Introducing: Vanessa Kisuule, Poet in Residence

Vanessa Kisuule - Credit Ailsa Fineron
Back to perform with us is Vanessa Kisuule, 16:05-16:30 Sunday. If she’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In her own words:

“Vanessa Kisuule is a writer and performer based in Bristol, UK. She has won over ten slam titles including The Roundhouse Slam 2014, Hammer and Tongue National Slam 2014 and the Nuoryican Poetry Slam. She has been featured on BBC iPlayer, Radio 1, and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, The Guardian, Blue Peter, Sky TV, Don’t Flop and TEDx. She has performed up and down the country and internationally in Vienna, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Bangladesh, Barcelona, Oslo, Finland, Romania, New York and Brazil. She has two poetry collections published by Burning Eye Books: Joyriding The Storm (2014) and A Recipe For Sorcery (2017). She was the recipient of The Jerwood Micro Arts Bursary and The Leverhulme Arts Scholarship in 2017 and her one woman show SEXY toured with the support of Arts Council England in 2017/18. She is currently the Bristol City Poet for 2018 – 2020.”

Fay’s words:

I have been watching Vanessa perform in a variety of places since 2012. I’m fairly sure that the first was a feature slot for Other Voices Spoken Word Cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe. She was in town, we needed a feature, someone put us in touch, and she was free – very simple, utterly wonderful for us. I like to think we provided a nice – if slightly surreal – experience in our haunted, underground cell, draped with fabrics. Only two years, as far as I can tell, into her poetry career, she was already extraordinary, and I’ve only seen her progress in stagecraft, energy, focus, and talent over the years, counting myself excessively fortunate to see her on stages in Edinburgh, London and Cambridge multiple times.

She won major slams fairly continuously from 2010 to 2014, and – like many major slam winners – isn’t “just” a slam poet: her range is breathtaking. She has a real gift for crafting work across the whole of the spoken word spectrum, from the gorgeously intimate and touching, through the powerfully rallying cry, to the unspeakably hilarious, but always, always important.The last nine years have seen her win the Hammer & Tongue National Slam Championship (2014, joint with Layla Josephine), among other titles; play at a slew of major festivals; have two works published by Burning Eye Books; turn up on the BBC (I squeaked very loudly and dragged my partner to watch it on the TV); tour her solo show, Sexy (which I’m gutted not to have seen yet); become Bristol City Poet; and also trounce various rappers under the stage name Shonda Rhymez.

She’s a powerful force for good – an outspoken, sex-positive, proud feminist who pulls no punches whichever power structure she’s lambasting with an exacting vocabulary. I’m so excited to get to see her later this month, and find out what poetry she’s written as part of her Glastonbury residency.

Sneak preview:

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Tribute to the Cows of Glastonbury

As the sunrise of Glastonbury week breaks, we the poets, the troubadours of the 21st century raise a wordspun glass to those sentient beings whose home we are borrowing for the week. Those bovine refugees whose transient presence paint this green and pleasant land with bold splashes of black and white now pootle off to their respective B&B’s in Bournemouth (we think). Ladies and gentlemen, a toast to the cows of Worthy Farm…

cow_pyramid

Vanessa Kisuule

I raise my sadly super market bought
Pint of semi skimmed to you
The true headliners of Glastonbury
You take centre stage
All other days of the year
And then one fateful week in June
You let us ticking glitter bombs
Piss our hedonism into your soil
We are sorry in advance
We almost definitely
Won’t leave it as we found it
It will take you some time
To strip away the shrapnel
Of our four day decadent dance
But we shall leave echoes
Of the choruses we sang along to
The festival friendships formed
Fast as a sailors knot
Then faded to phantom grey
We will bend down on our knees
And baptise ourselves in the mud
You will christen us crazy
In your field of dreams and whimsy
And on Monday as we trundle back
To the gunmetal of day to day
We will turn our heads back
To the post-apocalypse scene
Behind us
And nod sagely
In silent respect to you
The cows of Glastonbury

Harry Baker

 

howard

Howard

Howard lived in cow woods,
living how a cow would live,
chewing grass and making pats
were the main things Howard did.

