Journal : Girls Where You At?

Spoken word poetry workshop for young women

Early this June, after a wonderful chance meeting with Kim Trotter at the Ipswich Monthly Creative Meet-Up, SoapBox was delighted to be asked to create and deliver a spoken word poetry workshop for young women aged 13-20yrs old, for the Girls Where You At? programme, run by Future Female Society. FFS is a an important (and much needed) organisation which aims to improve the aspirations of women and girls in the community. As a female promoter of myself, tackling the gender imbalance in the creative industries (notably music), which I encounter regularly, has become a preoccupation of mine. And how could it not? When I am often the only women in the room, when there are few women on the radio and in the local music press, when there are line-ups at gigs/festivals which have one or two token women on the bill, when there are (regularly) local line-ups which have no women on the bill. All of these things happen so often people don't even notice.

With this in mind, it felt like the best possible way to contribute positively to the never-ending gender imbalance issue was through a deliberate course of action. And along came Kim, with her awesome group of young women, who gave me hope for the future, a hope that one day I simply won't have to point out the issue because it won't exist. People say it is easy to criticise, and easy to complain, but its not easy to do those things well. But, it is so much harder to physically do something about it. So I thank Kim, deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me the opportunity to help (in my own little way) to make this a problem of the past. As a proud feminist, I feel its incredibly important for young women to 'see' women doing the jobs they would like to do. To hear from them, learn and be inspired. I will never forget punk musician Viv Albertine from The Slits discussing this issue in her autobiography, talking about the pivotal moment when she first saw woman rocking out, and how much it inspired her, and made it possible for her to pick up an instrument and take to the stage. Viv has been a great inspiration to me after I saw her at several Festivals, promoting her book 'Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys' which was The Sunday Times Music Book of the Year in 2014. Top read.

This was the first proper workshop I had written, and the first time I had formally delivered a workshop to young people. It was all arranged quite short notice as someone had dropped out and Kim needed a replacement. I was asked on Thursday, and then delivered the workshop on Tuesday evening. I spent two days 'umming & ahhhinng' about whether I would be able to do something worthwhile, until I sat down and started to write, and it came easy. I have a deep passion for spoken word and poetry, and I soon realised how much fun it would be to share that with others. I realised that it would be against the grain of my nature, and against the purpose of FFS, if I didn't take an opportunity when it arrived, despite the possibility of failure. However, any fears or concerns I had were quickly alleviated when I met the bright young women I would be working with. We started the workshop with an informal discussion of my rambling and varied career path in the arts, looking at the various projects I had delivered and conceived. I won some 'cool points' when I told the young women about how Ed Sheeran, who played for SoapBox a few times back in 2009. It turned out only the week before they had been singing Ed's songs together (spontaenously) in their last music session. Interestingly, Kim pointed out that to the group (and myself) that 'no one gave her permission' to undertake these events, and it is something that has stuck with me. Permission to try. Permission to fail. Permission to experiment. All three of these are so important.

The first poem of the event was spoken by myself, and was a cover of the most excellent Harry Baker's Paper People which I love deeply for its celebratory tone, for its wordplay and joyous approach to language, and for the tongue-twisting challenge it represents. I have been trying to learn this poem off by heart for awhile now, and finally, this weekend just gone, I delivered a full rendition by heart at an open mic at the East Anglian Storytelling Festival. (More about that on another journal post). The participants enjoyed Paper People, and this led into a discussion about poetry in general, and then specfically what makes spoken word poetry different from page poetry. It was great to hear several of the young women were already interested in the written word and their experiences of poetry at school, which weren't all terrible. (Shock horror!)

We then moved into the activities. Some free-writing, some physical, vocal activities and performance activities, followed by a screening of Vanessa Kisuule's Take Up Space, another of my favourite poems (and poets). I spent ages listening to my favourite poets to decide which ones to show the young women, and this particular piece stood out as it explores ideas which resonate with women. It was recorded for the BBC a few years ago as part of a project called Women Who Spit, along with some other great poets. The central project of the workshop was to create our own manifesto poem, based on our hopes and dreams for the world, and inspired by another of Vanessa's poems called My Personal Malleable Manifesto. After more writing, we all got together to read our poems out loud in front of the group. Each and every single participant took the the stage (with chants of 'Take Up Space' to accompany them) and took this challenge on with great finesse, skill and confidence. 

Two hours later we finished up and said goodbye. Kim described it as an empowering session for the young women, and I have to agree, as I too left feeling empowered. This was the most perfect way to begin teaching and running workshops. With brave and talented young women participating, with the marvelous Kim Trotter as co-facilitator, and fantastic assistants Raven and Sam (whom I can't thank enough for helping and taking up the writing challenges too!) and in the context of supporting our future female society. Its a privelege and an utter joy to have led this session. My biggest thanks to all involved. Please do check out Kim's organisation Future Female Society and support her if you can. Thank you FFS for leaving me inspired and elated. I much look forward to creating and delivering more workshops in future.