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When I Grow Up I Want To Be Megan Beech: an interview with the UK's most exciting performance poet


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Performance poet and King’s College London student Megan Beech has had the British poetry scene in thrall since the release of her magnificent debut When I Grow Up I Want To Be Mary Beard in 2013. Her electrifying verse and potent social criticism skilfully captures the contemporary mood and the recent cry out for change in how we view women.

Laura Bates described Megan’s poetry as being imbued with a “verbal virtuosity” and a “burning intellect, seasoned with stabs of wit which keep audiences rallying behind her battle cries.”

So as International Women’s Day rapidly approaches and leads us to think of women who have inspired us in 2014, I spoke to Megan Beech, who as both an ardent feminist and meticulous wordsmith, has certainly inspired me.

Hi Megan, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. I recently came across one of your poems online, I think it was 99 Problems and I was completely blown away. It’s really inspiring that you’re balancing both studying full time and writing poetry on the side. How are you finding it all?

Yeah, it’s great. The department is really supportive and like many other humanities departments at other universities, there are some really inspiring female academics in very high positions. For some people, maybe that seems quite arbitrary but for me, it’s pretty inspiring.

Although sometimes, of course, it is odd that as a student I have to go off on the train to some far flung corner of the UK to read some poems but I love what I do and it all feeds into each other in terms of my studies. Being a student and having this kind of an opportunity as well is such a great thing.

Do you think it was your exposure to female academics at university that has been one of the things that has pushed you towards writing about feminist issues, or does your interest stem from earlier than that?

I think I’ve always written about feminism, ever since I was 15 really when everyone else was reading Twilight and the whole book and the female protagonist’s entire existence is centred around this Adonis-like boy and I just thought, this is just awful and misogynistic. So yeah, my interest stems from my earlier experiences in a local comprehensive and not really caring for that sort of thing. Coming to London and meeting people who feel the same way I do has been great and definitely solidified my interest in feminist issues.

I had a very similar experience myself! I remember having my first feminist awakening at a Year 8 public speaking competition, and everyone was speaking about pretty black-and-white moral issues like clubbing seals (whilst I do of course abhor that!) and I was the odd one out talking about feminism.  It was a real relief going to university and finding people with the same opinions that I do. It's inspiring as well that in recent years, I think there’s been a real resurgence of interest in feminism. What do you think?

Sadly, there are a lot of people who still don’t agree with feminism but there has been a lot more interest recently. For me, people like Caitlin Moran are great as although some people think she is simplifying the issues, I think that anything that gets feminism on the agenda is a great thing.

It’s a real issue in poetry too; whenever I perform as part of poetry nights with all female headliners, it instantly becomes a “Women’s Poetry Night” or a “Feminist Poetry Night” whereas if it were just male poets, it would just be a “Poetry Night.”

I mean, I would like for people to think of me as a feminist but it’s a bit sad if you have to say that “this a feminist poet”, rather than “this is just a poet!”

Exactly. Moving onto your book, why did you choose Mary Beard for your title?

Well, obviously she’s a classicist and she went on Newsnight and talked about immigration in a completely non-inflammatory way and she attracted a lot of abuse and threats. What struck me about the whole thing was that she’s a very non-controversial figure: she’s a fairly quiet, hardworking classicist in Cambridge and suddenly people are attacking her  just because she’s a woman with an opinion and she’s not young  and she doesn’t dye her hair. So, I chose her as she spoke out and that’s really inspiring. Also, when I grow up, I do want to be an academic and she’s been so great since the book.

Yeah, I saw that she’d wished you happy birthday the other day!

She’s just so nice! She asked me to send her a copy of the book and she tweets me little things and now follows me on twitter. So, basically if you want to get in with your heroes, just write a poetry book about them!  That’s my top tip.

What do you feel has been your biggest achievement with your poetry so far?

I think working for Slambassadors (the UK’s youth slam run by The Poetry Society) was a big deal for me just because it was working with organisations like The Poetry Society, which obviously I’d never worked for before, and that opened a lot of doors for me. Since, then I’ve performed in Keats House and The British Museum and all of those things would not have happened without that initial contact with The Poetry Society.  

Recently, you performed in parliament - how did you find that experience?

It was an event to encourage more people to get involved in parliament and politics but part of me was a bit disheartened that not more politicians came. There was one member of the House of Lords who gave a speech, which is a bit difficult for me as I’m obviously fairly left-leaning but it was a cool venue and a really great opportunity to have a bigger audience.

So, with your new book you have had so many moving responses to your poetry. On the front cover, you have a glowing review from Laura Bates (founder of the Everyday Sexism project) and obviously Mary Beard praised the book. What has been the most exciting response to your poetry so far?

The Laura Bates thing was really exciting as I am a big fan of the Everyday Sexism and I just went up and spoke to her one night and we ended up having a really great conversation.  It was a really nice organic thing really. But of course, anyone who says anything nice is pretty great. One of the greatest compliments for me was at an event called Into The Woods and a pretty large 50 something year old American man came up to me and said: “You almost made me weep.” It was such a nice thing to say, he said: “I don’t really like poetry but you just almost made me weep.” It was one of the kindest things I’ve heard in a while, so yeah just the little things are really nice. 

When I Grow Up I Want To Be Mary Beard is available from Burning Eye Books, Amazon and most other book retailers. 

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