Writing of Importance – Christy Birmingham (@christybis)

Poetry is an art form I admire, mostly because it is the one form of writing that I have most struggled with in order to ‘find a voice.’ I am a huge fan of Plath’s work,[1] obsessively so, and so it was with much delight that I came across Pathways to Illumination, Christy Birmingham’s debut book of poetry. A brief bio taken from Ms. Birmingham’s publisher’s site (@RedmundPro) helps give a sense of what the overall work is about:

Christy Birmingham is a freelance writer who resides in British Columbia, Canada. She writes poetry to help heal from her past and reach out to women who are struggling. This sense of purpose began after the end of a toxic relationship, when she met the heavy hand of depression and attempted to take her own life.

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(click the image to go to the publisher’s site)

Birmingham seeks to help women understand they are not alone when they are depressed, anxious or abused. She has struggled with all three situations and is proud to live independently and healthy today. She is also a cancer survivor. Her poetry carries a unique perspective given the trauma she experienced before age 35.

The purpose with which Ms. Birmingham writes is evident from turning the first page, where one is met with a barrage of disturbing imagery constrained in a form that is disciplined, thereby creating the kind of tension that lends great power to the poems that chart the tumultuous nature of this ‘toxic relationship.’ There is also the imagery that repeats throughout, which lends a sense of the torment and difficulties that the subject of the poems exhibits. An example of this occurs most strikingly in the opening section of poems: The Toxic Us. In ‘Sink to the Gravel Bottom,’ where the image of the spine, the backbone of the human form, is evoked, we find the subject subsumed by the tide of emotion that batters her ceaselessly. Throughout much of the collection, the subject struggles with a spine that is bent, bowed, and twisted into painful contortions by the mind and body of another: ‘When your posture is firm / I know that my own back bends.’ Consider further the image of the ‘posture of importance’ held by the subject’s tormentor, as he stands with his ‘face of fury.’ The imagery of the spine is deployed across the collection as a kind of violated refrain, which draws the reader back to a consideration of the human form in crisis – a very clever piece of manipulation by the poet in question.

The opening and closing chapters, in their form, are very much akin to what is described above, whereas the middle sections, charting the loss of identity, the fragmentation, the dissolution of a person struggling with her own existence, break their constrained form somewhat, giving the reader the sense of the subject’s attempts to struggle through loss, despair, and towards eventual recovery. Pathways to Illumination is an important contemporary work in terms of situating a discussion of domestic violence, and should not be limited to those women who are struggling with circumstances similar to that of the subject of the poems, but should be widely read by those men and women who have a predisposition to exert both mental and physical torture on ‘loved’ ones. The term, domestic violence, does not sit easy with its inherent contradiction – that of violence in the setting of a ‘family home’ – but its message must be heard.

[1] And perhaps I should find some solace here, because Plath herself struggled to find a voice for a good while, sitting with her thesaurus and dictionary, teasing out the words with care but with pain.


@WorldBookNight 2015: Skellig

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Less than a week now, and I have 18 copies of David Almond’s Skellig at hand to give away on World Book Night 2015. I first read the book as an undergraduate, on a module created by Professor David Rudd, then of University of Bolton, now of University of Roehampton. The module (Children’s Literature 1945 to present) reading list, from memory, included: E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Louis Sachar’s The Holes, Skellig, and a couple of others I can’t quite remember.

Skellig is such a beautiful read, full of mythology, riddled with Blake, and it clutches at that most primitive of human drives – the gut-wrenching need to forge a bond with an other.

“Love is the child that breathes our breath / Love is the child that scatters death”


Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) versus the GOP #2 (Logogate?)

Well, we’re off and running now that Hillary’s declaration is official. What will social media sites be awash with, in terms of Hillary Clinton’s policies, whether economic or social? Will Hillary’s performances as both First Lady and Secretary of State be called in to question, analysed, and unpicked carefully in order to figure out whether she is in fact the person best suited to next take office at the White House?

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Seemingly not, for social media sites are awash with speculation about the logo Hillary is using in her campaign as she aims to win the democratic nomination (see the logo thingy above – clicking on the logo will take you to a webpage where a design company’s Design Principal, Matt van Leeuwen (@matthijs), has unpacked the logo for us). Now, below is a link pasted so that you can see just some of the comments that are pinging around the web, and you are free to make of them what you will, but doesn’t it make you think that in politics, as with much in life, we have become so adept at ‘missing the point’ that you can’t help but feel that we kind of deserve whatever crappy government we end up with because we’re so fixated on the banal, the conspiratorial, and the tiniest most irrelevant details to even be bothered to engage with the bigger questions facing humanity at this present time?

Although, the one by Kristi Colleen (@KristColleen) at the end of this ‘journalistic’ piece serves to provide both a touch of sanity and plain old common sense, thankfully.

