Telling the Lads by Toby Campion

homophobiaThe Sultan of Brunei, not known for being a man of contemporary enlightenment, has decreed that gay sex and adultery will be punished by stoning to death. A number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, and Indonesia still employ stoning as a method of capital punishment. Of the 53 Commonwealth countries, 37 have laws that criminalise homosexuality. Such discrimination harks back to colonial rule. And yet, every four years, athletes compete in the Commonwealth games, where gay people face the danger of being imprisoned, when all they should be concentrating on the competition – one which is meant to bring people together.

Many other countries have long since decriminalised gay sex, and made same sex marriage legal. But like many acts of liberalisation and liberation, they are hard fought, take years of legal wrangling, and still have limits and contradictions. Take Ireland for example; in the Republic, a country whose higher echelons are still staunchly Catholic, now have a gay Taoiseach in Leo Varadkar, and voted in favour of same-sex marriage in a 2015 referendum. Yet, in Northern Ireland, which on the part of the Democratic Unionists at least, always say they would like to be treated like the rest of the UK, but don’t allow such legislation (as well as abortion, by the way).

But as we all know, laws are but a start. They are enacted by a change in enough peoples’ attitudes to sexuality – but that doesn’t mean homophobes suddenly fall into line. In the same way that people of colour experience racism, or women sexual discrimination and abuse, gay people are harassed daily and worse. Perceptions, stereotypes, portrayals in the media, business and politics, all play a crucial role in either changing or confirming attitudes that should have disappeared decades ago. For gay men, this is of particular importance as homophobes on the one hand will fetishize (and masturbate) over lesbian sex, but will show disgust and violence to sex between two men.

BOAT POETS TOUGUE FU ARNOLFINI OCT 2018 PB-7In ‘Telling the Lads’, Toby Campion brilliantly satirises the mainstream stereotypes of a gay man: ‘but I’m not  like      a gay gay/ you know   a vodka cranberry gay/ a here-and-queer gay/ I’m more of just          like      a here gay/ a steak and ale pie gay.’ Then goes on to ‘apologise’ for being gay highlighting the darker side when this apology is not ‘accepted/acceptable’: ‘a sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry/ for the audacity of a tongue gay/ such inconvenient lungs/ a turn on your gay/ a when they came for them gay/ lips split not outspoken.

As it stands today, the Commonwealth is an oxymoronic badge, which hides inequalities and discriminations under a fallout of a colonial venture. The rise of right wing populism in other countries, such as Russia and the United States (so-called leaders of the world), has the potential for discrimination towards gay people to become more violent and more exclusionary. So, such satire as Toby’s, shows there are different ways to break down barriers, and a starting point is the dismantling of stereotypes borne out of outdated masculinity exhibited by the likes of Trump and Putin, never mind the Sultan of Brunei.

 

Born and raised in the Midlands, Toby Campion is a UK National Poetry Slam Champion and a World Poetry Slam finalist. Recipient of the Silver Wyvern Award and First Place in the Poetry on the Lake Prizes 2017, awarded by Carol Ann Duffy, Toby has performed his poetry on stages across the UK, from Glastonbury Festival to London’s Royal Albert Hall, and in countries around the world, including America, Italy, Spain, Albania and South Korea. His debut play, WRECK, won the Fifth Word Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright 2015. Toby’s poetry collection, Through Your Blood was published by Burning Eye Books in 2017.

 

TELLING THE LADS

but I’m not      like      a gay gay
you know         a vodka cranberry gay
a here-and-queer gay
I’m more of just          like      a here gay
a steak and ale pie gay
an always think twice about whether
my shirt’s a bit too gay gay
don’t kiss in public
not a rub it in your face gay
no pink triangle stitched to conscience
wilted bouquet of police tape filling eye socket gay
I’m a hood up keep walking when OI BATTYBOY
slaps the back of your head type gay
a keep your mouth grateful gay
know your height gay
keep small keep polite gay
a sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry
for the audacity of a tongue gay
such inconvenient lungs
a turn on your gay
a when they came for them gay
lips split not outspoken
a dying to unsleep myself awoken gay
a dying to be gay gay
you know         dying
just
to be
gay

Eighty Four: Poems on Male Suicide, Vulnerability, Grief and Hope (edited by Helen Calcutt)

davLast Wednesday, I hosted a very special event at Foyles’ Bookshop in London; the launch of the poetry anthology ‘E ghty* Four’ published by Verve Poetry Press in support of the charity the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). Why E ghty Four? (* the ‘i’ signifies a life lost)

E ghty Four is the number of men in the UK who take their own lives every week; twelve a day, one every two hours, 4,368 a year. More women experience depression, more women take anti-depressants, but men are four times more likely to end their life. It is a national epidemic, which is not confined to this country – the US for example has 129 suicides a day, half of which are carried out with a firearm.

