‘Know yourself; be the feminist that you are.’

(…whispers, whispers…)

I think I missed the class somewhere, Feminism 101. I don’t think I’m a good enough feminist to call myself one. There are times when I am no longer sure what it actually means. Which bit am I – are we – fighting for again?  Also, white, middle class, mostly straight girl, whatcha doing here…

And I can’t type fast enough for the latest FB argument, let alone formulate a response in time…

And I didn’t read that thing. That book, that article.

I do not deserve to call myself a feminist.  

Mostly, I’ll leave it to the wiser, cleverer, more articulate, better informed, better qualified, other feminist to do the necessary fighting. I do understand that it is necessary. But…she’ll be better at it. I am afraid.

She’ll be along soon. 

I’m sure of it.

Tim Etchells (2008)


Glasgow Women’s Library, 21 June 2016. ‘Women, Media, Politics’ seminar or ‘Being a Feminist in Public.’

Ostensibly to present empirical academic research on differing attitudes to women and men in politics seen in representations in official and social media during the Scottish and EU referendums (an interesting study that has been knocked widely off course by the death of Jo Cox.)

Book-ending the ever-so-slightly dry presentations of data are two events, considering ‘Being A Feminist in Public’.

This is the meat of it.

How do women speak up? What platforms are available? What spaces? What responsibilities, vulnerabilities, opportunities and attacks occur?

Lee Chalmers on the public voice as a masculine activity. Talat Yaquoob makes me believe in quotas for gender equality in public representation because the ‘natural trajectory’ is just too damn slow (and the room to laugh its collective ass off, because she is very very damn funny). Claire Heuchan aka Sister Outrider, soft spoken, resolute, eloquent and firm, speaks of racism and invisibility, demystifies intersectionality in the feminism movement, is quietly and righteously angry.


Emma Ritch, Executive Director of Engender, my – I think the room’s – new hero. Humane, firm, funny, expert. And generous.

  • On being named ‘Lying Feminist of the Month’ by a Men Rights Activist Twitter Troll, the reaction, temptation ‘if I make myself smaller, will this disappear?’.
  • That feminism seems to be being sold as a bumper sticker, but that this sort of work can’t possibly by glamorous – ‘it will always be about distributing power’.
  • The three most likely attackers of anyone who sticks their head up and speaks out on social media. Anywhere. But particularly on Twitter. Men’s Rights Activist (MRA). The scariest and most violent but not necessarily the most prevalent. Brogressives. Mostly white middle class males who refuse to acknowledge feminist thought as having either robustness or relevance. A particularly observable issue in Scotland at the moment. I could have heard more about this. And other feminists.
  • Why does this happen? This attacking of feminists by other feminists? When the same fundamental – the only important belief – is ‘the transformative redistribution of power.’

Suggestions. Answers.

  • Know yourself; be the feminist that you are.
  • Pursue radical kindness. Enable each other to think about complicated ideas.


Know yourself; be the feminist that you are.



I am so thankful. I shake.
This has seemed for so long so complicated and so important, so very important, that it was better to say nothing that to get it wrong.

To be so scared of getting it wrong. That I say nothing at all.


At lunch, four of us, some known, some not, sit on the floor amongst books and talk about calling ourselves feminists. Not calling ourselves feminists. About fear. We are mutually surprised by the ones among us who are hesitant to call themselves feminists.


Know yourself; be the feminist that you are.

‘To believe that it was right to identify with all women, to wish to deeply and sincerely do so, was not enough’. (Adrienne Rich, Blood, Bread and Poetry)

The first clause of the sentence as important as the last. Know yourself. Know the spaces that you can and will fight in. Know what the fight is.

‘…to keep searching for teachers who can help me widen and deepen the sources and examine the ego that speaks in my poems – not for political ‘correctness’ but for ignorance, solipsism, laziness, dishonesty, automatic writing.’

