Thursday, 24 April 2014

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: My Mate Steve's a Gargoyle

My mate Steve's a gargoyle:
he's cemented to a church.
He likes to dribble water
from his ecclesiastic perch

upon the heads of tourists
who wander by below.
He ignores the ones with brollies,
or their hoods up. If you go

past Steve's church, never bare your head!
Or loads of scummy bilge
will be instantly deposited
on it at Steven's will.

All the hairdressers around the church
were quickly forced to close
as proud bearers of spruced barnets
were subjected to a dose

of slop with leaves and bits in
being dribbled on their hair.
'We can't stop him, folks - he's listed!'
The priest cried in despair.

But one day a passing pigeon
observed this mean behaviour.
'That gargoyle's mean - I'll fix him!'
Cooed the conscientious avian,

and saying so he took a spot
above the gargoyle's cornice.
He waited 'til Steve had forgot
his presence, then - no warning! -

he let fly with his own fluid,
and his aim was sure and true,
and suddenly the gargoyle
was awash with pigeon-poo!

'Oh no!' Steve cried, regretting
bitterly the pigeon's visit.
The vengeful bird flew down beside
said 'not so nice now, is it?

Not everybody in this close
deserves slop in their face!
Your water-spewing antics
are, frankly, a disgrace!'

But just then, at the church-house door
came a familiar cove:
a running gob, a face like Pob
 - yes, it was Michael Gove!

He'd noticed David Cameron
had claimed to be a Christian:
so now the teacher-hating one
was on a serious mission

to visit every church he could,
to show he was more right-
wing than his own party leader,
and more Christian than Christ!

'Now this dude,' said the pigeon
(who may or may not be a symbol
of the Holy Spirit, now I think of it),
'this dude's a throbbing pimple

on the face of all humanity!
I've chastised you, but observe,
if anyone on earth your far from sanitary
sludge-attack deserves

it's him! And what's more,
should you choose to give him a baptism,
I'll join you! Between both of us
there's no way we can miss him!'

And so as Gove made for the lich-gate
gargoyle and bird alike
released their sludge, let fly with poo:
and both streams made their strike!

The preening free-school merchant,
never steady on his feet,
slipped on the mulch, and tumbled down,
in full view of the fleet

of cameramen he'd asked to come
as witness to his piety,
his deep beliefs, and how he'd lead
a more moral society:

instead, the evening news that night
led with close-up footage
of the minister streaked brown and white
with pigeon-poo and sluices

from the gargoyle's mouth.
His goose was cooked,
career up the spout!
Steve and the pigeon sat and whooped,

the pigeon saying 'See?
Don't waste your bilge on passersby,
take a leaf from me!
When I see his like, I have a fly

above them, and deposit
the remains of what I've eaten
right upon their stuck-up heads!
I find the feeling's sweetened

by the knowledge they're such rotten gits.
I highly recommend it!'
And saying so, he took his leave
of the gargoyle he'd befriended,

and to this day, Steve stays in place,
he still looks grim and gory:
but, ever since that fateful day,
he only sploshes Tories!

***

Inspired partly by today's prompt to write about masonry, partly by the prompt a couple of days ago to try writing a poem for children, partly by the fact that there is a gargoyle on, I think, Chester Cathedral that looks exactly like my comedian pal Stephen 'Friz' Frizzle, and partly by the fact that Michael Gove, a recurring character in my poems the last time I did NaPoWriMo back in 2012, had yet to make an appearance in this year's poems. Until now.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Shakespeare Day in the Call Centre

On every bank of phones 
a bomb-threat checklist:

considered not as dire fate 
but as incendiary consummation 


most definitely devoutly
to be wished.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Why I Will Never Write Poems for Children

Write a poem for kids, you say? Yeah, right...

Hello little person! And why, may I inquire
are you reading these notes from the moral quagmire
that's my life? If the rest of these poems you have seen,
you'll have noticed they're not really PG-13.

There's the half-naked person of non-binary gender
using their fists, knees and elbows to render
a huge lump of clay into nothing but mulch:
I imagine your folks would think that a bit much.