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London Undercurrents – two poems by Hilaire and Joolz Sparkes

I am so happy that this coming Thursday 28th March, Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire will launching their book London Undercurrents. Published by Holland Park Press, the launch is at Gradidge Room of the Artworkers’ Guild, 6 Queen Square London WC1N 3AT Further detail can be found here: https://www.hollandparkpress.co.uk/books/london-undercurrents/

Proletarian Poetry

It is said of Truman Capote that his book, In Cold Blood was the first non-fiction novel. Based on in-depth research, the book tells of a family murdered by two young men in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. It was part of what became known as the New Journalism by the likes of Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and Joan Didion, who used literary devices to tell factual stories. Today, this type of writing has become known as creative non-fiction. Their approach was a form of social archaeology, where the writer is led by the subject, often taking them into strange situations (read Hunter S Thompson for more of that).

Poetry being the most (ahem) truthful of writing forms, I think could be described as creative non-fiction. It often tells true stories either of the poet or others’ lives, and relevant to PP giving voice to to people who are rarely heard or depicted…

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Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2019

For the past year or so, I have been helping out with editing collections at Culture Matters; and I’m very proud to say that one of these is by the great US poet, Fred Voss, which will be out soon (with an introduction from myself). Below are details of Culture Matters’ Bread and Roses Poetry Award. Get yourself entered, it’s free!

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b233d972ada3f6b911297ef40b012c8a_XLCulture Matters is pleased to announce that the third Bread and Roses Poetry Award, sponsored by Unite, is now open for entries.

Our mission is to promote a socialist approach to all cultural activities, including arts such as poetry. So we run the Bread and Roses Poetry Award to create new opportunities for working people to write poetry, and to encourage poets to focus on themes which are meaningful to working-class communities.

As in previous years, there will be 5 prizes of £100 for the best poems, and an anthology of the poems of around a further 20 entrants will be published later in the year. In addition, we are offering a mentoring and support package for writers who have not yet published a collection. Up to 3 of these entrants – who may or may not have won one of the 5 prizes – will be linked to an experienced, published poet, and they will be helped to produce their first published collection. (more…)

Guest Blog by Alison Patrick, plus poem: At Large in Ratchup

convicts_at_botany_bay_commonsHenry Foulk appears in records from the eighteenth century held in Shropshire Archives. Prisoners awaiting trial in Shrewsbury Gaol were listed in the Calendar of Prisoners from the records of the Quarter Sessions and Assizes. These were meetings of the Justices of Peace, held as the name suggests, four times a year. Before the establishment of County Councils after 1888, administration at county level was largely in the hands of the Justices of the Peace. Their judicial powers included trying and punishing all felonies and trespasses, arresting on suspicion and taking sureties for good behaviour”.  The Calendar of Prisoners gives the name and age of the prisoner, details of the offence and a note of the sentence given.

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Lean Back as instructed by Fat Joe by Theresa Lola

You know that band? What were they called?
The band that gave you permission;
the band that blew the bloody doors off.
Who stood you upright, against the face
of X & Y cardboard chromosomes, dressed
as show homes on streets lined with every sign
except a U-turn. The band that took you away
like a rapture cult. Yes, that’s the band.

Well, whether it was a band, or – as is the case with our poem today, a song – teenagers have been shaken and taken out of the mundanity of school life, or hanging out on street corners, by music. Often it is a ‘fuck you’ to all that has gone before.

Lucky enough to be fifteen years old in 1977 with forgiving parents, it was punk, reggae, then being from Coventry, Ska (especially the Specials), that blew the bloody bedroom door off for me; the music, the bands, the look, all felt like a revolution. The Clash song ‘1977‘ summed up the mood; ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones, in 1977!!!!!’ – (Elvis in fact died that year, so it was very prescient, as the song was written before his death). It was the camaraderie which, essentially said: no-one likes us, we don’t care.

Theresa LolaMost teenagers have that moment, when the music is for only them; it reflects their mood in the face of world issues and adults who they feel don’t understand them. It can often be the first step to independence, which you and your friends own. I see this in Theresa Lola’s wonderful celebration of Fat Joe’s Lean Back, ‘in the unofficial national anthem at school. When the students gather you recite the lyrics to Lean Back, lean your shoulder at a 45-degree angle and watch them gaze at the perfect arch, your tongue burning with no lyric left un-scraped.’ We can see the whole playground making the moves, mouthing the words, coming together. Then the poem takes us to deeper stuff, how the music makes us feel about our identity, our position in society. ‘Till now you carried the name ‘unidentified female body in the yearbook pictures’. You tried scratching out the name, shifted to the busy table at the cafeteria.’ This is what makes great music, and great art more generally; both uniting, whilst at the same time making us feel it so personally. (more…)

Guest Post by Steve Pottinger, with his poem ‘Desaparecida’

sofaOn January 8th this year, a friend of mine was kidnapped by a Mexican drugs cartel. John Sevigny is a photographer, a US national who spends a lot of time in Central America; he was visiting Cordoba, in Veracruz state in Mexico, when he and a woman he was working with were abducted by a large number of heavily armed men.

Abduction in Mexico isn’t uncommon. Over 30,000 people have disappeared, and while I knew of los desaparecidos I guess it’s human nature to believe this ongoing tragedy – like all tragedies – is something which happens to others, and never to anyone you know or care about. Maybe that’s a necessary disconnect which allows us to live free from anxiety and constant fear. Perhaps that explains the shock when it turns out not to be true. (more…)