(Rich, Blood, Bread and Poetry)

What is the feminist that I am? How do I work to understand more widely? What – and where – is my fight? Who do I stand beside?

To understand where my lived – what Rich calls ‘concrete‘ – experience intersects – where the personal is political and also, where it does not. When I need to keep still and listen and learn from other women’s lived experience.

When to read and when to speak.

I’m going back to the beginning. Reading Gloria Steinem, Adrienne Rich, Muriel Rukeyser. Warsan Shire, Denise Levertov. Elizabeth Bishop and Denise Riley and others. Working in my spaces.

Reading takes time.



Back on the floor of the Women’s Library. We still talk.

What sort of feminism do we want to take to which spaces? What spaces do we want – individually, collectively – to take responsibility for?

These are the questions we’re being challenged with.

We talk about the various spaces we can express our feminism. The pressure we feel to be present, constantly present, articulate, informed, argumentative, clever, witty and ultimately win on social media (particularly Facebook with its endlessly spiralling, stubborn, unconsidered debates). How uncomfortable we feel there.

How do we find the spaces? How do we make the spaces work for us? For debate, for necessary disagreement? For the unravelling of long and complicated ideas?

Does art count? Performance? Does writing count? How can writing a meticulously researched novel about suffragettes, class, the press and the police set in the early days of the 20th century NOT count as much as FB argument?

Barbara Kruger (1987)


There is still a lot of work to be done. There will always be a lot of work to be done. It needs time and reading and unpicking and listening and speaking and debating, in spaces where we learn, and spaces where we fight. But I think, I think. The point is to do it.

And along the way, that it is alright to call yourself a feminist, to find the space for the fight for the redistribution of power, which is needed, still, in whatever spheres and orbits and heavenly bodies you operate in best. A post, a thread, a pulpit, a woven cloth.

I know my spaces now. They are in poems and they are on a stage. Sometimes they are on the street and in the pub. They are physical, these spaces. I salute the ones who do not make themselves smaller online, where it is so fast, so frenzied, so limitless in space.

Baby steps and early days. I read and I listen. But I feel that I can whisper back. Hell, sometimes I can even holler.

I am a feminist.

I do not have my weapons here.

I do not have my weapons here.

Montreal, July 2016.


The men appraise here. Walking down the street. The first thing is that they catch your eye and – the stare. No catcalls. But a stare. And you can feel the eyes. This happens from park benches. From cars. They stop the cars to let me run past (I run here, I am trying to remind my body what it can do) and I can feel their eyes track me.

I talk about this with J. ‘It’s the village mentality. Everyone is checking each other out in the summer. Whose sister has had a baby, whose brother is dating someone new, where did they get that shirt, bag, apple?

‘But this isn’t everyone. It’s the men. It’s me. I’m not used to this.’

Well…yeah. People have also been covered up for seven, eight months of year, so when there is a little less clothing, they look. But they won’t say anything. You’re safe.’

‘I don’t feel safe. This is not safety, to me.’



The two jackasses in plaid shirts on the subway, Joliette station, Hochelaga. Stoned at 11am, passing a can of energy drink or bug juice or something. Stumbling. And loud, so loud. They’re anglo speakers, in a very French neighbourhood. I do not think I have noticed before how quiet the francophone speakers are. But these voices – or perhaps because I can understand them, and their crudeness, and their leering and staggering, grates like fingernails on a blackboard. My brain is shuddering.

My headphones are half in. I am slowly aware. Something something ‘SQUIRT! SQUIRT!…your fucking girlfriends, man…I wanna meet your fuckin’ girlfriends.’

In the subway car, I watch them (they are aware of this). A girl, a black girl gets on, white jeans. She stands in front of them. Something is said, a snickering, falling about. She flinches and moves to sit on the side of the carriage. It looks like she may have moved so they will no longer amuse themselves with comments about her ass.

Language is a colonial choice here. An imposition. An aggression. A claiming of space. And they are so loud and obnoxious and unnecessary.