There's a number of poems about BDSM
(no, I won't spell that out: see your parents? Ask them),
one about an MP who molests other men:
I'm not saying these things should be outwith your ken, 

I'm not saying that knowing life's like this is wrong,
but let's face it kid, this ain't The Gruffalo Song.
There are much better poems for the likes of yourself.
What? Yes, I know I read Watchmen back when I was twelve,

but for Heaven's sake, kid, there's a poem about hookers
that I posted last entry, this ain't the Big Book of
Acceptable Poetry Dictated by Gove.
I doubt they'd even teach these in Brighton and Hove,

and they're famously liberal in that LEA.
No, I'm not actually trying to drive you away, 
just suggesting you maybe come back when you're older?
(In the meantime, your folks can use Bandcamp to order).

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Asking for Lashonda

Twitter, Facebook, 
in New York I never had you;
no smartphone to use
to search YouTube for the videos

that make a jet-lagged night pass
in a fog of hormonal excitement. 
I scanned the 'massage service' ads
in the back of the Village Voice instead:

a snapshot
of the dirtiest wishes
American dollars
will pay to have fulfilled. 

No supermodels, 
and very few white girls.
An astonishing number
of women like me

displaying what I'd prefer to hide
as a sexual USP. 
These are the kind of hotel rooms,
I thought,

across the street from the dive bar
where I read 'Underworld', drank Stella
and fell in love with a barmaid I'd pass
later by a DON'T WALK sign

somewhere in Alphabet City,
where American fingers dial up outside lines
and ask to meet Lashonda, 
Jasmine, Dominique.

'Why have hamburger,'
read the caption
above a hooker fondling her dick,
'when you could have fillet mignon?'

I looked at the stack of bills dwindling
on the table by my bed. 
By this point I could murder a burger:
I'd been surviving on hot dogs for days.

***

The prompt for this particular day was to try and write a New York school poem. This is really more of a poem about New York, specifically my first visit there, and my shock at discovering the surprisingly long section of the Village Voice devoted to, ahem, 'specialist' services. I imagine Craigslist has probably killed that off by now. 

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Shaka, When the Walls Fell

Ivanova, who declared that she was God, 
rendered speechless, tearful,
by Talia's revelation.

Lieutenant Kira's evil twin,
clad in black leather, 
so wonderfully evil
that you'd WANT to live
in the Mirror Universe; 

Dax, who had been male and female
in her symbiotic life,
appearing at the door to her quarters
in a unitard, to tell a new recruit
she recommended wrestling
as the most fun form of exercise.

Uma Thurman drawing a square in the air
in front of John Travolta; 
her bare feet on the carpet
as the reel-to-reel sings 'Girl,
you'll be a woman soon'.

Neve Campbell holding a cigarette,
explaining she's reading Celine:
'He has a good line
on what cute FUCKS people are.'

Donna stood at Laura Palmer's door
asking through tears 'are you my BEST friend?'

The bravura finale
of Bechdel's 'Fun Home':
her riff on what kind of truth
is most important in the end.

***

This poem, named after a particularly geeky Star Trek: TNG reference, is about the way in which so many of my reference points for gender and sexuality come from particularly geeky pop culture moments. In order: Commander Susan Ivanova in Babylon 5, Lieutenant Kira (well, Evil Kira really) and Dax in Deep Space 9, Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, Neve Campbell in Wild Things, Laura Palmer and her best friend Donna in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and the long, wonderfully-crafted final chapter of Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, reading which was a crucial stage in my accepting who I am.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Leather Donax

It's the helplessness
as much as it's the pain.
It's as much about the uselessness of the struggle
as it is about being restrained,

and it's tricky to explain this
in a culture like our own
where sex is page three of some papers
and dirty postcard jokes,

but the place where these words come from,
and the feeling I have of escape
that I get when someone's trapped me:
well, they come from the same place,

because it isn't just getting my rocks off,
or what's below my waist.
It's the closest I come to the sacred:

it's magic. Divinity. Grace.

***

I saw 'Leather Donax' in the list of seashells given as the prompt for day 19 and I thought 'yeah, another BDSM poem, why not?'

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Lines written regarding the preferability of cinematic enjoyment to writing to the prompt on NaPoWriMo Day 18, 2014

Captain America 2
at the cinema today, so
just this lune.

***

The lune form, and particularly the cheap gag of combining said form with a ridiculously verbose title longer than the poem itself, is turning out to be the last refuge of this particular scoundrel during NaPoWriMo this year.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Note to my 19-year-old self

Transition NOW,
you silly bitch,
while you're still thin and pretty! 

