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Jenny Lindsay is a poet, performer and promoter of spoken word in Scotland. She is the former BBC Slam Champion (2012) and co-founder of Rally and Broad. Her first one-hour solo show, Ire & Salt, is at Summerhall as part of SHIFT/ - A Best of Spoken Word at the Fringe. Carly Brown sat down with her to discuss the Scottish independence referendum, writing a solo show, and what it’s like working within a poetry collective.

We all really want to do solo shows at the Fringe, but to do that, you have to work collectively

Tell us about your Fringe show.

My show is called Ire & Salt and it’s about the last four years in Scotland, working as a campaigner and an activist for independence. But it’s about more than that. It’s about questioning power. It’s about trying to find personal empowerment and there are various different stories within that. There’s a story about mental health and activism. There’s a story about the post-indyref landscape. There’s a story about growing up in Scotland. Then there’s also Julia from George Orwell’s 1984, a very overlooked character in Orwell studies. I wrote about 1984 and power for my dissertation in 2008, so this show has been a long time in the formulating.

What drew you to 1984 and to the character of Julia in particular?

Well I think that, in the novel, the reason it’s such a terrifying conclusion is the inhumanity of it. If you look at the points at which Julia is in the novel, everything she’s doing is quite revolutionary, given that she lives in a totalitarian state. She’s remembering what’s important: getting men to have human relations with her, to fall in love, to experience the ‘spark’, as I call it in the show, of human connection. That’s what empowerment is. That’s what will lead anyone towards any cause and if you forget that, then that’s when the cause falters.

I use that analogy from 1984 to focus on what happened in the independence referendum as well, because people were very empowered and they were finding that spark within themselves to get involved in politics. Then, in the last month of the independence campaign, when I was very close to the center of activist groups, on the outside everyone looked so empowered but, behind the scenes, everyone was falling apart. I have chronic depression and anxiety, but even people who don’t have any history of ill mental health. People were having breakdowns right, left and center and it wasn’t empowering at all. I found that incredibly disempowering, the way that was structured.

So I suppose, after the referendum, I did get quite frustrated by the legacy narrative of the referendum and that reminded me of all my work on Orwell, language and power. Then I put this show together because I think it’s really important, especially since now we’re talking about movement building and the left coming together to challenge illegitimate power. I felt that I had to write this show.

I really enjoyed the interplay between the personal and the political narratives in your show and how everything is linked through this theme of power. One of my favorite examples of this is your piece about your experience of having a stalker.

I’m a performance poet and the cardinal sin of performance poetry is to do a show or poem that requires footnotes. So I thought: ‘How can I use everyday, personal experiences to actually talk about power, which is what the show is about?’ That poem about the stalker is actually a found poem, which is quite disturbing.

Power is a concept. You can apply concepts to everyday scenarios, whether that’s a stalker, a campaign group, a collective, a political party, a school or a romantic relationship. The stalker poem is one of the starkest examples of power because that’s all about taking away somebody’s power who is on a stage, telling them to get back in their place.

What was it like putting together a one-hour show, as opposed to a shorter set?

I’ve been wanting to do a solo show for years now. I’m so grateful to Rachel and Bram for setting up SHIFT/ because I struggle a lot with self-promotion. I can promote other people but I do struggle to push myself and get my work out there. I get booked as a host and a compere. I love doing a twenty-minute set but I do find it quite constricting and having an hour was empowering!

It was a totally different process to putting together a shorter set because the banter and the chat between me and Julia had to be very carefully scripted, in a poetic manner. I highly recommend doing solo shows. I think I’ve got the bug now and I just want to do loads of them.

Can you tell us how SHIFT/, a group of seven different spoken-word artists based in Scotland, came to be?

Most spoken-word artists, Loud Poets being an admirable exception, end up on the Free Fringe. That’s fine. I’m not putting anyone down who does the Free Fringe, but for myself, I felt pressure, having been doing this for thirteen years and never having done a solo show. I felt like I wanted to do it in a theatre venue. I wanted to know that the sound and tech will get done and to use lighting and projections. But it’s unaffordable. SHIFT/ came about through necessity, because you’ve got all these amazing spoken-word artists in Scotland and we all really want to do solo shows at the Fringe, but to do that, you have to work collectively, which is one of the themes of my show.

It’s a really great model. Yes, we only get to do three solo shows each but we help promote each other’s shows. We’ve worked together to devise the shows and given feedback. For groups like Loud Poets and SHIFT/, it’s a great way to promote spoken word. We’re on a rota where we tech for each other and we flyer for each other. So you have moral support. I have no idea how people do it alone and I have nothing but respect for them.

How are the individual shows similar or different?

The shows are totally different, but there are some common themes between me, Bram and Harry’s shows. Harry’s is about anxiety and I have some discussions of mental health. Bram’s is about ideology, as is mine. So there are some crossovers for the themes. We’re all so different stylistically, but we all respect each other’s work too and I think that’s so important.

Listings Info: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/shift-a-best-of...

Twitter: @msjlindsay

Website: http://www.shiftword.com

Photo by Robb Mcrae


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