The art of Leadership – Opening poem

And when Michael Ellis is ready
to move out of London and his constituency… He’s just not ready yet, it’s alright. We’ll be ready for him in the North. Yay! And he can hear poems like this. I’ll start with this actually, because I think
for me this maybe says something about how Northerners tend to cope well
with challenging yet inspiring events, because we don’t like to make a fuss. Maybe that’s something that’s
a quality of actually all those of us in the arts and culture worlds. And sometimes of course that’s a good thing. We don’t make a fuss
but sometimes maybe we need to make a fuss. Anyway, this is called
“Our Ends in the North”. On the first day the world ended, we said, “Least said soonest mended. Sometimes these things are sent to try us.” Though in this case,
they’d been sent to fry us. On the second day, I was on the bus when there was a bang
and all the lights went out – and a chorus of “Call this an Apocalypse? I felt nowt”, and “Grimsby hasn’t looked this good
since the Germans redecorated.” Us Northerners are tough like that,
nobody else compares. On the third day,
there was a crack in the space-time continuum. We said, “Never mind,
I’ll go to the foot of our stairs.” When we got home, there weren’t any. On the fourth day, Cleckheaton exploded. I said, “Worse things have happened at sea”,
and popped on a Bear Grylls DVD. On the fifth day, the government
said that actually in London the restaurants and arts venues
were all still full and maybe we weren’t trying hard enough
in Liverpool, Birmingham and Hull. We should get on our bikes
and there not being any bikes left, or roads, was just an excuse. On the sixth day… This poem has become
so much more resonant suddenly. I just don’t understand why. (applause) Context is really important, isn’t it?
Where was I? Anyway… On the sixth day, the streets were
full of people wandering about, moaning. Not zombies – just people complaining about
the price of white sliced and petrol. Greggs’ Ham and Armageddon pasties
were going down a storm, and they didn’t have to charge tax
because the surface radiation kept them warm. Ambient temperature. On the seventh day,
there were no planes in the sky, we had street parties, shared the last of our tins, best china was brought out, bunting unfurled. “Armageddon?” we said. “What’s the problem? It’s not the end of the world.” Thank you. (cheering and applause) It’s funny. Originally,
in the running order you’ll have noticed I was meant to be before Michael Ellis. I was gonna be his warm-up person. And obviously that worried me a bit because he’s used to following the oratory
of his cabinet colleagues. (laughter) It turned out fine. So… I’ve not said anything… if you had
a transcription, it would be fine. So, right. What I’m doing here today, apart from this, a thing I really enjoy doing, which is basically listening today
to the stuff that is said on the stage, the stuff that isn’t said, and trying to summarise it all at the end
of the day in a massive plenary poem. And for me that is actually part of what
I get to do as a poet all the time, really. There’s something about listening
and reflecting back and getting to be in a sort of
in-between space as well. That’s something I really enjoy
about my art form of being… Well, I tend to call it a spoken word…
sorry… a stand-up poet. Because if you say
that you’re a comedian who does poems, not that many people come and see you. Whereas if you say
you’re a poet who does comedy, still not that many people
will come and see you, but at least you get Arts Council funding. (laughter) Which I think makes me a subsidy addict, according to the
Northern Powerhouse minister last week. But, again, I’m sure he’ll be coming to loads
of Northern events and he’ll love it, and it will all be fine. So… Yeah, right… I’m gonna do a favour to this event,
because we are slightly overrunning and I don’t want to overrun,
I’m gonna slightly underrun. I think I’ve managed to say
far more than I hoped… really. So… I’m just gonna end… See, that’s the arts. It’s good.
You don’t always have to be explicit. Sometimes it’s just there
in the stuff and the context. I’m gonna finish though
with a bit of a poem that… I was lucky enough to be involved
with quite a few Hull 2017 events including the Contains Strong Language
festival which was brilliant. And I also managed to persuade
someone with a budget that I could interview Hull residents
about their experience of the year, and how it had impacted on them, and those poems… I would do
a thematic analysis of them, and those poems
would go in the evaluation report. So instead of just numbers
we have actual voices of Hull people. And that has come to pass. Partly, because I’ve done a PhD,
I’ve done lots of research methods. It does confuse people
when I say I’ve just finished a PhD. They’re like, “Do you need a doctorate
to do comedy?” “Are you gonna need a PhD
to go on ‘Live at the Apollo’?” “No, a penis, probably, but not a PhD.” That’s another thing. Anyway… But I used these research methods
for the good. And this poem says quite a lot for me
about my journey as a poet from a sort of shame, almost, as a person or lack of confidence to growing in confidence through
all the brilliant experiences I’ve had in arts and culture. And that’s what happened to Hull in many ways. All these similes came from people of Hull. So, it’s called “Hull Tigers”. Before, we were stuck,
an apathetic sloth boring and grey. A curled up hedgehog, a grumpy badger,
an earthworm, stubborn and hiding away. A reliable chicken
producing the occasional double-yolker, an ugly duckling, knowing we were beautiful on the inside
though nobody gave a second look. Now we’re a whole fleet of ships, we are tigers,
not just because of the football team, proud and fierce, roaring, we’re like falcons,
spreading our wings and soaring. Woodpeckers, digging for opportunities, flamingos and proud peacocks showing off,
parrots who never stop talking. Before, we were space junk,
a peripheral planet like Pluto where people and government ministers
would never think to go, a black… Sorry, that wasn’t in. That’s wrong, that wasn’t their words. …a peripheral planet like Pluto
where people would never think to go, a black hole. Now we’re a galaxy of stars, pulsing light,
a broadcasting, beaming satellite. We’re a caterpillar
that’s turned into a butterfly. The brightest point in the sky. People know where and what we are, visible, proud – a Northern star. Here’s to visibility and pride.
Have a good day! Thank you!

1 thought on “The art of Leadership – Opening poem

  1. Not enough woman have caught on to this gutsy girl. Her poet speaks…

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