Robert Webb – How Not to be a Boy: WORD Christchurch

On Tuesday evening I attended the WORD Christchurch event where the English comedian and author, Robert Webb, conversed with Michele A’Court about his book How Not to be a Boy.  A’Court suggested How not to be a boy is a “feminist memoir written by a man”. Webb demurred at that description and joked that the “F word” would ruin his chances of sales success.

Webb said that all throughout his life he had thought about gender and the way it defines roles and sets up certain expectations. So when he came to write a memoir, it seemed natural to use gender and its constrictions as a unifying theme.

As a boy, Webb discovered he did not seem to meet the expectations of what a boy should be. He was quiet and shy and not good at sports. Also, he was terrified of his father whom he describes as a violent, philandering, Lincolnshire woodcutter who didn’t really know how to bring up a young family.

Webb’s parents divorced when he was five, and he was brought up by his mother with whom he had a close relationship. Webb described how he felt most at ease in his mother’s company and he recalled fondly how he and his Mum would often sing along loudly with the stereo in the car. When Webb’s mother died of cancer when he was seventeen, he was devastated.

CoverThis experience served to illustrate to Webb that the “boys don’t cry” emotional repression that society seems to expect of males is a toxic expectation that does nobody any good. After his mother’s death, he moved back in with his father, had to retake his O Levels and eventually made it to Cambridge University where, because he had not processed his grief, he fell apart. He sought therapy at Cambridge which he found very helpful. Although not talking about one’s feelings was another trait society expected of males, Webb found talking about his feelings was exactly what he needed in order to heal emotionally.

During the evening, Webb read a couple of excerpts from his book. One was an account of his early teens where a male classmate who was pinching all the girls’ bottoms was challenged by another boy who received a smack in the mouth for his trouble. When the harasser was chastised in class by the teacher, Webb felt a sense of shame that he had been a silent enabler and not a “gentleman” like the boy who stood up to the harasser.

Another excerpt concerned the plethora of books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus which Webb saw as letting men off the hook when it came to dealing with their relationships.

Although Webb realised his book appealed to middle-aged feminists, he secretly hoped copies of the book might be passed around in juvenile detention centres and boarding schools. He said he didn’t claim to be any kind of expert and that is why he had employed a tone of self-mockery. He hoped that by using jokes and describing the many things he has done wrong, he could present some serious ideas about gender roles to a male readership and get them thinking about how gender expectations might be limiting their own lives.

More Webb

Robert Webb is appearing at Auckland Writers Festival. Catch him there.

CoverCoverCover

Robert Webb: How Not To Be a Boy – WORD Christchurch, Tuesday 15 May, 7.30pm

CoverDiary this! On Tuesday 15 May 7.30pm, WORD Christchurch, in association with Auckland Writers Festival, presents Robert Webb in conversation with Kiwi comedian and writer Michele A’Court. Robert is a comedian, actor, and writer, appearing in such gems as Peep Show and Mitchell & Webb.  He will be speaking about his new book How Not To Be a Boy at the Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College, 12 Winchester St, Merivale. Robert will also be signing copies of his book after he speaks. Find out more and buy your tickets. 

In his book, Robert looks back to his childhood, through to his university years where he met his friend and comic partner, David Mitchell (both performing for the famous Cambridge Footlights).  We are with him for his school days, and as he grapples with grief after the death of his mother.

Growing up, Webb found that society expected boys and men to love sport and play rough, drink beer, never to talk about their feelings, and never to cry. When Webb became a father, he began thinking about the expectations society has of boys and men – and how these expectations were often at best, absurd, and at worst, limiting and emotionally damaging.

Webb will discuss, among other subjects, how various relationships made him who he is as a man, the life lessons we learn as sons and daughters, and “the understanding that sometimes you aren’t the Luke Skywalker of your life – you’re actually Darth Vader.”

More Webb

CoverCoverCover

Harry Giles: Doer of Things (WORD Christchurch event, Tues 13 March 7.30pm at Space Academy)

I must admit to some trepidation about reporting on a Poetry Reading. How does one describe a Poetry Reading to those that weren’t there? Even one by a flamboyant Scottish poet who has travelled halfway across the world.

Harry Josephine Giles originally came from the Orkney Islands but they did not elaborate from which island other than to tell us that their island had 700 people and six churches of various denominations. Obviously, a small island northeast of Scotland was never going to contain nor satisfy a restless, creative spirit like Harry’s so they headed for the big city and now reside in Edinburgh.

I vacillated on whether I should take notes, but I thought that would be a buzz kill when I was trying to listen and enjoy the poetry in the moment.

