Category Archives: Poetry

Sex and Subversion on the Stage

Field & McGlynn

Hannah Silva in Schlock! Photo: Field & McGlynn

After showing an excerpt of my new solo show Schlock! at CPT’s Festival of Feminism there was a post-show chat entitled ‘Sex and Subversion on the Stage’ with Maddy Costa and Chris Goode. I’d like to write more about the things we touched on in the future. For now here’s some thinking that the evening triggered.

Brief context: Schlock! is written by splicing together and changing (subverting) two texts. One is already subversive: In Memoriam to Identity by Kathy Acker, the other is Fifty Shades of Grey.

Chris asked me why I wanted to have this discussion first… out of all the possible discussions we could have about Schlock!

I think the reason is because sex and subversion was at the heart of my work when I started writing more seriously, about ten years ago. But at that stage I didn’t have the craft to write in a way that anyone found publishable, and it terrified my audiences – on more than one occasion I was asked if I worked in the sex industry… I suppose because there is still an assumption made that the ‘I’ uttered by the poet-performer is somehow an honest one, that it is their ‘I’. Audiences weren’t to know that I enjoyed playing games with the ‘I’ in a similar way Kathy Acker did in her books (and unlike Kathy I’m way too timid to enter that world in reality). But still, my work then was too raw, and too derivative. It’s an interesting paradox that Kathy Acker has a very distinctive (and easily imitated) ‘voice’ as a writer, and yet she was against the notion of a writer’s voice (seeing it as limiting, God-like, male). She rejected the idea that a writer must ‘find their voice’ and instead she chose to copy other, multiple voices.

When I was twenty I read an interview with the porn star/performance artist Annie Sprinkle. It included the line ‘fist fuck me up to the elbow and massage my heart from inside’. The closest I’ve ever got to fist-fucking was watching it on a late night TV show. There was a lot of shit involved… and no poetry. But that line makes language itself into an act… language becomes material and physical and bodily… Language isn’t just something our bodies emit… it can enter us and shift our insides. Reading Sprinkle and Acker as a student I was excited by lines that shocked me because that physical shock jolted me out of my habitual patterns of thinking. I realised that writing that shocked wasn’t cheap, wasn’t gimmicky, but could be beautiful, and could change notions of beauty itself. Shock made language strange, which made it new; it showed me something I couldn’t have imagined. Acker’s writing delighted me, her books graffiti over all those still ubiquitous fixed notions of what writing is and should be…

In an interview Kathy said:

I’m looking for what might be called a body language. One thing I do is stick a vibrator up my cunt and start writing — writing from the point of orgasm and losing control of the language and seeing what that’s like.

I can’t imagine a writer saying this today. Maybe it was different in the punk of the Eighties. It’s hard to know where Kathy’s book writing finishes and her identity writing starts… because there is no dividing line. Her interviews read like her books. Her project was building and disturbing identity. Her best material was her own body.

Our post-show chat made me re-consider the performer-audience relationship. I realised that when I enjoy a performance I feel in control, I feel a sense of power, as if I am holding everyone on my breath. Performing is about breath. About controlling the breath of others. Moving them with your breath. Holding breath in the air. It’s very sexy.

During the best performances I can sense that the audience has consented. Consented to being controlled, to being dominated, to being taken, even when they don’t know where exactly it is we’re going… which doesn’t mean they lose control, of course not, and this is why performing might be more true to a BDSM relationship than Fifty Shades of Grey is. The audience have utter control over me too. The contract is very simple. The air can shift at any time.

 See Schlock! 

