OK, so this post is a couple of days late… sorry! I don’t really have an excuse beyond I’ve been really tired, and the last couple of days couldn’t bring myself to sit down and write after doing the other things I had to do that day. As with the other week, this week’s post is actually talking about a literary event: the first in-person literary event I’ve attended since before COVID-19! Just to clarify before I get started, this is not sponsored in any way: I wasn’t invited by organisers, and I paid for my own ticket as an audience member.
The event was a launch party, for the 31st edition of The White Review, an arts and literature journal published three times a year. In The White Review, you can find poetry, short stories, essays, interviews, and artwork. The launch party itself was held at Peckham Levels, a repurposed multi-storey car park home to many local creative businesses. The carpark contains co-working spaces, independent businesses, bars, cafes, a yoga studio, and even a hair salon. The upper levels remain as they were when the building was used as a car park, but the space is used for a variety of different things. On the night I went, it was set up as a theatre-type space, complete with bar and chairs arranged in a semi circle around two microphones.
When I arrived (after walking up a bright pink stairwell, across the roof of the carpark and then back down into the car park), most people were milling around, chatting, having a drink from the bar. Naturally, I joined in with the drink-purchasing, and found a seat at one of the little tables in the bar area until the event started. Shortly after I’d sat down, we were all called to take a seat for the beginning of the event. The event was fairly popular, with probably around 150 attendees, which I felt was quite a nice reintroduction back to live literary events post-COVID. The atmosphere had a definite buzz to it, yet the space did not feel crowded, and, as we were in a multi-storey car park, good ventilation was a given.
The event was introduced briefly, and then the first guest speaker took to the microphone. In between speakers, someone with antibacterial wipes darted forwards to wipe down the stand and mic. The first guest speaker was poet Fran Lock, who read out a couple of her poems featured in the latest issue of The White Review. Lock was actually my favourite speaker of the night: her poems were definitely my kind of thing (when it is that I read poetry, which I’ll admit is fairly rare), and I always find it interesting to hear poets read their own work, and see where they place emphasis, as it’s not always apparent from the text how the poet would choose to read it.
The second reading of the night was by Thomas Glave, who read a polemic titled A Reminder Letter to England, in which he explains how the racism of the US stems from British colonialism. I was slightly confused at first, because he gave the reading the cadence of a poem, when it’s actually described by The White Review as an essay, and essay is probably a more accurate term to define it. The essay targets people who dismiss racism in England, whilst condemning it in the US, and washing their hands of any connections to the events occurring in the US. I don’t think that the audience Glave was physically speaking to was really the audience he was aiming to address with his piece, but nevertheless his piece did address valid issues within British society.
The final reading was actually a piece not published in The White Review, and was a couple of diary entry pieces, taken from a short story by Juliet Jacques. Jacques’ debut short story collection, Variations, explores the history of transgender Britain. A transgender woman herself, Jacques draws on not only her own experiences, but other, real life experiences in the writing of her short stories. In the story she read an extract from at the event, a woman in the midst of her transition is taken under the wing of other trans women she meets at the Gender Clinic, and is introduced to a more flamboyant queer community than she has had access to thus far. The extract was a really interesting insight into the trans experience not all that long ago in this country, and I was fairly shocked to get the impression that, actually, not all that much has improved since the story was set, as the experience of the woman in the story actually sounded very much like a lot of the stories I’ve heard about transitioning services in the modern day.
If you get the chance to attend an event at Peckham Levels, or if you get the chance to pick up a copy of The White Review (or indeed, attend a future launch event of theirs), then I absolutely recommend you seize that chance! I had a really fun evening, and the precautions taken to ensure all the speakers and audience were kept safe were really well-managed and implemented.