Harry started off reading some poems in English and then went on to read some in Scots. If you want to see what Scots poetry looks like, check out Whit tae write nou?

I profess ignorance and I have no excuse since I am descended from Scots, but I was unaware that three languages were spoken in Scotland as Harry enlightened us. I knew they spoke English (the language of their colonisers) and Scots Gaelic (related to the other Celtic dialects of Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany), but I hadn’t considered Scots as a separate language. I’d thought of it as a variation of English. But Harry put us straight, explaining that Scots has those Norse origins that English shares.

Harry kindly read their Scots versions of poems then followed with the English translation, so to speak.

Although tired after their whirlwind tour of Aotearoa (nine gigs in seven days in New Plymouth and Wellington), Harry gave an energetic performance. It was easy to see that Harry works in the performance and theatre arenas because they enlivened their poetry with modulations of their voice and gestures. Harry has a beguiling shyness that peeps out from time to time.

Harry read a small series of poems in which they had engendered their fears and anxieties through the persona of a female military drone. You can hear some of the sequence on Soundcloud.

Harry was introduced by Ray Shipley who is a Christchurch-based poet, comedian, youth worker and founder of the Faultline Poetry Collective. Ray made an able MC and general crowd-exciter, but Harry had the audience engaged from their first poem and many of us were sad to bid Harry farewell after only an hour and a half.

More Harry Giles

All About Women: Satellite Event at Christchurch Art Gallery, Sunday 4 March 2018

Cover Second SexI attended the live-streamed All about women sessions beamed in from the Sydney Opera House to the Christchurch Art Gallery on Sunday from 3pm to 7.30pm.

It was heartening to hear the introductory voiceover acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Sydney Opera House stands in both English and the local Gadigal dialect of the Dharug language.

The first session was called Grabbing Back: Women in the Age of Trump, chaired by Julia Baird and featuring author Fran Lebowitz, moderate Republican commentator Sophia Nelson, and Francesca Donner from the New York Times. Each of the panellists had been totally surprised and disheartened by Trump winning the Presidency. Nelson said she had a sense of foreboding when she saw huge Trump billboards all over rural Virginia where she lives. Lebowitz, the archetypal New Yorker, said she remembered three days in minute detail: Kennedy’s assassination, 9-11, and Trump’s election victory. She remembers the New York streets being empty at 3am on a Tuesday morning which is unheard of in “the city that never sleeps”. Donner felt that the media treated Hilary Clinton badly and that Trump’s victory was due to white fear of women and black people.

All of the panellists were puzzled by the fact that 53% of white American women voted for Trump given the many appallingly sexist comments he had made. The consensus of opinion was that those women had overlooked Trump’s sexism in order to vote for their men’s economic welfare.

Lebowitz and Donner disagreed that the #MeToo movement was not related to the rise of Trump with Donner arguing that the political climate provided the arena for the “whispers to become a roar”. Lebowitz said that #MeToo needed to concentrate now on the abuse of women in low-paid jobs. Nelson felt #MeToo needed to open up the conversation with men and that young boys needed to be taught to value women. Donner felt it was really positive that #MeToo had men now thinking much more about their behaviour.

The second session was #MeToo: the making of a movement, chaired by Jacqueline Maley and featuring Tarana Burke (Skyping just before the Oscars ceremony), and Tracey Spicer, an Australian investigative journalist.

Tarana Burke founded the MeToo movement in 2006 when it was a little-known and grassroots. The movement entered the global consciousness when actress, Alyssa Milano, started using #MeToo as an Internet hashtag in response to the allegations circulating about Harvey Weinstein.

Tracey Spicer, after 14 years with the Ten network, was dismissed in 2006 after returning from maternity leave when her second child was two months old. She took the Ten Network to court for discrimination and won. Tracey Spicer felt that the Australian media had failed to expose powerful male abusers and that women were stronger together if all their stories of being abused were told.

Tarana Burke was a community worker in Selma, Alabama, and she wondered why sexual violence wasn’t discussed as part of the social issues she was working with. As an abuse survivor from a young age herself, she felt that the young women she was working with needed a trajectory to healing. She felt a community problem needed a community solution, but most organisations were dealing with young women’s external needs, but not their internal needs.

In 1996, a shy young woman Burke calls “Heaven” told Burke how she was being molested by her mother’s boyfriend. Burke found Heaven’s story triggered her own trauma and she could not deal with it at the time. Burke later reflected that she wanted to say to Heaven “Me too”, but she couldn’t at that moment. Later, when Burke started sharing her story she found that the exchange of empathy between abuse survivors was healing.

