Say It Back: Poetry Salon

I’ve been writing poetry now for years but have never shared it with anyone, other than entering a few competitions here and there. My friend Julia shared the Say It Back: Poetry Salon event with me and I thought it sounded like something I’d enjoy alot so we attended the event together last Wednesday. I didn’t really know what to expect as I’ve never been to a poetry night before. There were a few confirmed poets listed on the event and there would be an open mic session after.

I followed their social media accounts before the night and learnt that it was a monthly poetry salon, hosted by Affly and Eliza. Their aim being to “build a community of creative writers, creative speakers, and tuned listeners” (as stated on the event page) and it was exactly that.

It was such an inspiring night with poets who performed their work ranging from different topics from love to survival to growth to mental health and much more. Each poet had their own unique way of delivering their poetry. It was such a comfortable and relaxed setting as people read off their phone notes, from their notebooks and from memory so there was no pressure to remember all your poetry off by heart.

 

I was amazed at the talent and never realised how this type of platform allowed people to share their poetry in front of a crowd who were encouraging, respectful and appreciated all the different stories that were told.

One of my favourite’s was Lyds whose poems brought both joy and heartbreak. Another favourite was Toby who rapped his poetry which was a completely different style but gave me chills. The weight of the rhythm and words were placed so well that the emphasis on certain parts left you feeling dumbfounded. It was truly a groundbreaking moment for me to experience so many great poets who I wouldn’t have known prior to this event and it showed me how so much talent goes unnoticed.

After the confirmed poets had performed there was an open mic session which also showcased a number of people from the audience who performed their own work. I had a wave of confidence and decided to put my name forward for the open mic session. This was very out of character for me and I surprised myself, but I think it really does show how comfortable the environment was and how well Affly and Eliza hosted the event.

 

I ended up performing a poem called Rise, that I had written months ago and it was a big moment for me. I’m so glad my friend Julia was there for moral support (and filming my first ever performance haha). As much as it was nerve-racking I really did feel in my element up there and the response I received was honestly more than I could’ve hoped for. I’m definitely going to be attending more events like these in the future and recommend you go too if only for the experience.

Post-Grad Blues

It’s nearly been a whole year since I graduated and I can’t quite believe it. This time last year I was sitting my final exams and counting down the days till my final year at university would officially end. I was lucky enough to get a week’s work experience the month after graduating at The Telegraph and had an article published which was one of my proudest moments. During that week I also attended an interview for a company who were offering a paid 3 month internship which I managed to secure. I was really lucky in the position I was in as I’d have a couple months to actually enjoy summer and meet friends without having to worry too much about adulthood.

My internship did come with uncertainty as it wasn’t a guaranteed job, so throughout those first three months I ended up feeling less than secure. I worked really hard and threw myself in my work as much as I could. My internship got extended by another 3 months, and although this was good news it still left me in limbo as I hadn’t secured a permanent position. I accepted the additional three months and soon began to realise it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do long-term. I enjoyed the majority of the work but it wasn’t giving me the rush and excitement I wanted. Nearing the end of the extended 3 months I decided that I needed to find something that involved writing and editing, which is what I enjoyed most, so I declined another extension proposed and left the company.

The hard part began when I started to apply to jobs in February/March and realised it was extremely difficult to get into the industry I wanted with limited experience. I managed to secure myself two week’s work experience at a publishing firm in April which allowed me to gain editorial/copywriting skills. It was a great experience yet again and really has helped me get a foot in the door.

However, I did gradually become more frustrated as I’d only had work experience or internships, never something permanent. I dedicated every morning to applying for jobs and then would spend the rest of my day watching Netflix or reading. I’m still currently stuck in the cycle of applying for jobs and then waiting for responses – and in some cases not even getting a rejection email, some companies would not even bother to respond. That was one of the worst types of rejection because the amount of time and effort you put into each application and to then not even get a reply is just demotivating.

There’s been no routine for me since finishing my work experience at the publishing firm – and I found out I really do need a routine. I’ve felt these post-grad blues even more so now as I’ve gone from jumping into work life straight after uni, to having nothing and being unemployed. I feel like I’ve done everything backwards. Post-grad blues can happen at any time in the year after graduating. I know many of my friends felt it in the couple months straight after graduating as they begun the job search process. I however didn’t feel the full effect of post-grad blues until now (about 10 months after graduating) and I think that was because I was ‘lucky’ enough to get swept into the work life straight after university.

