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Ali Graham

My Poem Brut commission will consist of an essay and a performance, and each of these will be a ground for exploring genres of speech, customer service, embarrassment, and interruption. Time spent working in customer service (and writing whilst on shift) has alerted me to the variations in speech, the affects specific to such an environment, particularly embarrassment, annoyance and boredom. In service industry jobs, there is a great deal of forced speech; a need to at times speak unnaturally, and at others hold back your words. 

Both the essay and performance will consider whether ‘poetry reading voice’ and ‘customer service voice’ are not so distant from one another. Both these deliberate voices enable the speaker to become an artificialized body for a moment, whether the moment is soothing an irate customer or to hold attention whilst reading their work. In taking on ‘poetry reading voice’ and ‘customer service voice’, a speaker becomes a self like and unlike their self, as the situation calls for it. 

Customer service also asks for apparent total attention alongside a reality of intense multitasking, with ‘customer service voice’ providing the script for this performed devotion. I will consider this kind of momentariness alongside poetic momentariness; how they differ and overlap. Additionally, I will write on politeness, honesty, and distraction, particularly in relation to neurodivergent experience. 

The performance will stage aspects of working in a supermarket and making poetry whilst doing so. It is likely to involve the interruption of constant demands; the challenge of assembling words in the mind whilst cutting through and tearing them apart on cardboard; the embarrassment of ‘poetry reading voice’ and ‘customer service’ voice mixing. 

In the essay, I will consider the writings of Mikhail Bakhtin on speech genres, and the poetry of Frank O’Hara, amongst other writers. The work will be hybrid, incorporating poetry, life writing, visual image, and theory, weaving them together, not bound to a particular genre or even medium in expressing.  

I am concerned with grounding poetry and other forms of writing in the circumstances of their making. I want to mark what I write with the materials of its inception, and to refrain from neatly severing poems from their surroundings. Embrace of mess and ecstasy is important to my work. I work to stay with difficult conditions to write under and refrain from correcting their reverberations through a piece. I am also interested in thinking about form in new ways; to regard it as more entangled with the poem; to question form as organising and beautifying tool which hammers the poem into shape. 

I am also interested in poetry’s relation to the body; how the body can turn and be turned by and poetry. I think of poetry as real and physical, happening in sound, sight, and space. While writing and reading, I note the words on my tongue, in my ears, what they do to my breath, how I am moved or seeking to move. I particularly attend to poetry’s relation to bodies that are resistive; bodies that are not easily parsed, that are non-compliant, queer, that stare back and speak back. 


Ali Graham is a poet living in Norwich. Her poems have been published by The Tangerine, Datableed, and SPAM Zine, and her essays have been published by Seam Editions and Glasgow Review of Books. She can be found on Twitter as @A__Graham and on Instagram as @aligrhm.