Some of the Tweets are to be found here on this, The Guardian, link:


Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) versus the GOP

19th International AIDS Conference Convenes In Washington

It may be airing at this very moment, people may be streaming Hillary Clinton’s declaration to run for the Democratic nomination, and just who will attempt to stop her, both from within her own party and from within the GOP? The answer to this will surface sooner rather than later, but one imagines there will be a smear campaign the likes of which have not been seen for a while; perhaps the biggest smear campaign of all. And why? Well, Hillary has history. Hillary is a woman. Hillary polarises opinion. Should any or all of this matter? One thing is certain; Hillary is a STRONG contender for the White House. Anyone who tells you otherwise is deluded. The GOP is marshalling its troops to provide the strongest opposition it can, but, following the reign of Bush the second, it still appears to be in a bit of a mess, fractured around issues that usually serve to unite the party. With experience of being First Lady, and of serving as Secretary of State, and with access to funds to equal, or even eclipse, that of any prospective GOP candidate, Hillary Clinton may well become the first female President of the United States of America. How interesting might that be?


Louis Theroux (@louistheroux) and his Transgender Kids

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Did anyone else pick up on the kind of indoctrination, propaganda, call it what you will, that came to the fore when Louis talked to Camille in her room? W/r/t the nature versus nurture, essentialist versus non-essentialist arguments that rage back and forth, it was interesting to note Camille acting out her own version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance – this is the indoctrination, propaganda, call it what you will, aforementioned. Camille wants to be a girl. Camille sees Lady Gaga – a girl in Camille’s eyes. Camille clearly likes what she sees. Camille mimics Lady Gaga. Gender perpetuates itself through this mimicking. Arguments that “girls like pink, want to dress up and look pretty because it’s ‘hard-wired'” cannot hold up when we, from a very young age, usually pre-speech, are fed images that uphold gender stereotypes (via TV, internet, basically any form of screen relaying images).


Casual Sexism?

When things crop up, which they do from time to time, an effort will be made to post about said things when they concern everyday examples of sexism (another term may suit better, but…).

I believe there to be something similar w/r/t racism (casual racism, or everyday racism, I think?), and there may well be other examples to do with sexism as a theme, but whether there is or whether there is not this should not detract from the series of posts that will appear here.

Today’s example is an anecdote told to me over a cup of Chai latte whilst sitting listening to the birds in the garden. The person telling the anecdote was not exactly offended by the comments, but she seemed quite puzzled at the attitude shown. Anyway, it went something like this:

A colleague, within hearing distance in another part of the office, was bemoaning the fact that her partner, and intended, had not completed a DIY task, and did not appear likely to do so any time soon, to which a male colleague, out of ear shot of the original complainant, suggested that he’d probably have completed said DIY task if he’d been ‘given’ sex in return, to which the person telling me the anecdote inquired as to why that should be the case, only to be told that that’s pretty much what men require of a wife/partner/woman type thing.

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I wonder whether this marks a new phase in expressing thoughts that really should have died out in the 1970s, but do not appear to have. The only way of describing this new phase, if that is what it is, is that of casual disregard, as if it’s just too tiresome to even cover the fact of the sexism in the first instance, and that it’s just better off out there for all to see and/or hear. Perhaps the irony of having to cloak offensive remarks has taken its toll, and now we’re to be greeted with a somewhat awkward form of ‘honesty’ instead.


Louis Theroux (@louistheroux) and his Transgender Kids

There’s a great debate going on at the moment w/r/t (@louistheroux) Louis Theroux’s Transgender Kids, shown at 9pm (GMT) on BBC 2, Sunday 5th March 2015 (US Link) (UK Link). See this Reddit subreddit (r/Documentaries) for more details:

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Aside from the obvious points that people will undoubtedly get stuck on – arbitrary markers of gender; is the documentary biased in anyway?; gender dichotomy versus gender fluidity; and so on… – there’s an interesting question that crops up, and, should you choose to consider it, it’s a question that starts to break down a lot of the ‘common sense’ arguments that we structure our lives by. The question, as I understand it, is:

Should a child be allowed to make a decision that will ultimately determine its own future, in a most serious and profound way?

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We seem, as a society, to have a particular problem with acknowledging a child’s wish – if that wish is something more taxing than being allowed to choose ice cream over a piece of fruit, for example. We constantly fall back on the position that a child’s brain is not ‘developed’ enough to make serious decisions, and so as adults we take away any autonomy they have and instead, make decisions for them.

Now, let’s consider how we adults use our brains, if we purport to be so gifted at knowing what’s ‘right.’ We:

  • Go around trying to amass personal wealth whilst millions starve
  • We support, or are apathetic towards, governments that stock pile weapons and spend billions on warfare, whilst millions starve
  • We watch TV, play games, go on holidays, and entertain ourselves in myriad ways, whilst millions starve
  • And do a whole host of stupid, banal, and reprehensible things, whilst millions starve

In contrast to this ‘traditional’ way of thinking, let’s consider the message that came through from Theroux’s documentary. It was a message that a child can make a serious and profound decision about its own life. It was a message that a child can make such a decision before said child is indoctrinated into the very real gender binary structure that floods those early years (pink/blue, pretty/handsome, rough ‘n’ tumble/delicate). It is a refreshing change to see children’s thoughts, wishes, and beliefs being taken seriously. And who is to say that that’s not the way things should be?

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And did we notice how important the use of pronouns became in the documentary footage?


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