Tag Archives: poetry

A Woman’s a Woman for A’ That

Nana recently attended her first Burn’s supper. This involved being introduced to the twin customs of The Toast to the Lassies and The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies.

At the particular supper to which I was party, the Toast to the Lassies was a cheekily scurrilous account of the behaviours of the fairer sex which, in baffling the speaker, were deemed praiseworthy from a sense of bewilderment if nothing else. The Reply, in turn, was a robust account of how, like many other fine examples of the dominant sex, our esteemed speaker could only succeed in life with the support of a good woman.

An amusing showcase of ‘70s gender politics, then.

Over in Glasgow, meanwhile, The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies was being delivered for the first time by a transgender woman – Jo Clifford . I’d recommend a read.

This curious whisky-fuelled cocktail of discourses fair set my head spinning.

When Germaine Greer rattled everyone’s cage recently with her pronouncement that transgender women were not women, I confess I had some sympathy with her position. She was responding to Caitlyn Jenner’s award of Woman of the Year and I suspect Germaine wasn’t the only person whose feminist sentiments rankled at the implied notion that femininity could best be made successful by bringing on board a new CEO who used to be man. A new spin on the ‘old boys’ network’ to be sure, but one guaranteed to bring out the conspiracy theorist in any card-carrying member of the old guard.

And I have to further confess to initially feeling something of the same response to Jo’s Reply – she draws very heavily on her previous experiences as a man to illustrate the uniqueness of her position. Surely it is this unique view that separates her experiences from those of women raised as females within our society? After all, Jo’s conversion/ full realization of herself as a woman came after years of living as boy and man during which time she was surely not entirely immune to the calque of masculine privilege ossifying her form?

As I pondered this, I began to muse on the various situations of the three people amongst my friends and acquaintances whose experiences in this regard really count.

First among these is Jo herself, to whose acquaintance I can lay scant claim beyond the intimacy of her one-woman show The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven — the most moving and thought-provoking theatrical work on this theme I have encountered. (See it if you can).

The second acquaintance may yet be too young to offer her considered account, since she is a child whose inner female was so strong she began her transition at infant school and her journey continues through her still tender years.

The third is a childhood friend whose strong female identity was a certain cat amongst the pigeons of a late ‘60s – early ‘70s childhood in our working class northern English milieu. He now lives as a (camp) adult homosexual man.

I cannot gainsay whether Germaine Greer has any genuine axe to grind with transgender women. It may be that she simply rejects transgender women as women. Rightly or wrongly, I took her argument to be that by including transgender women in the category ‘women’ we deny the uniqueness of their perspective.

But, I come to realise, this is also precisely where such an argument begins to unravel.

For the two folks I know most intimately, it couldn’t be said they had ‘enjoyed’ a prototypical male socialization experience. But then who could claim that?

And whilst I consider myself very much a female I’m not sure I could claim a prototypical female socialization experience, since I’m not entirely sure what one is. Or at least if I imagine one, it is simply that- a construct of the imagination; a fairytale amalgamated from an idiosyncratic selection of all the various gendered and gendering experiences available.

And I couldn’t even give you a percentaged guesstimate of how much of ‘me’ is gendered. Because don’t we all have a core being that remains a genderless thing?

When I wake in the early hours and am gazing at the sleeping windows of the houses in the town where I live, I am not conscious of doing that as a woman, but as a being. The fact that my being is in human form I concede has a considerable degree of influence on my perspective in this instance, but I’m not sure that my gender always exerts the same force.

So whilst the rigidity of the existing gender options of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are beneficially challenged by the fluidity of the trans experience, Germaine’s move to insert a further category of ‘transgender woman’ (and presumably its counterpart ‘transgender man’ — although as a feminist I find it telling that this category is little vaunted, much like Queen Victoria’s infamous lesbian blindspot) still leaves the gender landscape hopelessly codified. The cranny between ‘transgender woman’ and ‘cis woman’ (a term I find both ugly and difficult to accept) simply offers a fertile space for further prejudice to gestate.

Yet surely language has a key role to play. It is the primordial conceptual brine through which we all emerge. Language shapes our imaginations as well as our cultures.

The youngest of my children is of a generation which seeks to obliterate gender altogether. It’s taken me some time to grasp, but this seems to me a genuinely liberating ideal, and worth pursuing.

The most immediate barrier for English speakers is one of pronouns. It seems petty, but in the petri-dish of identity formation pronouns are protozoic.

Discovering self is wonderfully neutral from a gendered language perspective: I; me.

Beyond self, however, our language offers a binary choice of pronouns available to the description of other individual humans, and the only alternative is so cold that we often gender inanimate objects in order to avoid it.

That linguistic move between self and another is our first operation of ‘othering’, and it brings into focus another important aspect of this whole debate. Perhaps one reason for its resonance in contemporary society (after all gender challenges are nothing new) is that it speaks to the conflict between individualism and collectivity.

