Political: A Gender @ the Royal Vauxhall Tavern 01/09/11

-Reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

‘The Cutlery Drawer’: a project raising funds for charities through music, cabaret and poetry events.

‘Political: A Gender’ : their second event, in aid of the charity Gendered Intelligence. With all performances interacting with the themes of gender, sexuality, queerness and trans issues, it featured comedy, burlesque, music and, of course, poetry, and was somewhat excellent.

Gendered Intelligence: A community interest company who run youth clubs, camping trips and provide guidance and advice in schools for anyone who has questions over their identity or gender. Finn Greig from GI gave a very elucidating talk on the activities of the charity, highlighting the good work they do, how inclusive they are, while making sure to enthusiastically thank Hel and the team, and generally coming across as a lovely human being.

Fabulous: The performances, audience and organisers.


  • Hosting was Hel Gurney, the driving force behind Cutlery Drawer and from who’s fertile brain the idea for Political: A Gender leapt and was also the night’s charming host, and is generally a fabulous and engaging activist.
  • Their hosting style was endearing, engaging and full of warmth for the delicious melting pot of acts on display.

The Poets:

  • Elaine O’Neill was horrifyingly erudite. Her mixture of humour, eloquence, emotion and wordplay was a winning combination.
  • Her poems well elegantly phrased, from appropriately transcendent thoughts on the multiple meanings of trans (culminating in ‘Optimus Primary Transexual’), to collections of acronyms seamlessly segued in ‘Acrophobia’, before losing me in verdant natural imagery. She then tied me up in clever wordplay while giving me advice about doctors and concluded with a deliciously subversive poem about sexuality and cake.
  • Roz Friggin’ Kaveney  is a legend. One of the premier commentators of pop (and geek) culture, a trans activist and writer of no small repute. A member of the Midnight Rose science fiction collective and a founding member of Feminists Against Censorship.
  • She performed a plethora of poems; a touching, haunting and glamorously brave tribute to Steve Frances and drag gone by was followed by her Sappho interpretation, its sometimes staccato painful language matching its sentiment perfectly. She broke this up with a poem she feels she’ll be remembered for ‘a poem about [her] cunt’ that was a visceral confirmation of identity tied up in a tender sensuality, which contrasted to her gently heart-breaking vignette of a relationship ending, of a love that ‘just won’t do’. She mixes poems about objectification that both point out the subjects allure while remaining conscious of its own voyeurism with incredibly sweet poems about her partner with its love of ordinary things at night time.
  • What stood out for me in her enjoyable set were her pieces on Amy Winehouse (Blues 5) where she describes the singer’s voice as ‘both the rose and the thorns’ encouraging us to ‘listen to each song, she lives in those’ and her 18th Century fictional narrative poem that had a feminist queer-gendered Kill Bill/Sweeney Todd cycle of revenge vibe to it.
  • Hel Gurney: Fun fact, I witnessed this poet’s first ever performance and reviewed the second. And Hel’s come on leaps and bounds since that first night.
  • ‘Exhibitionism’ was an engaging start with its simple repetitions, humour and knowingly indulgent introspection, moving on to ‘First Snowfall in the Village’ which was idyllically short and sweet. ‘Men’s Seas’ made a personal progression sound universal, whilst being very funny and ‘Picture of my Love’, about a snap carried with you on a phone was adorable. ‘Nec Femina Dice Nec Puer’ the last Hel performed is a typical example of this poet’s style. At once contemporary and classical, mundane and mythological, it toys with time, space and gender.
  • But my favourites of Hel’s poems were firstly the poem on ‘the person you were and are no longer’, a memory of a person who was fearless, was sure of themselves and their future, a reader, fighter, explorer of all things immaterial. And how that person can diverge from the person you are and become a stranger that on occasion you ‘flicker though like the ghost of flame’. And secondly Hel’s poem on feminism ‘Gender Rubble’ (with particular reference to the odious Julie Bindel and the excellent Judith Butler) a poem on how gender roles can be used to stifle you, but also as almost boundless expression and variation, culminating in the desire to ‘make gender a Kaleidescope.’
  • Sophie Mayer had no poems about meerkats (despite numerous audience requests).
  • She started with ‘Bourgeois Foreskin’ (apparently read at Louise Bourgeois’s funeral) a poem that presented the penis as a handbag containing the decadent and ruined detritus and archaeology of a life. She continued the penis-theme with ‘A Brief History of the Deely Bopper’ (those little headbands with antennae that stick out) that was this broad-ranging list through time, all steeped in historical decadence.
  • A poem followed on Medusa, re-imagined as an intersex cabaret-style performer, who’s still, y’know, a gorgon. It charts her accelerated puberty all ‘hairs and nipples everywhere’ as she’s ‘sprouting like a Venus Flytrap’. It’s a hissing, open wound of a poem, revelling in its neo-classical grotesque. ‘XO the 5th Sea-Nymph-ony’ was a fun pun of a title, backed up by plenty of deft aquatic language, making for nautical poetic fun. ‘When Our Lips Meet Together’ was a slightly fractured, list-poem, the focus floating in and out of different snapshots of lips doing different things together which went well with the sultry, luscious and clever ‘Sapphic Cookbook’.
  • Jo Johnson’s first poem were in a conversational style, first using childhood sports to point out sexism and highlighting the flaws in believing we live in a ‘post-feminist society’ and stressing why feminism’s still so important. Poems about unsuccessful kind were them mixed with a list of annoyances at political apathy and unchallenged bad behaviour: engaging, earnest and thoughtful stuff.
  • The last poet was James Webster. Yes, that’s me. Rather than reviewing myself I’d just like to mention what fun it was performing here. The crowd were lovely, seemed amused by my first poem (‘M.C.W.A.S.P.S.M.’), I think were relatively engaged by my second (‘That’s So Straight’) and were amazing for my third (‘The Sea, The Limpet, The Mer and Me’) coming right up to the stage making for a really intimate performance. So much fun.

The non-poetical acts were also awesome:

  • Lashings of Ginger Beer Time had a wonderful collection of radical feminist songs, sketches and burlesque. Successfully satirising Gok Wan, Disney’s heteronormative nature, ‘anti-obesity’ campaigns, Daily Mail’s perceptions of lesbians, and was generally an amazing celebration of diversity in gender, sexuality and queerness.
  • Sally Outen performed some amazing stand-up comedy. Starting from her own experiences and ranging all the way to the hilarious wrongness that is the book ‘Duncton Wood’ (which seems to be essentially Mole-porn), she was hilarious.
  • Jason Barker: Very funny comedy on the menstrual cycle performed in a ‘uterus’ costume.
  • And Naith Payton was a somewhat lovable comedian. His sketchy material was overcome by his engaging nature.
Overall a great night, entertainment, intelligent discourse and lots of lovely people. I highly recommend you check out the next Cutlery Drawer event.

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