Jilliana Ranicar-Breese, 74, is a radio presenter, writer, poet and hosts a Spoken Word Salon in Brighton on the first Tuesday of the month. Jilliana is a veritable one-woman hive of activity and role model for getting older brilliantly.
How old are you?
I am 74 [Capricorn] and reside in Brighton
What do you do?
A lot in this day and age of Social Media. I am the co-presenter and co-producer of a weekly Friday radio programme called ‘Your voice matters’ at Brighton and Hove Community Radio [BHCR]. I choose my guests carefully, brief them and also interview them separately for my own YouTube channel for my series ‘Jilliana in Brighton’.
I travel as much as I can, up to five months of the year, studying the country, culture and language as a project before I leave. At my destination, I interview people in English, French, Italian or Spanish for my YouTube channel or do Vox Pops. I go to markets and am passionate about fashion, food, music and photography. I am also a senior reviewer for TripAdvisor so I am constantly making notes and taking photographs of food, hotels and restaurants as well as ‘Faces and Places’.
Last year I began my monthly Spoken Word Salon [Jilliana’s Spoken Word Salon] in Hove and created more work for myself!
I fervently write my vignettes and narrative poems when I have time between writing daily to friends and e-friends, sending photographs and texts all over the world to people I have met or people who I will meet. There is not a day when I am not writing something to someone, if not to myself! I cannot live without the power of the word!
Tell us what it’s like to be 74?
I am proud to be a mature 74 knowing that I don’t look my age nor, thankfully, act my age. I had to make the decision when I turned 70 that I would not hide my age if and when asked. The only thing that irritates me, when meeting new people, is if they ask me straight off, if I have grandchildren!
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
A good question. I did not have life experience nor worldwide cultural knowledge. I only spoke Italian at 25 in 1969 and had not experienced life in Paris which became my cultural education. Nor was I a writer. I didn’t have an identity either. I was not a property owner so at 25 I was a free spirit. I had no proper career and no goals. In fact I was an enthusiastic travel agent at Global Tours (Number 3 in the UK) in Oxford Street planning my journey to Brazil in 1970 which would influence my life forever lured by the Bossa Nova and the beautiful sound of the Brazilian Portuguese language – music in itself to my ears.
What about sex?
Well, what about sex? That’s like opening a can of worms. A bit of a joke for me as I used to deal in ‘Erotica’ prints and postcards in Paris and London in the late 70s and recently have interviewed at least 5 Sexperts for my ‘Jilliana in Brighton’ series on Sex Education. An education never given to me in the 60s by my pharmacy owner Mother when I was growing up in Liverpool.
After betrayal by my husband in 2006 and two events in 2013, men do not figure in my life. I am not gay but frankly prefer the company of women to men. I find woman more honest, open and willing to share their experiences and stories. Women don’t play games, men do – in my book!
How free do you feel?
I have freedom of choice now that I have no husband to ‘control’ my behaviour. 25 years of restricted behaviour! I am also free of being in business and earning money, meeting deadlines and being polite to clients and colleagues who, at times, I could not express myself freely to.
What are you proud of?
Proud that from being a technophobic about 7 years ago, I have mastered basic Social Media and am not afraid to ask for help. Never stop learning, I say.
I am proud of becoming a radio broadcaster.
I am proud of winning the award for best co-presenter and co-producer of 2017.
I am proud of winning the Rotary Club of Brighton and Hove award for Community Services Award in December 2018.
I am proud being the MC at my own Salon.
I am proud at my Page Spoken Word reading of my vignettes and poems to an audience.
I am proud I can make an audience laugh.
I am proud I can interview people and get them to reveal stories that they never thought they could tell.
I am proud that I created an international business in the antique collectibles world with the investment of £200 in Paris in 1977.
I am proud that I founded and created Retrograph Archive in the mid 1980s that was under offer to Duke’s University, Hartman Collection for seven years before I was told they did not have the funds to buy it. They wanted me to donate it! Proud I was ahead of my time. Finally my Nostalgia Archive went to another museum in London. 2,000 of my images ended up in the Mary Evans photo library in London and I receive no income. A tragic story not ready to be revealed involving betrayal.
I am proud that I did the fire-walk despite having a fear of fire. Mind over matter. I am unstoppable.
I am proud that I am confident without being conceited.
