Friday, 23 August 2019

EVENT REVIEW: Penguin Pride - HOME, Manchester.


Now in its third year, publisher Penguin brought their celebration of LGBTQ writers and writing to Manchester, following great success last year. Arriving at HOME, the midweek before Manchester Pride, following a tour in London and Liverpool, it was a real pleasure, as an openly gay man, to 'cample' some of the great works of my peers.

An “awe-inspiring line-up of LGBTQ+ writers, poets and performers to celebrate the city's incredible diversity”, it was attended by an also diverse audience, with people from all walks of life, from all across the city, reflective of all of the LGBT community..and allies. This is humbling and promotes the fact that writing (or any common interest) can bring people together and moreso that members of the LGBT community, and specifically Manchester, continue to stand together against discrimination, abuse and - as one speaker expressed - “being looked at for no other reason than being yourself” and can still have a bloody good time!

Hosted by the reknowned award-winning poet and playwright Toby Campion, we were first welcomed along by one of the organisers, Zaynab, who made reference to the 50th anniversary since the Stonewall Riots and how far we have come since that but also reflected on the horrendous media report of a lesbian couple still experiencing physical abuse on a London tube because of their orientation and refusal to do as commanded by a young straight person for their own entertainment. Sadly, we do have some way to go to end this behaviour and the streams that feed it but tonight was a celebration of expression, comradeship and talent. We have to be more visible and confident to fight the fight. We still have to protest through celebration.

Campion stimulated the sold-out crowds from the start, encouraging them to react, applaude, cheer and just generally appreciate, with energy and enthusiasm. The night was entitled ‘Turn Up!’ to ensure that the voices of the various underheard and undervalued spectrums of the LGBT community are heard and listened to. First, was local-born storyteller Ella Eneme Otomewo, whose collaborations have included those with BBC Philharmonic, Manchester International Festival, The Lowry and The Guardian. Her confidence is admirable for, what must have been, the youngest performer of the night but her writing and delivery is of maturity, to be admired. Her first piece, ‘Fem’, told of the adoration of the colour blue - a midnight kind - and the highly relatable scenario of having to hide away until the darkness comes before showing your love for your same-sex partner. Then came ‘Oyiba’ (a Nigerian word generally used to refer to a white person or one of European descent or people perceived to not be culturally African) which provided a stark but genuine and heart-warming insight into returning to the motherland and the contrast of being free and being truly at home, albeit slightly uncomfortably, and being followed around a shop by a security guard here in the UK. Then came ‘Cooking (in the Dark)’ which explained her secret life of doing just that, coupled and intertwined with a powerful piece about domestic violence. Otomewo is one to watch and monitor.

We were made aware that a change of programme was made due to Emma Morgan’s absence due to train travel and so followed LGBTQ+ writer Roo, from Yorkshire, whose witty and highly-amusing writing comes from her unfinished book but tells of losing and finding of family, but more focussed tonight around growing up in a rural area. Introduced as “a flawed human being in an uncertain world”, her writing is very atmospheric, as the recited piece jumps from a walk around her village with her dog and reminiscing to school life and becoming aware of LGBT life. The main first piece was ‘Rural 20%’, giving a nod to the minority who come from rural areas and the even smaller proportion of LGBT people in those areas. A quote from her mother of “well, if you will push it in people’s faces…” justifies the reason for lack of comfort and mental security and stability, in a world where “you can do what you want out of school, but in school you are my responsibility”.

Toby Campion was honoured to be chosen as a poet in residence for the River Thames, but did not expect when accepting that it would be, for him, on a waste disposal unit. Whilst there, his research suggested that the only link between LGBT people and the waterway was one of dead people on the seabed. With a bit of creativity and the idea to promote the forgotten, he ended up with ‘The Thames In Drag’ series. Starting this section off was Anthony Wallgate whose family were suing the Met Police for lack of competence during an investigation. In this the river was to portray ‘The River As Batty Boy’. Then ‘The River As Mother’ for Jeff, which was beautifully poignant. Finally, ‘The River As The Creepy Guy In The Bar’, linked to Jonny Benjamin who was saved from attempting suicide on Waterloo Bridge after escaping from a psychiatric hospital. A stranger stopped to talk him into stepping down and after 20 minutes, he did.

Before the interval was journalist Paul Flynn, originally from Wythenshawe, he has worked for many media outlets and even in a music shop. His book, ‘As Good As You’ takes us from 1984 to 2014 and on a journey through how gay men changed and how Manchester helped him to be gay, wuth help from Citylife’s sister publication Gaylife; The No1 Club, etc. We hear extracts from the ‘Work Experience’ and ‘Enjoy Yourself’ (yes Kylie is mentioned)

After the interval, where copies of some of the books were available, we heard from Kirsy Logan who, although has strong links to Manchester, writes a lot about her time in Glasgow - we later heard that the pieces we heard were written whilst on residency in Iceland. Her book ‘Things We Say In the Dark’, is horror-like and includes ‘Things My Wife And I Found In The House’ (apologises if paraphrased) which features the engrossing finding of a sea glass ring, a paper note, a small horse, pearls, hair, a glass jar, a knife and more.. The book is in three parts - houses and the idea of no boundaries, pregnancy.and childbirth, and primal fears - “I'll eat you up I love you so”. “A shocking collection of dark stories, ranging from chilling contemporary fairytales”, I found then quaint. Kirsty is one of Britain’s 10 most outstanding LGBTQ+ writers at the International Literature Showcase 2019, as is…Andrew McMillan.

Andrew McMillan read from his book, Playtime. First was ‘Martyrdome’, ‘Things Said In The Changing Room’ and ‘What 1.6% Of Young Men Know’. Most of these are around body image and the difficult relationship with the body, apart from the first which was more a confessional of gay life and the many men. Then we hear ‘Inheritance’ and ‘Blood’ which is around a HIV test and a piece about his personal trainer’s technique to enhance his abs and strengthen him. We finish with three pieces about observations on trains and ultimately ‘Intimates’ which is about his current partner (who hates poetry). His writing is witty with a dark humour but underlying relatability.

The evening was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable. Happy (Penguin) Pride everyone!

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 21/8/19

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