Not 'cause you'll be ugly
if you wait 'til you're fat and old
but because it means the first thing you'll be told
won't be 'Well, first you need to lose some weight!'
by a therapist who's shitty.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: The Ballad of Big Jeez Cheeses (& their Big Cheese Jesus)

The folks at Big Jeez Cheeses
were known throughout the land
for the statue of a big cheese Jesus

with outstretched cheddar hands
that towered above their factory
in central Birmingham. 

Some said that it was blasphemy,
and others, bad for hygiene, 
a dairy-based atrocity,

its gleaming lactose sheen
a runny, whiffy parody
of the radiant Nazarene. 

'I've heard of the odour of sanctity,'
a passing priest remarked,
'but I don't think it meant rancid brie -

this statue makes me barf!'
And so the council summoned all
those with religious smarts:

Rabbis, imams, cardinals
and also Richard Dawkins
who heard that theological

things were being talked of
and decided this should not be done
without the God Delusion author.

'It's clear this must be overcome,'
Old Dawkins told the council.
'But in a way that's right for Brum!'

A Sufi scholar countered. 
'Perhaps someone could eat the thing?'
Archbishop Welby counselled.

'But who,' a rabbi pondered, 'is renowned for weird eating, 
connected with this town,
and has no gigs scheduled this season?'

So Dawks assumed his usual frown, 
the scholars all looked busy,
'til their sole Wiccan shouted out

'I know! We'll get Ozzy!'
So Mr Osbourne and his bandmates
consumed the cheese monstrosity

to demonstrate the thesis
that ultimately rock 'n' rollers
are bigger than Jesus

(if he's made of gorgonzola).

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Terse Rhymes

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times
there's no point using words like 'vermillion'
just because it rhymes, 

because though at first you might think 'that's brilliant!'
you'll quickly discover your scheme
is frankly a hair's breadth from being the silliest

idea you've ever dreamed.
Poetry's form but it's content as well:
while complex forms might seem

the best bet for shaping what you have to tell,
it might not be quite the best way.
Dante's linked lines reflected the layers of Hell:

what best fits with what you need to say?

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Questions for the Deputy Speaker

Did you put your hand down his trousers? 
How much had you drank at the time?

Does it matter that an opposition MP
said you're 'a bit daft but never malign'?

Do you call it 'misreading the signals'
when the young man you've plied with wine

wakes up to find you groping him
on the sofa where he's lying?

Who decides what's 'over-familiar'
and what's rape? Where do YOU draw the line?

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Let Me Google That For You

Are you a boy?
Are you a girl?
Were you in Drag Idol? 
How do you pee?
How do you...you know? 
Does that make you gay?
Have you had the, ah,
the surgery?

Are those boobs all natural? 
Can I touch them?
How long have you known?
Just a little? Oh, go on,
I'll just keep wondering otherwise.
Will the pills cure your stubble?
Do you still have your dick?
Have you just started hormones? 
Does this make me a dyke? 

Is my name Wolfram Alpha
or Yahoo, or Jeeves? No?
Then why do you keep asking
questions like these?
You can choose if you file this
as 'sassy' or 'brutal',
but you're on Facebook to read it,
SO FUCKING USE GOOGLE!

NaPoWriMo Catch-up: Lines written in justification of having to resort once more to the lune form on NaPoWriMo Day 13, 2014

NaPoWriMo back-up plan:
when all else fails, another
lune will do.



***

Not entirely sure in what order I wrote these - should have resorted to the cheesy thing of putting the date at the bottom of each poem like a proper poet would I guess. I could go through the Facebook statuses I posted most of these as but I really don't fancy that trawl. I'm just going to bang them up on here now. There's one for each day of the month so far (except today's because that isn't written yet).