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It’s easy to feel lonely as my friends are scattered all over the UK. So from having lived with (and down the road from) them at university to being hours apart wasn’t ideal. Moving back home is also a massive change as you’ve gone from living with your friends and learning to be independent for years to returing back to the life before uni. It’s a weird feeling as you’ve had so many new experiences at uni since then and learnt so much independently, but now you’re back at home and have to live differently again. Equally, my friends who have had to move out of their family home have different experiences of adjustment as they’re experiencing living alone, or in a flat share with strangers.

Although I don’t see my uni friends as much as I’d like, we still make the effort to meet up and catch up on each other’s lives which I’m grateful for, because managing friendships after uni is always difficult. It requires effort and I’m really glad that we’re all still close. Although learning and experiencing different stages of adulthood at the same time sometimes makes you inclined to compare yourself to your friends, it can also help to know you’re not the only one in a particular situation.

Comparison is a weighty factor to post-grad blues as you’ll see your friends or even people on social media go down their own paths, when your own path seems to be stunted and your goals to be unreachable. It’s inevitable that people will be at different stages of adulthood so it’s easy to compare yourself to them and berate yourself because you’re not at their stage. It’s easier to say than to actually believe, BUT it’s important to remember that everyone is trying to work out adulthood and is dealing with their own problems or struggles that they may not air publicly. I’m so proud of all my friends and their accomplishments so far, it’s really exciting to see what paths we all go down and where we end up. Although I feel lonely sometimes I’m really lucky to have surrounded myself with people who are constantly supportive.

I’m still stuck in a little bit of a rut. Quite honestly l will get into a slump and become extremely demotivated if I don’t try to fill the empty days of waiting for job responses. I do experience a lot of down days and feel sorry for myself at times (self-pity at its finest) but keep reminding myself that I’ll (hopefully) find something soon. So I’ve decided to dedicate my time to my blog as I enjoy writing, reading loads of books (I’ve managed to get my reading mojo back after my English Lit degree haha), I’m learning how to drive and looking into part-time jobs that can keep me busy and allow me to earn some money in the meantime.

I think the most important thing to do when experiencing these post-grad blues is to take care of your mental and physical health, find something you enjoy that will distract you, make your days full but also give yourself that time to feel a bit crap and sad. Just as long as you try and get motivated again. It is a constant struggle between being demotivated from job rejections, financial worries, living arrangements, managing social life, relationships, being homesick (the list goes on) and trying to motivate yourself to keep at it – something I’m still learning how to manage.

Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton

I bought Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love last week and couldn’t put it down. I didn’t know a huge amount about Dolly Alderton prior to reading her memoir and didn’t know she had podcasts either (which I most definitely will give a listen).

It’s one of those books that pull you in from the start, but that also meant I wanted to savour every story and not read it all in one go. It’s exciting, witty, laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking. I found it so relatable which meant it brought a sense of comfort when reading. It’s always nice to feel like you’re not the only one who feels a certain way or has had a certain type of experience.

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The structure of the book allows pauses between each of Alderton’s personal stories as she included recipes for different situations (my personal favourite being ‘The Apple Pizza with Can’t Be Arsed Ice Cream”), lists (ranging from “Things I’m Afraid Of” to “The Most Annoying Things People Say”) and letters to and from friends.

It’s a book about growing up, trying to discover who you are and what you want to be but also being okay with the fact things may not go your way. The way Alderton writes about friendship is truly the shining moment for me in this memoir, particularly how she presents her relationship with Farly. The relationship between Alderton and her four female friends, Farly, Lauren, Belle, AJ was also notable. I loved Alderton’s small anecdotes about their lives but I specifically enjoyed the way she showed how throughout all of the experiences with boys, her friends remained the one constant.

Alderton rounded off the book incredibly. The two chapters, “Enough” and “Homecoming” are written gracefully, with purpose and epitomised the feeling of self-worth.

I’ve already recommended the book to a number of friends as it’s such a real, relatable and refreshing book!

What I’ve been reading

Since I finished my English Literature degree last summer, I felt the sweet release of not having to read a book because I had to. Although I love reading and chose a degree where we had to read around 4 texts a week, it became frustrating as I never had time to read for pleasure. Since graduating I felt a little out of touch with reading but I’ve finally started to pick it back up again. I’ve recently read two books that have left an impact on me and so I thought I’d share them both here.

