Carmina Masoliver is a Londoner, she studied at UEA, she’s a poet, an entrepreneur and a gig host, but she is also much more than the sum of all those. She is a decent, honourable person who works hard to achieve and works harder to help others achieve, and there she succeeds where many with the first attributes may fail.
Carmina performed at the last Listen Softly London, a gig night that I host, bringing her poetry, books and her Grandmother (who kindly read a verse) down to enthrall the audience. She also puts on one of my favourite nights, She Grrrowls.
Carmina, you’ve been a poet and performer for a good number of years now. So far, what has been your career highlight?
Each year brings more highlights, so it’s hard to pick just one. My first couple of big highlights were a few years ago now; when I was at UEA. I supported Kate Tempest at The Bicycle Shop in Norwich – I’m really quite shy, but I had to tell her how amazing I think she is, and she quoted lines from my poem ‘Fancy Dress’ saying she liked it, which was really cool. I also got to take part in ‘Shake the Dust’ which felt very surreal as it meant meeting and working with poets like the Aisle 16 poets, Molly Naylor and Jacob Sam La Rose.
Now, I’m due to be published by Luke’s ‘Nasty Little Press’ and one of my three collectives means I get loads of support from Jacob. I’ve done some city festivals, but last summer I performed at Larmer Tree Festival and I couldn’t have been happier – sunshine, hula-hooping, and feeling like a proper poet! I’ve just finished shadowing Michael Rosen and Niall O’Sullivan and that really made me wish I could be doing that every day!
You’ve performed in a number of locations around the country, for those of us who haven’t, where do you think the best audiences are and why?
That’s a tough question…I don’t think there’s a particular location; it’s more about the vibe of the night. As an introvert, it can also depend on my mood. I like places where people talk and feel comfortable, where there’s no pretension or hierarchy. I feel disappointed in myself if I don’t talk to anyone, but I’m not that great at approaching people. I like intimate spaces, but one that was really cool was St Gregory’s church in Norwich. Churches that are actually arts centres are my favourite kinds of churches (I’m not religious).
You run She Grrrowls, which evolved from a feminist group to a monthly arts event, how did this evolution occur?
I started up some meetings at the Feminist Library with Emily Prichard, who works for Tatty Devine, where the ‘She Grrrowls’ necklaces are made. Not many people were attending meetings, so we decided to make it into an arts event instead. We did a pilot as part of the International youth Arts Festival in Kingston, but I began to take the reins and Emily couldn’t fit in much around work, so it ended up being more my project. I work in Bethnal Green and had been to some great events at The Gallery Cafe, like The Word House and ‘Word’s a Stage’ where I was commissioned to work with Malika Booker to make a mini-epic poem, so I thought it would be the perfect venue.
What does She Grrrowls bring to the London spoken word scene that other nights may not?
The event I guess She Grrrowls is most similar to is Loose Muse, at the Poetry Café. However, the only similarity is that we solely feature women. She Grrrowls has an open mic’ for everyone because I really want men to support the ethos, and it also has a mixture of poetry with comedy and music. Having music in the interval is a must, but I like my volume loud, so I need to be careful with that!
The night isn’t meant to exclude people, but instead it is a space that opens up conversations around gender through artistic entertainment, and many people of both genders have responded well to that. Really, it’s a celebration of women, and if someone has something against that, then I feel they should really concentrate their negativity elsewhere. I have had one poet message me as they disagreed with the ethos of the night showcasing women and thought this was reason to interview me, but they decided not to in the end. I won’t go into that, but I am partly glad they didn’t continue as I find having to defend myself really emotionally draining.
Obviously, with the triple ‘r’ in the event name, I’m harking back to the whole riot grrrl movement that I became interested in during college, which is when I guess I first discovered Feminism isn’t just something that happened in history textbooks. Part of that means there is a target audience who will relate to that, but that doesn’t mean the event won’t be enjoyed by others, because essentially, it’s entertainment and there’s a lot of talent around. There are so many acts I would be excited to feature at She Grrrowls, so I won’t be running out of women any time soon.
You explore gender roles and body image within your poetry, where do you draw the strength to publically tackle such issues, and what kind of responses do you generally receive?
I suppose most negativity is said behind my back, because I mostly get a positive response. Then again, once a man told me he thought my set was ‘feminine’ as if it was a bad thing. The poems I’d performed didn’t so much deal with Feminist issues, but I don’t see why I should feel like my work being feminine is bad. He wasn’t very clear about what he specifically meant, but I don’t like the binary opposition that is being assumed there, as if being masculine is better, or that my writing should be genderless, set apart from who I am. It is the same assumption that places women as ‘Other’, and so I refuse to be ashamed of being who I am.