They said Howard was a coward,
feeling how a coward feels,
fear would overtake excitement
looking at the outward fields.

It wasn’t easy living in the woods,
there wasn’t that much space,
but it was all he’d ever known
and that made him feel safe.

He’d heard about
this herd and how
they roamed completely free,
he hoped if he was brave enough
one day that’s where he’d be.

But
how would Howard leave
as a cow so cowardly?
He scoured cow wood’s trees
and caught a glimpse of the outside.

For
an hour now or three
he’d been about to bow and see,
but he’d allowed the doubts to breathe
and now he wants to run and hide.

But then one foot at a time
he tries
to set his fears aside,
he sighs,
and then he steps outside
his hiding place.

No longer sheltered by the trees
he feels a breeze,
he cannot breathe,
suddenly weak at the knees
his cagey heart begins to race.

So he retreated to the woods
where he knew that it was safe,
and told himself another day
he’d try again.

 

Carly Brown

cowpat2

A Poem for the Cows

Cows do not like poetry.
This fact is sad but true.
They do like painting and ballet
and even music too.

But try to get a cow to read
one line of a haiku?
They’ll roll their great big dopey eyes
and run away from you.

Cows cringe at bawdy limericks.
They scoff at tawdry verse.
And rhyming ballads, for a cow,
those simply are the worst.

That’s why the cows are happy now
to be away from here.
These pesky poets in one place
is what the bovines fear.

So while we poets stamp and jeer
and slam and speak and riot.
The cows all slumber dreamlessly
and wait for peace and quiet.

 

Charlotte Higgins

Cows

In six months I move to the city
I keep a tube map in an app and in my pocket
But lately I don’t always have to look at it to get to where I want to go

In a year or so, will I recognise London street names
The way I used to know the horse and two donkeys at the end of our road,
Or the cows I could see from my window

The half-conscious rhythm of that field
That I’d look out on, ploughed, then left fallow,
Then – always of a sudden –
Filled right up with cows
As if they’d been there from the get-go.

 

Erin Bolens

laptop

Air bnb: customer reviews.

Host: Worthy farm cows

Guest: Brenda, Cross Gates.

Feedback:

We had a great stay on worthy farm
Full of worthy charm.
We must have picked a popular week!
It was sort of like playing hide and seek
With everyone you’ve ever met.
The garden was extensive,
Local restaurants seemed expensive
Given chairs were sparse,
For most of the time we sat on our… bottoms.

The bathrooms had a minimalist vibe
(i.e. pretty much just a hole inside)
But we found this liberating,
Borderline invigorating!
But be prepared for a little waiting
And hanging around.
And we also suggest that you don’t look down.
The decor was bang on trend:
Like the apocalypse meets the West End,
Like a collage from your favourite friend,
A hipster version of make do and mend.
The neighbour’s music was pretty loud,
And seemed to pull a hefty crowd!
We didn’t realise this was allowed
Until we saw a copper in kaftan
Telling people to “have a laugh man”.
So we embraced the eccentricity
And got hooked on spicy tea.

So thank you cows for an enjoyable stay!
We hope to maybe meet one day
And say thanks for all the fun and larks,
It was a lovely alternative to our usual Centre Parcs.

 

Dan Simpson

Glastondairy Moosic Festival

The cows are going away for a week
they’re having their very own festival
a massive affair, but chic and boutique
it’s going to be unforgettable.

The bands are all booked, the tickets all sold
Daisy canters her way to the main gate
hoof-band put on, she’s brought into the fold
so excited she really just can’t wait.

Crowds of cows arrive and brave the bull run
the sound of a thousand hooves stamping
they go to pitch tents in space where there’s none
jealous of those cows who are glamping.

Don’t have a cow, Daisy – there’s room for you
in these fields where no humans will come
relax and chill out, just don’t give a moo
try to enjoy this long weekend of sun.

At least, they hope – are they grey clouds up there?
they don’t want ’97 again
but cows always know – a change in the air
they start to lie down as it starts to rain.

Daisy forgot wellies – waterproofs too
just stays there, watching, chewing the cud
till she needs to go to the portaloo –
how now brown cow? Daisy’s stuck in the mud.

