-Reviewed by Andie Berryman–
Mosaic of Air is a lesbian collection originally released in 1992 with its re-release in 2013. So why re-issue stories from a particular era, in this case the 1980s: would the stories now be a bit dated? In her foreword, author Cherry Potts examines this decision herself, she points out which particular lines are now mercifully obsolete (such as ”He couldn’t very well marry Phillip, could he?”), but also points to the stories which still, sadly, portray elements of contemporary lesbian life.
There’s a short piece called ‘Second Glance’ about a woman ‘cautiously searching for the cues’ before speaking to a woman in a bar (which the author points to in the foreword), I passed it around some LGBT friends (in their 20s and 30s) to gauge a reaction, they all read the piece, nodding their heads and simply saying ‘yes’.
The ground-breaking era of the second wave of feminism and the elements of women’s lives is present throughout the collection. In ‘The Ballad of Polly and Ann’ that element is incest. Not many words are wasted on the perpetrator, rather the main protagonist’s unorthodox journey takes precedence. This (to my mind) mirrors the rise of rape crisis centres during the 1970s and 1980s, which started life primarily tackling incestuous abuse.
Then there’s the reclaiming of myths. The great joy in reading a Feminist collection like this is the re-imagining, from Woolf to Winterson, Cherry Potts also reimagines Helen of Troy as a mere beautiful pawn in the powerplay of the ancient world, but who, like most women in today’s society, negotiates the system. If you read nothing else in this book you must read ‘Arachne’s Daughters’; this takes apart a myth about Arachne (a human) challenging Athene (the goddess): ‘ ”Now, can you believe anyone would be so stupid?” ‘. It’s set as a speech given at a women-only meeting with a clever twist on why so many women shouldn’t fear spiders despite the extra legs and pincers ‘ ”Forgot something though didn’t they?…[Men]… How many Cancers and Scorpios are in the audience?” ‘.
Throughout is the filling of silence through the writing of experience. That’s quite clearly laid out in ‘Winter Festival’, a piece about being alone on what should be a day of being with a loved one: ‘ ”A day like any other, except perhaps for our expectations of it: unreasonable, companionable expectations”. One couldn’t imagine that story being relevant to the here and now, but it’s happening somewhere, to someone.
Another element in the canon of feminist writing is science fiction. There always seems to be a reaching out to space, a place which shouldn’t replicate patriarchal norms, but somehow does and distorts them slightly. ‘Mosaic of Air’ is an interesting parable featuring a proto-post-feminist lead, a computer programmer whose programme becomes sentient which surprisingly encases an abortion debate.
There is longing, there is the blessing of lust requited, written to my mind on a low frequency; this is what happened, it’s important that it’s displayed as an everyday facet of life. Cherry Potts’ writing quite rightly points out that lesbian life has been portrayed like an old postcard left behind the carriage clock on the mantelpiece for years; visitors have noticed it and yet not bothered to pick it up and discover the message on it, because it’s from Hebden Bridge and not Brighton’s clubs.
– reviewed by Irina Jauhiainen –
She Grrrowls! Spoken Word launched on Wednesday 11th of September. The pilot night’s theme was Politics, which seemed a little scary in the context of a female spoken word event – but this poetry performance fan was happily surprised by the variety of performance as well as the excellent quality of the night.
A rather charming hipster-ish venue …
The show took place at The Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It seems like a hipstery café that would be lovely to have lunch in, but needs quite an effort to transform into a performance venue. The café’s large tables make it a rather clumsy audience space. The best way to be comfortable is to get to the venue early, have some food (the menu looked fantastic) and sit at a table before the space gets crowded. There was a slightly late start for the show due to technical problems and organization issues, but since the number of open mic performers was relatively low (as you can expect on a pilot night), the show was not too badly delayed.
A political kind of poetry …
Host Joelle Taylor kicked off each half performing her own work. Out of all the performers that night, Taylor was probably the closest to what I expected from a politically themed female spoken word night, but definitely in a good way. It was a pleasant surprise that while this was advertised as a female spoken word event, there were still men in the open mic who were willing and able to contribute to the night’s themes. While the themes of politics and feminism were present in most of these performances, clichés were successfully avoided and a wide range of issues regarding equality and social justice were brought up. The great thing about events like this is that you’re bound to get like-minded people in the audience; the atmosphere was incredibly supportive. There was a feeling of ‘yes-I-want-to-change-the-world’ in the air and it’s hard to imagine anyone left feeling angry or depressed about social injustice, since the performers conveyed their social agenda with just the right amount of optimism and hopefulness.
A stunning blend of styles and subjects …
Poetry workshop organiser Momina Mela and winner of London Teenage Senior Slam Aisling Fahey featured in the second half. These brilliant poets provided a contrast for the slam-style of the open mic with beautifully crafted and literary poetry performance. While neither of the feature poets were overtly political, both had a feminine and feminist viewpoint behind the poems that engaged beautifully with the event’s focus. The night was structured so that the open mic took place in the first half and all of the features in the second, which worked so well particularly because there was such a clear distinction in style of performance. Especially in themed events it is rare to achieve such a variety of styles and subject matters – this night was definitely successful in keeping the audience interested and wanting to hear more.
And ending on a high note …
The night finished with a lovely, uplifting and not at all political music performance from Sunshine in Mae. Lead singer Sula Mae entertained the audience during set-up by telling cheese-related jokes. It must be said in the defence of the venue that with its complications in transforming into a performance venue, the Gallery Café has a stage big enough to accommodate a full band, which is a major bonus and not exactly easy to find, so it was a very nice and rare treat to hear a full band with double bass and all. Sunshine in Mae‘s happy lyrics were a perfect pick-me-up on a rainy autumn evening and ended the show in great spirits.
A wonderfully entertaining and inclusive event …
The next She Grrrowls! Spoken Word event will take place on Monday 18th of November, and follow each third Monday of the month. Entry fee is £5, but admission is free for those reading at the open mic. Next month’s featured acts will be Sophia Walker, Greta Bellamacina, Sarah Perry, Sarah Arnold and Hannah Rose Tristram. She Grrrowls! is certainly not only for female spoken word artists, as the brilliant launch night proved, and the organisers undoubtedly have a great taste in performers and the right contacts to put on more nights just as amazing as the first.