Proud I became a radio journalist and broadcaster
Proud I became a narrative poet
Proud I found my Voice to express my thoughts and life experience
Proud I was invited to perform my vignettes and poetry in Paris, Chaniá, Kalkan and Fethiye.
Proud that people consider my writing inspirational.
Proud I speak several languages.
Proud that I started to travel at the age of 22 and despite getting into hot water, learned to manage my life through my mistakes.
Proud that I became a world traveller without fear of the unknown. I opened the door to Europe and further afield.
Proud that I survived a serious ‘Breakdown/breakthrough’ and rose from the ashes of my former life.
Proud that I became a better individual with a greater understanding of others, less fortunate then myself.
Proud that I became less selfish despite being an only child in a silent home
Proud that I am a sincere good friend to my close friends.
Proud that I have let go of the betrayal in my life.
Proud that people consider ME inspirational.
Proud of my Jewish cultural heritage
Proud that I am an honest person. What you see is what you get.
Proud to be a Liver Bird.
Proud that I founded Retrograph Archive and its photo library.
Proud that I became an Archivist and a Picture Researcher/Visual Consultant.
Proud that I created and styled non-digital ‘RetroMontages’ in the late 80s that were published in the UK, Munich and New York.
Proud to be the Mentor to my adopted Cuban ‘daughter’ Ingrid.
Proud I became ‘Sultana Jilliana’ and created my own original Sultana fashion style.
What keeps you inspired?
Meeting positive people from all walks of life who have a story to tell and teach me something. Everyone has a story to tell. That’s the jigsaw of life.
Seeing beautiful clothes on lovely beings.
Seeing beautiful colourful flowers and trees or seeing exotic photographs of animals and nature that people kindly send me through social media.
When are you happiest?
Watching good classical movies from the 40s, watching American chat shows or comedy shows on YouTube, listening to world music, listening to piano and violin classical music, selecting music for the radio show, being with tropical plants and flowers in a lovely garden or walking in botanical gardens, being with dogs and cats, especially with Neko, my adorable cat who I have written about.
I am happy when I am on holiday or in the company of my best friend and Soul Sister, British of Jamaican heritage, Pauline Weir who is inspirational. We inspire and appreciate each other. I am happy when I am writing and inspired by my own creativity. Frankly, I enjoy my own company.
Where does your creativity go?
Today my creativity goes into my appearance. I live for colour, which uplifts my spirit. Colour combinations and textiles and textures are essential for me. A daily dose of colour keeps the doctor away!
My creative release is more importantly through my writing. I cannot live without being creative and expressing myself through the Spoken Word. I am forever telling my true stories and have now found a platform and an audience globally. Spread the Word I say. Write what you say and say what you mean’.
Are you still dreaming?
I believe if you wish hard enough for something, it will manifest. I rarely remember my dreams. I am a realist. I don’t dream. I know Walt Disney said ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ but my whole life has been synchronicity and Happenstance. I never planned my life, it just happened. A door opens and I walk through it.
What’s your philosophy of living?
Live abundantly for the moment. No one knows when our time is going to be up! Speak your truth. Be a good, kind and generous friend to your friends and surprise others not in your life from time to time.
Be a mentor to others less fortunate than yourself. Share your life knowledge with others. Take an interest in your health, mental well-being and physical well-being. I repeat. Be generous and share. We came into this world alone with nothing and we will depart from this world alone with nothing. We only ‘borrow’ possessions. In fact, we need very little in life. But in later life we need a comfortable bed, a pet and friends we can confide in. A sense of humour is essential even turning a tragedy into comedy. I speak from experience. In a way I must thank my dear departed husband for his betrayal and mental abuse, otherwise I would not have become the woman I am today.
I do not think about death. I live for the moment. Carpe Diem. My funeral will be a celebration of my life. I hate it when people say ‘What WAS your name? ‘ I usually growl and say ‘I’m not dead yet!’
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I had always planned to age disgracefully like my dear departed late ex-husband did with the inevitable consequences, which caused my breakdown/breakthrough. Now I have changed my mind because people can get hurt through selfishness and cruelty.
Last action was 2013 in Berlin! I was dared to do something and took up the challenge. But was it really outrageous? Umm. But what IS outrageous? We all have different ideas according to background, culture and age. Now that I am a public figure in the Brighton and Hove community, I have my reputation to consider. After all, I AM Sultana Jilliana!
