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Changing My Mind: Poetry and Radicalism

When I read, I usually do it because I want to change myself. I want to teach myself something new, I want to inhabit a new perspective, or expand my understanding of a genre. And when I write, it’s because I want to create something new: a new take on an old trope, a work that speaks to a particular social issue, a piece of work to give voice to a group that isn’t always heard.

This whole writer-in-residence thing is new for me, but I’m doing it for familiar reasons. By working with Lighthouse in particular, I hope to engage with reading and writing in new ways, ways that deepen my understanding of what books are for. In this new role I’ll not only be a passive, solitary writer but also an active reader, organiser and teacher: writing is not only a mode of expression but also a form of art, of play, and a tool for activism and for learning.

A big part of all this, especially as I’m at Lighthouse, is to engage more proactively with the concept of radicalism: what it means in its many forms, both historic and contemporary, what it can be used for, and how to incorporate a spirit of radicalism–of subversion, of upheaval and of challenge to the status quo–into my own work. I want to create work, not only on the page but in workshops and events spaces, which sparks conversation about a bigger picture.

I’m beginning my time with Lighthouse off the back of, in autumn of 2018, having finished writing a book about nonbinary and genderqueer identities (They/Them/Their, to be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishing in August 2019). What I tried to do with that book is to ground a discussion of genderqueer and nonbinary gender identities in a wider conversation about how many of the structures we’re brought up to trust and believe in–capitalism, binary gender, institutions of medicine and legal documentation–are in many ways no longer fit for purpose (if they ever were!). As Nat Raha pointed out in her 2015 article, The Limits of Trans Liberalism, full, actual equality for all queer and trans people cannot come about within the current system: as long as the interconnected, unequal power dynamics that shape our lives are still in play, we will still be oppressed.

They/Them/Their takes a genderqueer perspective and tries to work on developing a more nuanced vocabulary around one of the most well-established and insidious institutions we have in Western society: binary gender. A big part of what I’m finding useful in engaging with these ideas is this very vocabulary-building, as well as building a practice of questioning things I’ve been taught are unquestionable, like language, the law, and the authority of medical institutions.

My first act, as it were, as writer in residence was to chair a reading and joint book launch with Edinburgh-based poets Nat Raha and Harry Josephine Giles (Of Sirens, Body & Faultlines from Boiler House Press, and The Games from Out-Spoken Press, respectively), two incredible, radical, queer trans poets. Nat and Harry’s work -new as I am to poetry- had me from page one questioning my own assumptions about what poetry should look and sound like, and how language should be used. Their work is strongly political, highly experimental in form, much of it is found, collaged or even computer generated, and all of it is challenging. Harry and Nat made me question what I thought about what poetry is, what language can do, and how a piece of art or a body of work can exist outside of the conventional structures of a genre, and still be considered part of that genre. When I read Harry and Nat’s books, I felt like an active participant, as if they were teaching me how to read again. Without a doubt, reading these books changed me.

So my next step, and I haven’t quite found the answer to this yet, is to ask myself: how can I take what I’ve learned from these two radical, innovative poets and incorporate it into my own work? Harry and Nat are experts at subverting convention and challenging authority through writing. If I can take a leaf from their book and create something that makes the reader reevaluate or question what they think speculative fiction should be, do or look like, I’ll know I’ve learned the lesson.

Eris Young is the bookshop’s first writer in residence. Eris is a queer, trans writer and editor of speculative fiction and nonfiction. Their work engages with queer themes, themes of alienation, otherness and liminality, and has been published by or is forthcoming from Knight Errant Press, 404 Ink and Jessica Kingsley Publishing. Their work at Lighthouse, which will include events, workshops and feedback sessions, will be focused around radicalism and how writing can be used as a tool to engage with radical ideas, challenge the status quo and help us envision change.

From January 2019, Eris will be offering three one-on-one feedback sessions to authors of short fiction. These will be offered on a pay-what-you-can basis, and priority will be given to writers from marginalised backgrounds. The feedback will consist of a critique of a short story of up to 5,000 words and a skype session or (for Edinburgh-based writers) an in-person meeting to discuss the piece and create a plan for revision and submission.If you’re interested in knowing more shoot the bookshop an email (books@lighthousebookshop.com)

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