Jay Whittaker – Not this Again; Library of Stones; Not Here Poem; Jamrags, at Any Woman, Anywhere

I would like to invite our first open mic-er to the stage – Jay Whittaker. [Applause] Hi everyone. A pleasure to be here tonight for a great cause. I’m going to read you a small number of poems. The first one there’s a trigger warning for homophobic abuse. It’s called “Not This Again.” I assume we’re invisible two women at fifty, plodding through the heat, back to our car. In my younger days I’d scan the horizon more warily, clock sunburnt men clutching pints ranged along the harbour wall their backs turned to boats bobbing on the Solway. Lezzies! So many years since anyone shouted abuse it takes a while to register late onset outrage at a statement of fact like we care what they think. [Applause] No need to clap between poems, but thank you. This is a poem about a victorian serving woman in a sort of ‘pinny’ perhaps It’s called Library of Stones. The worst room to clean: all those leather spines; skin of ordinary beasts embossed with letters I cannot read. And not just words: pictures – the lewdest sort the young master showed me, tried to sit me on his lap, then pushed me from him, called me harlot, said he would have me let go – but he didn’t even rise to that. I pity him. I sort the linen; I know whose breeches he stirs for. The words we speak, are they so different from the ones in books? Do they thunder like the minister on Sunday? The master, hoping to impress, calls himself a natural historian, counts rocks into footering piles: glittering grey pebbles, tiny tombstones, one brute heavy as iron, a long green vein through it. Another called to me: mute red no bigger than my palm I slipped it in my apron, lived for days in fear he’d miss it. But he has so many. I am careful to take from the bottom of the pile, to keep only one. I am not a thief, no more than he is. They are not his because he picked them up and labelled them. [Applause] I’m going to read a new poem that I wrote as part of the Scottish Feminist Judgement Project from the Edinburgh University. They are re-writing key Scottish legal judgement with feminist perspectives. It’s a really interesting project – have a look at their website. They call on various different creative people to get involved. And I wrote this poem. It’s about a notorious case from Glasgow in which a woman was murdered by her ex-partner who had been stalking her. And the judgement is 36 pages long. The woman is barely present. So this is a poem about that. Not in this wall of words, considered deliberations of five judges, muffling argument, convoluted phrases. Not in the pathologist’s report. The facial injuries the worst she’d ever seen. Multiple comminuted fractures Google it. Shudder. Look her up find her smiling out of snaps like any one of us, not sensing we are mortal. [Applause] Lastly, I’m going to do a poem that… If you think you went to a kind of school where this phrase was used: ‘jamrags’ Jamrags Boys shouting after girls who have started to bleed School corridors echoed ‘Jamrags’, ‘jamrags’ They reached their hands between our legs felt a wedge of thick pad ‘jamrags’, ‘jamrags’ terror of a red smear on a plastic chair, surreptitious, turning back everytime you stood, dread of stain, rusting your skirt, all the way home ‘jamrags’, ‘jamrags’ who cared about toxic shock worth the pain bloodied fingers one foot on the laundry basket struggling to find the angle. Thank you very much. [Applause]

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