Poem: The straight cis white man revolution by Meredith Debonnaire

So, this was the poem I was going to take to Piranha Poetry this week, but then I was ill and couldn’t stay. Here it is, in all its glory.

For those of you who don’t know, if someone is ‘cis’ or ‘cisgendered’ that means that their biological sex fits with their gender (https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/cisgender). I wrote this poem when I was very angry, and I personally think it works better read aloud than on paper, but thought I’d share it anyway.

Trigger warning for mention of sexual assault (let me know if there’s anything else I should put TWs for)

Straight cis white men
keep telling me
that they want to start a revolution.

They write beautiful poems about how they want to be the one to light the spark,
To kindle care in people’s hearts,
To start…
I wonder if they haven’t noticed the revolution already here?
That people care?
Have they not realised that there are already vast movements,
shifting seismic beneath our feet?
The flames that we keep burning?

Straight cis white men
keep telling me that they struggle for hope,
that they want to protect their homes and to begin…
Something.
They want to light a fire to keep the world warm,
to weather the coming climate storm,
and it infuriates me.

Because the revolution is already here – you just haven’t noticed.
Because people have been putting their bodies in the way for years,
and dying.
And you haven’t noticed.
Because your wives and girlfriends and lovers and partners
have been in this war for years
and you haven’t noticed.

Straight cis white men keep fucking telling me they want to start a revolution:
well how about joining one?
You care about climate change do you?
Oh well done!
There’s Mission Lifeforce
There’s Extinction Rebellion
There’s Treesisters
There’s the  fucking Green party
And you can help from your sofa
by clicking a few buttons
and donating money without moving.
But that’s not very glamorous is it?
That won’t fulfil your need for an adrenaline hit.

How about racism? Do you care about that?
Only I get the feeling it’s not what you’re talking about
when you talk about wanting to start a revolution,
and I would be suspicious of any straight cis white man
who told me he wanted to start a revolution about race…
But there’s Hope not Hate
and Black Lives Matter
And you can put your money where your mouth is if you care so deeply.

Don’t you grin at me. I am serious to the point of deadly.

Sexual assault? Would you like to start a revolution about that?
Because obviously nothing is happening yet,
no,
anything that happens before you arrive is just us
warming up before the grand entrance of our saviour,
without you this revolution is just irrational, disorganised behaviour.
And there’s obviously nothing you could do without taking centre stage,
except for supporting survivors, acknowledging our rage,
believing survivors, listening to them,
supporting womens’ refuges and better sex education,
and talking about consent,
and funding domestic abuse lines,
and calling out the behaviour of other straight cis white men time after time,
and maybe, just maybe, not raping us.
Because if one in every five women is a victim of sexual assault,
somewhere there is a corresponding set of data
about the percentage of men who sexually assault women,
so not raping us is a direct action that you could take,
and it would be revolutionary.

Straight cis white men keep telling me
that they want to start a revolution.
They won’t tell me what they are rebelling against.
I wonder if they know?
Or is this all about their egos,
desperately trying to deal with a paradigm shift
that no longer allows them to be in the limelight
at every single moment in time?
Because they have seen the signs that things are changing
and living without their privileges would be enraging
so they have to imagine
that this is a revolution they can lead.
The alternative being realising
that we don’t actually need
a straight cis white man telling us what to do.
I don’t know if you’ll listen to me,
but seeing as you keep talking about the revolution you want to begin
I feel it only fair that I tell you that
you’re going to have to earn our trust if you want to be let in.


Keep the poet hydrated!


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Update post

Hello! It’s been a while hasn’t it? How are you? Would you like tea?

I’ve been overwhelmed recently, and have barely had time to even read *gasp* So I thought I would do a little catch up post for you.

Reading: I am currently reading How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin and also Lord of the Rings. I know, LOTR, really? Yes, yes really. The truth is, I last read it 15 years ago, and due to being bought a super special edition that was divided into seven books rather than three (one for each letter of TOLKIEN), I managed to read it in the wrong order… I got the E and the I the wrong way round. So I’m trying it again, enjoying it more this time round as I am old enough to understand what is actually happening and not having to battle my way uphill through impenetrable prose without even the help of a machete.

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is a fantastic collection. I am very nearly at the end, and have finally started learning how to appreciate short stories. The range and skill in this collection is incredible, and the ideas are all fantastic. There’s an early Broken Earth story, which was fascinating. I’ve loved every single story so far, and cannot recommend it highly enough. I feel like every one is a different and unique fancy cupcake, with longlasting aftertastes. I actually woke up the other night thinking about one of the stories. I’m especially a fan of the story with Death and the octopus…

I have had a little break from the Discworld, but will likely get back onto the epic readalong soon.

