Beheading the Archbishop of Banterbury with the righteous sword of shouty, poetic activism

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Bantee Returns

It's been a while since I've updated this blog. I intended to write a summary of my Edinburgh experiences, but in the event when I returned from Edinburgh I had other things on my mind pretty much immediately - some good (preparing for the Public Address tour) and some not so good but frankly necessary (acknowledging and dealing with some past trauma, which I now see has been one of the main themes of my new writing this year). So reviewing the experience kind of had to take a back seat. If you want a quick capsule review? Like everyone who takes a show to the Fringe the first time, I thought I was ready, and it became obvious very quickly that I wasn't. The experience was gruelling physically, mentally and emotionally and when I came back from Edinburgh if there was one thing I was convinced of it was that I would never do this fucking show again.

So why, then, did I decide to reprise the show one last time, in Brixton, this November?

Picture taken from the above review by Kate Corry
Partly because Dave Pickering asked me to. Dave had always been a big supporter of Howl of the Bantee, especially given that it tied in with many of the themes of his own show, What about the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity. Dave in  particular felt that the small audiences Howl... had been getting - due to a combination of an out-of-the-way venue, bad flyer design on my part, incompetent flyering (again on my part), and me being a comparative unknown in the Fringe spoken word landscape - were an unfair reflection on the quality of the show, and so he contacted me shortly after the Fringe with a proposal that we should do our shows as a double-header at Dogstar Brixton. During the Fringe run itself I had in fact turned down a similar proposal to reprise the show from York-based punk poet Henry Raby, but what attracted me to Dave's offer was that the suggested date, in November, was months away from the Fringe. By the midway point of my August run I was thoroughly fed up with the show and frankly impatient to see the back of it: I felt that maybe by November, particularly with having spent over a month working on and touring a very different piece, I might be able to muster some enthusiasm for Howl... again. In the event I was right, but not for any reason I could have anticipated.

The nineteenth of November was picked purely because it was the next available date Dogstar had open, but in terms of timing it worked for both our shows: being International Men's Day it was a perfect fit for Dave, and being a day before the Trans Day of Remembrance it was also a good fit for a show which, especially as it had evolved during the Fringe, dealt particularly with the idea of banter having a bodycount through the lens of the way transphobic jokes and attitudes legitimise the murder of trans people. I was keen to flag this up in the show: indeed, one of the biggest changes I made to my script for the Brixton performance was the inclusion of a poem I had written for a TDOR event in Teesside, because I wanted to contrast my own trangsty fears from poems of five years ago like The Bathroom Thing with the more direct suffering of less privileged trans women, particularly trans women of colour, throughout the world. But this wasn't the biggest thing that would affect the performance.

Half an hour before the doors opened for the night, the news broke, via Twitter, about trans woman Vicky Thompson's death in a men's prison in the UK. I couldn't not include this in the performance. Here was a trans woman dead, in the UK, on the eve of TDOR, thanks to the Ministry of Justice's draconian insistence on prisoners needing a Gender Recognition Certificate before housing them in the correct part of the prison estate. The same policy which saw Tara Hudson sexually harassed by male inmates before she was moved to a women's prison after a massive activist campaign had now resulted in a woman's death. I was angry, I was upset, I was heartbroken. My Edinburgh run had coincided with a period during which we seemed to hear news of another trans woman being murdered every day, and now it was happening again. And to be honest, I've thought about this and, while I know it's most likely Thompson's death was suicide, it's a suicide in which the MoJ, and particularly the Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, are culpable, and while that may not technically count as murder in a court of law it seems that way to me.

So I amended the show yet again. I kept the TDOR poem but skipped large parts of it, at some points reciting only the names, to leave room to climax with Letter to a Minnesota Prison, followed by an angry speech in which I implored the audience to sign the petition demanding Selous' resignation and a downbeat ending with The secrets, almost silent, that we sang. And then I got off stage, hugged some friends and got drunk with them because I bloody well needed to.

I'm resisting the idea of comparing this gig to my Edinburgh run because it seems kind of hollow, given the circumstances, to do so. In a strange way I do feel vindicated, because on every objective measure - bucket take, audience numbers - the London reprise of Howl... did much better than its Edinburgh iteration. But what's more important, I think, is that having a larger audience meant I was able to get the message across to more people. The number of people who signed and shared the petition is something I'm particularly proud to have helped with, and I'm extremely thankful to Holly Brockwell for republishing my TDOR poem on Gadgette to help with that.

Ultimately, doing Howl... was about making people aware that banter has a bodycount and getting them to do something about it. In Edinburgh, it didn't reach enough people to do that effectively. In London, maybe, it did. I'm happy with that.