8th Nov: Aldeburgh Poetry Festival

12th Nov: mac birmingham


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No one really intended to kill all the children

Children have become shields
Children have become negotiators
Children have become philosophers
Children have become celebrities
Children have become martyrs
Children have become patient
Children have become flies
Children have become sexed
Children have become stupid
Children have become terror
Children have become food
Children have become rapists
Children have become dreams
Children have become brutal
Children have become memories
Children have become socialists
Children have become guns
Children have become adverts
Children have become angels
Children have become roads
Children have become poets
Children have become violence
Children have become dirt
Children have become strong
Children have become missiles
Children have become news
Children have become ideas
Children have become horror
Children have become parents
Children have become desolate
Children have become fantasy
Children have become lit candles
Children have become cities
Children have become distressing
Children have become too much


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Writing process blog tour


I got tagged by the brilliant Julia Bird to take part in a blog tour about writing processes. It’s the questions that are touring so no long train journey for a change… Here are some previous responses….

Julia Bird

Katy Evans Bush

Anna Robinson

Gemma Seltzer

A B Jackson

Adam Horovitz

and looking at them will take you to others…

What am I working on?

I’m working on a new solo show called ‘Schlock!’ – which comes from the Yiddish word ‘shlak’ and means something cheap, shoddy or inferior. – A risky kind of title, but in theory it refers to the literature that I’m working with rather than the quality of my performance. The schlock I am using to make Schlock! is Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m ripping out pages, scrunching it up, doing searches for sentences that contain the word ‘pain’ or ‘love’ or ‘hurt’ on my Kindle version. I’m also working with Kathy Acker’s novel ‘In Memoriam to Identity’ and the project is influenced by her writing methods and writings about the body. It’s been commissioned by the (very brave) Aldeburgh Poetry Festival for November and is produced by Penned in the Margins.

Fifty carcass

I’ve been commissioned to write a short monologue by Women and Theatre, an organisation based in Birmingham. It’s my first writing commission in Birmingham since moving here last summer, and I’m honoured to be working with such an inspiring organisation. Women and Theatre have been making theatre for 30 years and the monologue I’m writing is one of a series of pieces focused on women who have been in their particular field for thirty years, my field is business, and so far the women I’ve interviewed for the project couldn’t be more different to each other, so I’m considering writing several characters within the one monologue…..

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Of course we do all write differently to each other, but we also all borrow from each other, themes and forms and styles and sentences are recycled. Perhaps with my work the first stumbling block is ‘genre’. I’m not sure poets write in ‘genres’ …I like work that sits between genres and disciplines and I’m interested in wearing a word like ‘poet’ and making it mean something a little different than it did a hundred years ago.  But basically I like playing with words and the sounds of them, so that makes me a very typical kind of poet.

Why do I write what I do?

I write about things that I find interesting, or disturbing or shocking, or that I don’t understand….or maybe just because I enjoy playing with sound… I don’t tend to write from personal experience. Perhaps I need a bit of distance.

Someone once described a poem to me, it was an idea of a poem, and I can’t remember the exact description, just a sense that words would morph into new words and meanings would be broken up and transformed and then come back together again. I often try to write that poem.

At the moment I’m working with Fifty Shades of Grey (that book about a virgin who doesn’t want to be hit) because reading it makes me feel very sad and I only almost know why. I’m working with Kathy Acker’s novel because when I discovered her books in Dartington library years ago they were unlike anything I’d ever read, and I was really excited by her work in spite of (or because of) the lack of coherent narrative. I remember sitting somewhere strange and reading it. Behind something, on the floor, like it was illegal. Probably because I was supposed to be stacking shelves at the time. For a couple of years I wrote like her, now I’ve shaken her off so I think I’m ready to let her in again.

How does my writing process work?


I’ve never been very interested in when or where or with what when it comes to writing. But. That all changed when I got an hourglass (leftover prop from Sadie Jones tour). So, what I do now, is kill my internet connection through MAC Freedom. I realise it is pathetic that I paid £7 for willpower but best £7 I ever spent. Then I turn the hourglass and force myself to work for an hour. After that I get a cup of tea. In terms of the actual writing….I have many ways around it….I spend some time copying and cutting and pasting…I get some words on a screen and then see if I can make other words out of them…I explore sounds out loud and it makes me happy when a word  transforms into another, sometimes I think of writing as composing and I make poems out loud, using a loop pedal to layer sounds and words and meanings. I like the way the loop pedal interferes with linearity. With playwriting it’s a bit more organised and I have to make myself play difficult games with structure and narrative. Recently I’ve tended to splurge a mess of text that comes from various places but explores a particular problem…then I enlist David Lane to help me see it more objectively and organise my thoughts. Occasionally I’ll just sit down and write a poem.