When asked by Maley, Burke did not feel that Hollywood actresses had co-opted the MeToo movement. She felt the real co-opters were the media and corporations. Burke saw the global expansion of #MeToo as a real opportunity, but was worried about failing abuse survivors. She feels that the larger focus must be on helping those who really need the movement’s help.

Spicer made the important observation that sexual abuse/violence is a pyramid, with rape and sexual assault at the top and sexually inappropriate comments and put-downs and the like at the base. She said it all needed to be addressed as a pattern of behaviour that society should no longer tolerate.

Both panellists felt strongly that #MeToo can’t be allowed to fade into “hashtag heaven”, but must be sustained by engaging in the conversation with men and for women to continue applying pressure to the media and to politicians.

The third session was Suffragettes to Social Media: waves of Feminism, chaired by Edwina Throsby and featuring Barbara Caine, Anne Summers, Rebecca Walker and Nakkiah Lui. Each panellist spoke about the wave of feminism with which they were most familiar.

Barbara Caine spoke about the first wave of feminism. She said they started as very polite, upper middle-class women called the Suffragists until Emmeline Pankhurst made the movement more militant. The term, “Suffragette”, was coined by the Daily Mail newspaper with the intention of being patronising by using the diminutive ending “ette”. Pankhurst galvanised the movement by instigating property damage whereby the Suffragettes were determined to be arrested for the publicity and when they were jailed, they demanded to be treated as political prisoners. They sought the sexual mores of men, but were still somewhat exclusive as their aim was to seek the vote for white, middle-class women. Caine ascertained that the first wave ended with the advent of World War One.

Anne Summers was a protagonist in the second wave of Feminism. She was a young woman in the 1960s when the Vietnam War and Women’s Lib were prominent in the headlines. Although revolution was being espoused, she realised that “it was still women who were doing the shit work of the Revolution”.

Books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex radicalised women in the 1960s who sought a total transformation of Capitalism and Imperialism. In Summers’ pithy phrase: “women wanted equal pay and orgasms”. Through their activism, they brought about many reforms including anti-discrimination, gender pay equality, rape crisis centres, better child care provisions and getting more women into higher education.

Summers said the ’60s and ’70s saw a flowering of women’s creativity and it never occurred to her or many of her fellow feminists  that the changes they had wrought would not be permanent. Unfortunately, John Howard’s government came to power in Australia in 1996 and “turned back the clock’ by dismantling many of the reforms.

Rebecca Walker spoke about the third wave of Feminism. She grew up believing in feminist ideals, but found, in the early 1990s, that many young women felt a “deep disconnect” with Feminism. She saw a need to re-radicalise a generation of women who felt alienated by Feminism. Women of colour felt left out of Feminism, seeing it as a white, middle-class movement. She perceived that the movement needed a more diverse leadership and had to emphasise both similarities and differences. She spoke of the need for third wave Feminism to become multi-issue, inclusive and working for all forms of equality.

Nakkiah Lui wasn’t sure if she represented a fourth wave of feminism, but, as a “queer black woman”, she knew she didn’t want to be part of the patriarchy. She said her feminist hero was her mother who had only identified herself as a feminist two years ago. Her mother grew up in a tent and had to leave school in Year 10, but she left a violent domestic relationship to go into tertiary education and now she works in Aboriginal communities empowering indigenous women.

Liu said many indigenous women in Australia still endure high rates of domestic violence, have lesser life expectancy and fear having their children taken from them by government agencies. As for fourth wave Feminism, she said there can be no “true victories if they don’t include all women”.

More about women

Harry Giles: Doer of Things (WORD Christchurch event, Tues 13 March 7.30pm)

I have to confess that I had never heard of Harry Giles before this assignment, but I was intrigued and curious.

Forward Prizes 2016

Harry Giles: Doer of things – WORD Christchurch event

Tuesday 13 March, Space Academy, 371 St Asaph Street.
Buy tickets $20 waged, $15 unwaged (service fees apply)
Presented by LitCrawl Wellington, Harry Giles appears with the support of the British Council in partnership with Writers’ Centre Norwich, UK as part of the International Literature Showcase.

According to the bio on Harry Giles’ website:

Harry Josephine Giles is from Orkney, Scotland, and is a writer and performer. They have lived on four islands, each larger than the last. They trained in Theatre Directing (MA with Merit, East 15 Acting School, 2010) and Sustainable Development (MA 1st Class, University of St Andrews, 2009) and their work generally happens in the crunchy places where performance and politics get muddled up.