Jilliana’s Spoken Word Salon is on the first Tuesday of the month in Hove. www.jilliana.com
Penny Pepper, 59 – poet, performer and writer. She found her voice through writing for punk fanzines and is now on her Naked Punk tour. ‘Punk fired a freedom in me to start accepting myself, that I was okay as a human being, as a woman, as a creative, who could challenge the categories imposed on me. It is the energy that triggered my activism, and my passion for social justice and equality.’
It’s a sad moment when I realise I’ve forgotten to pack my favourite knickers, as I arrive in yet another hotel room, many miles from my Hastings home.
Where am I? I sometimes forget as hotels are my second home at least every four weeks. This time, oh yes. Bristol. The Naked Punk (me) will perform a spoken word set, plus extracts from my memoir, First In The World Somewhere. And at the iconic music store, Rough Trade, only one of four branches in the entire world, damn it!
Here I am, pushing 60. A wheelchair user with a personal assistant (the preferred term) who is my driver, back scrubber and all round right-hand woman. For most of my Naked Punk tour, this personal assistant has been Emma. We work together well, have a laugh together and sometimes a cry together. For instance when we arrived one night, at a Premier Inn in Hackney, London only to discover there was no parking. None at all.
Everything I might need at a hotel goes through a triple checking process on the phone in advance, but alas this far from foolproof. While a young person on reception does not equate with incompetence, it may equate with slow and confused service, especially if you are, gasp, unusual. Poor young things, well groomed and the epitome of polite; they rarely have a clue about the shower blockage or why your room has the wrong bed height – despite those phone calls. They can resolve internet problems though, mostly. Even if they do start by looking at you as if you’re their granny who has never heard of this inter-tweet-net thing.
There are desperate moments on the road. I wish I could at this point bring in the drugs, sex, and TVs being smashed through windows. But in reality, it’s pain killers, bad telly and ‘accessible’ wet rooms that tend to flood your entire room, bringing with it the delicate aroma of the local sewage plant.
I am a bit rock n’ roll in my approach to unpacking. Emma hangs up my clothes, but otherwise my method is to throw items THERE, on the desk below the TV. Here I leave everything from lipstick to Kitkats, note books to baby wipes, empty Dorito packets to a tissue box which is de rigeur. Oddly at home I teeter into OCD tidiness. On my road trip, meh. Let it sprawl and multiply. Earrings do the latter on the road, which I think has something to do with my self-inflicted visit to a local makers’ market. Or the mall.
My hotels are booked to be as close as they can be to the venue. This means less worry about the dreaded parking and makes me more relaxed for the important bit. But in Bristol, it means working out how to get off the noisy ring road, and avoid the Bear Pit roundabout subway where there is a sleepy gaggle of street folk. I lived in London for almost 30 years – I ain’t scared. But it smells bad and brings us out to another fuck of a noisy road. Emma solves it. We come out of the Hilton Cheap and into the posh mall.
Because I am a touch on the delicate side, I always rest the day before a gig. I don’t mean lying in bed being fanned, but I do relax. This time I chilled out by way of buying a hairpiece. Long and pink. Essential for mermaid days.
A gig brings a little tension into my stomach. I’m not nervous when I perform but I percolate the anticipation for hours in multifarious ways. There is the twitchy excitement, the fretting about time, and therefore the hours in the ‘green room’.
Once this was an empty classroom. Another time it had two rows of mirrors and I got to use HRM’s Queenie lift. Here in Bristol, it is actually in Rough Trade, a table set by the photo booth amid all the records. A little disconcerting as most of the walls are glass. At least I don’t need to do a costume change.
The gig goes well despite a scary ramp, which I shoot up from the audience. Next time I need to play some music to accompany my daring ascent. It’s a decent crowd and they respond with cheers, responses and applause throughout.
I glow and grin. Job done.
Next journey Wiltshire. Next gig, WOMAD JULY 26-28th. Get me.
From our inception in 2016, Advantages of Age has always had a proclivity for poetry. In 1936, William Butler Yeats, widely considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, described Edith Sitwell’s poetry – ‘Her language is a traditional language of literature — twisted, torn, complicated, choked here and there by strange resemblances, unnatural contacts, forced upon us by some violence beating in our blood, some primitive obsession that civilization can no longer exorcise’.