I picked up When Breath Becomes Air – a non-fiction, autobiographical book written by Paul Kalanithi. It was posthumously published and is a memoir of his life. This is typically not a book I would pick up as I’ve always preferred fiction, however I’m glad I did.

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It follows the story of Paul Kalanithi who has been training as a neurosurgeon but is suddenly diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. The book chronicles the transformation of Kalanithi from doctor to patient. He writes in a simple, matter-of-fact way which grips the reader right from the start. There’s no doubt this is a hard read. You become aware that the book is written by an author who knows know he’ll die by the time the book has been published. However this only created a sense of urgency and rawness in the book which keeps you emotionally engaged throughout.

The story is about Paul Kalanithi coping with an illness that is incurable and that he knows will end his life. Although extremely devastating, he chooses to strive rather than choose to avoid the suffering and writes, “Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living” (p. 150). The quote reflects the acceptance of his situation and his determination to leave a legacy through this book and through his daughter, Cady.

The book is split into two parts, the first being about his life as a medical student, going into great detail about tiresome and intense 14 hour shifts, and the quick decisions doctors have to make about other people’s lives. Part two is about his life post-diagnosis, where the motif of identity is prominent. He poses difficult questions and discussions about losing his identity during his illness. In a period of time that seems disorienting and dislocating to Kalanithi, he ultimately turns to literature to try and recover a part of his identity. Having studied English Literature you can see in his writing the love he has for it, as he scatters references to poets and writers as well as sometimes writing in prose. What develops is an interesting relationship between medicine and literature which I never really thought about before this book.

The epilogue written by his wife, Lucy Kalanithi is heartbreaking and so beautifully written. When I finished reading the book I was in tears and I know it’s a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Another book I recently read was Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. It was one of his early works as it was first published in 1987. It’s set in the 60s in Tokyo and is a nostalgic story of loss and exploration of sexuality.

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It begins with a successful, 37-year-old businessman, Toru Watanabe, who hears the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, and the music transports him back 18 years to his college days. Watanabe, his best friend Kizuki and Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko are best friends but Kizuki unexpectedly commits suicide. Watanabe begins to feel the influence of death everywhere, while Naoko feels like an integral part of her has been lost. The two of them begin to spend more and more time together and from there, the story takes you on a heartbreaking, painful and emotional journey. It’s written in the first person narrative and sheds light on how people hide and deny death as it follows Toru Watanabe who is ignorant of the sequence of deaths and suicides that have left him trapped.

As well as tackling grief, Murakami is well known for exploring different aspects of human relationships which becomes prominent in this novel. The characters are forced to learn the hard way that emotional dependence is not love. Some of the other main themes include brokenness, mental illness and physical illness. Although the female characters seem to be portrayed as stereotypical and the most “broken”, it’s important to keep in mind the novel is written from a male’s perspective who is encountering his own experiences and feelings towards death. Although he isn’t outwardly depicted as “broken” the first person narrative gives insight into his complex relationship with life.

Similarly to “When Breath Becomes Air”, “Norwegian Wood” is a hard-hitting, raw and evocative book, yet is set in very different time and place. Both novels however show just how important exploring the relationship with death, loss and grief really is.

I recommend them both as I can honestly say they’ve left a mark. Both during and after each book, I took moments to reflect on the messages and meanings enclosed inside the story.

International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day! The campaign theme for this year is #BalanceforBetter – “A balanced world is a better world. How can you help forge a more gender-balanced world? Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” – International Women’s Day 2019

There are so many areas of life where action needs to be taken for equality. During my time at university I was lucky enough to be in a department that offered so many modules relating to feminism, female writers, transnational feminism literature and feminist theory. Studying some of these modules at the beginning of my degree inspired me to write my final year dissertation on feminism. I ended up choosing to explore feminist theory and in relation to Sylvia Plath’s (female, American poet, novelist, and short-story writer) poetry.

I learnt about the beginning of feminism that rose from the battle between conservative and radical political thought in the 19th century, to feminisms in the present day. I read vast amounts of criticism from theorists, in relation to female writers, female rights & history. The most notable collection I read was Sylvia Plath’s Letters written from 1940 as part of my dissertation (as well as her other diary entries where she spoke about feminist issues) because I could witness how relevant the issues she documented are to the present day.

