One of the lovely things about living through a pandemic is being able to participate in poetry courses and workshops you wouldn’t otherwise get to, because they’re in That London and you’re not. The Poetry School provided me with two great courses. The first — Fighting the Tyrant — ran from June to September, with six fortnightly assignments from US poet Leah Umansky. It was a very special experience, heightened I think by the lockdown. We read poems by Tracy K. Smith, Dante di Stefano, Nathan McClain, Patricia Smith, Cynthia Manick and many more. One of my favourites was this one from Marie Howe about Mary Magdalene, so long a heroine of mine. We wrote about all kinds of tyrants, political and personal; there were poems about Brexit and Trump and about experiences of domestic violence.
I’d signed up for the course to find a way to write about politics, but it released a whole range of new material, and new ways of thinking about myself in relation to the world, in relation to history. If you have time, watch this wonderful reading by Sarah Kay of Laura Lamb Brown Lavoie’s poem, ‘On This the 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic, We Reconsider the Buoyancy of the Human Heart’.
Alternatively, you can read it here. If you don’t have time for either – really? – I’ll just share this quote: ‘There are enough ballrooms in you to dance with everyone you’ll ever love.’
The second course was a day workshop with Chrissy Williams, on Hallowe’en: ‘GRRR, ARRGH: Poems inspired by Buffy The Vampire Slayer’. If you love Buffy, you’ll understand. If you don’t, I probably can’t explain. I’d signed up thinking it would be a light-hearted day, perhaps writing about Spike, and it was, partly: we re-wrote Emily Dickinson’s ‘Hope is the thing with feathers‘, discovering a Californian idiom and releasing the Cordelia inside each of us. But we also wrote spells, thought about monsters, and tackled themes like feminism, mortality and sacrifice. It was a brilliant day. Chrissy may be running more pop-culture poetry workshops next year. Highly recommended.
And now I come to think of it, Buffy is a lot about fighting tyrants too.
And a book! I’m thrilled to announce that I’m one of the authors of the upcoming On This Day She, an offshoot of the Twitter account I run with Tania Hershman and Jo Bell. It contains 366 stories—one for every day— about women from history, from all across the globe, all time periods, all fields of interest, all walks of life. Some of the women you’ll have heard of, many, we suspect, will be new to you. We’re so excited to make these stories better known and to do our bit to put women back into history, one day at a time.
For the first time in a long while, there’s starting to be some good news in the wider world – Biden/Harris winning in the US; the possibility of a Covid-vaccine soon; the fact that Boris Johnson must be having a really horrible time with the Brexit mess he helped create. We might allow ourselves a bit more hope. Meanwhile, we continue to live each day: making things, getting outside, caring for and keeping in touch with those we love. Real change is still a way off. Hold fast. We can do this. And don’t forget: There are enough ballrooms in you.