I first met this woman at the Larmer Tree festival in Salisbury 3 years ago where she belted out her stuff with huge power and conviction not long after winning both the Slambassador’s Poetry Society National Youth Slam AND the Poetry Rivals UK under 18’s Slam. I asked the thoroughly marvellous and humble Megan Beech about Glastonbury, the BBC, feminism and fantasy Open Mic spots…
It’s been three years since I first saw you perform and in that time you have seared a groove that is all yours as a performer, writer and feminist. So much so that the BBC have taken notice and included you in their ‘Women who Spit’ series of short films. How did that come about?
The whole BBC thing happened very suddenly and very unexpectedly. I actually received a Facebook message saying they’d seen some of my work on YouTube and were keen to meet with me to film a poem with a feminist message. I was totally thrilled but my mum was convinced it was a hoax and definitely didn’t believe me until I sent her a photo of my entry pass! It was undoubtedly the most professionally and personally exciting experience I’ve had as a poet: I got to work with a camera crew and an amazing female director, Kate Misrahi, I got to meet JANE GARVEY- that goddess of quality midday Radio 4 broadcasting (!!!) and visit the Woman’s Hour studio- such stuff as dreams are made of! But, most importantly I got to share a message I feel deeply passionate about- that women are not given enough prominence in broadcasting and that there is still a bias towards the pale, stale, male patriarchy that exists and thrives in our society. To meet and have responses from some of the bold, bright, brilliant women like Jane Garvey, Lauren Laverne and Gemma Cairney who are breaking the mould with amazing top-tier broadcasting and to hear from young girls saying the piece has encouraged them has just been the BEST thing!
This is the trailer for Women who Spit featuring Megan and another Glastonbury poet this year – Vanessa Kisuule PLUS last year’s P&W blogger, Deanna Rodger. Click on the links at the end of the trailer to get the individual films on BBC iPlayer.
Your poetry book, ‘When I grow up I want to be Mary Beard’ has been talked up with much love amongst performance poets since its release as a wonderful feminist work. And the title poem was a reaction to actual bigotry hurled at the hero of the piece. Do you think it is the anonymity and transience of social media that encourages casual sexism, racism and homophobia or do you think that kind of bigotry is still embedded and we need far more consciousness-raising?
First of all-thanks very much. It’s always heartening to know that other people in the spoken word world who you respect and admire appreciate your work. I think that the anonymity of social media platforms (looking at you Twitter) does allow certain types of virulent and vicious misogyny to thrive but I think it is just one means of expressing the sexism and bigoted thinking that is still endemic in society. The thing I valued most about the whole ‘Mary Beard’ poem experience was that what I just intended to be a small message of solidarity to Mary Beard, a brilliant woman who I admire, in the face of hideous misogyny, actually got shared around a lot by loads of people. I got to chat to Mary Beard through Twitter. I got to perform at Newnham, her college at Cambridge through Twitter. I feel like if Twitter is the tool for the misogynist troll, it is also one to unify and unite women, to let our voices be heard and to share our words and ideas with likeminded people.
What are you currently working on? Any exciting projects coming up?
I have had a 45 minute spoken word show kicking around in my brain, the half-written sketchy fragments of which I’ve had in my back pocket for about a year now. It’s called PAYtriarchy at the moment, it’s all about my experiences of depression and the Gender Pay Gap- a laugh-out-loud riot I know! I’m hoping to make that happen in the next year or so. Other than that I’m gigging over the summer including Proms Extra which is broadcast on Radio 3 from (the Elgar Room at) the Royal Albert Hall. I’ve also just graduated with a First from King’s College London so I fancy a bit of a lie-down before the hard work starts again on my literature MPhil at Newnham College, Cambridge in October.
You’re hosting the Poetry&Words Open Mic this year. I’ve often fantasised about the idea of major singer/songwriters who perform on the big stages coming along and trying their words out in the Poetry&Words tent. I’ve even joked to Helen Johnson about trying to sign Michael Eavis up. Who would be your big name fantasy lyricists performing at the open mic?
WOW! What a question! I saw Michael Eavis sing ‘Happy Birthday’ with Stevie Wonder in 2010 and that was pretty special, so I can only imagine how good he would be on the poetry mic! I’d love Patti Smith to just pop over from the Pyramid and drop some verses. I once wrote a letter to PJ Harvey asking her to perform when I was working as a Young Producer for the Southbank Centre’s ‘National Poetry Day Live’ – she did not get back to us, but I live in hope, she’d be AMAZING! But y’know I’m a nineteenth century gal at heart so I’d love to have the Romantics (the original poetical boy band) perform. Shelley would astound with biting political satire attacking the Tory government and shaming David Cameron, I could share a lift with Coleridge who lived in the Somerset village, Nether Stowey, next to my hometown Bridgwater and Byron would forget to turn up. Glorious!
You’ve stood and performed on the Glastonbury Poetry stage. What advice would you give to the open mic’ers doing it for the first time?
My advice would be don’t be nervous. The atmosphere of the whole festival for me has always been about supporting everyone else, revelling in the unity born out of sharing such a lush space with other lucky people for 5 days. Go for it! Why not? Half of us are probably drunk, the other half fatigued and eager to enjoy. I entered the slam last year, I came 2nd but had the BEST time performing and listening to everyone else. Get involved- get your voice heard, you won’t regret it, I guarantee that!
Will you be bringing any of your Mary Beard books with you to the festival? We promised to swap books last year and never got round to it 🙂
Yes, I definitely will be bringing some! I have forgotten to order more from my publisher- I really NEED to get on that, thanks for reminding me! Looking forward to getting my hands on yours too!
Who or what are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?
To single anything out would be impossible. Glastonbury is such an important and magnificent part of my life, this will be my fifth year. I’m looking forward to shaking off some of the stress of the city and being back in my home county: Somerset. I’m looking forward to feeling right-on in the Leftfield with the annual sing-along to ‘A New England’ with Billy Bragg, to the mid-evening chill as you climb to see the sunset from the top of the hill, to the first cool sip of cider bus cider, to stumbling across a new band in a tiny tent in the middle of the night, to long walks back from Shangri-La at 3am, to tired feet, to a soul drenched in joy and wellies covered in mud. Just about everything really!
Sharing a tent with – Mary Beard or Emmeline Pankhurst?
Both would be a joy obviously but I reckon the Beard edges it as she would undoubtedly be an excellent festival companion. We’d invite Lauren Laverne for a big feminist drinking sess and late night philosophical chat! God, that’d be cool! Can we make this happen? I mean obviously not, but can we?!
We can get drunk and try, dammit! 🙂
You can see Megan Beech perform a set in the Poetry&Words tent on Friday 26th at 12.25pm.
If you wish to sign up for an Open Mic spot which takes place Saturday 27th at 12.50pm come as early as possible to the Poetry&Words tent and approach one of the MC’s to put your name down.
More to come…