Three years after the emergence of the global #MeToo movement, we revisit the poems (and poets) behind the #MeToo Women’s Poetry Anthology. Poets Jill Abram, Deborah Alma, Kim Moore, Wendy Pratt, Victoria Bennett, and Jhilmil Breckenridge discuss breaking the silence, whether there is still hope for change, and what needs to happen next for survivors to be heard. Any donations contributed during this event will be given to Women’s Aid.
The proceeds from this event and all proceeds from the book go to Women’s Aid – a charity supporting women in crisis.
Jill Abram is Director of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a collective encouraging craft, community and development. Publications include The Rialto, Magma, Under the Radar, Ink Sweat & Tears, And Other Poems, and Harana.
Deborah Alma is a UK poet and teacher. Deborah is editor of #MeToo: A Women’s Poetry Anthology. Her first full collection, Dirty Laundry, is published by Nine Arches Press and she now runs the Poetry Pharmacy in Shropshire.
Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling (Seren, 2015) won the 2016 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Her second collection All The Men I Never Married will be published by Seren in October 2021.
Wendy Pratt’s latest collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet award. She is a poet, author and workshop facilitator and the creator and editor of Spelt magazine.
Her most recent poetry pamphlet, To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2020, and is an invitation to witness to the intimate moments of dying, telling the story of a relationship between women that is transformed through grief.
Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist. She is the founder of Bhor Foundation, an Indian charity, which is active in mental health advocacy. Her debut poetry collection is Reclamation Song.
#Me Too was first coined in 2006 by New Yorker Toronto Burke. In 2017 following major press coverage (Harvey Weinstein) the # was used over 12 million times in a couple of weeks. Deborah Alma, after following the news, put out a message on Facebook asking who HADN’T experienced… and only 3% hadn’t. And actually in further conversation, this 3% had as well. The book was published in 2018 (Fair Acre Press), in a time when the #me too movement was hitting everyone’s radar.
Sadly, it is still a necessary message to get out to the world. More so since Lockdown.
I went to a few #Me Too readings when the book was launched. My submission didn’t make it between the cover there were hundreds of submissions and the book couldn’t accommodate them all, so Victoria Bennett stepped in and published them on the Wild Women Press website (mine can be found here along with many others). It was also included in a body of work exhibited as part of the ASKING FOR IT exhibition in 2019.
It was hearing Kim Moore read from The Art of Falling, which enabled me to find the strength to write it into existence in the first place.
This, I knew would be a brilliant reading and it was with lots of Q&A too and because of the weight of the subject matter they finished the event off with a touch of self-care. A question to every member of the panel.
This was an incredible workshop and I am so glad I didn’t miss it! If you suffer chronic pain and are a writer, go and watch this session if you can.
I can finally see why 2019 was NOT a creative year for me.
Welcome to the 2nd part of week 1 – these are just snippet reviews from some of my festival experience. Enjoy your bite of SAHLF 2021.
NaPoWriMo drew to a close and May began, so too the first festival weekend. With a list of many great events programmed for the SAHLF.
All the featured books can be purchased in the S@HLF Bookshop here.
What We Do to Get Through
Q and A and discussion with author and editor James Withey about his new book What I Do to Get Through: How to Run, Swim, Cycle, Sew or Sing Your Way Through Depression, with writers Orna Cunningham and Georgina Woolfrey.
I remember James Withey from last year’s SAHLF. As I have already mentioned in these review posts, dealing with Mental Health and Wellbeing are essential movements in my life. When I suffered clinical depression (8+ years ago), I (like James) could not read, I couldn’t do anything for a long while. Due to being heavily medicated I mainly slept and even as I progressed with treatment it was a long time before I could look at words. I wanted there to be books to help, had there been it may have been a swifter recovery (but possibly not) and in truth, I will always be on this road. I did eventually find black rainbow by Rachel Kelly and that saved me, I blogged about it a lot and the book itself was one of the few available at the time from the perspective of a person who had suffered. I met Rachel a year later – there are some old posts about it all here:
Anyway, this long preamble is to say that these books, this issue are so IMPORTANT. I was amazed and heartened by the attitude towards the audience as this being our space, our time and how willingly people joined in the conversation. Brilliant to see as everything took a lot of guts and courage.