organising splurge with David Lane

organising splurge with David Lane


I’m tagging two poets who I don’t know lots about but want to know more: Andra Simons who I met for the first time at a recent event for Archive of the Now. He’s a Burmudian poet based in London and his work tips into visual art and performance art and sound poetry. I’ll host his responses here. I also tag Emma Bennett who is pretty cool and can make her voice into birdsong….go to her website and have a listen. 

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(Poetry) Prizes are the Best

Victor Martinez

Victor Martinez

Victor comes up with the best words in the best order. Victor publishes words on the best paper with the best publisher. Victor has the best influences and the best line breaks. Victor’s ideas are the best. Victor’s metaphors are the best. Victor’s similes are the best. Victor’s smiles are the best. Victor’s avoidance of metaphors and similes is the best. Victor’s avid dance with hormones and lies is the best. Victor’s rhymes are the best. Victor’s hymen is the best. Victor’s lack of rhymes are the best. Victor’s lack of hymen is the best. Victor’s meter is the best. Victor’s mother is the best. Victor’s free verse is the best. Victor’s suffering is the best. Victor’s titles are the best. Victor’s titties are the best. Victor’s use of page space is the best. The picture on Victor’s cover is the best. The blurb on the back of Victor’s book is the best. Victor’s footnotes are the best. Victor’s foot is the best. Victor’s page numbers are in the best order. Victor’s contents page is the best. Victor’s thank you is the best. Victor’s notes are the best. Victor’s tones are the best. Victor’s choice of font is the best. Victor’s experiences are the best. Victor’s writing process is the best. Victor’s use of the letter a is the best. Victor’s use of the letter b is the best. Victor’s use of the letter c is the best. Victor’s use of the letter d is the best. Victor’s use of the letter e is the best. Victor’s use of the letter f is the best. Victor’s use of the letter g is the best. Victor has the best grasp of the alphabet. Victor’s use of the letter V is definitely the best. Victor’s apostrophes are the best. Victor’s trophies are the best. Victor’s ‘I’ is the best. Victor’s avoidance of the ‘I’ is the best. Victor’s politics are the best. Victor’s lack of politics are the best. Victor is the best. Victor’s poems are the best. If you didn’t realise it before, you do now, because Victor has the prize. Victor’s prize is the best. Well done Victor.

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The Prolific Myth: Interview with SJ Fowler

SJ Fowler and the bears

SJ Fowler and the bears

Last year I had the pleasure of working with the poet SJ Fowler on two projects: Electronic Voice Phenomena (a touring experimental literature and new media show produced by Penned in the Margins and Mercy)  and Enemies (the result of collaborations with over thirty artists, photographers and writers). Both projects have been shortlisted in the Saboteur Awards.
During Electronic Voice Phenomena Steve dressed up as a bear and read a Russian novel (or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – when we were in the Shelley Theatre). He delighted in getting a confused or angry response from his audience, although I suspected that he enjoyed the laughter too. When he’s not attempting to contact the dead, throwing up on stage or wearing a bear outfit, Steve organises large scale collaborative poetry events, like this one at the Southbank Centre, and writes vast amounts of poetry. I did an extended interview with him for the British Library sound archive, here is an extract in which we discuss his approach to publishing – grinding it out and moving on.
SJ Fowler in Electronic Voice Phenomena, St George's Hall. [peter guy's blog]

SJ Fowler in Electronic Voice Phenomena, St George’s Hall. [peter guy’s blog]

SJ Fowler:

I think that the huge factor in the volume that I’ve published has been to do with a distinct, decided engagement with a writing lifestyle. I write a lot and I write in a very specific way, which I think, because of the more traditional modes of writing poetry for the page especially, is often seen as strange. I’m interested in finding a subject that I’m very passionate about, and then somehow without too much forethought or analysis, mulching that subject into a text, whether that’s through very obvious approaches like found text, or through boiling myself in the bath, or working when I’m tired, or just some organic, natural methodology for engaging with something that I really care about. Each one has very naturally produced different kinds of writing. That’s been a real pleasure for me, engaging with people who have read one of my books, who then automatically think that all of my writing is like that. Each one of my books couldn’t be more different. So because I’ve had quite a reasonably easy, menial job for the past six years, where I’ve been able to just sit down all day and write, I’ve produced these huge volumes of works, and about half of what I’ve produced is published. So there’s a huge amount that I’m glad I didn’t publish, or that is waiting to be published in the future.

That approach does a lot of things against you as well as for you. I think there is a really specific notion around what a first collection must be, and it goes forward for these awards, etc…But I published three books at the same time – three books in three months, and I realised that nobody really read any of them, and I didn’t really care about that. I found that out, I found that it wasn’t about readership or engagement with other people. It’s nice that they exist now, as time goes by they’ve come to mean something different to me. I become quite obsessive about a certain idea, I use other poet’s work, anything I can to get to where I need to get to. I know essentially if it’s authentic or not authentic. I put it together, I deliberately create relationships with publishers or people who are engaged in that environment, because I think that it’s the only thing I would never do in poetry. The one thing I would never do is publishing, because I think it’s absolutely thankless and brutal and if it hurts me that a few of my books only sell a few hundred copies, that lasts for two minutes, I’m writing the next book. But the publisher lives with that and the financial reality of it for a long time. I don’t envy them that at all. I move on, I don’t think about that work at all, and when I come to do a reading and someone has read one of my books from years ago and makes a nice comment about it, I honestly don’t even really recognise it, I don’t really know what they mean or are talking about, because I don’t really remember what’s in some of them.

I’m glad about that but I think that it would horrify some people, that this thing exists in the world that represents you, that’s got your name on it, and people can read it and you can be ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’. That happened to me recently. Someone published an extract of one of my poems, and I was like, where did you get the title from? He said –it’s one of your poems, I said I’m pretty sure it’s not, but alright…I just don’t care about that. There’s poets who have done this, and might not be in the public’s consciousness, who I really admire. People like Pierre Joris and Tom Raworth who just pump out book after book, I’ve always believed in that. When I was interested in film, it was people like Bergman, who’d create radically brilliant, often different works, year after year. I admire that approach because they are I suppose professionals. That’s how they saw it/see it. It was a life engagement, not about dropping their rarefied thoughts on the world, but about grinding it out and if it pops out and it’s genius you can just see them smiling ‘oh alright that was genius, onto the next’ – that’s how I feel, if people say something I’ve done is rubbish, or brilliant, I don’t care. I care about writing, I love writing, it’s helped me be a better human being, it’s helped me mediate the world around me, it’s helped me sublimate really fundamentally aggressive energies in the world and I feel better for that. I’m not going to slow down or strategically launch the books so that people can take the time to actually read the work I’ve done in order to somehow mitigate the form…I think there’s a myth about being prolific, that it harms you, but I don’t think anyone will read me anyway and if they do I’ll be dead. Why not just do fifty books, and then they’ve got lots to read?

I’ve had some great conversations with people about their first collections, and I’m really interested in it, like Jack Underwood was in the faber young poets pamphlet and I don’t know what happened, something with faber, and now his next book is out, he announced on twitter it’ll be out in 2016, he announced this last year, and that to me is amazing because what that says to me is that …he’s going to get a huge reception and I hope he wins prizes, he’s a sweet man and he’s well known, he’ll do so well and he’ll be known by so many more middle class people than me!…But, the reality is that to me that says he’s going to spend the next year and a half not writing, because if he writes hundreds of poems in the next year and a half they’re just going to be in a dusty drawer…maybe not, but that’s just how it feels, that’s my instinct.