Will I reprise the show again? Maybe. One of the things that has came out of both the London and Edinburgh performances of the show is that while Newcastle audiences have seen me do these poems time and again and have, therefore, had as good an education as I can give them about trans issues, other audiences haven't, and while I may think there's a 100% overlap between the Venn circles of Awesome Queer and Trans People and Spoken Word Audiences because it's true in my case, that very much isn't true in general. Sadly, as much as I wish it wasn't, this is news to a lot of the audiences I perform to. There's a need for it. And while I know it can't be the only thing I do - not least because the activist burnout of spending your nights decrying transphobia in rooms full of cis people and waking up to find yet another example of trans people being shat on the minute you check Twitter is brutal - I think it may be one of the things I have to do. And if I have to do it, then I guess I have to do it.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Amber. Ashton. Kandis.

Amber Monroe was murdered this week. She was twenty. She was twenty fucking years old. 

Ashton O'Hara was also murdered this week. Ashton was a little older: 25.

Now there are reports of a third trans person murdered this week: Kandis Capri.  No word, as yet, on her age. I wouldn't want to bet she was older than thirty, though.

You wanna know why I'm doing this damn show? Because three trans people have been murdered in the US this week and every time you tell a joke which relies on 'but it turned out to be a tra**y!' as your punchline YOU LEGITIMISE THAT. Every time you tell a joke about how nasty and disgusting sex workers are YOU LEGITIMISE THEIR MISTREATMENT. Every time you treat rape like it's a fucking laughing matter YOU LEGITIMISE IT, and you leave the rapists in the room - and statistically there WILL be rapists in the room - chuckling in reassurance that it's just a bit of fun really.
And I can't stop ANY OF THAT. I can't stop the rapes, or the harassment, or the murders, and I can't even stop you yukking it up at your shit jokes about them. But I can tell you, as loudly and as angrily as I fucking can, that THAT SHIT IS NOT OKAY. That it ISN'T 'just bantz'. That it has fucking consequences. That it has a body count. That it leaves blood on your hands.

That's it. It's not enough. But that's it.

Amber Monroe.
Ashton O'Hara.
Kandis Capri.

Say their names.
And have a think about what was likely the last word they heard before they died.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Ready for Edinburgh?


Howl had its first - and indeed only - full preview a week ago today at No Sleep 'Til Scotland, a day-long extravaganza of spoken word which also featured new stuff from Henry Raby, David Lee Morgan, Agnes Torok, Hannah Chutzpah, Matt McDonald, and Sophia Walker but mainly, for our purposes, gave me a chance to find out that this show does not suck. Those of you familiar with my creative process will be aware that I am never entirely convinced that anything I do doesn't suck until I actually do it, so you will know this is A Good Thing. Indeed, this is an excellent thing, as one of the first things I said at the first Scratch Club I went to way back when was that I wanted to develop an hour-long show with a strong through-line and tonal variety and this, people, is that show. I did it. I got there. Allow me, introverted self-deprecator that I habitually am, a little time and space to gloat.

You can find the show's listing on Broadway Baby, on the PBH Free Fringe website, and on The List's Edinburgh festival listings, where it appears next to an advert for The Ladyboys of Bangkok in an ironic juxtaposition of two very different modes of trans performance. It also appears in the PBH Free Fringe Big Blue Book. Oh yeah.

Shit just got real, baby.

And yes, I am straddling a chair like a dominatrix in an Eric Stanton cartoon in the above picture and yes, it is part of the show. Which bit? How? Why? Well, you're just going to have to come and see it to find out, aren't you...

Monday, 15 June 2015

Show Update

Anyone reading the Clarkson poem I posted last week will be aware that I have, until recently, had some concerns about how the show hangs together. I say 'until recently' because, after a mammoth, coffee-fuelled efiting session on Saturday morning, those problems have been licked. Links have been rewritten, in some cases new links were added (particularly to handle the tricky transition between the Clarkson poem and the anti-EDL number '25/5/13', which now forms part of an attack on UKIP), and one poem has been swapped out completely in favour of another. It's a stronger-sounding show: it all seems to hang together quite well now.

Perhaps as a result of this, I've also overcame a psychological block which has been affecting my work on the show. Increasingly disenchanted by the idea of performing a show in which I portray a strident, shouting feminist revenant, and interested more in the idea of portraying vulnerability rather than strength, I had retreated into writing a sequence of poems about masochism, and tinkering with the idea of creating a show based on them. This will probably be next year's show: there certainly isn't time to get it ready for this year.  But spending so much time and effort on a totally different show when I should have been getting Howl ready was a distraction. Fortunately, now this year's show actually does seem stronger, I find myself more excited about pulling on my Shouty Poetry Amazon outfit and getting in Banter Culture's face.

All of which has happened not a moment too soon, as well, as poet, illustrator and editor of the new online poetry mag The Fat Damsel, Jane Burn, recently completed designing the awesome, EC Comics-style flyer for the show. Ace, isn't it?

Now, come on...with a flyer that good, I kind of have to do the show now, don't I?