The impact of this session on me cannot really be placed within the framework of words or emotion. Those of you from here will know why.
What I Do to Get Through: How to Run, Swim, Cycle, Sew, or Sing Your Way Through Depression
James Withey is author of the bestselling book How to Tell Depression to Piss Off: 40 Ways to Get Your Life Back, published by Little, Brown in 2020. The follow up book How to Tell Anxiety to Sod Off, will be published in Jan 2022. He is the founder of The Recovery Letters project which publishes online letters from people recovering from depression, addressed to people experiencing it. He is the co-editor of The Recovery Letters book which was a World Book Night title and selected as a Reading Well title. Cosmopolitan magazine named it as ‘One of the 12 mental health books everyone should read’.
What I Do to Get Through: How to Run, Swim, Cycle, Sew, or Sing Your Way Through Depression, was published by Jessica Kingsley in Feb 2021. James lives in Hove with his husband and emotionally damaged cat.
Orna Cunningham is an editor, illustrator and designer. Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, she has been based in her adopted home of Toronto, Canada, since 2015. She has worked for titles like the Irish Independent, The Daily Mail, The Irish Sun, and Russia Today. She is passionate about destigmatising topics surrounding mental health, and apart from her work as a journalist, writes short stories, personal essays, and poetry, and presents the occasional podcast.
It was interesting to hear the genesis of this book and to listen to how various hobbies and the act of doing something helps manage this deep illness. Also loved the fact that James told us all about an Avocado he planted/nurtured and the next day it appeared on his Twitter feed.
Georgina told us the writing which was viewed over 90,000 times was written to try and explain to her friends and family how and where she was.
Home in Our Bodies
Was an incredible powerful event, a reading and a workshop activity. It was joy to discover the brave, honest voice of Aoife Lyall and the equal depth of Victoria Kennefick’s poetry.
Her first collection Mother, Nature (Bloodaxe Books, 2021) has been described as ‘crucial’, ‘daring’, ‘heart-rending’ and ‘staggeringly tender’.
Aoife Lyall (née Grifﬁn) was born in Dublin in 1987 and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. Awarded an Emerging Scottish Writer residency by Cove Park in 2020 and twice shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards, her poems have also been shortlisted in the Wells Festival of Literature Open Poetry Competition and the Jane Martin Poetry Prize. She was longlisted for the inaugural Rebecca Swift Foundation Women Poets’ Prize in 2018. Her ﬁrst collection, Mother, Nature, is published by Bloodaxe Books in 2021. She has worked as a guest curator for the Scottish Poetry Library and as a guest editor for Butcher’s Dog. Her reviews have appeared in Browse, The Interpreters’ House, Poetry London and PN Review.
The writing points produced some page surprises for me, not least as I chose a different focal point for the first one and then discovered this had been chosen for the 2nd exercise, so I reverted back to the initial prompt for my second one.
This evet was a dream, if you have a chance to catch these two talented poets, please do.
Witches of Scotland Podcast – Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi
Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi talk about their Witches of Scotland podcast and their work to secure a national monument and apology for those accused of witchcraft during the Scottish Witch trials.
Claire Mitchell studied Law at the University of Glasgow and was called at the Scottish Bar in 2003, having been a solicitor in private practice since 1996. She specialises in criminal law and criminal extradition. She has built up a strong Appeal Court practice, with an emphasis on constitutional, human rights and sentencing questions. She has attended the Privy Council and Supreme Court on a number of occasions in relation to cases of general public importance to the law of Scotland. At the 2013 Law Awards of Scotland, she received a “Special Recognition Award” for her contribution to legal thinking over the previous decade.
Zoe Venditozzi is a writer and teacher who lives in Scotland with her husband and various children. She works as a Support for Learning teacher and also teaches Creative Writing in various settings. Her first novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here won the Guardian newspaper’s Not the Booker popular prize and she has just finished writing a book about madness and psychic phenomena.
This was a fascinating talk. One thing which amazes me is how much local history/National History we never hear about. I knew about the Witch Trials but had not realised just how many lost their lives in Scotland. In other countries, these trials form a central part of the area, here it is hidden, swept shamefully away.
And in the next event, I laughed for practically the full hour. Helen Lederer, I love you!
This was just a stunning, hilarious and insightful three-way conversation/ interview and reading. I am SO glad I didn’t miss it!
