I want to highlight homophobia in the Commonwealth during the forthcoming Commonwealth Gaymes in Glasgow, July 23 - 3 August, 2014, so I've invented Umbrellas of Love!
There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth, and in 41 it is illegal to be lesbian, bisexual, or gay. In 7 Commonwealth countries I could be imprisoned for life for being myself, and in 2 countries - in parts of Nigeria and parts of Pakistan under Sharia law - I could be executed because of who I love and who loves me.
I decided to paint the names of the 41 countries in blood red on white umbrellas and get them seen during the Commonwealth Gaymes. Because I'm a penniless poet, I appealed for donations to create Umbrellas of Love! and soon got enough to do all 86 countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal.
I chose umbrellas because they are light and easy to carry, lots of people can get involveduseful if it rains or gets too hot, and because the Commonwealth is like a giant umbrella, only some people aren't allowed to step under its protection. Each umbrella will have a giant letter on it, so collectively we can spell out: LOVE IS A HUMAN RIGHT, NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL, WE ALL BLEED RED, LOVE AND LET LOVE, and COMMONWEALTH GAYMES, among other things!
I'm currently designing and painting the umbrellas at my rural Norfolk home. Once painted, the Umbrellas of Love! will be sent to Glasgow, where Amy McLachlan Sayer will organise a photo-opportunity or two, probably at Glasgow Pride, and during the Commonwealth Gaymes - get in touch with Amy if you'd like to be involved in Glasgow.
After Glasgow, the Umbrellas of Love will appear in the Norwich Pride Parade on Saturday 26 July - get in touch with Vince if you'd like be involved at Norwich Pride, or for any other info.
Thanks to everyone who has helped. Over 30 people chipped in and raised over £500 to make Umbrellas of Love happen, I'm very proud of that.
Glasgow contact: amymclachlansayer[at]gmail.com
The silver lining to a prolonged period of depression and inactivity last year was the time to think. I came out from under the duvet of darkness determined to pursue a career as a poet and artist.
More specifically I wanted to perform my poetry in front of live audiences because that’s when it’s at its most powerful. And I wanted to continue exploring visual poetry, taking poetry off the page in every sense.
I became increasingly dissatisfied with the definition of poetry – the idea that it had to be a literary expression of feelings and ideas – it felt restrictive and limiting. “Make it new,’ said Ezra Pound. I subscribe to the view that as an artist, I define what art is.
Therefore as a poet, surely I define what a poem is? If my art can be anything from a painting to a concept, then so can my poetry. The embodiment of my new way of thinking is the declaration: I am a poem.
I was asked to write a poem last October to read at a candlelit vigil against hate crime. I thought about it and decided I couldn’t write anything more powerful than 2 minutes of silence shared by like-minded people in different cities, all opposed to hate. So I recorded the silence and called it Silent Poem, and of course it’s anything but silent.
There’s the sound of the photographer from the local paper capturing the scene, an aircraft passes overhead, wind catches the microphone, someone coughs, you can hear the bleeps of a lorry reversing, a lone skateboarder trundles by, and finally the time-keeper says, “Thank you everyone.”
I ended up with a poem I could neither perform nor make visual. In fact I tried to enter it into the Café Writers annual poetry competition in Norwich, but their rules only allowed for poems printed on an A4 sheet of paper. If that’s not making it new, I don’t know what is. Result!