Lydia Towsey is a poet and performer. She is the Chair and Compare of WORD!, which is the longest-running spoken word night in the Midlands. She Co-Directs Everybody’s Reading, a nine-day festival of live literature in Leicester. Lydia is also Artistic Developer of 'The Lyric Lounge’ a site specific festival of poetry and spoken word, currently on tour, and the Arts in Mental Health Coordinator for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. She has an MA in Creative Writing.
Lydia has received a range of commissions, including writing and performing for ‘Freedom Showcase,’ The Poet in the City's ‘Spoken Word All Stars Tour’ and ‘Beyond Words’, which was a U.K. tour of four South African poets which included the South African Poet Laureate, Keorapetse Kgositsile. In 2011 she also won a Decibel commission.
In 2012, renaissance one is working with Lydia to organise a tour of her one woman show, 'The Venus Papers', which is edited and directed by Jean 'Binta' Breeze and curated by Melanie Abrahams. The music to this show is composed and performed by Corey Mwamba, with film visuals by Keith Allott.
Not One of Those People
I’m not one of those English people pretending to be Welsh.
I do not speak the language. I do not understand
the landscape. Their weather systems - tearing through their
valleys, blasting their cliffs and bringing down their trees
stagger me with their violence. My mother is Welsh.
She speaks the language, slips into it as easy
as umbrellas turned over in winter. When she finds a
Welsh bus driver, a new Welsh person - working in her
local English corner shop, her English vowels are scrambled,
tongue clicks into new shapes and the Welsh she has no use for
is shaken out like a rolled up bedspread, or a map - dust
rising up in cast off clouds and settling silent as soft shoes.
OnceOnce, when I was six or eight and my mother was hoovering
I was making a nuisance of myself. Wailing and crashing like a
small ocean, treading on the wires of my mother’s tail, deliberately
getting in the way. My mother, turned the hoover off and
grabbed me by the waist, pulled me up, legs akimbo
forced my arms around her damp from working vest and
sang to me. Words I didn’t understand. Words that sounded
made up. Words she had no use for. Words that slid like iron
from her lips and slapped against my skin like a cold and sunny day
I couldn’t sleep without them for months - not until I had them
hard wired amongst my TV jingles and night time prayers.
OnceSometimes, I would take this small fragment of my mother’s tongue
to school and recite it over and over:
||Gee ceffyl bach yn cario ni’n dau
Dros y mynydd I hela cnau
Dwr yn yr afon a cherrig yn slic
Cwypo ni’n dau, wel dyna’I chi dric.
|the story of a horse,
that fell into a river
got up again.
I asked my mother to teach me Welsh,
to help me move my mouth in different ways,
to click and snap my lips, to talk about her
lost hills and valleys and weather systems,
to roll my words in earth - and salt - and rain.
We never got round to it.
‘Not one of Those People’ is one of a group of poems about my mother. It is also an attempt to think about notions of national and cultural identity and about what such things might mean in an era of cultural diversity and international migration.
My mother is Welsh and my father half-Hungarian Jewish. As someone who was born and raised in Leicester, I think I was trying to describe a kind of cultural confusion; a misplaced sense of geography, though one that may be new, dynamic and specific by virtue of being in a number of places at the same time.
I had in mind a Welsh landscape (I was visiting Aberystwyth at the time of writing), but also the suburban house I grew up in. It was surrounded by bungalows. On one side there lived an elderly widower whose parents came from Leicester. On the other lived a Sikh family, who would throw a fireworks party every Diwali. Not everything is in the piece, but I like the idea of a poem having roots.
Unusually for me, ‘Not one of those People’ was written in one sitting, with minor revisions later around indenting text. It was produced without any kind of consciously formal structure. Nonetheless, I have since found it interesting to see the internal repetition of some patterns.
The majority is written in long lines, of between 11 and 15 syllables. These are characterised by repeated caesura, for example: ‘I do not speak the language.// I do not understand’ (line 2); ‘the landscape.// Their weather systems - //tearing through their’ (line 3), and so on. There is also enjambment throughout, as lines are split over line breaks. I hope that the effect is conversational, but by turns, both hesitant and insistent, as the rhythms become broken.
The Welsh rhyme (line 26-29) is in contrast to the rest of the poem, written in end-stopped lines of 9 syllables. Admittedly, though, this may be less apparent on the page. By indenting this section I have tried to visually convey its sense of difference, of its being quite literally ‘a small fragment of my mother’s tongue’.
Sources for the piece include poems about mothers, by poets such as Lorna Goodison and Sharon Olds together with W.H Auden’s notion of a poem as being like ‘a crowd of recollected occasions [in particular] recollected encounters with sacred beings and events’ ('The Virgin and the Dynamo', The Dyers Hand and other essays, Faber & Faber, 1963).
The title and central conceit is intended ironically; by lamenting about and eulogising Wales, I become the person I apparently critique. I hope that something of this paradox comes through.
Tripod: Issue 3, The Literature Network, Autumn 2007
Goblin Fruit, Summer 2008 (http://goblinfruit.blogspot.com)
Greatworks, 2008 (http://www.greatworks.org.uk)
The Coffee House, Issue 18, Charnwood Arts, 2009
Staple 73: The Film Issue, Staple Magazine, Summer 2010
Great Grandchildren of Albion, edited by Michael Horovitz, John Hegley, Melanie Abrahams and Adam Horovitz, 2012
12 + 12 = 24: A British Art Show anthology, Staple Magazine, 2012