You can go to Harry’s fulsome website if you wish to delve more deeply into their work but, as a precursor to the event, I will give you an overview.

I like Harry’s “mission statement” (my quotation marks): “My work is about what it feels like to live under capitalism, and how to survive and resist in a violent world.” I think many of us realise that capitalism is a flawed, if not failing, system for human beings. If Kylie Jenner can wipe $US1.3 billion off the share market value of the social media app, Snapchat, just by tweeting that she doesn’t use it any more, then clearly capitalism is ridiculous. If CEOs of major global corporations can earn many hundreds of times more than their workers, then clearly capitalism is amoral. And evidence of the violent tendencies of the human animal are widespread.

Harry is a very busy artist. They are all over many different media for conveying their art; poetry, video, installation and the internet being some of the ways Harry explores ideas and makes art.

Our catalogue doesn’t contain any of Harry’s work at present, but they have written this interesting piece about stone-hearted people called The Stoneheart Problem and you can watch and listen to Harry Giles read from their debut poetry collection,  Tonguit  Filmed at the Scottish Poetry Library, Harry reads Poem in which nouns, verbs and adjectives have been replaced by entries from the Wikipedia page List of Fantasy Worlds. 

So I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing how Harry Giles critiques life in the modern world and reporting back to you, gentle reader.

It ain’t all hearts and flowers

Valentine’s Day comes around each February 14 and, depending on your penchant for romance, you’ll either be looking for that special someone or you’ve already found them and, in order to hang on to them, you’ll be showering them with flowers, chocolates and presenting them with a suitably gushing card.

But the origins of Valentine’s Day are somewhat less lovey-dovey and a good deal more violent. Saint Valentine, for whom the day is named, was imprisoned by the ancient Romans for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians who at that time were being persecuted by the Roman Emperor. Legend has it that, during his imprisonment, Valentine, who was made a saint after his Christian martyrdom, performed a miracle by restoring the sight of a blind woman whose father had sentenced Valentine to prison.

So things were not too romantic for Valentine, but before he was executed he wrote the formerly blind woman a letter and signed  it “Your Valentine”. So this was the prototype, presumably, for the Valentine card that Hallmark gets rich on every year.

So, by all means, read, listen or view something appropriate from our collection.

Let's Celebrate Valentine's DayEach Day is Valentine's Chet Baker Streaming Music

What could be more romantic than Titanic,  the story of “two people from different worlds meet and fall in love on the brief, tragic maiden voyage of the grand ocean liner Titanic.”

But, if you are after a more visceral take on Valentine’s Day, you could recapture the spirit of the notorious Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 Prohibition-era Chicago when Al Capone’s gang murdered seven members of rival George “Bugs” Moran.

Al Capone His Life Legacy and Legend by Deidre BairThe Confessions of Al Capone by Loren D. EstlemanAmerican Prohibition and Moonshine Streaming Music

Erasing hate and the rejection of white supremacism

Recently there have been a number of articles in the world’s press covering the rise of the Alt-Right in politics, and confrontations between Neo-Nazis and anti-racists. Many media commentators have drawn the conclusion after incidents such as Charlottesville, Virginia that President Donald Trump tacitly supports the white supremacist movement and, indeed, draws much voter support from this group. Many political pundits feel that the meteoric rise of Trump in the election campaign was due to the disaffected, poor, and often rural white population.

There are a number of interesting books and films on these movements, both fiction and non-fiction. Some deal with former white supremacists and Neo-Nazis moved to reject the creed of racial hatred. One such epiphany is featured in the documentary Erasing Hate (a video streaming on our eResource Access Video). It tells the story of American Neo-Nazi skinhead Bryon Widner who wanted to start anew with his wife and family and underwent painful laser removal of his white supremacist tattoos.

Other relevant documentaries and films on Access Video include:

Find more resources in our collection:

The passing of a major poet

As reported in The New York Times recently, “Yevgeny Yevtushenko, an internationally acclaimed poet with the charisma of an actor and the instincts of a politician whose defiant verse inspired a generation of young Russians in their fight against Stalinism during the Cold War, died on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he had been teaching for many years. He was 83.”

Yevtushenko is survived by his wife, Maria Novikova, and their two sons, Dmitry and Yevgeny. His family were reportedly at the poet’s bedside when he died.

Yevtushenko’s poems of protest did much to encapsulate the mixed feelings of the young people of the Soviet Union after the death of the totalitarian Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, on 5 March 1953.

Such was his popularity in Russia that Yevtushenko gave 250 poetry readings in 1961.

