Jasmine Gardosi – Bodies, taboos, and what poetry can do

September’s Poet of the Month, Jasmine Gardosi, talks to Apples and Snakes about writing, taboos, and dance classes…

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Donata Kukyte Photography | Autin Dance Theatre

I have an obsession with taboo. At least, poking holes in it to see what comes out. For those who aren’t 100% sure on what taboos are, these are the subjects, words or phrases that we avoid or find difficult to talk about due to social customs, codes or for silly reasons that have somehow stuck. Menstruation is one example. Mental health can be another.

When we’re asked why we find subjects or words taboo, we can’t always give a good answer – we shouldn’t blame ourselves for this as that’s often the nature of taboos. Yet, they have a fascinating power over language; they can steer our dialogue and dictate which words we use. We choose to whisper certain phrases, avoid them altogether or – even worse – talk around it awkwardly. At best, this leads to funny situations. At worst, it creates destructive, isolating environments.

For instance: Lesbian. I wonder how differently my adolescence would have felt if this word had been used regularly, and without irony or derision – in schools, at home, amongst friends, on TV, and – sadly – around people I’d admired. I wonder how much more confident I would have been in myself during those formative years, and whether or not I’d still notice a trace of something apologetic in me when I use the word even now.

This of course extends beyond LGBTQ terms. It’s any ‘thing’ which is not mentioned enough, or in the right way. As a result, an atmosphere like a school or a home can become toxic. When some words are avoided completely, a person – particularly a young person who is still learning about the world, their body and what is or is not considered ‘valid’ by our social codes – is in danger of doubting the validity of their existence.

I enjoy writing poems and delivering workshops that explore taboo, why we use it, and what empowerment we can gain when we quash it. Think about that moment when Hermione said You Know Who’s Name for the first time in Harry Potter 5. Yeah.

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Donata Kukyte Photography | Autin Dance Theatre

I’m especially interested in how we can challenge it through sex education and poetry. This is something I’m currently studying in A Positive Life, a show that explores sex, love and relationships. It has a target audience of young people, particularly those in school going through those formative years when provision of sex education can vary wildly.

Interestingly, the show is run by Autin Dance Company – ie. it’s a dance-cum-spoken word show. Pun half-intended. Its cast consists of me – the only poet in the village – and four professional dancers. Along with rehearsals, the creation period has required me to participate in the advanced dance classes, every morning, alongside artists who are professionals with movement. Which I’m really, really not.

Like, really not. I am a comedy act when I try to keep up, try to bend the same way as them, jump the same way, roll on my bum the same way. But I’m grateful that Johnny Autin, the Artistic Director, has requested I join in. I now have a (slightly dogged) respect for dancers, their ease of movement, their ability to pick up complex sequences quickly, and the fact that their bodies are their masterpieces: strengthened, stretched and conditioned over years to execute ridiculously difficult sequences and make them look easy.

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Donata Kukyte Photography | Autin Dance Theatre

As an experienced martial artist, I thought I had a familiarity with my body. And I do – in that particular vocabulary of movement. But this project has highlighted to me all of the positions and manoeuvres that make my body feel alien.

So whilst I’m fumbling from First (that’s a foot position) to Second (that’s another foot position) and attempting a plié (I knew what that one was) and then guessing what lifting your leg with an ‘attitude’ means (it doesn’t mean sass. I tried this. It didn’t go well), I feel like I’m undergoing a sort of crash course on how to use my own body. It is oddly like puberty, all over again. I’m unsure of my body, and what it’s about to do. I underestimate the length of my limbs, overestimate my bodyweight, and do not anticipate quite how much I’m going to sweat (downward dog is hard to hold for longer than 10 seconds when you’re cleaning the floorboards with your palms).

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Donata Kukyte Photography | Autin Dance Theatre

I didn’t yet have the relationship of trust with my body that my professional peers had with theirs. I think it’s appropriate I went through it. It gave me a reminder – however remote – of the uncertainty and fear people experience when going through puberty’s changes. I’d recommend any poet to try it.

Aside from that, I’m thrilled by what we’ve created. We’ve used a blend of movement and words to make intriguing, challenging, raw and honest content. I’m proud to be part of something that starts a dialogue on issues that aren’t always – but should be – broached in sex education. Consent. Sexuality. Gender identities. Harassment. Religion. HIV. We’re sharing the show at Selfridges, Birmingham on Wednesday 28th’s Live + Loud event and are welcoming feedback from audience members to finish our Research and Development phase. I’m looking forward to developing it further beyond this.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue exploring the effect of taboos through my poems. I’ve been writing some experimental pieces in the lead-up to Queer’Say, on Friday 7th October at the Artrix, Bromsgrove. I’m excited to be performing at an event that provides a platform for LGBTQ voices and offers that all-important inclusive, explorative space. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Jasmine Gardosi likes to write about weird things in unweird places – kind of like her, everywhere. She is the current Cheltenham Poetry Festival Slam Champion, last year’s Midlands Slam Champion, has appeared on BBC Radio 3‘s The Verb and is a Birmingham Poet Laureate finalist. Keep up-to-date with Jasmine’s work: Twitter | Facebook | jasminegardosi.com