Writing: hahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa *lies on the floor and cries quietly* I have one whole poem, which I might share with you next week. It’s also going to the Piranha Poetry night next week, so I need to remember to print it out…

Listening to: Venus Fly by Grimes ft Janelle Monae. This is a case of the youtube suggestions being actually good! Although it might be more accurate to say I’m watching it – the video is stunning.

And that’s it for now. I hope to be getting back into the habit of blogging properly soon.

The Big Discworld Readalong: Equal Rites

Hello, I am back! Extremely busy at the moment so I don’t know when I’ll get something up here again, but in the meantime have this.

Cover of equal rites by Terry Pratchett

This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps where more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn’t pretend to answer all or any of these questions.

Equal Rites always holds a special place for me because it was the first Discworld book that I ever read. Coming back to it, however, was bittersweet.

This is a book that’s about sexism. It is not even subtle about that. Esk is a young girl, the eighth child of an eighth son (eight being the magic number on the Disc), who was gifted a magic staff at birth by a mildly incompetent wizard who forgot to check her sex first.

And I enjoyed re-reading this, I really did. I laughed a lot. I had little moments of pain when TP managed to hit something right on the head – there is the moment when the reincarnation of Mr Incompetent Wizard explains witchcraft to Granny Weatherwax, who is by all accounts the witch, and the moment when another condescending wizard explains to Esk why she cannot be a wizard and she feels doors closing before she’s been able to even decide what she wants. There are quite a few of these, acidly observed. There’s the always-delightful logic of TP that leads to a tribe of canal barge traders who are all so honest that, in order to interact with the rest of the world, they have a trained Liar who does all their business.

The thing is that, I am reading this now. And I’ve read the rest of the Discworld series. Which means that I know that despite it’s hopeful ending, with Archchancellor Cutangle and Granny Weatherwax agreeing post duel that they will have exchange students, and Cutangle mentioning he will probably start letting some girls in, and Simon and Esk starting their own form of magic that involves carefully not doing magic in order to piss off the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions (and the descriptions of them are fantastic); despite this, I know that in the series it doesn’t bloody happen. I can’t remember what happens to Cutangle, but shortly we get Ridcully and the Bursar and Ponder Stibbons and all them, and never again a mention of a woman wizard. Or at least, not for a looong time. Esk, if I remember correctly, completely vanishes until late in the Tiffany Aching sequence.

So yeah, I enjoyed this. I enjoyed the ridiculous sexual implications, and the world which is beginning to look like the Discworld as I really recognise it, and the terrible broomstick that can barely fly, and the Borrowing, and I had many a giggle. I enjoyed Granny’s roundabout way of doing things, and this early characterisation of her. I enjoyed it. But I know where it’s going, and that is not where it promised.

 



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The Big Discworld Readalong: The Light Fantastic

This is a readalong commentary rather than a review, so won’t necessarily make sense if you haven’t read the book!

I will be aiming to get normal reviews up as well in the near future.

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.

No chapters, thankfully. Phew, I can properly relax into this Discworld book with its traditional line break layout.

The quality of storytelling has shot up. Like, it’s very impressive. TP clearly learned a lot from TCOM. I’m starting to see more of the asides and detail that make the Discworld so wonderful, as well as the humour. Not that those things are absent from TCOM, just that they are not so well balanced.

Galder Weatherwax! I always forget him, because he is only in this book, but he’s an absolute delight! Obviously related to Granny… Speaking of, the structure of the Unseen University is so different here. Everyone is the head of a separate order, and they all have entertaining and complicated names. Luckily, they all turn to stone at the end of the book so TP can then do something entirely different.

Rincewind crossing the terror threshold never ceases to amuse me. Just, the point at which he is too scared to be scared of anything else is always such a wonderful bit of writing.

Cohen the barbarian! I love him! I love that we only meet this legend when he’s in his eighties and bitter.

Also, I forgot that we met Ysabel (Death’s daughter) in this book. It’s interesting, because what it means is that right from the beginning of the Discworld, Death is a being who has a more complicated relationship with humans than it seems on the surface. In this book, one gets the feeling that he is really just trying to do his job well and with care.

The old magic necromancer woman, unnamed and only having a brief appearance, is great. We’re starting to see TP seem to go “oh shit, need to have women in here” and it’s nice. I’m always really happy seeing an author trying to improve, and TP does an alright job here. All the women are still background characters at this point, but they’re interesting background characters. We get Bethan, who was going to be sacrificed by druids but marries Cohen instead and goes on to yell at useless wizards, Ysabel, who threatens Rincewind with Death’s scythe, aforementioned necromancer lady, and  Herrenna the Henna Haired Harridan, who gets one of my favourite descriptions, included here for you to laugh at: …this particular hero is a heroine. A red-headed one.