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Friendzon'd Pen

The Pen is friendzoned for the Muse:
the Pen, the Paper, always there,
unflashy and unflagging tools,
were with you on the fateful date
when you first set your sights on her,

and tried a dozen times to write
pretentious rhymes about the light
you saw reflected in her eyes.
The Pen's nib rolls; the Paper sighs
to see you off like this again.

Have they not always been your friends?
They've seen what happens: you get hurt
and channel that into your verse,
constructing pretty hate machines
of adolescent rhyming schemes.

Toying with smoking once again,
your lips will close around your pen,
an oral side-hug: it wants more,
but you have both been here before.
It knows, too soon, you'll put it down

to chase another Muse around,
so, penfully, it bears its pain:
this happened once, and will again.
Only Paper knows the truth:
this process only is the Muse.

Andrew Marvell is sick of girls like you not putting out for a Nice Guy like him

I could've just as easily put this on Wrestling Emily,  but I find the word 'friendzone' as annoying as 'banter' so I figured I'd put it on here. I've tried to write it in (my approximation of) a swaggering, Metaphysical Poets style, because I can see those guys being exactly the kind of pricks who'd complain about being 'friendzoned'. 'Had we but world enough and time...'? Yeah, you'd still be a creepy perv, mate.

Saturday, 6 June 2015


It's the freedom of speech
of parents slagging off teachers,
the freedom of speech
of homophobic street preachers,
rich white men who call disabled people leeches, 
making me ask
just who the fuck is free speech for?
Because it seems like it's free speech
to say 'slope' and 'pikey',
but if I say 'kill all men'
I'm not behaving very nicely?
It seems like it's free speech
to support the Paris satirists, 
because freedom of speech
must mean the right to be offensive,
but it isn't free speech
if somebody burns a poppy,
because that's an act of sacrilege, 
an insult to the squaddies?
We've got a PM who's so venal
that he's even worse than Blair,
a Chief Judge who's a racist
and a Voltaire-quoting Mayor
who once asked one of his posh-boy mates
to beat a journo up,
but Jeremy's a Free Speech Hero,
and the blow he struck
should be a shot heard 'round the world
- so says some guy called Guido, 
who doesn't care that Thatcher's cabinet
was full of
men of questionable character, 
but wants to march to Parliament
and bravely take a stand
for the right of millionaires to punch their fellow man!
Because what does it matter if a coworker gets twatted
because a spoiled old sports car bore is absolutely ratted?
The principle's the thing, you see,
the principle is this:
any man who's white and cis and adequately rich
should NEVER face the consequence
of what they do when pissed!
That's why girls who wind up raped
by soccer stars are 'asking for it',
that's why women who say we've been victimised are 'basking in it',
that's why men on stag nights gas
that every lass is 'gaggin for it',
that's why sports presenters
chuckle about 'smashing it in',
this is not about one punch,
this is about the PATRIARCHY:
rule by rich old white cis men
who get away with murder
by distracting you with pictures
of a woman in a burqa
or a miniskirt, or anything
a camera lens can police,
because a woman's clothes
are evidently not protected speech
when what we wear can be the difference
of conviction and acquittal
on the basis that rape's fated
if we're wearing very little, 
and if we've been drinking - baby,
what did you let yourself in for?
You can't claim you've not consented
now we know you had a skinful!

Listen: do the maths, my love,
you'll find it's really simple:
woman PLUS drink MINUS clothes, 
you deserved it;
man PLUS money PLUS white
EQUALS impervious.

Look at his FUCKING FACE

My show's non-poem text mentions the Clarkson furore and the ensuing petition as a key example of Banter Culture, and then goes straight into a poem about...the EDL. Now, while I'm pretty sure the Venn diagram between Jeremy Clarkson fans and neo-fascists is as close to one circle as you can possibly get, it seemed to me that I probably needed to write a poem that would serve as a segue and - so far, I still think it needs a few shades of shit kicked out of it in the editing stage - this is it. I'm not entirely happy with it yet, but I think this is partly because my current approach to writing poetry leans more towards the kind of dark, taut stuff I've recently been writing for my non-show blog rather than the kind of prophetic ranting that makes up Howl of the Bantee. So to achieve that tone I need to do a certain amount of writing myself into it - I think this really hits its stride when I stop talking about Clarkson per se and actually go off on one about rape culture. I'm actually really pleased with everything from the sixth stanza onward, but less sure about the rhetorical gymnastics it takes to get there. And, of course, I'm not really any further forward in how we get from this to the EDL...

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Banterwatch update - PC who called threats to kill protestors 'banter' jailed for assault

Andrew Ott, the police officer who joked about killing protestors, gouging their eyes out and 'clouting' them 'to get a bit of justice back' - and claimed that all the above was 'just banter' - has been jailed for eight months, ITV news reports.

Apparently he sobbed in court as the sentence was read out. Typical bantzman.