Yevtushenko with Richard Nixon [1972]
President Nixon meets with Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1972. Public domain image via Wikipedia

After 2007, Yevtushenko spent an increasing amount of his time in America, teaching and giving readings of his work. One American writer described him as “a graying lion of Russian letters”. He taught and lectured for years at several American universities, including the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

Yevtushenko was very much admired by generations of his fellow Soviet citizens, both before and after the collapse of the USSR.

One of his most famous poems was Babi Yar which bore witness to the Nazi atrocities against the Jews in Kiev in the Soviet Union during World War Two.

Find out more

 

Poetry at Parklands: the Poet Within

2016 Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2016 hits New Zealand on Friday 26 August and the celebration unleashes the power of poetry all around our great nation with lots of events and poetry competitions.

Parklands Library draws on “the poet within”, within the Christchurch City Libraries that is. That’s right, many of our librarians are writers too. Instead of dispensing poetry books to customers, on Saturday 27 August 2016 at 2pm four of our librarian poets will be reading their own work.

Poetry

The poets:

Damien Taylor is a street poet who loves to retell his experiences from deprived small town aspirations to broken big smoke dreams. He likes to call himself Tīhore and wishes he was more Māori than he actually is.

Rob Lees is a born and bred Cantabrian and Goddess of the Knowledge Mountain, according to her husband. She says that her poetry is a reflection of her life experiences and is a way of keeping the voices in her head out!!

dYLAN kEMP is an artist of some renown. Not heaps, but some. He has published 3 books of poetry, all available from Christchurch City Libraries. He also paints, drums, dances like a wild man, and tickles his children.

Andrew M. Bell has published two books of poetry, Green Gecko Dreaming and Clawed Rains, and one book of short stories Aotearoa Sunrise (all available from Christchurch City Libraries). His work has been published and broadcast in Aotearoa, Australia, England, Israel and USA.
CoverCoverCover

Hack Attack: WORD Festival Event 12 May 2015

Cover of Hack AttackNick Davies, the author of Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch, was the subject of a Q&A session with Joanna Norris, the editor of The Press, in the chair.

We learned from Joanna Norris’ introduction that George Clooney was making a movie based on the book.

When asked about the difficulty of digging deeply into the phone hacking scandal for several years, Davies answered that he had a very reliable source who had guided him through his investigation for over two years. He said it was clear from the outset how extensive the crimes were, but the difficulty was in proving the truth of the story when up against a powerful corporation headed by a ruthless operator like Rupert Murdoch.

All along through the investigation, paradoxically, the impetus was driven by News Corp. itself because the company’s staff acted stupidly, arrogantly and aggressively. News Corp. kept up relentless attacks on Davies and The Guardian, which spurred Davies and his editor on to follow the story, knowing it must have substance.

Cover of Flat Earth NewsThe ball got rolling when Davies was giving a radio interview about a previous book, Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. His source was listening to the interview and contacted him about the dodgy dealings that were going on at The Sun and News of the World, both Murdoch tabloid newspapers.

When asked if he thought his book had made any difference to the behaviour of the UK press, Davies answered that, unfortunately, it was business as usual. It remained a “journalist’s fantasy” that writing about a bad thing could make it stop. He gave, as an example, The Sun conducting a campaign to undermine Labour in the most recent UK election as proof Murdoch’s power remained unchanged.

Davies disclosed that he had discovered that UK tabloids were “peculiarly ruthless” and the journalists who staffed them were “almost like a parody of themselves”.

It was Davies’ belief that it was the arrival of Princess Diana that triggered this avalanche of celebrity investigative digging and bred an attitude of journalistic cruelty where “nothing is off limits, nothing is private”. But the tabloid journalists’ hypocrisy was astounding. Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks were having an eight-year-long affair while callously exposing the sex lives of public figures.

All through the long investigation by The Guardian into the phone hacking scandal, Davies was pilloried in all the right-wing Murdoch newspapers. He observed that no-one threatened him with physical violence to stop investigating, but the Murdoch empire indulges in what Davies called “reputational violence”, trying to ruin people’s reputations.

Towards the end of the session, in response to questions from the audience, Davies gave the view that the internet had broken the model of newspapers across the world and journalists no longer had the funding nor the resources needed to do their jobs properly.

He thought that the Leveson Enquiry was a powerful one, but Lord Justice Leveson’s report had been deliberately smothered by powerful people in the UK.

The audience got the impression that Nick Davies would go on fighting the good fight, but he was weary and cynical as to the extent he could make a change for a better society.

Read our other blog posts about Hack Attack by Nick Davies.