How to be Funny When the World is Far From It
Join the founder of the Comedy Women in Print prize Helen Lederer and witty authors Lucy Vine and Abigail Mann to talk about funny fiction, what it’s been like writing comedy when the world doesn’t seem funny, and whether humour has the power to unite us.
Helen began her career in stand-up comedy at London’s famous Comedy Store, as part of the early 80s comedians including French & Saunders and Rik Mayall. She wrote her first play aged ten and was an avid diarist which served her well when asked to reveal them in BBC Radio 4’s My Teenage Diary. On television, Helen is possibly best known for her role as the dippy Catriona in all five series of ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. She has written and performed several one-woman shows- ‘Still Crazy’ a sell out at the Edinburgh Festival in the 90’s, ‘I Might As Well Say It’ was a sell out in 2018. Books include, Coping with Helen Lederer (Angus and Robertson), Single Minding (Hodder and Stoughton) and Finger Food (Accent Press). Her comedy novel, Losing It, published by Pan Macmillan was nominated for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. She founded the Comedy Women Print Prize to celebrate witty writing by women in 2019.
Lucy Vine is a writer, editor and the bestselling author of novels, Hot Mess, What Fresh Hell, Are We Nearly There Yet? and Bad Choices, out 10 June 2021. Her books have been translated into ten languages around the world, with Hot Mess optioned for a TV series in America. She’s been twice longlisted for the Comedy Women In Print Award and also hosted the podcast and live event series, the Hot Mess Clubhouse, celebrating funny women. Her journalism has appeared in the likes of GRAZIA, Stylist, heat, Fabulous, New, Now, marie claire, Glamour Online, COSMOPOLITAN, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Sun and The Mirror.
Abigail is a comedy writer living in London and surviving on a diet of three-shot coffee, bourbons, and vegetarian sausage rolls. She was born and brought up in Norfolk, which she says is to blame for the sardonic humour that runs through her novels. Abigail was the runner up in 2019’s Comedy Women in Print award for The Lonely Fajita and has recently published her second book The Sister Surprise. Abigail takes inspiration from unconventional cross-sections of modern society and the impact this has on identity and the relationships we create. When she’s not writing, she teaches creative workshops.
Readings from Katie Griffiths, Arji Manuelpillai, Courtney Conrad and Janett Plummer, introduced by the Director of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, Jill Abram. Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (aka MPK, aka Kitchen) is a writers’ collective founded in Brixton by Malika Booker and Roger Robinson in 2001. It nurtures the writing, performance and careers of poets by emphasising craft, community and development.
Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (aka MPK, aka Kitchen) is a writers’ collective founded in Brixton by Malika Booker and Roger Robinson in 2001. It nurtures the writing, performance and careers of poets by emphasising craft, community and development. Jill Abram has been the Director since 2010. Under her stewardship the group meets for workshops on Friday evenings (the saying goes that, as MPK members give their Friday nights over to poetry, we must be very dedicated). Some sessions are led by members of the collective, others by guest poets from the UK and beyond, such as Kei Miller, Mona Arshi and Olive Senior. MPK Alumni include Inua Ellams, Warsan Shire, Kayo Chingonyi, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Nick Makoha and Aoife Mannix. This lively, London-based community of dedicated poets has inspired similar Kitchen models to be set up worldwide, from Chicago to Delhi, creating an international MPK family.
I’ve known about Malika’s Kitchen for years (since 2015), I have seen a few live events with members of the Kitchen and watched countless interviews (well, I could count them, less than 10) with Roger Robinson, Malika Booker or Jill Abram. I was not going to miss this event and I am glad I didn’t.
It was lovely to be reminded of the whole story, to be introduced to the newest member, Courtney Conrad and one of the original poets, Janett Plummer and to see and hear poets I know and or/have met and those I don’t know. A great mix of work in this reading. And I have to mention – Janett’s amazing balloon arch!
I recently attended Kate Griffiths Book Launch (and have seen her read over the years) and Live from the Butchery (Helen Ivory, Martin Figura & Kate Birch – IS&T) had a Malika’s Kitchen reading in March with Malika Booker, Jill Abram and Fahad Al-Amoudi – I have watched Jill and Malika reading many times over the years at various festivals and had caught some of Fahad Al-Amoudi’s work. In Lockdown1 – 2020, I was fortunate enough to be led back to Wayne Holloway-Smith and through him discovered Arji Manuelpillai just in time to make his book launch for Mutton Rolls.