I don’t have my weapons here. My words, in French, are stumbling, unsophisticated and more than anything, slow. It takes me seconds to process what is being said, seconds to understand, seconds to formulate a response. Which is often imperfect and so we start again.

My body, my body which I have relied upon to be strong, is oddly clumsy. As if I’m in a different gravity, one where I move too quick, too hard, constantly misjudge space. I’m bruised on my calves from walking into the hard corners of things, I spill water, wine, pickle juice constantly.

(I am not pregnant, before anyone gets any ideas).

I get lost, all the time. I am disorientated, can’t tell North from East, turn the wrong way up streets and constantly get distances wrong.

Then I have to ask directions. And the whole thing starts again.


In Edinburgh, I am fast and sure and strong on my feet. I wear hard black boots and black skinny jeans and dramatic coats and my hair is short. I know where I am going, and I know what to say when I get there. This doesn’t always make me the most sympathetic of humans. It lets me get things done. I enjoy being like this, most of the time.

I do not often – not never, but not often – feel like I have to fight for space there. I am a middle class white woman with a career profile that means I receive some professional recognition. I know what this means.

In Scotland, I had this idea that the claiming of space – aural, visual, physical, online space – did not have to an adversarial act. That somehow there was enough space.


The photograph of Iesha Evans in Baton Rouge. Space held. For a second.



We’re on our way to Nova Scotia. Nouvelle Ecosse. I’m puzzling over a conversation with J’s brother before we left, about a piece of history I know little about, that of Acadie.

In Moncton, it becomes clear. I think of Nova Scotia as the final destination of the thousands of crofters forcibly and brutally removed from the Highlands to form new colonies on Nova Scotia, amongst other places. Cape Breton with its estimates of 25,000 Gaelic-speaking Scot immigrants arriving between 1775 and 1850.
Before Nova Scotia, it was Acadie. French speaking – and strategically valuable – settlements from which tens of thousands of French speakers were forcibly removed to France and to the United States (primarily Louisiana) in mid 1700s, as France treatied with the British Empire, who wanted the land. Le Grand Derangement.

There is no mention on the monuments of the fate of local First Nations Mikmaq people. Except how they saved the first German and Welsh settler families of Moncton during the first winter, with knowledge of maple syrup, samphire, salt marsh grass. No mention beyond this brief saviour role.

Looking around the red clay river banks, I wonder about space and defense and weapons and violence. The most prominent sign we can see is for the local Staples, Tim Horton’s, Subway. Huge great warehouses of them, equally huge car parks. Taking up so much space.


The other photographs of the suppression of the Black Live Matter protesters in Baton Rouge. Sweat and concrete and pressure.


On the subway, I keep staring. I don’t say anything. I am wearing a full length green floral dress, enormous cats-eye sunglasses. They fidget. Show off. Shove each other around. By accident – not entirely by accident – I follow them up the escalator at Berri UQAM. I follow them onto the platform. Then onto the train. They are aware of me now. I realise that I am on the wrong train, the wrong line entirely. I toy with the idea of staying further, seeing if I can actively freak them out but slip out before the doors before they close, walk serenely down the stairs. I like to think that they’ve been successfully freaked out, but I don’t know if they have. If I am only pleasing myself, with the thought that watchful silence can be enough of a weapon.

Aggression and defense. Space and displacement. Action and reaction.

I do not want to need my weapons here. I do not have my weapons here.

Doin’ a Show (pt 1)

First note. I’ve had these notes sitting here for a month but until I got the first show out of the way, and it went okay, I couldn’t have been brave enough to put these out there. 


Second note. Trying to bring a show together occasionally causes loss of perspective. About everything else. In the world.

Third note. None of this matters. It’s just a bloody poetry show, at the bloody Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Where everyone is telling their story. And yours is no more important than anyone else’s.

Day 1.

Is this a (very long) set or a ‘show’? A script? A story?

Storytelling? Theatre? Live art? Spoken word live art theatre storytelling performance show?