I’ve also more recently written a review on Mary Beard’s Women & Power which I read last year. It is an extremely powerful book which further documents how history has treated powerful women. The examples she uses range from the classical world to the modern day, from Athena to Hillary Clinton. She explores the cultural underpinnings of misogyny, considering the public voice of women and our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship with power.

In celebration of International Women’s Day I thought I should share a few things I’ve read and listened to recently that have made me feel empowered, inspired and eager to act.

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies) – Scarlett Curtis

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Scarlett Curtis has curated a wonderful, inspiring and powerful collection of essays written by women from all groups about what feminism means to them. All royalties go to Girl Up, an initiative hosted by the United Nations Foundation.

It’s divided roughly into 6 sections; Epiphany, Anger, Joy, Poetry Break, Action and Education and includes stories from a number of celebrities, activists and all-round great women. It’s made clear from the beginning that this book is a collection of personal stories that these women want to share because in this time and age, the most important thing we need is for people to talk publicly about feminism – rather than shy away from it.

Keira Knightley’s story is one of my personal favourites. Titled, “The Weaker Sex”, she explains in graphic detail her childbirth experience. She rails against the pressure on women to look perfect in the aftermath, discusses the sexist double standard applied to male and female actors who are parents and ultimately tells the brutal truth of women’s birth experience, that usually gets hidden.

Each woman shares her personal experience and relationship with feminism which is comforting to the reader. We all want to feel like our stories matter and shouldn’t be silenced just because it’s “easier” not to discuss things that make the patriarchy feel uncomfortable. These stories are emotional, funny, hard-hitting and real.

(There’s also a Feminists Don’t Wear Pink podcast which I also highly recommend).

The Guilty Feminist – Deborah Frances-White

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I’ve only just started listening to this podcast (after catching up with all the episodes in Jessie Ware’s Table Manners podcast with her mum – 10/10 recommend) so haven’t got a full feel for the series yet. However, many of my friends have listened to it for a while and constantly recommend it.

The podcast is hosted by Deborah Frances-White in front of a live audience where there’s discussion of the big topics all 21st century feminists agree on, whilst “confessing the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that undermine our lofty principles.” I’m excited to listen to more of these on my commute to and from work as the episodes are about such different topics that include: “barriers and boundaries”, “crying”, “being bossy”, “female friendships”, “work-life balance”, “mental health” and so much more. What I like most is the ability to be able to choose from a range of topics that can empower you each day in a different way.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One – Amanda Lovelace

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This collection of poems explores love, loss, heartbreak, grief, healing and empowerment. It is broken down into four parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, and you. The first three sections tell the life of the author while the final section serves as a note to the reader and blends together fairy tales with real-life contemplation. It’s emotional, brutal, hard-hitting and the last section really helps inspire you and leaves you feeling empowered.

Some of my favourite poems from the collection:

“grow a beautiful garden from your aching and teach yourself how to thrive from it. write your story. – the sign you’ve been waiting for.”

“I am so glad
we were born 
during the same
lifetime.
– I may not believe in fate, but I believe in you.” 

“the princess locked herself away in the highest tower, hoping a knight in shining armour would come to her rescue. – i didn’t realise i could be my own knight.” 

Note – trigger warning as it deals with a range of emotional issues.

Berberian Sound Studio – Donmar Warehouse

I recently got my hands on Young + Free tickets (hack: sign up to the mailing list if you’re between 18-25 and you can win tickets to a number of plays) from the Donmar Warehouse to see the Berberian Sound Studio. Although I’m not seeing it till late March, I’ve read the synopsis of the film and the reviews also give me an inkling of the themes of the play. Here are some of the reviews that sum up what the play explores and tackles:

The man controls the woman’s voice’: why Berberian Sound Studio is horribly apt” – The Guardian.

It’s about failures of communication in power hierarchies and across gender and language.” – Tom Scutt, stage designer.

The real kicker with Joel Horwood’s adaptation is that it has something to say, too. The plot is essentially identical to the film’s. But where on screen Gilderoy’s discomfort at the brutal treatment of women involved in the movie merely feels like further disorientation for the hero, here it feels more pointed – a withering critique of men who mistreat women and justify it in the name of art.” – Time Out.