Here arguments of biology are shown to be something of a red herring, and the question is whether – in an increasingly atomized society – we can ever claim sufficient commonality with others to form an invulnerable group identity. And, given a choice, would we want to?

What premises underpin the claim that ‘we’ are ‘women’ and ‘you’ are ‘men’ ?

Is the rise of individuation a threat to compassion, empathy and sharing? Or does recognition of each as individual remove the barriers that currently divide us as human beings?

As the French philosopher Michel Serres suggests in Hermès, what we have constructed as a coherent real could just as easily be understood to be ‘fluctuating tatters’ wherein ‘the state of things consists of islands sown in archipelagoes on the noisy, poorly understood disorder of the sea…’

Doesn’t our increasing transhumanism broaden our ability to simultaneously encounter, comprehend, experience such that it may become the gift of our time to leave behind the cold safety of categories, to swim freely in the fast-flowing burn of our digital social connectivity?

Perhaps at next year’s haggis someone will be brave and gifted enough to uphold the Lost Burns manuscript tradition with a gender-free rewrite of For a’ That and a’ That ?

And perhaps we might all find the confidence to raise a dram in toast.

 

 

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notes and sketches: on process

The workshop

[Session I]

“Okay, let’s all write that then”, he says

“We’ve got fifteen minutes”

Around the table heads bow, brows furrow, pens scratch

Her fat universes turn pondering

dark matter she must not betray

bright orbs whose heat she will not share

[Session II]

They read

With each testimony new galaxies storm into hers

fizzing spraying blasting spewing clattering

Now it’s her turn

She battens down her gaze

locks her ears to her inadequate voice

bleats her offering

They blink, nod, sniff

Did the earth move for you?

[Session III]

Her self is stripped

What’s left no longer fills her clothes

Men talk over the insect whine of her voice

In the street she avoids being trodden underfoot

[Session IV]

They sit round the table

stripping yesterday’s carcass

cleaving phrases

slicing sounds

They take her words

place them in their mouths

taste their shapes

And she is reconstituted:

swollen, bursting, grown

© Kyra Pollitt, 2015


Notes and sketches: thinking about connections

Having no one to play with on a warm May night…

Let the candles feel the air, wallow

in soft longing just overly

wrinkling into dreams and seeing

now

unearthed my feet

I’m so far off, upside round and dangling like

99 went by and one was left behind…

Catch my hand, catch my skirts,

gather me all in,

wind me, entwine me…

Take me down, and soon

to follow

the blindly braven

braying fortunes in newly-houred streets, playing

keepy-uppy with the moon

Copyright @ 2015 Kyra Pollitt


Found poem #1

Nana has been feeling guilty for not posting any thoughts here in some time.

In her defence she has lately been occupied compiling and submitting a doctoral thesis.

Since her energies are currently directed towards preparing for the viva examination, she hopes you will accept this small token of her continuing devotion.

Perhaps you might even play along?

Here are the rules:

Create a poem from snatches of talk overheard during any journey. Your poem must record the utterances in the order in which you heard them and you may not edit or otherwise alter them. Record when and where you found your poem, the distance you covered when capturing it, and the number of speakers who created it. It would be lovely if you then posted your poem here.

Bonne chance!

Found poem #1

(3 speakers, 200 yards on foot, Corn Street, Bristol, 20.3.2014)

You’ve got to get up

Get down

Jump up

And put it on the shelf

 

By the way, if you are interested in poetry you would most certainly enjoy the Scottish Poetry Library’s website  and if you are also in Bristol the fabulous Poetry Can is about to unleash the Bristol Spring Poetry Festival (17–19 April 2014). If you’re a fan of walking, perhaps you might try sideways walking and other altwalking adventures, with guidance from mythogeography.


Nana went to Latitude

After months of spreadsheets filled with quotations and bibliographic work, I dispatched the upgrade report to the examiners, whizzed off one or two proposals and made it to Latitude Festival. Now the summer feels like it’s finally arrived and Nana is back.

2012: The Summer of Promise. At least that was the view from under Henham Park’s expansive early skies as, brew in hand, I frolicked in the maze of mental stimulus gathered from each festival day in much the same way the famous coloured sheep constantly moved around the frame of their pen (and still there were so many things I didn’t do or see!)

Interpreting First Aid Kit on the Obelisk stage was a genuine pleasure as well as a privilege. Scott (the manager) was helpful and efficient, Johanna and Klara both friendly and playful and their profound lyrical narratives were perfect for exploring some ideas around sign creativity gleaned from my PhD work with the best of the British Sign Language poets – Paul Scott, Richard Carter, John Wilson and Donna Williams. I was really pleased with the results: @deafjesus tweeted that First Aid Kit were “immense, cool dudes” and First Aid Kit tweeted “How awesome was our sign-language lady? New band member?”