It’s an HOUR. What the f**k am I going to talk about for an hour (How am I going to memorise this?) ? How boring will this be?


I have the attention span of a concussed gnat.
I wonder what the attention span of a gnat actually is?

I would rather do ANYTHING than this.
Oh god, there is a Collective.
I am not pulling my weight. Other people are doing more things. I’m lost, what am I supposed to be doing again?

I know nothing about how to do this.

Maybe I should do something else.

Like break my legs.


Start with the poems. They’re all you’ve got, anyway. Work out the story. There is one. Trust it. Go on. Now just do patter, patter away the show.

Now make it interesting.


(this is not interesting)
I hate every single one of these poems.

I just keep saying the same thing in different ways.

Everyone has heard these a million times before.


‘brief lifeline’ though.

That is a good phrase. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense. Listen to the sounds of it. Those ‘f’s make it make sense.

Don’t they?

I’m going to draw a picture of a shifty raccoon now.



Is this safe? Acceptable? Timid? Does this ASK ANYTHING ABOUT ANYTHING? I want fierce and awkward and uncomfortable and difficult. ‘We do not live in an age where poetry should warm the heart’ (Miriam Gamble). I fear this is ‘lovely’ and will be delivered in ‘dulcet tones’.


Walking Through Concrete (repost)

This is a repost: I had deleted it when I changed the blog. It’s not where I am at this moment, not at all. But I think maybe it’s okay to put it back. Originally posted 09 February 2015, after a shitter of a January. That I’d managed to write it and dared to (quietly) make it public was a sign that it was going to get better, that it was over the hump. But I think it’s useful to remember that these things come around, and it’s the same thing, it’s not the end of things, that these things have been before.


The bad days are the ones when every step is like pushing through concrete. The bad days are the ones where all there is in my chest is a gaping hole. The bad days are the ones I know are coming because I lose my words. The bad days are the ones where I buy ankle length white leopard print coats. The bad days are the ones where I can’t stop talking. The bad days are the ones where I can’t go to sleep because then I have to wake up to another bad day. The bad days are the ones where I can’t get out of bed because. The bad days are the ones where I can’t. The bad days are the ones where I shove you back as hard as I can because I can’t bear another endless conversation about you, you selfish cow, and can’t you hear the screaming that is going on inside my skull? The bad days are the one where you aren’t allowed to touch me. The bad days are the ones followed by the bad nights where I might as well keep drinking and hopefully I’ll bash my fucking head in on the way home. The bad days are the bad nights where I am so bright and so loud and so brash I hurt to look at. The bad days are the ones where my response to everything will be ‘I don’t care. I don’t care what they do, or he does, or she does, or we do. They can do what they want. I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.’ (If I’ve ever said ‘I don’t care’ to you in conversation, I’m having a bad day). The bad days are the ones where it all goes hollow. The bad days are the ones where I can’t even meet your eyes because you might just see that they’re only mirrors reflecting the light and masking the fact that it is just empty inside the skull. The bad days are the ones where the screaming stops and becomes whistling through space. The bad days are the one followed by the nights where I can’t stop crying silently and I can feel your concern through my back and I can’t even speak to you because I have nothing to say. The bad days are the ones where I’m afraid you will realise I have nothing to say. The bad days are the ones where I am so afraid of everything I can’t cross the street without waiting for the traffic lights. The bad days are the one where I expect to fall off a kerb and break. The bad days are the ones where I can feel my teeth shattering to stumps again. The bad days are the ones where the rat has gnawed through to my ribcage, and the hag is riding my back and raking my scalp, and I can feel that dark hound pacing behind, and I am so scared to turn around. The bad days are the ones where the concrete has reached my knees and I just want to lie down on the pavement. The bad days are the days I can’t. The bad days are.


Au Bout Du Monde/At The End Of The World – Haiti, Pt 3 (pt ii)

The last two and a bit days

Hear how the mouth,

so full 

of longing for the world,

changes its shape?