Now, there is a tendency at a point like this to look over one’s shoulder at the cover artist and start going on at length about leather, thighboots and naked blades.

Words like “full”, “round” and even “pert” creep into the narrative, until the writer has to go and have a cold shower and a lie down.

Which is all rather silly, because any woman setting out to make a living by the sword isn’t about to go around looking like something off the cover of the more advanced kind of lingerie catalogue for the specialised buyer.

The description goes on to say that she’s wearing pretty sensible clothes, actually, and followed by a group of men she’s hired, who aren’t going to be described because they’ll be dead soon. The reader is invited to imagine them in leather if this makes us happy. I nearly spat food on my book laughing.

Twoflowers is a lot less annoying in this book. I think he’s grown on me. Like a fungus. In some ways he’s a bit like Carrot, now that I think about it.

The Luggage continues to be wonderful.

It’s funny meeting trolls, because the trolls later on are so different. I like the trolls in TLF though, especially about them moving backwards in time somehow. And the way that the Spell is just messing about with Rincewind’s life.

Aha! An answer to something that has bothered me! We never meet the Librarian before he is an Orangutan. He is turned into one in this book, before we meet him.

The star cult is an accurate representation of people reacting to stuff to be honest.

Love the magic shop. And the idea that there’s just a very grumpy sorceror to blame for all of them.

And then baby star turtles! This is why I never remember what else has happened in this book – we get to the baby star turtles and I stop caring about everything else! And this has happened again; I know there was a lot of detail, and things I was enjoying (Ymper Trymon is a fab baddie), but BABY STAR TURTLES!

Anyway, I am heading excitedly on to the next book now. TLF still doesn’t quite feel Discworld, which is odd seeing as it’s one of the first. It still feels a bit underbaked. I think the main difference is that at this point TP is really just poking fun at the fantasy genre, and that is great and a lot of fun, but the later Discworld books all have quite a lot to say in terms of thoughts about the world and humanity, and I feel that lacking here.



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The Big Discworld Readalong: The Colour of Magic

I though I’d call it a readalong, because it won’t precisely be reviews: more just the whatever popped into my head while re-reading, edited to be a bit more coherent. Maybe. Probably unsuitable if you haven’t read the book.

ALSO, a possibly tricky question: should Strata be involved in a Discworld readalong, and if so, when?

The colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett cover, I think by Josh Kirby

In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part…

My first, horrified thought was “chapters?!” because this is a Discworld book! Why does it have chapters? Part of why I originally fell so hard was because my cunning child self would smile and nod when my parents said I had to stop reading at the next chapter and then just finish the book. But this one has chapters, and it’s extremely weird.

Bad puns. How have I never noticed how many there are before? Hundreds. I may drown in them.

Early Ankh-Morpork is odd, in that way that things that have become familiar are when you go back to their beginnings. It feels slightly under-baked. But then it is quickly burned down, so that solves that problem. Extreme baking!

When I first read this book, I had never played DnD. I have now, and the narrative makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE! In that it reads exactly like a game in which the DM is a group of competing deities and the players are clueless and would rather be at home with tea/beer.

Early Death characterisation is now extremely jarring. I am looking forward to watching that develop. He’s so grumpy and vindictive. Maybe he hasn’t discovered how much he likes cats yet?

The same for the Patrician, but just about the characterisation, not the cats. Lovely one-liners though.

Rincewind really just never changes, does he? And yet, an oddly endearing useless man. I am not usually endeared to useless men in fiction; there are too many in real life…

Mana? Does Terry Pratchett ever call magic mana again in a Discworld book? I guess I’ll find out, but it was extremely jarring.

The Luggage! I love the Luggage! And A’Tuin, who I always forget is weirdly one of my favourite characters. And the elphants have names!

Not many women, are there? I think we get more in The Light Fantastic. It’s worth noting also that the first Discworld book I ever read was Equal Rites

We never go to the Wyrmberg ever again do we? That’s kind of sad – I’d like to know how Hrun is doing… Also TP taking the mick out of fantasy names is one of my favourite running jokes.

I actually love the ending, with everyone just falling of the Disc. Brilliant stuff, though probably enormously frustrating when you couldn’t just buy the second one straightaway. And the Krullians are fun.