*Proud* Obviously I’ll be in the queue for flight tickets to Stockholm as soon as that paperwork comes through…..

It was interesting, though, to make this connection with performance, song lyrics, and sign poetry. And like all good memes, it replicated. Simon Armitage riffed on the relationship between writing poetry and writing lyrics in response to a question from the floor (in a discussion chaired by Stuart Maconie), Benjamin Zephaniah warned of the consequences of taking the comparison too far, Scroobius Pip re-formed it via a full-length piece, and Don’t Flop played it out gangster-stylee.

I’ll be moving my coloured sheep around on this one for a while…..

Image

In the meantime, here’s my Latitude gratitude for 2012:

Thanks to Carole and Rob for their constant generosity (and great to meet their Jamie this time). Thanks of course to Caz for being the Slash to my Lemmy, and for rocking the Alabama Shakes set, and to Emma for bringing her cool brand of elegant, witty control (and the zombie apocalypse action plan) to the terp team. Thanks to Deaf Jesus and all his disciples. Thanks to First Aid Kit and Scott, and all the backstage crews for being so lovely, professional and accommodating and for remembering us. Thanks to Alabama Shakes not only because they smashed it, but because Brittany and Heath were so lovely to hang with for that little while. Thanks to Simon Armitage for his flattering recall. Thanks to the silent but eloquently lined member of Paul Weller’s entourage for the beautiful, impromptu blue paper camellia. Thanks to Mark Lamarr for the best booty-shaking, bone-rattling, skip-to-my-lou of the year and to the unknown DJ on the Lake Stage who chilled it all down with a vintage cut of ‘Bare Neccessities’. A huge fashion thanks to Ottilie and Clover for the baby blue recycled cashmere Amish bear bonnet (I love you ladies). Thanks to Oxfam for this year’s funky wardrobe addition. Thanks to the hugely talented and indefatigable Amy of Keep and Share. Thanks to all the performers and creatives whose work I so enjoyed. Thanks to John, the lovely dad-next-door whose solid wall of family shielded me from the frankly terrifying beyond (I hope you got your coffee). Thanks to Lovely Mirror Lady (I still don’t know your name) for her fine vibe and for remembering the bunting – until next time. Thanks to Frosty, obviously, and all of Festival Republic for their smooth operating. Ditto all the campsite angels and especially the brave, stoic and efficient toilet cleaning crew.

Thanks to my beautiful son for being cool enough to not mind hanging out with his mother every now and again, and for his bars.

Thank you L…A…T…I…T…U….D…E !

I hope you’ll invite me back.

Right then, back to the real world and that conference presentation that needs preparing….Image


#People of the Eye

In 1910 George Veditz*, addressing the Ninth Convention of the American National Association of the Deaf and the Third World Congress of the Deaf, described sign language people as “people of the eye”. He knew a thing or two. Despite 21st Century discourses, for most contemporary sign language people this remains a more precise description than any that involve lack, loss, disability or the practices of medicine.

Visual artists are also ‘people of the eye’. Although they are not defined by a biological imperative (nor subject to medical interference), they nonetheless tend to be people who think, process and conceptualise the world visually.

What better name, then, for the loose collective of sign poets and visual artists I have been gathering together since my last blog post. (Did you miss me? Go on, say you did.)

The People of The Eye so far consist of four esteemed sign poets: John Wilson, Donna Williams, Paul Scott and Richard Carter and a growing number of visual artists working in various media (including sound). Those engaged so far are listed below, each charged with creating a visual response to one of the poems created and selected by the poets. Their response may be to content, form or any other aspect.

We will be communicating across an internet platform; discussing, questioning and creating and are hoping to collectively blog to the wider artworld.

It’s been a lot of work putting it together, but everyone has responded so enthusiastically to the idea that it has also been a great honour.

We’re all very excited about what might emerge, and the mutual understandings these two tribes of visual peoples might find. We’ll keep you posted.

The work of the poets can be seen at:- http://www.bris.ac.uk/education/research/sites/micsl/poem-repository/

So far the artists are:-

Trina Bohan-Tyrie:  www.trinagallery.com (website launching soon)

Jackie Calderwood: www.jackiecalderwood.com

Howard Hardiman: www.howardhardiman.com

Eliza Kesuma: www.moodymonday.co.uk

Tamarin Norwood: www.tamarinnorwood.co.uk

Kyra Pollitt: www.kyrapollitt.com (website launching soon)

Bob Quinn: www.bobquinn.ie

The Rutterfords (Chris and Fiona): www.chrisrutterford.com

Melanie Sangwine: www.sangwine.co.uk

Mairi Taylor: www.mairitaylor.co.uk

Fliss Watts: www.watermellon.co.uk

Tom White: www.tomwhitesound.com

 

*President of the National Association of the Deaf in the U.S. (1861- 1937)


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