(Mark Doty ‘Difference’ – from My Alexandria)

Friday 8th

Atelier de performance with Guy, Moe and Louis-Karl, trickster energy all round. They’re well met by the young male Haitians, ‘la performance aquatique’, passing of the water bottle a performance in itself.There is one in particular, with a face like Loki, a hook in the nose, a chin that curls slightly up. He’s vocal, provocative, knowledgable and a huge fan of Josephine’s poetry. They talk about Situationism. Mischief recognises – and challenges – mischief.

At one point, we all get up. I roll in the dirt a bit. I’m feeling grotty, but also in need of a stretch. It feels good.


On the way back, traffic jams. It’s hot and bright. So we form a band in the van. Of course. Voila Tribe Called Sauge.* Wilkins, our driver, is patient, endlessly long suffering.

*it is a universally recognised fact that at least three new bands will be formed during any prolonged conference/festival/event, no matter where you are in the world, or in what language.

Back at the hotel, service is a little slow. We wait over an hour for an omlette, a sandwich. It’s verging on painfully hot. L’heure de chaleur.

More events, the Cafe in the evening.  Another performance, then home. We have a big day tomorrow. We sleep early.

Saturday 9th

This is the big day. Camille successfully wrangles the poets before 8am, into minibuses and to Parc De Martissant, in the Martissant Quartier. It’s a long, hot, packed drive – Saturday morning traffic hornet-buzzed – up to the hills above the city. Suddenly there are trees, wide and quiet streets.

The Parc is beautiful. Peaceful and lush. Rebuilt as a tranquil place for the local community (they have problems with gangs, particularly for the children) after the earthquake. There is a library, vegetable gardens, outdoor stone pods – les oeufs D’Aida – separated by running water, over tiled waterways. An exhibition of dancer Katherine Dunham. A staff of over 70, funded by, among others, the Haitian Government, the George Soros Foundation, the EU. We wander, cooing at plants, pathways, tiny green quick lizards. We have an hour or so before the children arrive for the performances.

On the top of the hill, a tree hung with mirrored faces (the work of Pascale Monin, director of the Centre D’art). I’d been loitering behind and come up to find the female poets arranged in the branches. It’s something magical.



After, a circle is formed, hands held. Sharings from Josephine, Natasha, Jean Sioui, Rita. A giving of thanks to Haiti. It’s powerful.

Bibliotheque. Performance for les jeunes with Virginia, Jean Sioui, Louis Karl and Jonathan. Jonathan and I have worked on a translation into French of one of my pieces, the one that I think might translate, have some meaning, here – ‘Are the Kids Alright?’. We perform together, weaving the French and English. It’s good. He meets me halfway.


Then the day becomes very long, more and more and more kids arriving. Another performance, to younger children, which does not translate. They’re too young, and it’s just some random person talking to them in a different language. Jonathan appears and we perform again, a rescue of sorts that redeems it. But it’s getting hot. I wander out to the gardens, all poets pressed into service. They’re here. We’re here. So, it’ll happen.

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Back to the hotel. We head to the supermarket, buy cheese, crackers, mangoes, hot sauce. A picnic on Maryan’s balcony with Bella, Jonathan. We’ve discussed the best vegetables to buy, shrink wrapped, in the supermarket. A penknife comes in handy. Tonight, there is to be a grand finale at FOKAL, although exact details are a little hazy. Moe and Jonathan go on ahead to set up, plan the evening.

I swim a little with Bella, then wait with the others at the hotel restaurant. We wait, and wait. No one seems quite clear what’s going on.

Eventually, to FOKAL. And it is amazing. A packed audience of Haitians, musicians, a series of young Haitian slam poets who leave my heart jumping out of my chest. Moe ‘CLICK CLACK POW WOW’ and Jonathan keep things running, performances from Natasha and Marie Andree, Louis-Karl, Guy. Jonathan and I perform ‘Kids’ for the third time that day. A whooping, wild audience, finishing with drums, dancing, shouts through the crowd.

