Tag Archives: Penned in the margins

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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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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Social animals need to stay in touch

Hannah teaser launch

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November 13, 2013 · 2:43 pm

Forms of Protest

My debut poetry collection has just been published by Penned in the Margins.


Having poems printed on a page like this is a bit of a new experience for me. I normally can’t bear reading my work in print, because it seems so final, and I’m never happy with it. The first poem I ever had page-published had a typo right at the end,  somehow the last letter of the last word of my poem got missed off, these kinds of little mistakes seem bigger on a page than they do in a live performance, with performance when it’s gone it’s gone, and each performance is a chance to begin again.

But, this book, far as I can tell, doesn’t have any typos or mistakes or bits I want to change or new versions I’d prefer…and it does have poems I’ve never read in front of an audience, poems that are written for the page. Poems that I don’t want to be tied to my voice-in-performance.

And the act of seeing pieces that I haven’t really known how to label, what to do with…on a page, somehow validates them. There’s something to be said for finishing things. It’s also great to have a bit of ‘Opposition’ included –  it’s a piece I’m not planning on performing again, so I’m happy there’s a trace of it in this form as well as on youtube.

Tom Chivers of Penned in the Margins was great to work with, I loved his approach to crafting the reader’s journey through the book, and we totally agreed on what should and shouldn’t be included. It’s fantastic to be able to work with someone all the way from the margins of live poetry  to the margins of a book.  So thank you Tom, thank you for supporting my work all these years, and thank you for not accepting a collection before it was ready.

It’s funny how a collection of poems seems a mammoth task in the beginning, and now, looking through the book, it seems so short. I might have to make another one.

There’s a triple/quadruple launch at Toynbee Studios on the 14th Nov, we’ll be joined by Meghan Purvis reading from her translation of Beowolf. Hope to see you there!

Penned In The Margins Triple Launch

Toynbee Studios
28 Commercial Street E1 6AB

T 020 7650 2350
E admin@artsadmin.co.uk

7.30pm. Free.

Three of the UK’s most exciting voices launch new collections in a night of cutting-edge poetry from indy publisher Penned in the Margins.

In Siddhartha Bose’s Digital Monsoon, dreams trigger extraordinary visions of an apocalyptic London populated by the ghosts of a multicultural city. His new collection celebrates the dynamism of urban edgelands in his trademark open field, rhythmical style.

Melissa Lee-Houghton reads from her second book, Beautiful Girls: a raw and powerful account of mental illness that has been awarded a PBS Recommendation. (‘Not a book for the feint-hearted’ – Chris McCabe.)

Hannah Silva, widely acclaimed for her innovative vocal performances, launches her debut collection Forms of Protest – her texts deconstruct the defunct languages of political and literary discourse, claiming a new space, a liminal zone between things as they sound… and things as they are.


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Total Man

‘Total Man’ part of Electronic Voice Phenomena. Commissioned by Penned in the Margins and Mercy.

Our tour starts on Friday! I’ll be performing alongside Ross Sutherland, SJ Fowler, music group ‘Outfit’ and special guests. Further details HERE

‘Total Man’ is based on the writings of Stan Gooch, who, in his book The Paranormal, describes himself as ‘a reasonably well-endowed psychic’. Gooch was a sociologist/occultist/psychologist and the author of thirteen books including the epic ‘Total Man’. He was one of the first exponents of the ‘hybrid-origin’ theory of evolution. Most of his books explore the theory that humans are the result of cross-breeding between Cro-Magnum and Neanderthal. This research can be traced back to an experience Gooch had during a seance in 1958; he saw what looked like a Neanderthal man, crouching in the corner of the room ‘breathing heavily, as if nervous’.

I’ve been in touch with Dr. Brent Logan, who corresponded with Gooch in the last years of his life. Gooch’s final years (he died in 2010) were spent living in a rented caravan in Swansea, surviving on income support pension. Dr. Logan has sent me copies of the letters, which provide an insight into Gooch’s mind, his depression, and his commitment to his work. Here are some previously unpublished extracts. The first is from 1992:

I have now published well over a million words, often to critical acclaim by in themselves influential individuals. I have never made any money, and have lived much of the time in what most westerners would describe as poverty. Furthermore, I have signally failed to influence either the academic establishment or the world of alternative, new age thought. I am far too revolutionary for the former, and far too critical for the latter. Heigh ho.


The reversals and set-backs throughout my career have been continuous, relentless and un-remitting, as to some extent you already know. It all goes far beyond the reach of chance.

And later in 2009 finally some proof (underlining Gooch’s)

Recent discoveries of bones and skeletons in Spain have proved that Neanderthal and Cro-magnon did interbreed… When widely separated species of animal cross breed the offspring have two conflicting sets of instincts, with which they struggle to come to terms. And that’s why we’ve got left-wing political parties and right -wing parties. If lions evolved there would only be one political party – the lion party. If horses evolved there would only be one political party – the horse party. But we have two opposed political parties. (And as I’ve said in my books, if members of the labour party and members of the Conservative party were examined there would be: more left-handedness among the former; a greater incidence of the big toe being shorter than the other toes; shorter average height; less male baldness; larger cerebellum; more red-headedness, and so on and so on…)

Time to measure those toes….

Did you say 'less' male baldness?

‘Less’ male baldness, did you say?

Reading Stan Gooch’s books has been a trial. As soon as I’m able to follow his reasoning, he’ll matter of factly mention something like vampires, as if they prove his point. He draws on everything: psychology, sociology, archeology, mythology, the paranormal….which makes his writing fascinating, but also impossible. It’s easy to laugh at Gooch’s theories, but if I’m honest, I believe in fate, and I’ve experienced a few things that would deserve a chapter in his book The Paranormal. As Gooch said, the only proof of the inexplicable is personal experience. And even if you do experience something, it’s much easier to ignore it than to attempt an explanation. No wonder Gooch often found himself tangled in Ariadne’s web.  Within his theories about the life of Neanderthals is an attempt to understand the contradictions of humankind.

Join me as I attempt to channel Gooch and dissect, reverse, layer and articulate his ideas and experiences:










May 7, 2013 · 4:23 pm

Adventures in Form

from: http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk

Adventures in Form

Thursday 29 March, 7.30pm

Toynbee Studios
28 Commercial Street London E1 6AB


Welcome to a strange new world in which a poem can be written using only one vowel, processed through computer code, collaged from film trailers, compiled from Facebook status updates, hidden inside a Sudoku puzzle, and even painted on sheep to demonstrate Quantum Theory.

Join independent literary press Penned in the Margins for the launch of a major new anthology, Adventures in Form: A Compendium of New Poetic Forms, Rules & Constraints. With readings from the contributors, and introduced by the book’s editor Tom Chivers.

Confirmed readers

Patience Agbabi

Nathan Penlington

Hannah Silva

Tim Wells

Richard Price

Chrissy Williams

Kirsty Irving

Ira Lightman

Jon Stone



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Adventures in Form

Adventures in Form 

published by Penned in the Margins

Design by Henry<br /> Simmonds

A Poetry Book Society Special Commendation

Discover a multitude of new and unusual poetic forms – from tweet to time- splice, and from skinny villanelle to breakbeat sonnet – in this inspiring and inventive anthology.

Adventures in Form features over ninety poems by forty-six contributors including Patience Agbabi, Christian Bök, Joe Dunthorne, Inua Ellams, Roddy Lumsden, Ian McMillan, Paul Muldoon, Ruth Padel and Hannah Silva.

Now available to pre-order for £9.99.

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