel your peeking in on some intimate moments of her life. She talks of groudnut soup recipes that helped connect her to her Ghanian heritage after her grandfather's death, the pancakes she cooked for her fiancee after their first night together and her battles with an eating disorder. Her willingness to be open is what makes the book so fantastic and relatable; it's okay to stay in bed all day and eat a whole pack of bourbon biscuits, it's okay that you love to squeeze a double cheeseburger in your hands and lick the mayo-grease off of your fingers, you don't need to feel guilty that you sometimes skip lunch, or that you sometimes eat two lunches. The book reassures that there's no 'normal' or 'clean' way to eat, many factors contribute to the making of your body, your taste buds and the nourishment that you need as an individual.

Eat up has a lot to say about the diet industry and wellness culture. Social media influencers in particular often dictate what foods are 'clean.' (Fresh fruit and veg, gluten-free, low-carb substitutes, low-salt, low-sugar, low-fat.) It is suggested that this way of eating will lead you to a better life; magically re-invent you as a happier, healthier, thinner and therefore more attractive person.
But labelling these foods as 'clean' is problematic and sends out the worrying message that foods that don't fit these catagories are somehow worth less to our bodies and are 'bad'. This encourages a culture where people push themselves to follow strict diets and could neglect giving their bodies the proper nourishment they need. If the seductive nature of a fresh batch of stringy cheesy chips, or the call of a sticky toffee pudding becomes too much and they cave, this is often followed by feelings of guilt and the want to punish themselves.    

"What wellness culture asserts, in essence, is that there is some higher state we can achieve, but only if we're willing to put in the work. Our natural impulses, the ones that draw us to the buzz of sugar, the sting of salt, bright sweets and festive feasts, are all wrong according to the wellness mantra."

Eat up also made me think about how we choose to nourish ourselves as a reflection of how we are feeling. Tandoh writes about the complexities of life, and how this effects our relationship with the food we put into our bodies. When I'm feeling good about myself, I'm happy to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up to elbows, chopping, frying and assembling something wholesome. If I've had a bad day, I want to get lost in a tub of salted caramel-drizzled ice cream, shove a convenient ready-meal in the oven, or maybe eat nothing at all. 
There's no dispute that mental health affects your relationship with food. It is estimated that at least 1.6 million people in the UK (Tandoh being one of them) are affected by an eating disorder. A person with depression can find the act of eating, let alone cooking, overbearing. An anxious mind may not find the thought space to remember to eat. 

"There's one thing I always try to remember, though, when I can feel the tendrils of my old eating disorder creeping back into my mind: treat yourself how you'd treat your best friend. If you would be patient and forgiving with your best friend during a mental health hiccup, then you deserve that, too. If you'd make your friend a fortifying soup, give yourself that kindness. Look after yourself like a fragile, precious thing."

To nourish, therefore, is a sign of showing that you care. Whether it be to yourself, or someone else. Tandoh talks about the gesture of food sometimes being the best way to show someone how you feel. Such as that steaming cup of tea at the end of a long day that says 'Come, sit, tell me all about it.'
Tandoh also points out numerous occasions that this is evident in film. In the wonderful Moonlight, Chiron is served arroz con pollo by Kevin, in a symbolic gesture that means so much more than the food on the plate. When I was sixteen I attempted to cook my best friend a full English Breakfast in bed before she woke up. I burnt the bacon to a crispy charcoal and burst the egg yolks, but that wasn't what mattered.

Mothers and grandmother's are stereo-typically known for being feeders. Supplying endless treats and home-cooked meals as a means of showing that they care, that they want you to feel nourished. My mum makes 'Flakeys', a version of a cornflake cake that is rich with golden syrup, margarine and cocoa powder; it's absolutely bad for you and it's absolutely delicious. If I've been feeling crappy, my mum makes this specially to show me that she's there and everything's going to be just fine; for that moment of tasty sickly sweetness, it feels like everything just might be.  