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Mud-wrestling in Napalm: my Battle with Veet

So this week, renowned purveyors of smelliness, chemical burns and depilation Veet caused outrage with a horrendous ad campaign that managed to be simultaneously homophobic, misogynist and transmisogynist in a mere thirty seconds. This inspired me to get around to recording this video, of my poem 'Specially Formulated for Sensitive Skin', which I shoved up on YouTube, and - cheekily, perhaps, but fuck it, they started it - on Veet's Facebook page. I did that on Wednesday night, and got up on Thursday morning expecting it would, like most of my vids, have had about 9 or 10 views during the previous night. It had actually had 68. It's not - yet - the most popular video on my channel - that remains 'The Bathroom Thing' - but it's the one that's got the most views in the shortest time so far. Evidently it struck a chord with a lot of people angry about Veet's woman-hating nonsense, which will hopefully make them think more carefully the next time they plan a campaign. Speaking for myself I don't mind it if adverts for depilatory products tell me I'll have incredibly smooth legs and look like a model if I use them, but I resent being told I look like George 'The Animal' Steele if I happen not to shave my legs now and again.

Equal Marriage: Just a Piece of Paper?


Here's another article I had published at SoSoGay, this time on the topic of equal marriage and the spousal veto. 

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 10: Anacreontic

It's Friday night! It's Friday night!
The weekday burden now grows light,
and supermarkets and off-licenses
ring with the grins that split their owner's faces

as Monday's most industrious drone
acquires a box of Cotes du Rhone
to wipe away the pain of work.
Behind closed doors he goes berserk

watching Have I Got News for You
and laughing at the guy from UKIP
because he isn't like the others
those smarmy metropolitan buggers

with their poncy jobs and their poxy wine
and their middle-class ways of passing the time
and their...look, he's still a rebel, yeah?
It's this or acknowledging the despair,

it's this or accepting he wasted his life,
it's this or admitting he hates the wife,
it's this or expressing the fact that he hates
the job and the ongoing workaday wait

until Friday night, Friday night,
when he can pretend that his burden grows light
given wings by a box of the New World's warmth,
thinking no, it's tequila that comes with the worm,

it’s only what’s left of his soul he hears squirm.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 10: And now, a word from our sponsor

This
is an advertisement
for the poem
I would have written

if I wasn't really
knackered
from a week of early starts.

It is not a wacky, hypey advert.
It needs no inflatable flailing-arm
tube man to get your attention.
It comes with no free gift, and
no ex-soap-star will exhort you
with the mantra that you buy one,
YOU GET ONE FREE!

This poem will not give you broadband, calls and Sky Atlantic
in one inclusive package.
This poem does not offer a loan
at 437685% interest apr. 
This poem compares no meerkats.

This poem consists of one image:
a beautiful young person,
their gender undetermined, 
shot in black - and white, 
and these few words:

POETRY
by
AJ

Pour homme. Pour femme.
Pour tout le monde.


Warning: may cause side-effects
if swallowed.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 9: Ultimate

You talk of broken bodies, burning souls,
revisiting the lights that throw a shadow
that you never thought you'd stand below again.

What, of yourself, would you observe in me?
Fat trans woman; muscled man:
the surfaces are different,

but Barthes says we tell stories with our bodies. 
Some run, some fly, some merely stand and speak,
but everyone of us, until we sleep,

is saying something. You said we could be
more than what's thought normal; we could scream
and make no sense but still be realer,

on some level, than a world of monster heels.
We could fell giants, topple legends, change the script.
Small wonder I'd feel I could slam the myth

that says biology should tie me up in ropes
that people make of lies and chromosomes,
(though unlike you I don't want more testosterone

inside my veins): you taught me I could laugh at pain, 
revel in extremity, find power in being a freak.
And you taught me this: when you're about to break, 

don't run, don't tap; reach out, reach up
and bang your head until the crowd goes apeshit
and then, if you're wild enough, you just might make it.

* * *

Back on prompt after a couple of days off it for this one. The five song titles incorporated into the poem were: 'Body and Soul' by Tori Amos, 'Until It Sleeps' by Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, 'Fly Me Away' by Goldfrapp, 'Mannenberg (Revisited)' by Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya, and 'The Shadows Betray You' from the 'The Dark Knight Rises' original soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. And inspired by the sad news of the death of former wrestler (and my childhood hero) the Ultimate Warrior

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 8: Important and Serious Political Poem

It was but a year ago today
that Margaret Thatcher passed away.
But we're still stuck with Cameron,
I really wish he'd
fuck off and die the big Tory shithead.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 7: Dear Mum,

you’ll get no cards or chocolate from your son
next Mothers’ Day,
and I’m sorry that you have to hear this way,
but there never seemed to be a fitting time to say this;
and I know I may have left this far too late,
and I know that some might say that I should wait
until you’re finished this, your latest stay
in hospital – and maybe should delay
until you’re safely finished your recovery phase...

