In 2014, I went to see one of my favourite poets, Andrea Gibson, live in London. It was the only UK date of their European tour, and it was something of a pilgrimage – I stayed in London for less than 16 hours, and the only things I did were have dinner at my pal’s house, go the gig, sleep, and get back on the train. But the gig was worth it – the performance was one of the best I’ve seen, in a standing room venue sardine-full of people who really, really love Andrea Gibson.
There’s something about Gibson’s poetry that really gets to people, and they have a huge queer following. When I first discovered them, for me it was their emotional honesty as a queer person, at a time when I was struggling. Their poetry helped me to feel OK, and then helped me to a sense that maybe, if their honesty helped me, my honesty could be worth something to someone else too.
Anyway, I was in this packed, sweaty room, full of people who looked like me and my friends, and sometimes we were all crying together. And in the thick of this, Gibson was talking about those times when they find their body difficult in one way or another – and everyone was nodding, mmhmm, yep, me too. Gibson said that something to do with those feelings might be to write a love poem to a part of your body that you don’t like much, from a part that you do.
I gave it a go – I wrote a love poem from my heart (which I think is pretty great) to my belly (which is fat, which sometimes I struggle with, even though I’ve done lots of thinking about fat activism and know that there’s nothing wrong with it).
I performed the poem for the first time at a feminist gig in Edinburgh – Project Naked, also in a packed, sweaty room – and on the spur of the moment I got my belly out on stage, and it was so good and so empowering. I got a huge cheer and some huge laughs, and I loved that little poem.
Not long after all this, I started to learn to make pottery. At first it was mostly because it was fun to make things with my hands, even if the pots were wobbly and barely usable (and it also didn’t matter if they were rubbish, which is kind of liberating). But as I started to get the hang of it, I began to get excited about the possibilities – and to start thinking about ways to combine it with poetry. I had this idea that I wanted to incorporate poetry into usable objects, to make it a part of day-to-day life. love poem from heart to belly was crying out to be on a plate – to love a belly while it’s doing its job – and so I started experimenting with images and techniques to make it happen. It was a really interesting challenge to try and get that much text onto a piece of pottery – although it’s quite a short poem, that’s a lot of text for ceramics. I also had to contend with some ironic perfectionism – for a piece which is about loving your imperfections, I got remarkably finicky about it. In the end, it came out of the kiln full of the surprises that ceramics always offers – slightly uneven, with unexpected colours, but more interesting for it. Take a look here – and watch this space for more pottery/poetry experiments.
I submitted the poem to Gutter, and they decided that they wanted to put it in Gutter 14 . I’ve been published a bunch of times before, but this time I got a bit emotional that my little poem had found a new home out in the world after all we’d been through together.
The magazine has just been published, and is full of delights, such as Harry Giles’ Ode Tae a Sex Toy – check it out. There is also a playlist, where you can listen to both our poems and a whole bunch more!