No need to mind your language, Mab: loose talk that's about women's lives

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At the start of her set, Mab Jones seemed a little unsure of her audience, and said she probably wouldn’t perform the poem containing her “best rhyme” … the one rhyming “Venus” with “penis”. By the conclusion, at the all-women Loose Muse night at the Poetry Café in London, she decided she would: “I’m trying to find the level here. But we’re in a basement, I should have known.”

Mab, pictured, a former columnist with Write Out Loud, provided a brief biog, which included the fact that her fifth gig, as a finallist in the national poetry slam, meant she was heard on Radio 4 “by a sort of fluke”. She first became known as a comic poet, which she blamed on having watched too many Carry On films as a child.

She is also resident poet at the National Garden of Wales, as well as being “not a mad fan of the royal family”. (The title of her recent Burning Eye collection is Poor Queen). Her poem ‘Imperial’ was written to mark the birth of the royal baby, and talks of an invasive species “here for a thousand years” that “blocks the light” and puts others “in the shade”.

There was a bitter-sweet poem about what happened to the dwarves after Snow White took off with the handsome prince. And she concluded with ‘Millionaire’, a “poem to my boyfriend”, that was turned into an animation and shortlisted for a Southbank Centre award.   

The second guest poet, Janine Booth, was a revelation.  In a former incarnation she was a “ranting poet” as The Big J. Now, after a break of 25 years, and with a day job as a London Underground station superviser, and as “an active trade unionist, Marxist, and socialist-feminist”, she is back, with a new book called Mostly Hating Tories.   

Although mostly hating Tories may be a fairly accurate description of Janine’s oeuvre, she also delivered a highly effective poem about Reeva Steenkamp, ‘Her Name is Reeva’ – and not just “Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend” – and two on violence against women, ‘Real Rape’, and ‘Two Women Every Week’, the latter reflecting the fact that in England and Wales women are killed by current or former male partners at the rate of two a week.

She may have misjudged her audience a tad when she said that a villanelle - in Janine’s case, about a care home in Swindon - was “too complicated to explain”. But overall her rousing performance did my old lefty heart some good. Janine is tireless, too – she has also produced two non-fiction works, Guilty and Proud of It, on the Poplar rates rebellion that saw Labour councillors, including future Labour leader George Lansbury, sent to jail, and Plundering London Underground, on dubious financing of tube projects set up by the last Labour government.

Another tireless poet is Agnes Meadows, host of Loose Muse, who read a couple of her own poems, including one about the second world war “death railway” in Thailand, a subject very close to my heart.

Loose Muse, for women writers of all genres, meets once a month at the Poetry Café, and has offshoots in Manchester, Cornwall, and now Winchester. It’s billed as women-only, but men are welcome to attend, as long as they accept that they’re just there to listen. On Wednesday night, there were open mic contributions about coming to England from the Caribbean to make a new life; a poem, with wolves in the title, about a dinner party “that went very wrong”; another that was “certainly not a Valentine’s poem” about a chap called Anthony; and one introduced with the words: “I just wondered what would have happened if the Virgin Mary had said ‘No’.”

Agnes Meadows has argued in the past that the women-only format is necessary because somewhere is required that is “a nurturing environment, where women can have a good laugh, support each other, where they don’t feel they have anything to prove or display – other than what talent they have”.

Some men disagree with this philosophy, and comment on Write Out Loud whenever something about Loose Muse is featured.  At a poetry class I attended last year a young woman poet laughed in amazement at the concept of a book of women’s poetry, that an older woman was quoting from. But if poems like ‘Real Rape’ and ‘Two Women Every Week’ are anything to go by – and they should be -  some very old battles are still a long way from being won.

Greg Freeman

 

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Comments

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Chris Co

Thu 12th Feb 2015 23:05

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Some men disagree with this philosophy, and comment on Write Out Loud whenever something about Loose Muse is featured.

When followed by this...

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You have an absolute right to make such comments any time you want, Chris, and whenever we run a story about Loose Muse.
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Through your editorialisation you have created a dismissive, false and unreasonable narrative arc.

How?

Simple. Firstly your comment confers a judgemental tone to anyone disagreeing with the sexism implicit in this event. You said "some men" disagree with this philosophy. In other words - men only, this is factually false. In actuality, some women have also disagreed with the philosophy behind this event.

One of the operative words in one of your statements was "whenever", by which you meant, every time. You were in fact saying that every time this event is mentioned “some men” always complain or for what of a better phrase “have a go”. I have to say this sounds very much like an implied accusation of sexism towards these men…interesting.

So if a man complains about sexist behaviour, he is inherently sexist and a misogynist himself for making the very complaint in the first place? I am sure you will say you didn't mean that, I certainly hope you didn't mean that, as that sound pretty awful. In any regard, even if we pretend it came with no added judgement - we are still left with “some men”.

Shall I tell you how many times Loose Muse has been commented upon Greg?

I went through the listings and from what I can see most articles from Loose Muse receive no comments at all.

That said there was a total of 5 comments on their articles. There were three comments from three separate men and two comments from two separate women.

There was one article that drew criticism from myself - one comment from me, one as in singular. Two women commented in that very same thread and both of them agreed with my comments. Two of us in the thread disagreed with this event and the other understood why I felt as I did.

I looked for other articles. That is where I found one other thread where two men commented, their comments also indicated a disagreement with "this philosophy".

So then, let us look at the facts Greg.