The Lady! One of my favourite recurring deities. Especially the way she is described. I think “waitress in the last chance saloon” is one, though that is possibly not from this book.

 

Overall, I struggled a bit to get through, and am way more excited about all the other Discworld books. You know, the ones that behave like Discworld books. I think it’s strange reading this because it doesn’t quite feel formed yet. However, we’d never have got the others without this one, so that’s fine. Solid re-read, wanted more grumpy Death. Love the whole thing of Rincewind just refusing to die if Death himself isn’t there.


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Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Cover of The Fifth Season NK Jemisin

Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we?

This is a BLOODY BRILLIANT BOOK. I have no idea if I am going to be able to do it justice but I am going to try. Reading it was painful, and hurt, and felt a little like dragging my heart across a floor covered in glass AND YET it was deeply and brilliantly moving. The Fifth Season starts, as the sentence indicates, with the end of the world: a personal world, and a much larger one. It has some of the most skilled use of the second person that I’ve come across, bringing the reader directly into the story. It has a central character who is strong and bruised and who really shouldn’t ever have had to be any of those things. It seems to ask, repeatedly, how bad things have to get before we accept that ripping down the entire structure is the only way forward. And it does so using some of the most incredible fantasy writing I’ve read. Ever. And I read a lot of fantasy. I’m still sort of smacking myself for taking so long to find N.K. Jemisin.

I took a little while to cotton onto the structure, so spent the first part of the book quite confused. Once I figured out that POSSIBLE SPOILER the three different characters were actually the same person at different times in her life END SPOILER everything made a lot more sense. And even before that, I was utterly absorbed by the world; by this shifting, belching, volcanic supercontinent. By its civilisation, clinging onto the surface of the land. By the vastness of the story and the incredible imagination at work. I found the characters completely compelling. I was inexorably drawn into the plot and I am going to be haunted for a long time to come; by the images drawn in words across my mind, by the threads of story that are coming together, by the immense skill, by the depth of connection I felt to the characters. This is fantasy at its best, and I recommend it. I cried. I cried on the first page, and I cried more and I swore under my breath and I wanted, so badly, to know what happened next at every juncture of Essun’s story. I wanted to know how this incredible woman was going to cope. I wanted to know if she would continue, and what would happen next, and where she came from and I still want to know more.

Rating: read this book, fear the angry earth.



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Ramblings on fantasy genre: why I have no patience for people asking why I don’t read ‘real’ books

So, a ramble. Because why not. It’s late-ish, I’m tired, and I have a bee in my bonnet. Consider this blog a response to people who made me feel daft for loving fantasy back when I was young and impressionable.

I love fantasy. I always have. I want my stories to have magic in them. I’ve always been interested in witches, mermaids, dragons (I love dragons), selkies, magic carpets… I want stories to transport me. I want stories to take me somewhere else, somewhere I’ve never been. I want stories that travel to impossible places, where saving a single ant in a path may change the whole course of what happens. I want stories in which the protagonist might sometimes be a swan. I have always enjoyed magic.

And when I was a child, this was never an issue. People expect children to enjoy magic. Lot’s of children’s books have dragons, princesses, knights, improbable transformations, falling down rabbit holes into different realities. And this was normal and good and I enjoyed them (although not Alice in Wonderland, and that is a different discussion). In fact, I loved them. I was a child who lived in books, just as soon as I figured out this reading thing. And then I discovered Tamora Pierce and that was it. I was gone. Here was the fantasy I had been waiting for, with women front and centre, knights, magic, swords, dashing villains, goddesses. Also in it were well informed depictions of puberty, menstruation, difficult friendships, and well researched animals THAT BEHAVED LIKE ANIMALS and training – the characters have to work for things, they aren’t just suddenly good at a skill. The knights have to go through lots of training, and some of them fail. I was entranced. I am still entranced.

And again, this was fine. Until the strange, undefined moment when it wasn’t. When I hit some age barrier I had not known existed, and people started expecting me to read ‘real’ books. As far as I can tell, when certain people say ‘real’ books, they mean fiction in which everyone is miserable, or some teenagers find a body and somehow it’s a metaphor for growing up, or Classics in which everyone is miserable while wearing period costumes and suffering from period typical sexism and racism. Personally, I do not understand the appeal. I did not then, and I do not now. But, having some form of politeness and consideration, I would not tell someone that the book they are reading and clearly enjoying is not a ‘real’ book. It’s there, it’s a book, it has words on the page (or kindle screen), so it is a book. Strangely, this did not always seem to come into other people’s consideration of my reading choices. Fantasy, apparently, is not a real genre. Unless it’s written by white men, in which case we make really expensive films full of sweeping shots of landscapes and rugged men running around in the landscapes.