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Later that night, we eat, dance, and walk back through the warm streets of Port-Au-Prince after midnight.

Sunday 10th

There is little time. Too little. My flight at 2pm, Miami, Heathrow, Edinburgh. Retrace steps. The rest will stay in Port-au-Prince tonight, fly back to Montreal the following day. We have been invited to brunch at the house of Yanick Lahens. My case packed, both lighter and heavier than before. I feel warm, calm, a little stunned. I rub the heat deeper into my skin, asking it to stay with me. It does.

My case tucked under the seats of the minibus. We go up through the hills and find another side of the city: the suburbs. The houses here are bigger, still with high walls and barbed wire but with a more relaxed air. The streets are wider, less busy. There are shopfronts. Yanick’s bungalow is serene, elegant, full of art and tiles and light.

I say my goodbyes, quietly, to each person. The hugs are fierce.

The airport. The journey through Port-au-Prince passes more quickly than I remembered. And then I leave.


Josephine Bacon, Natasha Kanape Fontaine and Naomi Fontaine will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday 29th August in a joint event with Anna Crowe, Rachel McCrum and Jennifer Williams. This is part of a wider collaboration between the EIBF, the Scottish Poetry Library and the Maison De La Poesie in Montreal, which will see the three Scottish poets performing in Montreal in May 2016. More on the EIBF events here.

Les Nuits Amerindiennes is a festival celebrating First Nation literature, poetry and performance from Quebec and Canada, organised by the Montreal based publishing house Memoire d’encrier, and encompassing performances, readings, workshops, lecture, book launches and more. The 2015 festival in Port-au-Prince was the first in what is hoped to be a global series of Les Nuits Amerindiennes.

Au Bout Du Monde/At The End Of The World – Haiti, Pt. 3 (pt i)

It’s now been over a month since I left Haiti and if I concentrate hard, I can just remember the last traces of heat of my skin. And this last post has to talk about all the rest, from the night of Wednesday 6th May to the flight leaving Port Au Prince on the afternoon of Sunday 10th May. How to tell it? (in two parts, it turns out. Of course).

Wed night, 6th

The reception, after the performance in the theatre of FOKAL arts centre. A homage in poetry to Josephine, performance, drums, sage. Introductions to Les Nuits Amerindiennes, music from Chloe Sainte-Marie. The others have performed, I recognise that mood. Elation, a lightness, smiles. I smoke, watch, still unsure, but less unsure. I also let go. I’ll go where I’m told to, this is someone’s elses party. I just have to be here. Be present.

I’d been asked earlier by Rodney – warm, generous, a huge presence – to perform something at l’hommage a Josephine but either we run out of time, or he is being kind, realises I have misunderstood the brief, and do not have something appropriate to perform at the show. I’m somewhere between relieved and disappointed. At the back of my head is the thought that if I can read something, I can show, a little, what I do, who I am, why I am here. I tuck this thought back, to think more later.

We’re hustled to the cars, jump in the back of the pick up truck, crammed in. Drove through the streets – there are no street lamps here, but Port-Au-Prince is still full of life. We pass a pile of rubbish on fire, a burnt out bus. People, stalls, still. We stop at Cafe Vandalou, pass through the gate to the courtyard. A huge tree, tables, oil lamps. Rum sours, okra fritters. Wine appears. We sit, loosened, talk. There are other ways to share meaning: food, wine, dancing. It’s lovely, a little giddy

JeudiSoirDanser JeudiSoirDiner

Talk of politics, in English and French, of Quebecois and Scottish nationalism and seeking independence, of Northern Ireland of the rise of First Nation literature in Quebec, particularly since 2005. The relationship between that and nationalism. The claiming of ancestry (whether First Nation princesses or the Kings of Ireland). I’m sat between Jonathan Lamy and Louis-Karl Picard, who dip in and out of English (and Quebecois slang), and across from Simon, with whom I get into deep into politics. I’m aware of the General Election looming in the UK, we talk of that, and I, with a bitter taste in my mouth, bet Simon a dollar that the Tories will get back in (oh, I wish I’d lost that bet…).