This week, I asked our six poets – myself, Caroline Cadenza, Wendy Klein, Beatrice Garland, Matthew Brown and Debra Watson – to introduce themselves and to tell us something about how getting older has affected their poetry. We will all be performing at the Poetry Café this Thursday, June 27th at 7pm.
I started writing in my mid-50s so I was already old when I started. I wasn’t a teenage poet however I had been a journalist for years, and words ran with me like water. I found myself in the position career-wise where the opportunities to be a freelance journalist had become less and less. The democratisation of writing on the web and my age mitigated against the career I’d relished for the previous 25 years. It was a scary time. So I decided that re-invention was the best policy. In order to earn money, I started doing press and at the same time, I signed on to a Beginner’s Poetry Class at City Lit in London.
There was something about the succinctness of poems and the task in hand that attracted me, and it still does. And there is a parallel in that, with journalism. Condensing an experience that is long and complicated into something that bites with its intensity. Like pasta al dente. Not to overcook. That is my aim.
My first pamphlet Tantric Goddess was published on Eyewear in 2017 when I was 64. It was an exploration partly of the relationship that I started when I was 60. Hence the title which also has a tongue in its cheek. More recently, I did a project with my partner, Asanga where I sent him ten poems and he created ten watercolours as a response, this then became an exhibition and a book Wild Land.
Here is a poem from Tantric Goddess –
LOVE IS LIKE FINDING A SECRET BALLROOM IN MY HEAD
All those years I’d been doing crazy asanas,
the dancing was happening round the corner.
My Conscious Relationship teacher did a lecture
on Holding The Psychosexual Boundaries.
Destroy his letters in a fire ritual.
I’d always dived into Never-Neverland
with broken men, bits of rope and dirty dishes.
To me, the terms were incomprehensible,
I thought my writing should be on their walls.
Enlightenment came through painstaking logic,
a series of unyoga-like forays into household chores.
Like rebels in flagrante,
we move our old limbs slowly.
I haven’t mentioned the chandeliers.
Caroline Cadenza, 51, is an award-winning advertising copywriter, living and working in London. Not finding much scope to express the deep stirrings of her soul whilst writing cat food ads or car brochures, she often uses her daily commute to write poetry. She loves reading her work at Open Mic events and feeling it resonate with audiences.
She has just published Metaphorplay, which she describes as ‘a wildly poetic romance’ and is a collection of her erotic, naughtily edgy, witty poems. She has also illustrated them with her own inimitable pizzazz and colour.
Here’s what she says about her evolution as a poet –
In my 20s and 30s, my poetry was a microphone for my innermost voice as it sung of my spirit’s longings for wholeness and my passion’s yearnings to bust out of the prison of my shrinking-violet personality.
Throughout my fantastically freeing 40s, my art and poetry were increasingly an outlet for my mischief and wildness. But at some point, this ‘secret me’ was so thoroughly outed as the ‘real me’, that putting it back in its box became pointless.
Now at the tip-over from 40s into 50s, it seems that my former decades were merely fertilising the ground for the fruition and bursting forth I’m currently enjoying. This feels like the midsummer of my life – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually blossoming, blooming, ripening and epiphany-ing all over the place.
My poetry today remains an amplifier for my ever-more daring voice – defying convention, berating ex-lovers and shaming them for chasing ridiculously younger totty. But my main catharsis comes from fondly deriding myself and transmuting my tragedies – confessionly, into comedies. As ever, my poetry doesn’t just express my inner world, it reveals, translates, unscrambles and interprets it to me. The trembling voice of my awe and gratitude to be here at all, offers both poetic prayers of thanks and laments the loss of contemporaries who have already passed away. Through my poetry’s portal, my inner goddess roars her wrath and purrs her promises.
What’s next? Who knows? I love turning my poems into performances. So watch this YouTube space for more like this:
This is one of Caroline’s poems that we published at Advantages of Age. It epitomises her courage and naughtiness.
Fruits plucked in haste when ripe enough to eat
Are fresh and firm and tolerably sweet
But look again and higher up you’ll see
Maturer fruit still hanging on the tree.