The villain of the piece is Santini (Luke Pasqualino), the film director who manipulates and terrorises those beneath him, especially women. “It feels like the right thing to be discussing at this political moment, how and why we make work, why we tell certain stories, what they represent and who gets to be in charge of them.” – Joel Horwood (playwright) in The Guardian.

I mean, look at this: these isolated booths where a man can control the faders on a woman’s voice. It’s exactly where we are in the world at the moment. This is a landscape where women’s voices are harvested and used by men but their actual opinions and feelings are of no interest.” –  Tom Scutt, director (speaking about the set).

I’m excited to see the play! Also – Luke Pasqualino is in it and I love him so that’s an added bonus. The play is running until 30th March 2019 so if it intrigues you there’s still tickets on sale.

Refinery 29’s Money Diaries

I’ve been working in the FinTech industry since graduation and have learnt a whole load about money that I didn’t know before. It’s truly remarkable how most people are never taught in school about finances, money, pensions, savings etc and furthermore how little is discussed about women and money.

I stumbled across Refinery 29’s Money Diaries series which tackles the taboo facing modern working women: money. They ask a cross-section of women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period – and tracking every last penny. This is a really interesting series as you can read about different women’s day-to-day relationship with money and finance. The posts range from women who are married, single, living with parents, students, have a high salary, are paid minimum wage, live in rural areas, live in big cities and so on. I never thought about my finances so much until I started reading these entries as they make you think about your day-to-day spending habits and how tracking your money can start to help you create a longer-term plan to manage your finances.

I started reading the UK version as it seemed more relatable but have recently also checked out the US Money Diaries which is actually equally engaging. It’s interesting to see how UK spending differs from US spending and people’s day-to-day relationship with money.

Let me know if you’ve read/listened to/watched any of the things mentioned above or if you have any other recommendations!

To finally wrap up this post I’ll leave you with this great article by Stylist that outlines ways you can support feminist activism from donating to educating yourself, to having open conversations to assessing how you manage your finances. #BalanceforBetter

Women & Power

The first time I got my hands on Mary Beard’s book Women & Power: A Manifesto was in December. I also entered a Twitter competition around the same time to win a limited edition Women & Power t-shirt from @ProfileBooks and ended up winning!

Having already read the book I was delighted to have a unique t-shirt, badge and note sent in the post to my house a few days later. I wanted to write this blog post months ago but my degree left me with little time to write, so my post comes now that I’ve officially finished university. The dissertation I wrote this year was centred around Sylvia Plath’s poetry, which doesn’t initially seem relevant to this book review, but the topic I explore in relation is how her poetry resists sexist oppression. I found myself drawing parallels between Mary Beard’s thoughts and Plath’s poetry which really does show how discussion of women and power is relevant and apparent in literature, media, politics, history and much more.

What intrigued me about this book was the link Beard made between Western literature and Greek and Roman history. I had read a couple of the texts mentioned such as The Odyssey in my first year at university, so was able to follow the ideas posed quite easily. She explains each example in enough detail that even if you haven’t read the classic texts mentioned, you would still be able to follow Beard’s thoughts and arguments. The book is extremely short and small, but manages to project the most important topics of discussion such as the issue of female silence.

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To identify and pinpoint certain examples of the passivity women face in Western literature and history is crucial for readers to truly understanding how long women have been oppressed. Beard talks about not only general history, but analyses the language within the classic texts to show the active silencing of women’s voices by a male ‘superior’. The language in books is particularly important as the speech given to women underpins their authority, yet much of the time we are unable to detect it. Thus by analysing the language used between women and men, Beard manages to shed light that oppression of women is apparent both in texts we read from a young age and still remains in our everyday adult lives. Mary Beard not only gives examples of the vocal silencing of women, she also shows instances in which they are given a voice yet have to pay a high price for it. This is rooted in the present day as we see how the concept of “public speech” is still regarded as an attribute of maleness, hence showing the restrictions imposed on women are still entirely relevant.

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There are a number of images incorporated throughout the book with brief captions that I find useful in documenting issues of women and power throughout history. One of the first images is from the fifth-century BC (image from The Odyssey on an Athenian pot) and one of the last is based in the present day (an image of the women who founded the Black Lives Matter movement).

I would definitely recommend picking up this book as well as following Mary Beard on Twitter as her discussions online are engaging.

I would love to know your thoughts on the book!