I have tried reading the books that have been thrust at me. I fought my way through Of Mice and Men at school. I read numerous of those books aimed at teenagers about having a Difficult Friend Who Shoplifts, or having a Difficult Friend Who Is a Bully, or being suddenly homeless with a serial killer stalking you, or having to run away from your abusive dad, or going through puberty and finding out that your aunt is actually your mum, or being a teenage spy. And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy these books; I just didn’t enjoy them as much. None of them have survived when I’ve had to make book culls. And I want to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong with these books – I just don’t like them. I liked fantasy. I love fantasy. And that was treated as a childish thing, which I deeply resent because I am not convinced I would have made it through my adolescence (which was rough for various reasons) in anything near as good shape as I did without fantasy books.

Fantasy books, in many ways, saved me. Because they were an escape. Because they let me go somewhere else, at least in my head, and I desperately needed to. Because they taught me that I might struggle, but I could fight through and come out the other side stronger. Because they took me to other worlds, in which there was magic and beauty and you could fight evil. Because they taught me that standing up against something bad is never wasted, however small your action. Because they taught me that women are strong and important and deserve respect (I was damn picky about the fantasy I read, okay? I had the good luck of picking up woman-positive fantasy before I came across the other stuff, so I expected everything to live up to at least those standards). Because the first time I learned about meditation, a practise that has helped me through many difficult times in my life, was in a fantasy book. Because I figured out my sexuality through fantasy books. Because fantasy could talk about things I didn’t have the strength to confront directly at the time. Because fantasy taught me that a person can survive staring into the darkness day after day. Because fantasy made me laugh when I did not have lots to laugh about. Because fantasy taught me that you respect Nature, because it is so much huger than you and there are forces you shouldn’t mess with. Because fantasy speaks to my soul in a way that fiction does not; it speaks about the knife-edge doorways between here and there, and about the magic inherent in living. Because fantasy is fun, and why on earth would you read a story that’s not fun (unless you’re rage-reading so you can go argue with people in a more informed way, which I totally understand)?

I am 27 now. I read stuff that’s not fantasy; sci-fi, dictionaries, books about etymology, poetry, quirky science books, comics, and history books. But fantasy is still my favourite. It will always be my favourite because I love magic, and dragons, and adventure. Because very little makes me happier than slipping into a book that’s been written well enough to convince me that the imagined world here is real. Because werewolves are cool. Because fantasy at its best is a genre in which your imagination is the limit, and that’s fun. Because reading things that are fun is brilliant and wonderful and I do not understand why people look down on this.

I’m not naive enough to think that fantasy is perfect: there are problems, and big ones. People who aren’t men and white have a hard time, both as characters and as authors. There is a subset of fantasy fans who are happy to learn an entire made-up language but will flip out if you put, say, a couple of words of Yiddish in there. This is probably the same subset of fans who think that having women in fantasy doing things other than being murdered or sexually assaulted or looking pretty is unrealistic because “insert vague excuse about the fantasy book being based on medieval Europe here” (I think these fans don’t know a lot about medieval Europe)(also if you can imagine orcs and elves and a villain who is a FIERY EYEBALL ON A TOWER then you can imagine women and people of colour. And if you can’t, you can walk out the door and see some and then you don’t even have to work at imagining them because, unlike orcs and elves and dragons, women and queers and nonbinary people and people of colour actually exist although if you have to do this you need to ask yourself some really soulsearching questions). And this is a whole big conversation that I cannot cover in this blog post, or indeed in one blog post alone, but it’s important to say I know. I know there are problems. My love of the genre does not mean I am blind to its flaws.

Fantasy, for me, has been a place of escape, safety, fun, and growth. It is rooted deeply in me, and I get really angry when people just dismiss the whole genre. No-one is forcing you to read this. You don’t have to come here. But if you have never read any, you should not just be dismissing the whole genre and saying it’s childish. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. You don’t have to like it. No-one is saying that. But there is a tendency to assume that, somehow, fantasy is less; it’s less grown-up, it’s less serious, it’s less skilled, it’s less ‘real’. To which I say, well of course it’s not real. It’s fantasy. That’s rather the point. Fiction isn’t real either, if you want to get into it. Fantasy is still important. Because fantasy is about exploring the limits of the imagination and storytelling, and those are things that shape the world. And because there are a lot of people who need to escape who cannot actually escape, but hopefully they can read. And if a fantasy book can keep them alive long enough to give them hope and get them into a better situation, that’s worthwhile. Even if it is a book about magic talking dragons, that you personally don’t like…


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