Come connoisseur, this mellow one’s for you
Not tang and tart and biting back
Nor am I overdue
But come to my fruition – in my prime
Beyond delicious: my taste is sublime.
You’ll barely need to bite – just use your lips
I’ll yield my liquid treasure for kiss
My perfume beckons – lures you to come near
Good sir – you are the reason I am here.
I’m burdened with this ripeness, heavy with completeness
Never before nor ever more will I exude such sweetness
Nectar-seekers, lotus-eaters have not tasted such
Come pluck me now and glut yourself while I am soft and lush.
I’ve nought to lose and all to gain
For it shall be lamented
If my ripeness finds no mouth
Before I’m all fermented.
Widely published and winner of many prizes, Wendy Klein, 77, is a retired psychotherapist, born in New York and brought up in California. Since leaving the U.S. in 1964, she has lived in Sweden, France, Germany and England. Her writing has been influenced by early family upheaval resulting from her mother’s death, her nomadic years as a young single mother and subsequent travel. Despite dashing about between four daughters and fourteen grandchildren, she has published three collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) from Cinnamon Press, and Mood Indigo (2016) from Oversteps Books.
She writes about herself – ‘I believe profoundly in the curative powers of dancing dogs and reading poetry out loud. I hope that someone will humanely destroy me if I cease to be able to enjoy these pleasures.’
Here’s what she says about age and being the poet she is – I am a bit of an imposter to Advantages of Age, because I really don’t see many advantages in terms of any part of my life. I read the brave, positive items you post with great interest and wonder! Certainly getting older has made me less confident about many aspects of my life, and writing is one of them. I am a glass-half-empty person who does her best to stay just ahead of the black dogs. Everything takes me longer, I am more disorganised, I forget titles I have changed, waste a lot of time looking for lost/mislaid items, electronic and paper.
I had a pretty good system up until we moved a few weeks ago, but I have just spent a whole morning not finding a reading I did in Chichester recently, which I want to repeat in London this Saturday, and I cannot find it. Will have to reprint, and I have no replacement cartridge to make my printer work. It is solvable, and I have a wonderful techie partner who bails me out. But… Performance-wise, I suffer more from nerves than I did when I was younger, stumble more, etc. Am pretty diffident about promoting my work, more etc. You get the picture.
I think I am definitely past my prime in terms of developing new ideas, experimentation, etc. I write what I write and know my limitations, which I guess could be described as an advantage. In general, I find the poetry world an awkward place to navigate, and I think I have retreated from the competitive corners of it I used to inhabit willingly. I still put on a pretty good show, but it doesn’t feel secure.
This is a wonderful poem that Advantages of Age published of hers! I love that it’s ‘the beast’ that she covets. I’m sure Yeats would approve.
WHAT THE WEAVER KNOWS
I’m not just any maiden lounging in the millefleurs,
there to bait the trap. On my canvas, invisible
to the innocent, fish knives gleam, wait to scale
your silver, crack open your heart. Listen;
there are rumours of drowning by metaphor:
the flicker of dance, the aspiration of flight,
the whale-bone squeeze that robs breath, moulds
flesh into enticement, promises nothing.
Embrace the rush of darkness, the drip and seep
of 4 AM when eyelids are peeled back, lashes bat
and flap, when the tick of the body is loudest
as light advances, twists, morphs, begins its birth trial:
crown of head, shoulders, the buttocks’ heart-cushion,
legs and feet, their twitch and kick built-in.
No I’m not just any maiden, there to bait the trap, a silly pawn
in some hunter’s game. It’s the beast I covet:
the arch of his back, his mane’s rough silk, the heave
of his white, white breast. Look out, for only the canniest
can break into the spiked circle, where I spell-spin;
a sucker for unicorns; not much of a lady.
Beatrice Garland, 81, has a day job as a National Health Service clinician and teacher, work which requires a lot of publication in its own right (under a different name), so there have been long gaps in her writing poetry since she began in 1989. But it has never stopped completely.
This is partly because she has always read – poetry from the sixteenth century right up to the 2019s, as a result of a first degree in Eng. Lit. – and partly because no job can satisfy every need, perhaps particularly not the need for something personal and self-examining. She spends a lot of the day listening to other people’s worlds. Writing poems offsets that: poetry is a way of talking about how each of us sees, is touched by, grasps, and responds to our own different worlds and the people in them.
