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Queer Contact 2017 brings Queer poetry with attitude to Manchester Central Library

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By Emily Oldfield


An audience was treated to an evening of Queer poetry and live literature at Manchester Central Library  recently. The event, entitled Outspoken, formed part of the Queer Contact Festival 2017 and was supported by Manchester Writing School.

Performing on the night were four poets, Dean Atta, Jackie Hagan, Maya Chowdry and Afshan D’Souza, ready to provide a profound and moving insight into life, love and Queer identity. Hosted by Young Enigma writing group poet and performer Adam ‘Beyoncé’ Lowe, the night was one to remember as it marked the festival’s ninth year.

Remembrance is itself a key theme behind Queer Contact 2017, as February is not only LGBT History Month but a time of further historic significance in that it marks the 60th anniversary of the Wolfenden Report, the document that suggested homosexuality should no longer be a criminal offence. It is also 50 years since homosexuality was officially decriminalised.

Following host Adam Lowe reading an emotive and energy-filled verse of his own, was Maya Chowdry. Describing herself as an ‘inTER-aCtive artist’, poet and Transmedia writer, Chowdry is behind a number of site-specific installations. In her poetry collection Fossil, from which she read a number of pieces, she explores the relationship she termed “animal, vegetable and mineral.”

Poems about carrots were even on the menu, as Chowdry described to the audience her discovery of an online ‘Carrot Museum’ and contemplated how this simple vegetable connects with expressions of identity: “I decided to Google… could plants be gay?” The result was verse which was playful as well as profound, lines lingering in the memory such as, “She was forbidden, a salad vegetable” as well as a poem which conceptualised ‘carrot marriage’ based on the agricultural technique of ‘outcrossing’.

Next to follow was Afshan D’souza Lodhi, a poet known for her bold, impassioned performance and who, though born in Dubai, has spent the majority of her life in Manchester.

Lodhi’s poetry brought rawness and relevance to the evening as she explained to the audience her feelings following Valentine’s Day and her decision to read a poem which expressed the word for ‘lover’ in different languages, arranged as if in alphabetical order.

She also discussed her profound stance in her poetic expression and themes which consider both sex and religion, the poet having previously performed dressed in a burka with a vibrator in her hand.  She described being asked by her own mother. “Why do you keep writing about sex? Why don’t you write about me?” The result was the piece ‘Mother Tongue’, performed to great applause.

Speaking to Humanity Hallows, Lodhi said how much she enjoyed the evening: “Brilliant… I’ve not performed in a headscarf in 5 years. It’s lovely to perform and get warm responses.”

Jackie Hagan was next to perform, an award-winning theatre maker, playwright and poet who explores the themes of Queer culture and working class identity in her work, as well as life as an amputee. Hagan received the Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show 2015 with her first solo run of ‘Some People Have Too Many Legs’ and it was clear to see a poet with a real flair for performance delivering verse with both drama and deft wit.

Currently in the midst of her sold-out show Jumble Soul, much of Hagan’s current work engages with the issues of disabled, working class people. With lines read in her resonant Liverpool accent such as “You are a generous buffet of crisps”, the audience was entertained but also moved, other verses also reflecting on the apparent injustices of PIP evaluation, tiredness and stereotyping.

Encouraging applause with her welcome invitation “Clap me!”, Hagan brought a bold personality to the stage, not shy to analyse the representation of the working class in the recent Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake. “We are not saints,” she said before going on to add, “The fight for sexual equality… not between men and women… but people and dickheads.”

The final performer was Dean Atta, author of the powerful debut collection I am Nobody’s Nigger. Atta has also authored three plays and was winner of the London Poetry Award in 2012. He told Humanity Hallows, “It’s good to be in Manchester, to get out of London. The poetry scene can feel a bit of a bubble.” He praised the warmth of the audience and the excitement of performing.

Motivational and meaningful, Atta’s verse had a distinct optimism to it, embracing various themes. As he told us, “Diversity is not just about the colour of your skin, it’s in what you write.” A well-expressed line for a richly varied evening, he read poems which discussed inclusivity including ‘How To Be a Poet’ as well as ‘How to Love Yourself’. One of the most moving pieces of the evening was also on the theme of ‘Mother Tongue’, as if in reply to Lodhi’s earlier verse.

A series of vibrant performances which held the power to educate, as well as inspire, the evening was a triumph for Queer Contact.

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Emily Oldfield

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