Daisy loses her friends – all of her herd
starts to wander, lonely as a cow
enters a tent called ‘Poetry & Words’:
thinks: “not for me – that’s far too high-brow.”

Daisy’s exhausted, she sits for a while
listens to acts who perform poetry
and gradually her frown becomes a smile
she forgets all her worries totally.

So on Worthy Farm, the cows are all gone
off and away to explore pastures new
we raise our voices to those who belong
to this land that we’re just passing through.

As you enjoy your time at Glastonbury
look down, remember, these fields that we roam:
our ownership is just temporary
we’re only here until the cows come home.

And now, some of Dan’s Cow-based Band puns…

cow_kanye

Moo Fighters (pulled out)
Florence and the Milking Machine
Alabama Milkshakes
Graze-alia Banks
The Hoof
Cattle Williams
Kanye Dairy Crest
Dairy J Blige
Motorherd
Moodimental
Mark Oxen
Sleaford Cuds
Paul Heifer
Herd Bacharach
Beef Patty Smith
Bully Bragg
Fatboy Skimmed
Salt-J(erky)
Ungul-ate Tempest
Milko Johnson
The Of-Fall
The Maccabeefs
Catfish and the Burgermen
Cariboeuf
cow_lemmy
 .
.  
Thanks to all the poets who contributed to this. See you on the field…
Scott 🙂

 

 

A woman who spits – Vanessa Kisuule

Vanessa is naturally gifted poet and performer, and along with Anna Freeman managed to twist my arm into drawing her as an owl in exchange for an interview (these Bristolians can be quite pushy 😉 ). I asked the hugely talented Vanessa Kisuule about what started her on her literary road, her experience performing for the BBC and the spectacle of Glastonbury…

vanessa2

What or who first made you want to write poetry?

My cousin introduced to me it, actually – I’d enjoyed the page stuff for a while but didn’t know anything about spoken word. He talked about how much he loved it and I wasn’t particularly convinced. I thought it sounded pretentious – but he showed me a Def Jam poetry video and it blew the top of my skull off. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen and I was enthralled by it for months. Ironically, that contrived American slam style of poetry really grinds my gears now. My taste has changed a lot since I first started out and I now prefer less didactic poetry. But I will always be grateful for that initial spark of inspiration that those videos lit – you can never underestimate how incendiary a thing it is for someone to be stood up on stage telling their story in their own voice. So simple and yet so beautiful.

What was the first thing you wrote which made you feel like a poet?

I wrote a poem called ‘Strawberry Laces’ when I was fourteen about asking for the number of a guy that worked behind the counter at a record shop and getting rejected. In hindsight, that makes sense because I was fourteen and he was at least in his early twenties and him saying yes would have been many shades of gross. But anyway, it was the first time that an experience compelled me to write my feelings down in poetry form. I don’t even know if that made me feel like a poet then, or even if I feel like a poet now. Pah. What a wonderfully meandering and pointless answer to the question….

You were recently chosen along with Megan Beech (another of our Glastonbury poets this year) to be one of five poets performing for the BBC’s ‘Women Who Spit’ series of short films. Your poem ‘Take Up Space’ is a powerful call to arms for women to take their share of society without fear or apology. Tell us about the impetus behind the films and how you became involved. Did you write the piece specifically for the project?

The BBC contacted me having seen my stuff on YouTube and were interested in getting me involved with a project involving a group of young female spoken word artists writing poems around feminism. What’s really great is that that manifested in very different ways for each poet – whilst it’s great that women are now getting more platforms to talk about feminism, I think we can end up shoehorned into a limited space in which we are deemed unequipped to talk about anything else which is almost as bad as being completely silenced. So there’s a variety of topics addressed by all five of the commissioned poets – I wanted to write something positive and affirmative around the topic of feminism as it can be quite wearying constantly reminding ourselves of the oppression that we live with daily. It was important to me that the piece celebrated rather than lamented the experience of being a woman. It’s a love letter of sorts to the many, many women I know and love who are so brilliant, intelligent and uninhibited – being surrounded by them as an example means I have never felt like I had any limits on who or what I should be as a woman.

You seem really comfortable in front of the camera. Do you have any theatre training or are you just a naturally relaxed performer? Would you pursue other film projects?

