Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?
All my life I’ve been aware of the power of creativity to inspire individuals and bring about positive change in wider society, but believed I had no artistic ability myself. I was extremely shy with no self-confidence. In my mid 50’s that changed. I discovered performance poetry and found my voice. Since then I’ve become an extreme example of how creativity can change a person. I’ve found my voice and won’t ever stop using it!
Whilst most of my “art” involves words in all its many forms, I have also created other art, for example, installations for exhibitions.
I believe that my ability to build and develop creative communities is an art in itself. It’s certainly personally satisfying enabling people to discover their artistic ability. I love to see the magic that can happen when very different people, who would never meet in normal life, come together and break down barriers through creativity.
Back in 2013, you won Cultureword’s Superheroes of Slam. How do you feel both you and the slam scene has grown during these seven years?
It took me a long time before I could say “I am a poet” – instead I’d casually say “I mess about with words” or “I dabble with poetry.” I guess after a lifetime of having no confidence, I was experiencing imposter syndrome.
Winning the Warrington heat gave me a huge confidence boost but it was taking the title that proved to be a pivotal moment for me – especially as I was the first woman and first older person to win it. Having the spotlight on me was both uncomfortable and exhilarating at the same time but I met many inspiring people linked to Cultureworld/Commonword and eagerly took every opportunity that followed.
I have ambiguous thoughts about slams. On one hand, it feels intrinsically wrong to judge and score poetry and yet a good slam can be a wonderful event where poets support each other to raise their bar. I went on to win lots of slams and competitions (including an anti-slam where the worst poet wins which was so much fun) and I’m happy to see that slams still have a place in the current vibrant poetry scene.
Note: I’m sad that I never met Dike Omeje whose name is forever honoured through the Superheroes of Slam but discovering his work was a delight. I regularly dip into a book of his poetry.
You’ve recently started participating in rap battles and been dubbed Manchester’s ‘rapping granny’. How did you find your way onto the rap scene? How do you feel it’s influenced your work/performance style?
Explaining how I got involved in the rap scene would take a very long time.
I certainly didn’t wake up one day and decide to be a battle rapper! It was more that a whole series of coincidences and weird events led me down that path. Last year a short documentary about this was premiered in London and was screened at the National Documentary festival. A longer version is due out in spring.
Turns out I’m the “one and only” anywhere in the world. As a short fat grey haired woman in my 60s I’m certainly breaking the stereotype of what a battle rapper looks and sounds like AND many of the stereotypes associated with women and aging.
Last year I did a Tedx Talk which tells a little of my story into battle rap (how I became the rapping nanna panda).
Some of my early battles can be found online but be warned, they are not for the easily offended. It’s important to realise that the battles take freedom of speech to its limit. Whilst they are brutal, away from the battles it is a gentle world where young people are honest about their feelings and mental health.
A good starting point might be this Guardian article or this footage from a LadBible Mental Health rap battle event as it demonstrates that rap and poetry are not so different.
You’re currently a Creative in Residence at Affleck’s Palace, Manchester. How did this opportunity come about and what do you enjoy most about it?
Like most things I sort of “fell into it”. A chance conversation led me to meet with the manager. He asked me to explain what being a Poet in Residence involved (at that time I had 3 residencies). Instead of answering his question, I heard myself saying that Afflecks shouldn’t have a Poet in Residence but a Creative in Residence. Someone who would record, celebrate and promote creativity in all its forms. I rambled on and was shocked when he asked me whether I would do it. Of course I agreed immediately. Afflecks has for decades been at the heart of Manchester’s indie scene after all.
I was given a shop space and had no idea whether my idea would work. Within days it was clear that something very special was happening. Four years on it continues to thrive. It’s an amazing unique place. It has been shaped by the diverse people who use it. I go in whenever I can but it more or less runs itself.
It’s not funded, not advertised and can’t be explained in words. People will just have to go and “get a hug from the room” to understand it. It’s a hidden gem in a corner of the 3rd floor behind StarWars Man’s stall that confirms the fact that there are many lovely people in this world.
If you could offer one piece of advice to your younger self about being in the poetry industry, what would it be?
I’d say what I tell young people who ask me. You don’t have to be part of the “poetry industry.” It can sometimes be limiting or can even destroy your creativity. Instead just be involved in work that excites you wherever you find it. Mixed art forms are a good way to go, as is taking poetry into new territory. It will help you discover your uniqueness and help you find your own voice.
Where can we find your work?
There are many links to my performance poetry on the internet.
A recent article in Manchester’s Finest magazine contains links that might be useful for people unfamiliar with my work.
I have never been interested in doing a book of my poems, but as a result of some work I did with the Manchester Universities and Manchester Museum, I’ll soon be bringing out a type of pamphlet or zine, but it’s going to be unlike any other. Less of a poetry collection, more a bizarre adventure in words and pictures.
What does the future hold for you in your writing career?
I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities / collaborations. Anything that challenge me or takes me into new territory. I rarely have a mapped out plan. I’ve recently started doing stand up comedy so maybe that may something I develop more. Who knows? I am certain that writing and performing will be continue to be a huge part of my life.
Sum up your experience thus far in one word