Megan Beech is the poet who's political and opinionated pieces are starting a revolution. She shamelessly and openly discusses feminism and depression in her work and has performed at Glasto. We caught up with the PHD student to talk inspirational female writers and what it is the drives her.
Hi, Meg! Introduce yourself for us.
My name is Megan Beech. I am a 23 year old performance poet and a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. My debut collection of poems 'When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard' was published in 2013, and it chronicled my experiences as a young feminist and the fight for female voices to be presented in mainstream media. Since then I have made films with the BBC, been featured in The New Yorker, Grazia magazine and The Guardian and performed at places like Glastonbury Festival.
When did you first start writing poetry?
I have always written poetry from a very young age. I was very shy and introverted as a child and it became something I would very instinctively do; sometimes to process my own feelings, sometimes to think about the experiences of other people. I have always loved language and sharing stories with people but have also always been very socially reserved and quite shy and poetry seems to be the best way I know how to talk to people.
What inspires you when you write?
The main themes of my poetry are depression and feminism. Whilst I draw on my own experiences to write about these subjects, I am always inspired by the triumphs of other women and other people living with mental illness. I get inspired when I feel that I can give hope or fire or courage to fight for what is right to other people. I also have times when I struggle to write very much at all, when my depression is getting the better of me but the main reason I continue writing I suppose, is that I believe that things can and will change, whether that be the progress towards gender equality and social justice or reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. I cling to the powerful and unknown possibilities of hope and that's what keeps me going.
Who was your biggest inspiration growing up?
That's such a tricky question. Not to be too evasive (or pretentious!) but I always think of inspiration as a bit of a patchwork quilt, a collage of quotes and posters and postcards on a teenager's bedroom wall. So I feel like my inspirations growing up sprouted up everywhere whether it was the powerful words of Maya Angelou, the guilty, glorious pleasure of Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, the punk poetry of Patti Smith, the radical, righteous opposition of Angela Davis, the wonderful wit of Woolf and George Eliot, the unapologetic intelligence of people like Mary Beard and Bonnie Greer. So basically in short: loads of fiercely clever brilliant women.
When you write poetry, are you writing it to spread your message to a wider audience or are you writing it for yourself?
I wrote when I was younger primarily as a method of escape. I didn't have the best time at school or many friends and it was a way of sustaining myself. It was never something I wanted to perform or share with people, it was definitely a solitary action. I've been performing my poems since I was 17 and it has certainly become something about spreading a message with a wider audience. I do think the personal is political and learning to raise your voice for things you passionately care about has been a powerful and revelatory exercise for me. Whilst it doesn't always translate to my life outside of poetry, I feel most of the time when I get on stage that I have something of value to say and a way to say it!
What is it about poetry that you think makes it an effective platform for change?
I think poetry (performance poetry I am really talking about here) has a direct effectiveness. It doesn't need to necessarily go through more mainstream channels to reach its audience. You don't need a publisher, you just need a mic turned up loud, or a video camera, or a pair of eager ears to listen. I think there is something exhilaratingly direct about spoken word. When done well it can energise and call its audience to action.
What do you think is the largest issue that we as feminists need to be addressing right now?
There are obviously a myriad of social problems and political issues (now more than ever) so I couldn't isolate a singular one! However, as an intersectional feminist I believe we really need to strive to correct the misconception that is good enough to only fight for the causes and issues that directly affect ourselves. I firmly believe that which Audre Lorde wrote:“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Perpetuating White Feminism only replaces one kind of inequality with another. So in short I think it's no good fighting for reproductive rights without thinking about transgender and non-binary people within the feminist movement and their rights. It's no good opposing Trump for his sexism without acknowledging that a large percentage of white women (who will not be the victim of his and his supporter's racism) voted him into office. Whatever issues we strive to tackle, I think we need to do it with intersectionality and marginalised voices at the fore.
Name one woman you think is doing amazing things for the cause right now?
One of my favourite writers at the moment is Zeba Talkhani. She writes wonderfully about her experiences as a woman of colour and being a muslim in the UK (and whilst living in other places across the world). Her essay: 'More than Just a Good Muslim Girl' is well worth the read and important for consciousness raising. She's also written an essay for a wonderful sounding forthcoming book of essays entitled 'Nasty Women' which you can support on Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1965253475/nasty-women
What advice would you give young women who are looking to pursue a creative occupation like poetry Writing?
To young women starting to write/ perform poetry or are thinking about it, I would first say be passionate and be proactive. When I started performing I was a shy seventeen year old, entering mostly (older) male spaces with the occasional sexist poem thrown in for good measure. Since then, I have found encouraging, safe, open spaces in which to share my work and soak up that of others. I would tell all budding young female artists to: GO FOR IT! Now more than ever it seems young women, all women, need to assert their authority, their autonomy and make their voices heard. Perform as much as possible, listen to other poets as much as possible. I would also say, most importantly to write about things that you are truly passionate about (what you think a crowd will like). We live in dark political times and I think now more than ever we need poetry, as Percy Shelley said 200 years ago: 'Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world'. Make your voice heard.
You are very open and honest about your opinions in your poetry, and I think often for young women it's quite difficult to speak out sometimes for things they believe in, especially if they feel as though they'll be shot down. Do you have any advice for girls looking to over come that?
My next book is called 'You Sad Feminist: How to Change the World When You Can't Get Out of Bed and it deals with exactly that; feeling as a young women that you are passionate and angry about things like sexism but that something (in my case depression) holds you back from having the confidence to assert it. I have chosen to be open and honest about things - like sexism and depression - not because I am massively confident, in fact quite the opposite but precisely because I live with the same struggle you describe in the question. I am HUGELY HUGELY self-critical, more often than not I have shot myself down before anyone else has had the chance to but I think it is important to admit that and in some small way to encourage others as I do, to feel the fear and do it anyway. It is hard and sometimes a strain and it doesn't always pay off but I think it is important for women, especially young women to raise their voices, to speak their minds and to try to understand their own value.
What are your hopes for 2017 seeing as 2016 was such a mess?
I am definitely a pessimist by nature (not so much that the glass is half full but rather that the glass doesn't exist and the room is on fire!) and it feels quite audacious to hope in the dark times we are living in. However, I am hopeful that the new year and this new era of "alternative facts" inspires real solidarity, real resistance and real action from women and women's campaigns against Trumpian ableism, racism, misogyny and other prejudices, as well as Theresa May's faux-feminism and austerity.
On a personal level, I look forward to my new book of poems coming out this year, working on my PhD and to continuing to treat and live with my mental illness.