I made one comment prior, ever, one! Yet in your comment here you emphasise how I am welcome to always comment on articles on Loose Muse. Implying I was one of "those men" that always comment. How so? How could I be one of those men that always comment when the sum of my prior contributions was - one!

How?

How could any of the men be those men? In fact Greg how could there be “some men” at all in regards to always commenting?

See Greg you have created pure fiction with your statements. And it was your editorialisation, your factually false statement of "some men" that drove me to comment.

Prior to this article - no one person has commented more than once on Loose Muse articles.

Total comments 5, two from women, three from men. Of the 5 comments received, depending on how you read what was said, either 5/5 people disagreed with this philosophy - all men and all women. You could argue that one of the women who commented had some time for the idea in principle. In which case it would still be an even split between the women and 100% of the men who are against this and 5/6 people against this philosophy. Now Greg, can you see why I would be irritated given how your comments paint an entirely/ completely different picture from reality :-/

Sorry for the repetition, I just wanted to avoid ambiguity. Had you had just posted the event and reported upon it, I would have said nothing. But you didn't do that. You felt the need to post your editorialised viewpoint on the issue and in so doing - made what appears as a judgemental attack on those that have not agreed with this event. Done that with a false bogey man of "some men". Some men are not the bogey man, here. The bogey man here is sexism paraded as equality. The tone of which is don't dare to critisise - or we might just paint you as the sexist.

Greg here are the words, verbatim from the lady that runs this event. Here are her words verbatim from the Write Out Loud website – as she advertised!

Who is the sexist do you think?

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But is there still a need for a women’s writers’ night, I hear you ask? Well, yes there is. So many other events are testosterone-fuelled, antler-locking events where alpha males lock poetic horns and read “love” poems that are really “shag” poems, and where women (especially if they’re over 40) are often patronised or minimised. I’ve seen some male hosts practically dribble in lust-filled anticipation at any young or attractive women writers who take part in events…not an attractive scene.
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P.S

Nothing personal, far from it, but the support write out loud offers this group and the editorialisation in their favour – it just doesn’t look good Greg. Thankfully the site and stories are generally of a high standard and much better than this.

We should all wish for an end to all “isms” and embrace and push for equality and equality of opportunity in all areas of life.

If anyone suggested women could come along to poetry nights and listen, but not contribute. I know what we would all think about that. Poetry is about removing barriers - not erecting them!














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Greg Freeman

Thu 12th Feb 2015 21:19

You have an absolute right to make such comments any time you want, Chris, and whenever we run a story about Loose Muse. I was keen to see one of their nights for myself. There were four or five chaps in the audience last night, including me and the husband and son of one of the guest poets. It was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, certainly not "anti-men" whatsoever. As I said in my final paragraph, some feel that a women-only ethos is outdated, and I can't imagine what a men-only poetry night would be like. But I suppose we'd be perfectly free to organise one, should we want to. I certainly wasn't suggesting that women are in danger of being assaulted at your average poetry night - but I'm sure you didn't suspect me of suggesting that either. Apologies for editorialising, if that was what I was doing - maybe I was just trying to anticipate and address your objections in advance.

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Chris Co

Thu 12th Feb 2015 20:01

What are we supposed to take from your closing comment Greg?

The obvious inferences that can be taken from your implying words are as follows.

Either:

a) Men in general are to be feared and women require a women only environment, such is the threat of rape in public from men in general.
The only problem here is, this group welcomes men, so long as they are second class citizens. They are welcome to listen, but not contribute.

b) the poems you mention could not be read at poetry nights that welcome both men and women, and in fact people from any background regardless of race, age, socio-economics, political persuasion or creed etc. or at least such poems would not get a fair hearing. One can only presume, because of some inherently implied notion that men, all men, are in some way insensitive, bullying and other such things. These were the exact things the leader of this group was saying when speaking up for this event in the past (out and out sexism, though obviously there is little care for sexism towards men).

If your words imply something else Greg, can you please elucidate?

The beauty of poetry is that it BREAKS barriers, breaks down barriers of all kinds. I have seen this week in week out, year in year out at poetry events in Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Rochdale, Bolton, Yorkshire, Wirral, Wales etc etc. it is something I saw in running poetry events for over six years and it is something that I and most of the poets I know have found on a personal level. By that I mean, looking at many of my poet friends I see men, women, old men, old women, young men, young women, gay men, gay women, Tory, liberal, socialist, libertarian, working class, middle class, rich...men and women.

As a result of poetry's open door policy to anyone, one of my best friends for the last decade...has come to be a 75 year old woman.

Do we see oafish behaviour at poetry events? Absolutely. Is it common? Absolutely not. It is so rare to be a non issue and when. I or other people I know have spoken about it such behaviour is just as often from woman as from a man. Because bad behaviour relates to ignorance and ignorance is a 'people' problem.

Back on track. Poetry's special gift. Its one great and true gift is its ability to break down barriers, not erect them. When we hear someone read, we hear the individual, the inner person. We find respect and admiration for a persons mind.

I'm sure the gig and the poets at the gig were excellent and My comments are not about casting any aspersions. Equally putting on a gig, especially time after time takes some doing and deserves respect.

But the bottom line is this needs to be said. And it doesn't matter how much anyone tries to editorialise to the contrary.



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Greg Freeman

Thu 12th Feb 2015 19:25

And you too, Mab! Hope you had a good journey back to Cardiff. Keep in touch with Write Out Loud!

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Mab Jones

Thu 12th Feb 2015 18:59

Thanks for this review , Greg. And, good to finally meet you. Mab

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