Back to the hotel. It’s still warm. We dive for the swimming pool, plunge in and out and round the water, some shrieks and giggles, still talking. It’s midnight in Haiti, and I’m in a swimming pool. The self consciousness is beginning to sluice from my skin.


Thursday 7th

The Tories. GodDAMNit. Even this far away, that rises like bile. The SNP majority in Scotland. Even that doesn’t feel like a triumph for democracy. The map blue and yellow.

Up and out and into the vans. Into the streets, for real this time. So many PEOPLE. And everyone has something to sell.

HaitiPortAuPrince HaitiRues JeudiVendeurs

La Bibliotheque National. The book fair again, a white room, lectures and talks. My comprehension isn’t quick enough to follow the flow – while my brain is translating the last sentence, the conversation moves ahead two more. But I can grasp phrases, ideas. And it’s full of Haitians.

Grabbed again by Camille. I’m going to…a school? Okay. This wasn’t on the schedule (the schedule will loosen more as the week goes on). But if Camille says ‘Venez’, I come. Get into the bus. Rita, Virginia, Natasha, Jean Sioui, Maryan with her camera.

The streets, stalls of shoes, wine and rum and champagne, spare times, spare parts for cars and buses. Baskets of plantain slices, balanced on heads. Steel drums full of white starch. God, the heat.

A public school, concrete classrooms, fans. I’m shuffled in with the others, forty odd teenage faces, expectant, grey uniforms. Oh fuc…….. I’m standing in line with the others, introducing myself. Explaining myself. It’s okay. I sit, watch. The others read and perform. Mobile phones appear from blazer pockets, held high to film. Plus ca change.


Hotel. Shower. Change. Back to the restaurant. Back to the minibuses. To the Centre D’Art with Virginia Bordeleau, Moe Clark, Guy Sioui-Durand. We get a little lost. Eventually pull up in front of a garden, a low spiked railing (noticably less formidable than the feet high concrete walls with barbed wire fortifying, concealing, preserving most of the other buildings). A garden, a couple of lushly painted shipping containers, murals, an open shelter draped in fabrics, seats inside, project, laptop. A scattering of folk watching a film. An external drum sculpture made of car parts, which we immediately go crazy for. We can talk in bashing and rhythm, Moe, Guy and I blamming out some basic rhythms. Which is of course immediately distracting to those watching the film, and we’re told to shut up. Eejits. Look around.

I love this place. In the corner, someone is gardening. Another man brings him a bucket of earth. I LOVE this place. It’s public and open and relaxed and it’s full of art, and it’s being used by people. That blue green again, everywhere. Pascale Monin, the director, dynamic, strong, sparkling.


Virginia, Moe et Guy explain their practice, demonstrate. Painting, performance, all with a discourse behind it. It’s strong. Guy gives out cards to audience, animals and mottos.

For me I turn it over. Badger. Blaireau. I bare my teeth to the rest of the audience, mimic claws to show what it is, demonstrate stripes. It doesn’t seem a natural fit to me. But the mantra ‘Soyez responsible de votre vie. Foncez – Faites confiance a vos aptitudes.’

Virginia, from the other side of the room, audibly agrees with this.

Later that night, in the Cafe. People are performing, poems and songs. I ask Camille if there is space for me to read. She beams. Yes, of course. So. If I can’t quite manage in conversation, this is how I can communicate. At least show a bit of myself. I work out some introductions in French, a choice between la mer, ma mere, a little cute but to engage, to try.

It seems to work. Rodney bear hugs me (he gives excellent hugs), grinning.