Eat up is revolutionary in that it has no hidden agenda. It is not aggressive, not trying to push an advert down your throat, there is no YOU MUST HAVE THIS or YOU CAN'T HAVE THAT. The book contains a variety of recipes that work for everyone. From recipes for vegan sweet potato stew to a cost effective homemade curry; there is something for every kind of eater. 

 "You are a human animal, feeling your way through all the goodness and badness of the world with a hungry belly. If you can fully inhabit this truth, your belly will rumble with the same cadence as the murmurings of your mind, and your hands will meet knife and fork with perfect coordination, and you will taste the world just as it is. It really does taste good."


Sunday, 4 March 2018

Sunday Poem

This weeks Sunday poem, Fasting, is one of my own, and in hindsight I'm realising how often Sunflowers manage to sneak themselves into my poems.  


When I showed Saima my engagement ring
she held it underneath her tongue. Her saliva seeping
behind the diamonds — Let it dry there.
I bought her a bunch of sunflowers
to say sorry. She lay them out in rows
on my naked back. Traced around the petals
with the edges of her teeth.

You’re going to have a husband
she spoke into my open mouth.
The ‘o’ of her lips pressed on mine.
I looked up Saima in my mother’s
Arabic name book — Fasting woman.
When I told her, she pointed to my ribs.
Wrote out a sentence with her fingers
Burnt into my skin
                             For you, I am starving.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

       Three Female poets you should be reading

In the era of Trump, a society that needs the #MeToo campaign and the unnerving anxiety The Handmaid's Tale brings, poetry is the art form that bites back. Take singer-songwriter Hasley's powerful speech at the NYC Women's March for example. Poetry is successful in tackling the taboo subjects that people find difficult to discuss because there's no shying away from it, it demands to be heard. 

Below are 3 of my favourite female poets in all of their gorgeous glory. Whether you're a keen reader of poetry or not, you're bound to find a piece of yourself hiding between their lines.

Warsan Shire

I've been in love with Warsan Shire's poetry since I started writing. She is best known for her work on BeyoncĂ©s Lemonade and her poems speaking out for refugees and victims of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). If you haven't already heard of her, you're missing out. Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents and raised in London. She explores what it's like to be laced between two cultures eloquently, capturing intricate and detailed stories of women and their experiences. Her collection, Teaching My Mother how to Give Birth (2011) is bold and beautiful, it tackles many of the taboos in both Somali and British culture with grace. Below is a video of her reading the poems Ugly, The House, The Diet, What We Own and Conversations About Home at the Deportation Centre.

You can find Warsan on Twitter @Warsan_Shire

Pascale Petit

I came across Pascale's work when searching for inspiration at University. With seven successful collections tucked under her belt, Pascale is a master of metaphor. Her poems are often imaginative and mythical; blurring the edges of reality and fantasy. Her latest collection, Mama Amazonica (2017) is set in a psychiatric hospital for endangered species in the Amazon. It tells the story of Pascale's mentally ill mother, morphing her into a series of exotic animals and flowers. I admire Pascale's ability to tackle her personal trauma and turn it into art. Below is a poem from the collection, posted on Pascale's website.

From Mama Amazonica

Picture my mother as a baby, afloat
on a waterlily leaf,
a nametag round her wrist –
Victoria amazonica.
There are rapids ahead
the doctors call ‘mania’.
For now, all is quiet –
she’s on a deep sleep cure,
a sloth clings to the cecropia tree,
a jaguar sniffs the bank.
My mother on her green raft,
its web of ribs, its underside of spines.
I’ll sing her a lullaby,
tell her how her quilted crib
has been known to support
a carefully balanced adult.
My newborn mama
washed clean by the drugs,
a caiman basking beside her.

Cecilia Knapp
Cecilia Knapp is a writer and performer from London. As a successful spoken word poet, she is mesmerising, her rhythms are smooth and seemingly effortless. Her poems take the ordinary and highlight the beauty in the smaller details of everyday life, pull you in and magnify the intricacies of human interaction. 