But this can’t wait, and shouldn’t be a secret,
it shouldn’t be the kind of news
you need strong booze to deal with.
I shouldn’t have to worry
that it might disrupt your healing,
that you might become distressed
if I should get this off my chest,

and for all I know you might even have guessed
but never said, because we don’t talk in this family:
we never really talked about how I was anorexic
in my teens and early twenties.
We all knew that I was starving but we mentioned it
obliquely, if at all, my slow withdrawal
behind the blandest front, the baggiest of jumpers,
was something that we never openly confronted,
so we never got a chance to name the cause.

The cause was girls. The ones on Johnny’s wall,
their jutting hips just hangers for bikinis
that I couldn’t wear. But I could ape their leanness,
train my body to enjoy the taste of hunger
until my hips, too, stood out; ‘til I was lighter
than the bigger girls on Gladiators – Panther,
never Jet – I crashed

before I reached that marker. Flew
as far as Hartlepool
before admitting that I had no clue
what I was doing.
That would be my first, though not my only,
Summer as a ruin,
but I convinced you I was doing better,
got a string of letters I could put after my name:

BA, MA, PGCE; and, when I abandoned teaching
one year after NQT, a postgraduate diploma
in Psychology: during which, obsessively,
I’d read and reread the entry in the DSM-IV
On GID: Gender Identity
Disorder.

                        I’m your daughter,
not your son: I’ve read the diagnostics
and conform to every one.
And – while I may not have done
My PhD, that’s also
the opinion of the local GIC
that I’ve been under for a year now,
in the city where I live

as who I’ve always been,
through all the years I hid
behind a mask of ersatz manhood,
clich├ęd codes of masculinity,
all the armour that I tightened until it was killing me,
until a year ago, I looked up,
and the sky above my head
had turned the colour of my armour,
and my future looked like lead.

And I decided that if that was it
I might as well be dead.

And I knew how I’d do it: find a car park or a bridge,
sit with my back to the drop, lean out and simply give
myself to river, concrete, or wherever I should fall.
If my body was a prison, that was how I’d seek parole

– and I would’ve, if I hadn’t talked to those I told,
and then to others, who suggested I should twist
instead of sticking:
Move out. Attend the GIC. Arrange a paid prescription
for Propecia, to decrease my levels of testosterone,
so I was starting somewhere, even if I wasn’t
on full hormones: then, to use the money

I got paid for poems to build a wardrobe,
come out to the people that I work with in my day job,
and, yes: I should have told you,
but I never got ‘round to it,
and, like I say, I think in some way
I thought that  you knew it:
but time is running out now and it’s too late
for excuses.

So this message is belated
while the card I sent was early,
although it at least explains
 why that card did look kinda girly,
and I wrote this poem to say
you’ll get no more cards from your son:

but, if you like, for your next birthday,

your daughter could send one.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 6: What's Happening Outside?

Woman in the car park out the back
carries hoover, ankle-harried by two dogs
that might be bichons, might be westies,

bends inside car door with vacuum-hose, 
sucks clean upholstered hatchback,
and only then picks up each pup
for vehicular deposit.

This seems lopsided:
but who am I to rule on others' Sundays?

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 5: Cloud on my Shovel

All the other girls have gone.
Outside, it’s cold. But we’re already in
your flat, the tinsel serpent winding round
your yucca plant, and you lean over,

asking may I kiss you
inappropriately

and then you’re in,
a kiss that wakes a violence,
that won’t leave me
the way I was before:

we bridge together on your floor
and as you scratch my back I know
I’ll wear this red tattoo for near a month:

the one you leave behind inside far longer.

*  *  *

Playing fast and loose with the prompt to write a golden shovel, here inspired by lines from the Tori Amos song 'Cloud on my Tongue'.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 4: Lines written at four minutes to midnight on NaPoWriMo Day Four, 2014

I have minutes
four, to be exact, to
write this lune

*  *  *

Back on prompt if somewhat cheekily for this one, given that it had been a rather busy day.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 3: Papers

You tell me this
is just a piece of paper;
you tell me this
is just a credit card:
but you are wrong. 