Elation all round. Rum sours all round. Swimming all round. Rum in the swimming pool. Moe and I hang off the side of the pool, chatting. I swim to Josephine, we talk. What would you like to see when you come to Scotland, Josephine? She roars. Three things – mountains, whisky, Gaelic poets. We can do that.

It’s a beautiful night.


The plan, l’idee, was to unfurl all this in real time. To document strangeness and immediacy as it happened, without reflection, without a bit of a cute tightening to narrative, to a story…but it happened too fast. Events and things and panic and sensation and the need to just get in the back of the pick up truck without questioning, to close yer eyes and duck yer hair into the flow without completely understanding, and most importantly, to let the flow grab you and your elbows and ankles and go. With open eyes and a quiet brain. Just get in the back of the van, and ask questions later. So now, I’m sitting in my flat in a cold, dank Edinburgh, a week later. Raising my eyebrows, and remembering the heat, a little, on my skin.

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So. This is not immediate. This becomes a reflection, something tidy, an arc.

Where did we get to? I have arrived at the hotel. It’s like a fort, huge iron gate, guardsmen. And having seen the chaos of the streets, my reaction is relief. A shameful but welcome security. I’m greeted by Camille, from Memoire D’encrier, the literary press in Quebec. She is slight, quick, beautiful, concerned and to me, incomprehensible. My heart is now drumming so hard in my ears that I can’t understand anything. Give me a room. Give me Wifi. Let me hide. Let me breathe.


Camille introduces me to a table of bright faces: Moe, Marie-Andrée, Natasha, les autres. I am panicked. ‘Il faut pratiquer son français‘ or something, brightly. Christ, yes. Or just give me some air conditioning, a shower, a bed. A grave. Why am I here?

Why am I here? Fair question. It’s to do with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and their theme of Translation for the 2015 Festival, how they’re putting that into practice. It’s awesome, superbe, outward looking – and all will be revealed at the June EIBF launch. I’m not even just blowing smoke up their juxters because they’ve sent me to an island. Meanwhile, I’m Kim Philby. But I was always going to be a crap spy. I smile too easily. This festival, Les Nuits Amérindiennes, it’s part of an exchange between First Nation (Innu, Wendat, Cree) writers based in Quebec, published by the Montreal based press Memoire D’encrier (a Rodney et Camille), francophone, and a number of arts centres in Port Au Prince. It’s spectacular, and particularly centred around an Innue poet, Joséphine Bacon. She is a formidable woman, a stunning poet, and a wonderful, generous presence. Come, come see…

The Haiti connection? There is a strong link between Montreal and Haiti. There are some incredible arts centres in Port-au-Prince, working with Haitian artists (The Haitian Slam Poets! More on that later…) : Fokal, Centre D’art, Parc de Martissant, et encore. So. It’s a Festival Les Nuits Amerindiennes, en Haiti, with First Nation poets, performers, artists, scholars de Quebec presenting performances, readings, workshops, discussions in various Port-au-Prince venues over 4 days, 6 – 10 mai. C’est superbe, c’est incroyable. La poésie, la politique, les livres, et puis…

…Aye so. I’m here. Northern Irish born, Scotland based, the only person from the other side of the Atlantic.  I’m the outsider, étrangère. I’m also…no, seriously,why the fuck are you here, in the nicest, most quizzical way? Um. Edinburgh International Book Festival? To meet some Québécois writers? This was the best way to do it? Yes. Okay. But I’m here. I do speak the language (I mean, sort of, but just enough for banalities, la vie quotidienne). But I don’t know these stories. I really don’t know these stories. So. I have some talking to do. And these people? These poets, these artists? This is something else. Performances like you haven’t known.


Pull your socks up (it’s too hot for socks) and tie your hair back, Violet. Because you’re used to opening your mouth back home, and now, you’re going to have to listen. I have a line worked out: Je suis ici pour observer, pour écouter, pour apprendre.

To watch, to listen, to learn.

If that doesn’t make you sound like a zoo inspector.

But you’re probably going to try and open your mouth at some point.