She won the National Poetry Prize in 2001 with Undressing, has won several other prizes and has two collections out – Invention of Fireworks and The Drum.
Beatrice is one of the most dynamic women I know. Her poems are vivid and daring.
Here’s what she says about her writing and getting older –
I only started to write really once I was older – say, from 50 onwards. And over the last four or five years I’ve become more confident about performing/reading. But basically growing older for me has meant knowing my own mind, and not being afraid to speak it without becoming strident.
We are going to bed. From where
I am lying, hands behind my head,
I watch your progress with interest
for you are a fine-looking man, good hair
and yes, still slim. When you remove
your shirt, stretching to take it off
without undoing the buttons, I see your ribs
and catch a drift of something feral,
warm, from the efforts of the day
and it makes my pulse quicken. But first
I must tell you something important:
you must never ever ever again
leave your socks on till last.
Matthew Brown, 54, is a freelance journalist and writer. His poems have appeared in a number of publications, including Magma, Other Poetry and South Bank Poetry. He grew up in Durham and lives in East London.
Matt is brilliant at forensically dissecting experiences, particularly around nature. His poems are have a quiet but flaming sensitivity to them.
Here’s s poem of his that was in a group pamphlet, Sounds of the Front Bell.
Weigh it first in the palm of your left, belly up.
Then flop flank down on the block, tail fanned out
against marble or oak. Note the gold scales,
the red-eye dots. See the gills collapse,
the arsehole’s dark O. Touch your blade tip here,
clip a nick, press till the slit grows. Grip.
Use a rag if you must, then slice through chest
to throat – a fine line where pale flesh thins.
Stop before the slack jaw’s wishbone. Make it clean.
Fishwives, it’s said, could cut through fifty a minute, their blunt fingers stunk to old age.
Slide yours between the flaps to catch
the guts, a moist purseful of soft mechanics.
This is what there is: a tube for in and out made slime. Snip the gullet, tug
the slick innards till membrane peels from bone. Adjust your hold, thumb
back muscle, let the knife-point pierce
the spinal column. Ooze as black as claret dregs.
Most goes with a running tap; some spots
need an edge, a fingernail. With luck, what’s found
between the ribs is pink. Leave the head,
let eyes pearl in the pan, skin butter-crisp with sting of lemon and dill. What’s left
is skeleton: skull, vertebrae, fin; tail, a tattered flag on a grounded ship. Fold the waste
in old news, seal the lid from night’s predators.
Debra Watson, 53, is the co-founder and director of The Crimson Word, a poetry collective for shows and events exploring multi-sensory, immersive poetry. She is also a regular performer at The Poetry Brothel London and with The Bloody Poets. She has recently published her first chapbook Laments and Incantations.
Debra is a sensual poet whose words wrap around you and wrestle you to the floor. She delights with her provocative tongue.
Here’s what she says about her work and evolution as a poet –
I stopped writing poetry when I came to the UK in 1997 and started again in 2011. I found a batch of poems that I wrote between 1993 and 1997 and to be honest, the themes and the writing styles are not madly different. I think, if anything, I have developed more craft in the writing. It was wonderful working with poet and editor Katie Haworth on my chapbook. The reasons the poems look more ‘professional’ is that Katie brought some ‘grammar rules’ to the work. She has a fine eye for teasing out the style of the poet and creating formatting rules. She is a tough editor and I had to fight my corner. I am quite stubborn, so often my first reaction to changes is ‘no’ – but then I would look again, and I would see that Katie had actually made a really genius and elegant suggestion. If anything, getting older has made me more willing to open up my work to collaborations.
What has made the most impact on my writing is performing live with The Poetry Brothel London. When I first started I asked Gabriel Moreno if I had to learn my lines. He suggested that I did, but left it to me to decide. The first few performances, I read from a book both for the opening performances and for the private, 1-2-1 readings. However, The Poetry Brothel always has photographers roaming about, and I didn’t like the way the photos looked. So I started learning the poems out of vanity. It was very freeing.
It is very much like that point in rehearsing a play when the director calls for ‘books down’ and suddenly, you can concentrate more intently on your body and your internal relationship to the words than you can if reading from the page. I find this difficult to describe, but in some way it has affected the musicality of the writing.