So I was excited by the line up and knew this was going to be a golden event! And I was not disappointed!
As well as enjoying and listening to a variety of readings, Jill Abram introduced this new book, (which I was aware of). It is packed with poems from Malika’s Kitchen members, the title is how poets in this group were viewed 20 years ago. You can pre-order this book. Inside there are more than 60 new poems from members.
The poetry collective and I discovered this through a session Malika led and also a Poetry Society event, is international. Similar groups in this model have been set up and there is a section of the book where Malika Booker talks to this.
Published 5th August 2021
Again – if you missed this event, go and find it on the channel after the festival, treat yourself!
I long for a year where I can book time off work to do Ledbury properly but until I get a little more change in my pockets my approach is: spend time with the Programme, highlight everything of interest, check against diary schedule, re-check total cost, rethink the parts I really wouldn’t want to miss, check schedule again and invariably decide I can only manage 1 day – find the day with the maximum bounty and go!
This year, I kept up to date with events via Social Media and managed the last day. Last days at Poetry Festivals are full of tired people with passion in their hearts, glowing as brightly as it did on Day 1 and the celebratory atmosphere is impossible to miss.
I set out early and for the first time used the motorway networks (discovered this is a much quicker way of getting there)! I had my programme and itinerary scribbled out. My first stop was a new venue, Muse Cafe and what a gem, strong coffee and a tasty breakfast to boot. The breakfast filled me up all day, I had taken a picnic, not that it was needed as the streets were filled with Food Markets and plenty of choice. The smell was delicious.
Coffee Morning with Malika’s Kitchen – Fantastic Beasts
Malika’s Kitchen is an influential collective of London writers who performed at the Festival on the 8th July. Fantastic Beasts was the theme of this year’s festival. This was a relaxed open mic event hosted by Jill Abram.
I was still up at 1 A.M writing a poem for this event and as I sat there in glorious sunshine listening to a string of fascinating poems I realised that I have plenty of poems to suit the theme, several Mermaid (who hasn’t), one about Udine, The Frog Prince – I could go on. Unfortunately I did not have them with me, having only packed the one freshly inked piece.
There was a pleasant mix of poetry from an anthology Peter Raynard provided as well. I love this idea, some writers never share their poetry publicly and there are a small percentage of poetry lovers who read it and never write it. Having a dip into book enables these people to take part. Jill encouraged people to use it. I enjoyed hearing Ted Hughes and Emily Dickinson amongst others.
Jack is a PHD student who grew up in this rural area. He won the Charles Causeley Prize 2016 (the year after Jo Bell) and completed an incredible set in the Master’s House. I thoroughly enjoyed his reading and his teaching. The link between plough – to plough and verse.
I then had a break – but Ledbury is a festival of poets and by the time I had walked a few metres I bumped into 7 people I knew. I also got to watch some of the events on the High Street – marking the 400th anniversary of the Market House and 21 years of Ledbury.
I got to see Samba Galez you could hear them from the Malika’s Kitchen event!
Before the next event I bumped into Antony & Jo Owen, which meant that I had company at The Master’s House for
20 minutes with Ellie Daghlian, Mel Pettitt, Catherine Choate.
Impressive undergraduate poetry from Bristol University Poetry Centre. It is always refreshing to hear from young voices with old heads and Mel Pettitte’s performance was particularly enthralling.
I then spent some time timing my walk between venues as I had a 10 minute gap between events later on. I caught some of Nick Lovell’s set in the High Street – Ledbury Slam Champion and caught up with Catherine Crosswell.
Book Art 17
Before heading off to the exhibitions at Weaver’s Gallery. I was particularly interested in Book Art 17 and hope that Helen Ivory managed to glimpse this when her and Martin made it to Ledbury on Friday. I wish I could have spent more time there immersing myself in this stunning work.
I also popped into ‘Fantasy’ the textile art exhibition upstairs in the Gallery. There were some striking pieces adorning the walls and as someone who struggles to sew a hemline, I am in awe of the craftsmanship involved in such endeavours.
It was a particularly hot day in Ledbury and by the time I reached the Market Theatre I looked as if I could make use of a shower for sure!
