windows and worlds

The restrictions of lockdown have yielded up some rich treasures. Events that may have been inaccessible due to time/travel/other commitments, have become available online.

The New Suns Feminist Literary festival at The Barbican this year took inspiration from themes in American science fiction author Octavia Butler’s writing, in particular the Earthseed series. Prophetic, and increasingly prescient over the last five years, the books imagine 2020s America ravaged by ecological disaster, violent and racist disorder, led by a disruptive president. The heroine, Lauren Oya Olamina, looks to the stars for rebirth.

Writers and activists adrienne maree brown and Ama Josephine Budge discussed the work and legacy of Octavia Butler. The power of change is central to Butler’s visionary stories, and they talked about ‘decolonising’ ourselves from so many oppressive norms about the body, about consent, about staying silent and being ‘polite’, and how unlearning all these socialized, internalised concepts is uncomfortable and difficult. Butler’s work addresses the need to acknowledge traumas in order to interact as free beings who deserve to be loved in all our nakedness, mistakes and crises.

Bernadette Mayer reading her work

Other highlights were hearing one of my favourite poets, Bernadette Mayer reading and discussing her work as part of Creative Conversations, free poetry events organized by Colin Herd, writer, and lecturer in CW, U of Glasgow. Bernadette Mayer is an avant-garde writer associated with the New York School of poets, known for her innovative use of language. Her work often challenges poetic conventions by experimenting with form and stream-of-consciousness; readers have compared her to Gertrude Stein, Dadaist writers, and James Joyce.

This online reading group for the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, organized by the Bristol based art space, Spike Island was amazingly inspiring. It was so well attended that we got put into breakout rooms to discuss the book in smaller groups. Messages in the chat were transcribed and sent to us afterwards as many people had recommended follow-up reading, podcasts and websites based around themes of ecology, culture and indigenous wisdom and spirituality. This has led me down many new paths in my own enquiries, and my to-read book pile is currently threatening to topple…

Consider: Whether you’re a human being, an insect, a microbe, or a stone, this verse is true.

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change.

— Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Update: Every Thursday at 8pm you can listen LIVE to some folk tales from around the world told by the wonderful Rima Staines and Tom Hiron of Hedgespoken. Take a look at Rima’s amazing otherworldly paintings here.

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