This is hilarious, because I chronically hate being in front of the camera and there aren’t many other contexts in which I feel less comfortable. I actually had to drink a bit of wine to loosen up enough to get through shooting the BBC video – I’m glad that my nerves didn’t come across in the finished product! I am super comfortable being on stage – that, to me, is like being in my living room. I feel at home with the audience and in my body and it’s just lovely. But there’s something about the artifice of performing for this dead, unblinking camera lens that just makes me go cold. I did do theatre stuff when I was in school, but again I loved the stage and didn’t really do anything film related. I do respect and enjoy film and the power of visuals, just as long as it doesn’t involve me in front of the camera! I worked with an incredible production company last year on a few videos, one had a cast of actors and another was a gorgeous sand animation. I think there’s so much to explore as far as the medium of spoken word video is concerned so I’m looking to do more creative things than just say my poem into my webcam (which is absolutely fine and valid but just not for me!).

Any current or future projects you can share with us?

I’m actually just taking a bit of a breather from what’s been quite a mental few months. I only made the plunge into full time poet-ing a few months ago and I’ve been lucky beyond belief in just about staying afloat. So right now I’m writing new stuff, reading a lot and hatching a plan of where I want to go next. I’m keen to do some weird and uncomfortable things and push myself away from the template of what I’ve been doing over the past few years as a writer and performer. It’s the only way to grow and evolve – so hopefully by next year I’ll be doing things I can’t even conceive of now!

This will be your second Glastonbury performing for Poetry&Words. What are your memories of the first time?

I didn’t actually enjoy Glastonbury very much my first time round, if I’m honest. It was my first ever festival and I think I’d created far too high expectations in my head. I hadn’t even slept in a tent before then so the vastness of it all was too much for me to take in. There are lots of things I know about festival-ing now that I didn’t then. I pitched my tent in some random area away from the other poets so I was really isolated. I’d bought a cheap one man tent that I couldn’t even sit up in – it was like a polythene coffin. I also put way too much emphasis on seeing everything and I now know that the most fun happens when you chuck the programme over your shoulder and go with the flow. I did have two wonderful moments though: 1) Beyonce and 2) raving in a cage in Shangri La with Adam Kammerling at silly o clock on the last night. I have done many more festival perfomances now so I consider myself ‘seasoned’, so my experience will hopefully be ten thousand times better – and I will be pitching my THREE MAN tent backstage with all the other lovely Poetry and Words crew and I am certain I’ll have a whale of a time!

Who in the Poetry&Words tent (other than your good self) would you recommend this year as unmissable?

Harry Baker is a dear friend and absolutely blinding poet whose pun credentials remain unrivalled. I’ve not seen Antosh Wodjck live yet but I’ve seen his pieces on YouTube and his writing makes me want to eat my own fist with envy. Anna Freeman consistently brings the funnies and Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson are a dynamite hosting duo. It’s gonna be fab!

Which acts on the bigger stages are you most looking forward to seeing at Glastonbury?

I cannot WAIT to see Kanye. No matter what, it’s going to be a talking point! Will hopefully be checking out Mary J Blige, Pharrell Williams, Lianne La Havas, Florence and The Machine, Patti Smith, Funkadelic and The Family Stone and Flying Lotus. But like I said, I’m going to try and go with the flow, so if I see even three of these I’ll be happy. It’s all about the random gems anyway – the little performances on tiny stages that you stumble across on your way to somewhere else…..

Will you be bringing your book ‘Joyriding the Storm’ with you? I’ll swap you for one of mine. Mine’s got pictures in it and everything.

I will bring a fat stack of my books to sell – and one has got your name on it Tyrrell! (YES to the pictures)

Finally, can I put in a request for ‘A Personal Malleable Manifesto’ when you play the P&W tent?

You most certainly can :). I almost always end my sets with it so you’re in luck.

Wicked! Looking forward to that. You can catch Vanessa Kisuule in the Poetry&Words tent on:

Friday 26th at 1.40pm and Saturday 27th at 12.25pm

It’s getting so close now, but still more to come!

Scott 🙂

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…

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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 🙂

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 🙂