As well as a poet, Cecilia is also a performer in theatre, runs creative workshops for young people and works with the charity CALM to raise awareness of mental health. Below is her poem Bodies that was turned into a video project with Jungle Magazine. 

You can find more info about Cecilia on her website.

If you have any female poet recommendations, feel free to share them in the comments section.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Sunday Poem

application for the position of abdelhalim hafez's girl

By Safia Elhillo (From The January Children)

i go quiet for days     i turn the colour of mirrors
i turn the colour of smoke     men tell me sometimes
that blue becomes me     when i answer my voice
is hoarse from disuse  i am afraid of my body & the ways
that it fails me   i faint   a woman on the subway platform
catches me   floating into the tracks   i become the colour
blue     i don't like to be touched     i wonder why
more people     have not been kidnapped by taxi drivers
white men ask me     to say their names in arabic
ask where i'm     [really from]     i am six months
returned from sudan     henna fading to look like burns
dusted up my arms     i bleed & can't stop bleeding
i speak & my mouth     is my biggest wound
every language     is a borrowed joke     i catch myself
complimenting strangers   on their english   i am six months
returned from incense smoke   to soften the taste of river water
incense burned   to avert the evil eye   i see a possessed 
woman scream   when a prayer is read   her eyes the color
of smoke     & mine is a story older than water

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Currently Reading: The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories

As January loomed its ugly head, I felt pressure to conform to the clichĂ© ‘New Year, New Me’ set of unrealistic resolutions I knew I would never really stick to. Instead, I wrote a short list of achievable goals, straying away from guilt-inducing diet and exercise regimes in favour of creativity and well being. This blog is one of them, a space to ramble, unclutter my head and hopefully write something interesting. I also intend to read a new book every two weeks, as since finishing Uni I’ve barely been able to finish one, and to read more works by BAME writers.

It was a good coincidence, then, that I was given The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories as a gift for Christmas. The book is a collection of short stories born from The Caine Prize for African Writing 2017, featuring talented writers from Africa and the African diaspora. The collection is rich with African culture, transporting the reader to a land humming with the mythical and beautiful. Superstitions thread through everyday life like modern fairy tales, forbidden love leaves your heart hurting and God is loved, cursed and celebrated.

The collection opens with Who Will Greet You At Home, a mysterious tale by Lesley Nneka Arimah exploring motherhood. Ogechi, an expectant mother, creates a baby out of the scraps of hair strewn about the salon that she works in. As part of tradition, expectant mothers make babies out of the strongest and most durable materials they can find, to be blessed by an elder and therefore guarantee a successful birth. Ogechi’s hair baby is glossy and impenetrable, striking warm maternal feelings inside her. But the baby’s strength comes with a never-ending appetite to consume, and Ogechi struggles to keep its hunger satisfied.

The story takes me back to watching Rosemary’s Baby for the first time. Both invert the typical idea of a blissful, loving motherhood and create something a lot more sinister. The idea of the unborn baby having dominance over its mother, out-growing and consuming her is disturbing, which is what makes the story such an interesting read.

Throughout the anthology, taboos are tested, African language is delicately threaded with English and a variety of genres are covered, from the postmodern to the mythical. For example, God’s Children are Little Broken Things (Arinze Ifeakandu) explores the love between two boys at university, An Unperson Stands on the Cracked Pavement Contemplating Being and Nothingness (Tendai Huchu) paints a picture of a monotonous postmodern world through existentialism and Shells modernises myth and confronts the horrors of a deteriorating memory.

Below are some of my favourite quotes from the anthology.

The answers we seek / lie not in the sleep-deprived faces passing. – From An Unperson Stands on the Cracked Pavement Contemplating Being and Nothingness.

When asked by a journalist once about Che after his death, Fidel responded “I dream of him often.” A love letter in five words: I dream of him often. – From Fidel

(He) Patted his mouth clean with a small white square he hand-washed nights, even out in the bush. The desert dyed it that pus-rust colour which bled through sunsets: sunsets that seemingly choked the sky they were so overwhelming. Like swallowing dust. – From The Virus

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