In terms of drawing strength, I guess I just don’t see it that way. I just do it because I feel compelled to do so. Writing and performing have come naturally, so I’m not going to hide anything. I find it hard to hide my emotions and I am highly sensitive. I have been seen crying in two poetry workshops within the space of a month. When I do try to hide them, I’m not very good at it. Society sees this as such a negative thing. I guess it goes back to the idea of women being associated with being emotional, so that we can feel bad about ourselves for something that is a natural impulse at times. In the same way, I perform these poems because it feels natural to me. It doesn’t faze me much, and I suppose I find it hard to see that there is strength in that, because we get told that showing our emotions is bad.
The first poem I performed was about falling for a guy I danced with once and I was angry that he kissed me and then didn’t want to be my boyfriend. I’d been to a single sex school, so I didn’t really understand sexual politics and just thought it was rude and hurtful. I think it might have been the same poem that I put up on the wall at college and performed in a talent show there. Once when I stayed friends with an ex-boyfriend I would frequently perform at events doing poems about him to everyone – strangers, mutual friends and the times where he would come to see me on his own. I guess that’s not very normal, is it? But, I read Anthony Hett’s blog recently and he wrote about relationships on there, so maybe it’s just a poet thing. You can’t really be afraid of making mistake or looking a bit silly. That said, I hate making mistakes.
Anyway, my love story has a happy ending and I’m in a wonderful relationship with Matthew Dickerson – I say the full name because he is an artist and designed the She Grrrowls tiger postcards that are free from events.
What is the role of poetry within feminism?
I think poetry can reflect, comment and change society. It’s an expression and a craft that I think is a useful tool for Feminist activism, as well as a great deal of other avenues for social change. As with a poem I performed at the Roundhouse Studio last autumn, called ‘Risk’, I can’t always confront issues head-on as I can feel emotional, intimidated, misunderstood and silenced by these things. I was able to feel like I had spoken out through my poetry by writing, performing and sharing this poem.
What do you think we can do, as artists, to continue to promote feminism?
I think that’s difficult, because obviously everyone can tackle Feminist issues within their work, but what I find difficult to do is to confront misogyny when I hear it at events. Most of the time I will just discuss it with who I am with or think to myself about it. In a way, that’s why I think it’s nice to know men who are supportive of Feminism, it’s like they’ve got our back.
A male Feminist or an ally is going to be able to tell other men, this woman, or these women, are not crazy, they have a point and you need to listen up. A lot of the time, it can seem like by making a poem about something you’re making something small into a bigger thing, but often it is a big thing, it just needs dissecting because it appears small due to normalisation. But it’s hard to have a voice and feel that the people who need to listen to you, the ones who you need to have an impact on, whether they’re going to pay attention. I think blogging is good too.
I went to WOW festival recently and there was a discussion about how to deal with online bullying and abuse. It was such a hard issue to know how to deal with because it is so emotionally exhausting. A way I think I can deal with it is to make my stance clear, but not get into a dialogue, and instead to respond to it through art or through my website, in a professional manner. One of the biggest arguments against Feminism is when other women are against it.
The thing is, Feminism isn’t about my experience of the world, it isn’t about me being a victim and it certainly isn’t about demonising men. It’s about dismantling a patriarchal system that has some benefits for men, but is ultimately damaging for the whole of society. The key word here is society, which is a group of individuals. I am fortunate enough to have minimal negative experiences with sexism and misogyny, but I don’t just speak for myself when I say I’m a Feminist, I speak in solidarity with other women than myself.
Running a gig night you must see a vast array of talent coming through your door, have you any advice for new writers/performers looking to stand out – in a good way?
I know it might sound cheesy, but I think in order to stand out they should be themselves. I worked at Sainsbury’s whilst studying an MA in Creative Entrepreneurship and when I came down the stairs, not particularly wanting to engage with people, but happy to unpack boxes, there was a sign over a mirror that said ‘Be yourself, you’re great’ or something to that affect, and it made me smile.
Other than being true to yourself, it’s important to read, write, watch live literature shows, go to open mic’ nights, watch videos online, go to workshops and generally immerse yourself in the world.
Also, live your life and enjoy yourself… there have been times where I thought I didn’t know how to have a conversation that wasn’t about poetry or Feminism. That can get a bit boring when you have a mixed group of friends, so I always try to make time for friends and family. I’m working full-time at a school, so it means I have to be super organised in order to keep on top of things. That’s another thing! I keep my to-do list on Excel, and I also keep a tally record for when I see friends. I need to do this because I’m really messy and a bit of a hoarder. I can’t recommend it enough.
Lastly, who do you think would win a slam between Edgar Allen Poe and T.S. Eliot, and why?
T.S. Eliot…because I haven’t read much Poe and only know about the Tell-Tale Heart from The Simpons. Also, The Wasteland and The Long Song of J. Alfred Prufrock are two of my favourite pieces. I’ve always liked Cats as well.
(I have a copy of Carmina’s poetry tease and I can, and do, recommend it.)