These things are charms:
talismanic sigils signifying
my right to define
my sex, my life, myself,
because

there's power in words,
as all magicians know,
and these letters say 
the papers would be lying
if they ever used my dead name
to invoke me,

and we know what happens
if you read dead names. 
This is a deed poll and a bus pass;
debit, credit and library cards;
two pamphlets, an album,
a Facebook page, an 'at' sign
followed by the words AnathemaJane;

this is all the magic I need in the world:
this is how I choose to spell my name.

*  *  *

My third piece for NaPoWriMo this year, and my first venture a little off-prompt: the prompt being to write a four-line rhyming charm. I wound up writing this instead, about the magic of pieces of paper in helping us define our identities: something much on my mind, as at the same time I was writing this article for SoSoGay on Equal Marriage.

NaPoWriMo Catch-up 2: Until the Whole World's Thrilled

'Certain thrills puff off you like smoke rings, some like bell rings growing out, out, turning brass, steel, gold, till the whole world's filled with the gonging of your thrills' - from 'She Didn't Mean to Do It' by Daisy Fried.

When you pin me, I see stars.
When your legs spread mine

in what they call a grapevine
and you teach me how the turkey's wishbone feels,

light-headed doesn't cover it.
It's fireworks and Beethoven

when I feel the breath in you
turn water in the hollow of my neck;

when I hear you ask me
if I want to say the word;

when I shake my head
to make you hurt me more.

*  *  *

The prompt for this NaPoWriMo piece was to write something inspired by random text generated by the bibliomancy oracle. The epigraph to this poem is the text that it generated for me.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Why Winning Really Matters When You're Born To Lose

So, she won. Fallon Fox came out of her comeback fight against Heather Basset last month with a submission victory forty-four seconds into the second round. I didn’t see the fight live, because I live in England and needed to get some sleep before taking part in a writing marathon the next day, but when I woke up at about six that Saturday morning (the pressures of maturity are conspiring to turn me from an owl into a lark, much against my will), the result was the first thing I looked up when I picked up my phone.
Which was not, however, the first thing I did. The first thing I did was to look over at the clock on the display and do a little mental calculation.
‘Six a.m. now,’ I said to myself, ‘New York is six hours behind us...Chicago...is Chicago another hour?’ Even if it was, that would still make it eleven at night in Chicago by then, I figured. And that meant the fight would probably be over by now, and I could just pick up my phone and find out the result.
Part of me, however, didn’t want to. Part of me was afraid to do something as simple as picking up the phone. Because...well, what if she’d lost?

I was in bed when I found out Fallon had lost the fight before this one, but I wasn’t getting up in the morning: I was getting ready to go to sleep after a gig I’d done in Plymouth. It had been a great gig – I’d performed well enough, but more importantly I’d got to be on the same bill as one of my favourite poets, the brilliant Joelle Taylor. Joelle and I had then spent the night wandering around Plymouth with one of the other poets on the bill, former Birmingham Laureate Stephen Morrison-Burke, before we’d headed back to our respective hotels. For reasons too complicated to go into here, Joelle was staying at one of Plymouth’s two Premier Inns while Stephen and I were staying at a B&B just up the road from Plymouth Hoe. It wasn’t the worst place I’d stayed in but I’d be lying if I said it was the best. Still, after the long day I’d had, even the brick-hard mattress of this B&B was a welcome resting-place, and I pulled my phone out, checked Twitter for one last time before I plugged the thing in and kicked back for hopefully as much as four whole hours of sleep...and read Fallon having to respond to the fact that not only had she lost to Ashlee Evans-Smith, but that the woman who beat her was dishing out some transphobic hate and saying Fox should not be allowed to compete in MMA at all, whether she won her fights or not.
That took the glory out of the night for me: it felt like a kick in the teeth. It wasn’t just the loss – it was the fact that the loss was compounded by the familiar calls for trans people to be excluded, to not be accorded equal space with cis people. But to be honest, the loss hurt too. I find it hard to handle losing, even vicariously. As a poet I’ve won a lot of slams, and only lost one – and even then I came second, which is pretty acceptable really, from a logical standpoint. But emotionally it hurt. The loss sent me on a binge of self-questioning, self-loathing, and self-laceration, all, to my chagrin, recorded on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, as I railed against myself for not being good enough, for playing it too safe with my material, for wasting the time I’d had on stage trying to win instead of trying to say something real – and so on. It took me a long time to come back from that loss, and I know why: because someone from a reasonably comfortable background, someone with more privilege, someone starting from a more secure base, can have the luxury of shrugging off a loss and saying that it’s all about the game, old chap; but when you spend pretty much every day of your life losing – coping with open insults in the street and more subtle shade in the workplace, struggling against bureaucracies and authorities for the right to call yourself a woman, not being able to turn on Twitter or Facebook most mornings without seeing another example of a cis ‘journalist’ saying you don’t really exist, saying people like you shouldn’t be allowed to teach children, or insulting a woman like you to their face in a supposedly ‘friendly’ interview, reading every day about women like you being hounded out of bathrooms, or workplaces, or even to their deaths – well, when that’s the life you live, finding a space where you can win means a lot. And seeing someone like you winning, in her own way, means a lot too. And so when you lose, or they lose, the fall is a lot further and the crash-mat of privilege isn’t there to break that fall. When you’re born to lose, it matters much more if you win. Or if you fail.