I’ve spoken to a poet who was told off by his PhD supervisor for publishing an extended chapbook because the guy was like: your first collection is the most important collection, you must go to these people and make these connections and slowly breed these relationships over five years and then launch your book when you get to around thirty. That to me just seems like an absolutely crazy backward view of what your work is.

It comes down to this fundamental thing – if I see musicians, like Radiohead, their work has changed, that’s the way it should be, but when I see someone doing the same music, like Korn for instance – I grew up listening to new metal – and they’re still doing the whiny music twenty years later – they’re moribund…I don’t want my work to ever be the same. I’m glad to be ashamed of stuff I’ve put out because I’m a different person now.

My publishing happened because I invested in getting to know the people who were foolish enough to do ground-up avant-garde presses. They were interested in how I was doing things. And half of my books have come about through me relentlessly badgering people, and the other half have been people asking me, which makes me feel really gratified. My first book, Red Museum, was the fourth book I wrote, but it just happened that a publisher asked me for a book, so I just sent him it and he said he’d take it, and that I didn’t need to change it. That’s my first book! And then my prison book I did in two months because the publisher said ‘I’ll do one of your books’ and I didn’t happen to have one that was ready. I wrote it, didn’t look at it, just sent it to him. And it’s my favourite book by a mile – it’s really good because it feels like someone else has written it.

The whole publishing process for me has been a complete mélange. I take real, genuine pleasure in holding new objects in my hands, and moving on.


[whilst I was transcribing this interview, Steve has published another poetry collection, it’s called ‘The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner’ and he’s launching it on the 21st May. ]

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Hannah Silva’s Forms Of Protest

Tears in the Fence

Sound poet and playwright, Hannah Silva’s long awaited debut collection, Forms Of Protest (Penned in the Margins 2013), admirably illustrates the variety of her poetry. Her range encompasses sonic repetition, sonnet, collage, monologue, list, SMS messaging symbols, and probing text and is never predictable. There is a great sense of musicality and of contemporary language use. Indeed my sixth-form students love her work both on the page and read aloud.  One of our favourites, ‘Gaddafi, Gaddafi, Gaddafi’, echoes childhood playground chants, and works through its long, flowing, circular lines, as if on a loop, as much as the repetition of the word Gaddafi.


I am going to tell you my name Gaddafi but I am

Going to tell you my age Gaddafi my age is ten

Gaddafi and I am going to tell you about a game

Gaddafi a game that I play Gaddafi I play with my


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Our language; Nuestra lengua

When I get asked why I play with language

…. and voice…sound…words and silence

This would be a very good answer. 

 Zacatecas 1997. Opening address at El Congreso International de la Lengua Española.

By Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz, 1990 Nobel Prize winner

El amor por nuestra lengua 

Callings are mysterious. Why does one child tirelessly draw in his school sketchbook, whilst another makes boats or planes from the paper? Why does one construct canals and tunnels in the garden, builds cities of sand on the beach, whilst another forms football teams and leads bands of explorers, or locks himself alone in a room solving endless jigsaws? Nobody knows for certain.

What we do know is that over the years, these inclinations and affinities become crafts, professions and destinies. The mystery of the poet’s calling is no less uncertain, yet more enigmatic.

It begins with an unanticipated love of words, their colour, their sound, their brilliance and the array of meanings they display. As we sound words, we hear meanings. This love soon becomes a fascination for the reverse of language, silence. Each word at once speaks and silences. This understanding distinguishes the poet from the philologists and the grammarians, from the orators and from those who practice the subtle art of conversation. Unlike these masters of language, the poet is known for their silences as much as their words.

From the beginning the poet knows, indistinctly, that words are inseparable from the grave and womb of silence. The word buries silence; the earth germinates the word.  We are children of the word, it is our creation and our creator, without it we wouldn’t be. In turn, the word is the daughter of silence: born and taken by her depths.

Octavio Paz, 1997

translated by Hannah Silva

 Read and hear the original. 


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