It’s Michael’s Goddamn World, and We’re Just Living In It.

As Michael Kabasele prepares to bring her multifaceted performance poetry work to The George Tavern this Sunday, we look at what makes it so unmissable.

Photos: @sickacidpuppies for Thumbsuck Girl | Words: Lloyd Bolton

Michael Kabasele is a 19-year-old poet with a furiously relentless creative energy and the ability to see poetry in everything. Though she has a huge range of material written, This is My Goddamn Poem and I Make The Rules is her first solo publication, with plenty more form-hopping work planned for 2023. My Goddamn Poem bottles her lightning, encompassing through content and crucially also in production, a totality of experience. It is a moment, a scream. Having published the work as a book with Spun Press, she now prepares for its return to the stage. Following its live debut at The Avalon Café back in October, the piece has been reworked and will be performed at The George Tavern this Sunday (15th January) with support from Pushpin and an accompanying exhibition.

It is a rare quality in a work to capture the entirety of an experience of life at a given time, and it is this that invigorates My Goddamn Poem. Legendarily conceived and written over a 24-hour period, the book is a burning slice of the real. There is fiction in each poem and section, but each is united by a tone and worldview that returns to the poet personally. ‘An Email from the Poet’ in the opening section, for example, presents a stark argument against unquestioned political, exceptionally reasonable to the point of almost uncomfortable rationality. It is complemented by the propaganda posters ‘against fascist propaganda’, which cloud the concept of propaganda by raising ambiguities: “Do not assume anything about poetry”, “What has the most power over you?”.

‘The Telepathic Communications Library’ celebrates the magic of the written word and the experience of reading, which means that “the Library exists regardless of space”. The piece is enlivened by the juxtaposition of this love and Kabasele’s evident distrust of the specific library itself – Kings College Library, University of Cambridge – and the institution to which it is attached. Immediately, a footnote checks the reader, with ‘the poet [inviting] you to consider how privilege affects this poem’.

An uneasy relationship with writing, academia and personal security also shows up in the ‘Death of the Author’ poem, which analyses a writerly belief that ‘everyone is God’, and again aligns place with states of mind, in this case the more claustrophobic wardrobe, not the psychologically expansive library.

This theme crosses further into ‘Beanz Means Heinz’, where psychological space reduces further to the size of a tin can. The reader can be wont to read a character as an analogue for the author, and Kabasele confronts this later in the book. She uses the idea of the work’s live adaptation as an opportunity to muse on what it means for a writer to perform a piece of work and ‘perform the misery’ that coloured it. At once she is able to speak of the moment of her work’s creation and project to its assimilation into performance.  

My Goddamn Poem is brought to life by unapologetic idiosyncrasies and an immediacy and intensity of tone. A Gena Rowlands quote comes to mind, “I love independent filmmaking. I don’t agree with a lot of it, but that’s the point”. Though there are a lot of contentious decisions to disagree with, My Goddamn Poem must be admired chiefly for its insistence upon existing. Sarcastic ‘[redactions]’, knowing third person references to ‘[the poet]’, character breaks in footnote musings. As a work, it has a heart that is worn on its sleeve, and like all hearts it is bursting with turmoil and love and fury. I disagree with the twist in the ‘Death of the Author’ poem, revealing the speaker to be a suicidal Milhouse van Houten. I find the footnote pointing out that the reader should ‘consider societal biases against women’ somewhat unnecessary and lacking in trust for the reader. Ultimately, these responses are encouraging, however, since they speak of the ignition of ideas sparked by the book as a whole. It is deliberately forcefully argumentative, and demands a reaction, whatever that may be.

The collection draws life from its immediacy, and it would suffer under the kind of consideration that would smooth some of what I see as rough edges. There is a confidence in the strength of the ideas written into the work to show through above all else. The 24-hour production brings to mind the well-known Speedy Wunderground singles recording process, which insists upon two-day completion and a minimum of overdubs and consternation. It also brings to mind a vital part of the wider DIY punk ethos of producing something on your own terms and leaving it to the audience to keep up.

Indeed, in Kabasele’s case, it is particularly hard to keep up, with so much work that dizzyingly spans formal limits (a “sister” work to My Goddamn Poem is almost ready for production). One of her major strengths is her prolific work across a range of tones, styles and forms, as told by her regular and diverse poetry performances across London gig nights and open mics like Blue Shout and Gobjaw. The form of My Goddamn Poem encapsulates this disregard for arbitrary formal barriers as well as her knack for assimilating aspects of a range of forms. For one, the production at The George involves poetry within a staged performance piece setup, and features live music and plastic art. It leans into the power of the grassroots venue stage as perhaps the most immediate way to showcase work, with production limits being less restrictive than those of theatres and the audience closer at hand than with a published book. The book itself further involves this layering of poetry within a play (complete with audience instructions), includes notes on its creation and its author, an email, posters to advertise the play, and ultimately brings another formal reference point into play in calling itself a ‘manifesto’. ‘Manifesto’ certainly captures its argumentative quality, and finds what unites its various elements, which is goddamned attitude.

The best thing about My Goddamned Poem is that it exists. It asserts the punk legitimacy of creativity on its own terms, it is not about to veil itself with detached intellectualism, and it does not care if you disagree with it. Indeed, in a Dadaistic manner, it wants you to disagree with it. With a a playful spark of self-awareness and an urgency defined by its creation, it is a rare portrait of one moment on an intellectual landscape. The George Tavern performance on the 15th will be one of the most singular events to be held there all year, and a culmination of Kabasele’s diverse and precocious talents. Its individuality and confrontation of important academic, psychological and emotional questions make it a must-see DIY production.

Get tickets to see This is My Goddamned Poem and I Make the Rules at The George Tavern here.