Hi Jess. Tell us a little about yourself: what’s your background in poetry, and what inspires you to write?
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been making up poems and stories and songs. I did a Creative Writing degree at John Moores in Liverpool until 2010, and while living in Liverpool I discovered the poetry scene there, which is unlike any other I’ve come across. In most pubs there will be a group of people reciting poems and telling stories about themselves. They’re usually a real cross section of society and I was very interested in the idea of standing up in a pub and telling a group of strangers a story.
I came back to Leicester in 2012 and decided to try and make a go of ‘being a poet’. I used to write pretty personal stuff, but since 2010 there have been a lot more important and frustrating things to write about. I probably write best when I’m irritated or angry about something.
What have been the highlights of your spoken word career so far?
I’ve been really lucky and have performed at festivals like Glastonbury, Bestival and Latitude as well as less well known ones.
In 2013 I uploaded a poem called Dear Mr Gove to Youtube which received over 300,000 views. I had no idea it would resonate with people in such a way, but off the back of that I was featured in The Guardian, Huffington Post and The Independent, and invited to perform at a lot of education rallies and conferences.
I’m now touring my first music and poetry show, Burning Books, which includes Dear Mr Gove. Burning Books is a humorous, stompy, political poetry show underscored by a rousing musical soundtrack from two musicians, Dave Morris and Scott Cadenhead on percussion and guitar. We took it to Edinburgh this year and it received two 5* reviews. It felt like a lot of hard work paying off and I’m very proud of it.
You’re going to perform “2am White Van Whistle” before the showing of Suffragette on Monday 26th October. What inspired the poem?
I wrote it after the day in January this year when The Sun newspaper didn’t print a picture of a topless woman as part of their Page 3 feature. They suggested they had bowed to pressure from No More Page 3 campaigners, but the following morning it turned out to have just been a joke and the feature was back. The Sun’s Head of PR, Dylan Sharpe, also tweeted a picture of a topless model to provoke the No More Page 3 campaigners. Obviously, this sort of mocking and trolling of women is horrendous, but I feel it’s also symptomatic of a much wider issue, which is why I wrote the poem.
Why is it important to perform the poem alongside Suffragette?
In this country, women have made giant steps forward over the past 100 years, but I think it’s important we don’t ignore the gaping hole of inequality that still exists and which in some ways has become worse. There are issues that have always existed, like the pay gap and not enough women in leadership roles, but things like the objectification of women have, in my opinion, become worse with the rise of the internet and lad culture. It’s also important not to ignore sexism and misogyny around the world. There are women in Saudi Arabia who aren’t allowed to drive, young girls in Nigeria kidnapped by Boko Haram, and children who go through female genital mutilation.
How do you think supporters of women’s rights can make a difference in the 21st century? What can we do as a community in Leicester?
I think it’s important to challenge sexism wherever you see it, even if only in a small way. If a man shouts at you in the street you might not feel confident enough to shout back, but you could tweet using the #everydaysexism hashtag. Also, one way I try to make a difference is in how I talk to my 3-year-old niece. I make a real effort not to talk about the latest fad diet I’m on around her, and things like that. I don’t want to pass on my own body image issues down to younger generations.
What challenges do you feel that female performers are still facing in the 21st century?
I think that although there are a lot of women in the arts who work as performers, it’s still predominantly men who hold the purse strings, and I think it’s harder to be taken seriously as a woman. I also find audiences are much more forgiving of men if they make mistakes and fools of themselves.
How can we experience more of your work?
Follow me on twitter @jessgreenpoet or my website www.jessgreenpoet.com which has all my gigs on.
To book tickets for Suffragette, please click here.
Earlier in October, Phoenix welcomed Peter Barratt, great-grandson of Leicester suffragette Alice Hawkins, who gave a talk before screenings of Suffragette earlier this month. Read a review of the event here.