Poet Rebecca Tamás’ casts a spell over our contributor, Maz Hedgehog, at the launch of her highly anticipated poetry collection, WITCH.
When the doors open, I buy a copy of Rebecca Tamás’ book and immediately find a seat close to the stage. The Bell is a pub of warm brown wood, posters for any number of events and plenty of floorspace. It is, however, a little light on seating and I am not one for standing for long periods of time. I’ve come on my own, knowing nary a soul but it gives me ample opportunity to observe.
There are meetings and greetings, surprised squeals and awkward wine- glass-encumbered hugs. It’s instantly clear that this is an event made up of a community supporting one of its own. That’s the beauty of poetry, it’s driven by people coming together to make beautiful art, celebrate successes and commiserate failures. This is firmly in the celebration category, with excited anticipation filling the space like alcoholic fumes. Outsider though I am, I find myself a little drunk on it.
The noise dies down a little as the compere takes the stage. Tom – Tamás’ publisher – is the director of Penned in the Margins and his pride in what she has created is palpable. His remark that this pub is just around the corner from their offices only cements how thoroughly grounded in the local, in community this launch is. But it is not bound by it, with Rebecca herself working in York and me coming down from Manchester. I don’t doubt there are others who have travelled at least as far.
Tom introduces the first poet, Lucy Mercer, and she stands behind the mic. She looks a little nervous, a little unsure but her reading more than shows she has no reason to be. Her poem, ‘Where’s Wally’, is almost funny in its horror. It faces fear and violence without flinching or shrinking away. Its repetitiveness is almost hypnotic, but you cannot escape the sheer reality of it.
After Lucy comes Jane Yeh. The poem she reads, ‘Utopia Villas’ is taken from her collection, Discipline. This is a poem overflowing with joy and humour. It revels in absurdity, but with a tenderness that I didn’t expect. ‘Utopia Villas’ is decidedly surreal, but so vivid I can almost see myself there. If this is indicative of the rest of the work in Discipline, I will have to pick up a copy; it’s quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
The final poet supporting Tamás is A. K. Blakemore. She speaks quickly, her reading almost feeling like a stream of consciousness, breathless and arresting. Her work is aware of itself, and the vague ridiculousness of life. Blakemore encourages you not to take life too seriously; it’s inevitably bizarre. By seeing life as it is, Blakemore’s poems are painful and fearful, playful and defiant.
When Rebecca takes the stage, she is greeted with uproarious applause. Everyone here loves her and wants her to do well. For a moment, she looks overwhelmed, but quickly recovers, grinning from ear to ear. She remarks that the event is like a ‘wedding without the man’ and I have to agree. The air of celebration, of goodwill, of sheer joy is absolutely unmistakable. Her preamble is a little like an Oscars’ speech, full of thank yous, brimming with emotion. This is every inch her moment and she is occupying it with the confidence of a woman who knows exactly what she is capable of.
In ‘Cunt Hex’, Tamás situates emotion as resistance, asserts that vulnerability has the power to change everything…it is threatening in its feminism and knows it.
And what she is capable of is beautiful. She reads a number of poems, all of which I am eager to re-read over and over again. Right away, I can see why the collection is called WITCH. The first poem, ‘a spell for friendship’, is lyrical in its realism, and sounds like a promise and a way to change the world. The ‘spell for Lilith’ is a template for aggressive womanhood, for a confrontational feminism. Tamás’ narrator knows Lilith is considered a monster, knows she is despised and loves her for it. The poem encourages the reader to embrace the monster in herself, because monsters can be entirely themselves. The final poem Tamás reads is ‘Cunt Hex’. It is combative in its profanity, daring you to try and see it as any less than what it is. Inevitably you will fail. ‘Cunt Hex’ is a manifesto and an ode and a rallying cry. It is threatening in its feminism and knows it. In ‘Cunt Hex’, Tamás situates emotion as resistance, asserts that vulnerability has the power to change everything. It is clear that the narrator of the poem is angry, but that the anger comes from a place of love.
She leaves the stage to equally effusive applause, and the evening is book-ended with the deafening sound of dozens of overlapping conversations.
After making a little small talk, I leave, excited to make a record of the evening and read the collection. Without a doubt, Rebecca Tamás is a singular voice in poetry and WITCH will have so much more to offer than the snippet I initially got to see.
Rebecca Tamás’ WITCH is published by Penned in the Margins and is available to purchase online and in all good bookshops. click here for more information on Tamás, her poetry and other texts published by Penned in the Margins.