Megan Beech – poet, feminist and your P&W Open Mic host

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…

meg4

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…

Scott 🙂

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The FULL Glastonbury Poetry&Words 2015 Line up

Behold, the dates and times of all the stars of this year’s Poetry&Words tent at Glastonbury. Thanks to P&W’s very own behind-the-scenes veteran Jack Bird for designing this year’s poster. Is very pretty 🙂

PW Poster Final

The first of our special interviews will be going up soon. Keep watching.

Scott 🙂

Meet the first 5 poets for Glastonbury Poetry&Words 2015

I promised you a hell of a line up and I wasn’t kidding. Feast your eyes, and come June, your ears on these talented word-workers. I’ve personally had the privilege of performing with 3 of this bunch and they can all deliver lines that will have you involuntary shouting “Yes! Yes!” And then privately, “Damn why didn’t I think of writing that?”

Vanessa Kisuule 

Vanessa Kisuule

Vanessa Kisuule is becoming an incredible force to be reckoned with on the poetry scene. When I performed with her back in 2011 at Glastonbury I was blown away by her power, honesty and effortless skill at making her point stand stronger than the sum of her words.

She has won several slam titles including the Farrago Schools Out Slam Championship 2010, the Bang Said The Gun Award, Poetry Rivals 2011, the Next Generation Slam 2012, Slambassadors 2010,  the South West Hammer and Tongue Slam Champion 2012 and most recently The Roundhouse Slam 2014 and the Hammer and Tongue National Slam 2014. She has worked with the Southbank Centre, The Bristol City Council and the BBC and represented the UK in two European Slam Championships in Sweden and Belgium.  She has performed at an array of festivals, including Glastonbury, Lounge on the Farm, Secret Garden Party, Wise Words, Wilderness and Shambala Festival and renowned poetry events such as Blahblahblah at the Bristol Old Vic, Chill Pill in London, Hit the Ode in Birmingham and Shake the Dust in Plymouth.

She has also recently been involved in the BBC project, “Women Who Spit”. Check out her poem “Take up Space” on BBC iplayer.

Pete the Temp

Pete The Temp

Pete the Temp aka Pete Bearder has got the busiest job of all us poets during the festival. He’s the official ‘Glastonbury Website Poet in Residence’. Oh yeah. Which means he’s going to be gallivanting around the site and seeking inspiration for poetry which he’ll be regularly uploading to the official Glastonbury site. As well as giving radio and TV interviews and meeting celebs, he’ll be finding the time to come and perform in our tent. But he’s a professional. He can take it.

He’s not only a singularly gifted poet, but also an educator, beatboxer and loop pedal artist. His work has been featured on BBC Newsnight, Radio 4 and the World Service. In 2009 he became the Hammer & Tongue National Poetry Slam Champion and last year he did a national tour of his one man stage show ‘Pete (the Temp) vs Climate Change’ in which he single handedly defeated climate change using only his mouth. He has performed poetry to audiences of over 3000 people while touring with the pyro- circus rave band, Slamboree and has workshops and performances in Scandinavia, the Baltic states, and Central and Eastern Europe through Goldsmiths University and The British Council.  In his free time he draw pictures of monkeys.

Megan Beech

Megan Beech

Another incredibly gifted young poet I’ve had the pleasure of performing with at festivals. Effortless delivery with a real point to make that doesn’t shout but pervades through you with passion and persuasiveness.

Megan Beech was the winner of the Poetry Society’s SLAMbassadors national youth slam 2011, and the Poetry Rivals UK under 18 slam 2011. She has performed at venues including Parliament, the Southbank Centre, Latitude, Larmer Tree and Glastonbury Festivals, as well as for institutions including The British Museum, Keats House and the University of Cambridge. Her debut collection ‘When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard’ was published by Burning Eye Books in December 2013 chronicling her experience as a young feminist and the fight for female voices and role-models to be presented in mainstream media. She was featured in The Guardian lists of ‘inspiring young feminists in 2014’ and ‘Must Read Books of the Year 2014’.

Founder of the Everyday Sexism Project and Guardian journalist, Laura Bates states:

‘‘Megan Beech is one of the powerful voices of young feminism today – giving a voice to a new generation of women growing up, examining the status quo and finding it wanting.”

Megan has also been involved with the BBC’s ‘Women Who Spit’ project. This is her poem “you can’t be it, if you can’t see it”. On BBC iplayer.

As well as performing she’ll be hosting the Open Mic at Poetry&Words this year, where the talented, poetic festival-goer can have a go on the hallowed stage.

MiKo Berry

MiKo Berry1

Check out this guy’s credentials: He is the current European Slam Champion and a finalist at last year’s World Slam in Paris. Based in Edinburgh, he is also the founder of the renowned Loud Poets and has performed regularly around the UK, where his flair for combining the finest literary technique with consumate stage savvy has ensured his reputation as a poet and a performer.

“Just unreal” – Hollie McNish

He also professes to be an untalented but enthusiastic dancer. I hope we’ll both get drunk enough to put that to the test at the Stone Circle.

Joaquín Zihuatanejo

Joaquin Zihuatanejo2

Joaquín Zihuatanejo is our Friday night Headliner. He is a poet, spoken word artist, and award-winning teacher. Joaquín has been called by critics:

“one of the most dynamic and passionate performance poets in the country, melding equal parts comedy, poetry, and dramatic monologue into a crowd-pleasing display of verbal fireworks…always thrilling, Joaquín’s hilariously manic presentation is full of compassion and nuance, never sacrificing substance for style, leading many to call him poetry slam’s answer to John Leguizamo.” 

Joaquín was the winner of the 2008 Individual World Poetry Slam Championship besting 77 poets representing cities all over North America, France, Japan, and Australia.  Due to this victory Joaquín was the poet chosen to represent the U.S. at the 2009 European World Cup of Poetry Slam in Paris, France, a competition that he won besting 15 poets from 15 different nations making him the number one ranked slam poet in the world on both sides of the Atlantic. In recent years he has given performances in Mexico, Canada, Spain, Germany, Austria and the Island of Reunion off the coast of South Africa.  Joaquin has shared a stage with Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Billy Collins, and the late Maya Angelou among others.  Joaquín was recently invited by NPR to be interviewed for two upcoming series, Historias and The National Teacher’s Initiative.  Joaquin is the author of four collections of poetry, Barrio Songs, Of Fire and Rain, Family Tree, and Like & Share.  His fifth book, Fight or Flight, is due out late summer of 2015. from CoolSpeak Book Publishing.  Support Joaquin at www.artspeakspoet.com.  Follow him on Twitter @thepoetjz.  Like him on Facebook or Instagram at Joaquin Zihuatanejo.  Joaquín has two passions in his life, his wife Aida, and poetry…always in that order.

So, excited yet? And that’s only the first 5. Stay tuned for more wonderfully talented people in the next few days.

Scott 🙂