Jill Abram has been successfully running Stablemates in London for some time and one day I WILL get there to see it! But when I discovered they were coming to Ledbury this was a factor in making the decision on Sunday being the best day.
It has been great reading all of Jill’s updates from Ledbury and she has certainly been busy!
I bumped into poets in the Foyer, so another event I wasn’t on my own for.
Stablemates Poetry Salon Peepal Tree Press with Roger Robinson, Nick Makoha and Seni Seneviratne.
An incredible hour of poetry from new to me poets.
Roger Robinson, a dub-poet and founder of Malika’s Kitchen. His poetry empowers common man and he tackles extremely real subject matter. I enjoyed his set and the new work he is currently involved with.
Seni Seneviratne performed in the morning at Muse Cafe. Her work is carefully considered and doesn’t step gently around delicate issues of race and identity but rather spears straight into the heart of the matter.
Nick Makoha is the Director of the Youth Poetry Network. Again a poet tackling hard subjects and inviting us to make better in the world.
It was insightful to have the Q&A with Jill and each poet before they performed. Love the format!
I thoroughly enjoyed my initiation to Stablemates but unfortunately the timings ran over (due to the heat of the venue) and I couldn’t make it to the main event I had planned to attend. I had no idea what the time was. It had already started before Stablemates finished & by the time I made it between venues, was halfway through!
20 Minutes with Ruth Stacey & Katy Wareham Morris
The launch of Inheritance the new collaborative pamphlet from Ruth Stacey & Katy Wareham Morris – Mother Milk Books. One of the main reasons I had chosen this day to go to Ledbury.
I attempted to listen from the window, (which those of you who know my navigational skills/ lack there of… can now amuse yourselves by imagining me clambering around the outside of the Master’s House trying to find the right window)! There was too much ambient noise. Next, (like Goldilocks), I tried the door, which was too thick to hear through, the wall was a little better.
I understand the policy not to let late comers enter, it is disruptive for the readers who perform right next to the door. But in the previous 20 Minutes with… events I went to people attempted to creep in (with the big old door and straight across a poem), I was upset that I couldn’t do the same. Especially as I had been to a previous event and that was the reason I wasn’t seated in time.
I managed to get in at the end of the set and buy a copy of the book. Apologise and attempt to explain. I was saddened by this part of my day. I hope to catch other readings, I know they appear at Waterstones later this year and I have an idea in the melting pot too.
Fortunately Suz Winspear (former Worcestershire Poet Laureate) was performing on the High Street with DanceFest and once I realised there was no getting into the Launch I went and caught a moment or two amongst the crowds outside. My own fault perhaps for trying to be everywhere all at once!
I practically ran back to the Market Theatre for my final show of the day, which I not only made in time, but found the Stablemates were still in the foyer – so I got to chat to them briefly and tell them how touched I was by their performances and ideas.
Versopolis: A Celebration of Emerging European Poets
I had heard of this amazing project, 2 years ago, in the first year it ran. The project i a platform that unites 13 International festivals.
I enjoy listening to translated poetry and poems written/read in a different language. This was an enjoyable show in which sometimes the poetry was translated, at other times it was read in the poet’s mother tongue or in English by the poet.
A warm eclectic range of voices and subjects and wonderful to watch Helen Mort in action and discover the writing of Nikolina Andova and Charlotte Van den Broeck, who blew the audience away with the poem about her and her mother. It was good to meet her afterwards – she seemed so unaware of what had happened the other side of the stage. I also got to hear more from Kayo Chingonyi, who I met at Verve Festival in February.
The whole show was amazing and I willed it not to finish. I could have happily sat through another round of words from this group. The poets were Tiziano Fratus (Italy), Charlotte Van den Broeck (Belgium), Nikolina Andova (Macedonia), Veronika Dintinjana (Slovenia), Yekta (France) and the UK counterparts, Kayo Chingonyi and Helen Mort.
I wanted to stay for Enemies but at this time was still working against poetry deadlines and other writing tasks, which I knew I had to face once home and I was booked for work on Monday. So I missed this show and just read the fabulous reviews. I have since managed to find many of the performances on You Tube. So not all was lost.
It was late by the time I made it home and my writing work kept me at my desk until 1 A.M – which was only possible on post-Ledbury adrenaline!