Performing ‘book down’ has then become really useful when performing intimate poetry either with The Poetry Brothel or with The Crimson Word, the poetry performance company I started with Winter James. Being book free has made it possible to get really close to the clients and to experiment with performing multi-sensory poems.
The poet Amy-Nielson Smith was the first person I knew who was doing this in her private readings, using blindfolds and smell sensations. I was reluctant at first – but after a few months at the Poetry Brothel – seeing how much the clients loved it when other poets blindfolded them, I started doing it too. Now it is a central part of my intimate performances and has made me super aware of the use of multi-sensory word triggers within the long form poems.
The second major influence has been working very closely with the violinist Henni Saarela. Henni is a hero. So much of the impact of the work has come through developing work with her. I have worked with musicians a lot since I started performing publicly in the 1980s.
I used to write far more political stuff till the late 80s, early 90s and worked at first with a traditional drummer and then a cellist. I have always written erotica and performed at a lot of arts events in my youth. At my book launch in May, Henni and I were joined by PicturePoems and Gabi Garbutt for some of the poems from the collection.
There are a lot of poets who are musicians and we tend to talk a bit about the difference between writing music and writing poems. Sappho, of course, was a musician, so the two have been linked in a bardic way through many cultures. We keep intending to record. I’d love that to be a collaboration with other musicians. The Spanish poetess, Belen Berlin, played ukulele on the first performance of ‘Dammit Johnny’ with the collective ‘The Bloody Poets’ and it was amazing. Henni plays that part now and sometimes other instruments too.
At the last Poetry Brothel, Henni and I were joined by Gabriel Moreno on guitar for ‘Barcelona’ and it was sensational. The title of my chapbook is called ‘Laments and Incantations’ and some of the writing has choruses/ refrains that reflect this influence of working with musicians. I’ve worked with a few different musicians on different instruments, but never all at the same time. I guess that might be next.
The last few months I have been dealing with chronic pain and have not had much mental clarity or energy to write. The last thing I wrote which I performed with FemmeDemomium at The Uncensored Festival is a prose poem called ‘Bad Feminist’.
It is a huge departure for me in terms of style. The piece before that was a bespoke performance piece called ‘Baba Yaga’. Although thematically it fitted into my fascination with retelling fairytales – stylistically, it was writing to fit in with a performance developed by poet Naomi Wood – playing the young Baba Yaga who gets the calling to visit the Baba Yaga.
I wrote for and performed the more cantankerous version of Baba Yaga. I also re-wrote ‘The Beauty and The Beast’ for a performance of ‘Venus in Furs’ which we did with The Crimson Word. It was hugely satisfying as it was delivered to be read as a pervy bed-time story and it was enacted by our house submissive playing ‘Beauty’ and an audience member playing ‘The Beast’. The fairy-tale turns the roles on their heads.
I am also busy writing for a new collection called ‘The Empire of Fluff’ which includes poems about colonialism, capitalism and environmental degradation. I don’t really know – my writing feels all over the place at the moment. Lacking discipline in so far as I am responding in very different and diverse ways to themes – so it is more difficult seeing an organic collection grow as I did with ‘Laments and Incantations’.
Here’s a poem that we published in AofA –
I immerse myself in you
Wanting you same
as I always did
When we were young
and the violet Jacaranda
fell carelessly in
around our feet
though we were still
Both busy reaping
the sky of stars,
I fell into you,
and light in passing
we’d be doing
into our 60s
that the delights and sensations of spring
could last for endless nights.
I touch you now
beneath my mouth
open to receive me
and though we are both older
when I kiss you
I feel a subcutaneous youth,
surfacing from deep within
and my thighs
My longing is both endless and urgent
Your body lends itself to me
and I can be as selfish as I choose
in choosing you
The feel of you evokes
so much light in me
that my fingertips
burst with sunshine
Tonight the smile will not
leave my eyes
or my soul
stop from spinning
and I cannot be damned for the
laughter you make well from me
or the way my body remembers
As if we had not spent mere hours together
in this life
but lifetimes with every hour.
TICKETS FOR PIZZAZZ, SIX POETS OVER 50 TAKING PLACE AT THE POETRY CAFÉ DOWNSTAIRS AT 7PM, JUNE 27TH 2019, CAN BE BOUGHT HERE –