So when I lay there that Saturday morning, holding my phone and wondering whether I really wanted to look for the result, the butterflies in my stomach were wielding pneumatic drills and throwing bangers at the lining. I literally felt sick with worry. Did I really want to do this? I’d been getting increasingly nervous about the result since coming back from a gig I’d done in Edinburgh, when I’d seen one of the first online posters for Fallon’s comeback fight. Her opponent, Heather Bassett, was much younger, and presumably therefore much fitter – and it was the lack of fitness caused by not having any testosterone in her body that had seen Fox lose to Evans-Smith in her last bout. Worse than that, Bassett was reported to have won her previous match by kicking her opponent in the head. For some reason this last fact scared the crap out of me. I found myself feeling genuine anxiety as I sat on that train: my head swam, my stomach turned somersaults (an impressive feat for such a large tummy, frankly), and I tried to think of something to do, some way to cope with the anxiety. And I decided to do it by turning cheerleader.

I’d written a poem about Fallon the day after I’d heard of her loss. I’d sent her a link to me performing it on my blog via Twitter, and she seemed to like it, which was, frankly, some of the nicest feedback I’ve ever had in my career. I decided to embark on a campaign of sharing the poem a lot online, and performing it at every gig I did between that train journey and the fight – partly on the grounds that it might boost her morale in some way (after all, the effect of having the North East spoken-word scene on your side is a little-known but possibly crucial factor in pugilistic history. Consider this: Muhammad Ali visited South Shields in the seventies, because as a convert to Islam he wanted to visit that town’s long-established Yemeni community. It’s statistically almost an absolute certainty that at least one of the people who saw Ali travelling down Ocean Road in an open-top bus might have been a Tyneside poet. George Foreman did not visit South Shields, and therefore did not receive the adoration of anyone even vaguely involved with verse in the North East in any way. And who won the Rumble in the Jungle? Exactly.) but mainly because it would give me a way of handling this mounting anxiety. The campaign climaxed the Thursday night before the fight when I got the audience at a gig to do a massive pre-fight cheer for her, by which point it had been a success in at least as much as it had made me feel less of a nervous wreck. But that morning, as my finger hovered over the screen of my phone, there was nothing I could do to stop the nerves hitting me. Except to stop being such a damn coward and look up the damn result, whatever it was. I was going to a writing marathon later that day, for God’s sake: if the news was bad I would have a ready-made opportunity to power through my anger on a wave of righteous trans rage. Just do it, already, I told myself. So I did.

And...she won. Literally the first Facebook status I saw that morning was Fox expressing gratitude for her victory. It feels absurd to compare the way I felt then to the way I felt the morning I discovered that Barack Obama had been elected, but in a way that was how it felt: not because the question of who wins in a cage-fight is the same as the question of who wins in US politics (cage-fighting is, on the whole, a more honourable and dignified business than electioneering, after all), but because I’d spent the night nervously awaiting news from America, and, when it finally came, the news was good. Because when you’re born to lose, the losses that really hurt, hurt like a punch in the stomach; but the wins? The wins feel like a sunrise, or the last bars of Beethoven’s Ninth. The wins are Heaven.


And so, smiling, I got out of bed, and got on with my day.