NEW GIG: Find the Right Words Poetry Podcast

While measures continue to control the spread of COVID-19, Find the Right Words has continued its majestic labour of sharing poetry love in Leicester (and now beyond!) as a poetry podcast. I coheadlined the September issue with Emily Harrison (I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire).

Cynthia, a mid-fat light brown person with curly brown hair and black-rim glasses, stands on a stage behind a microphone stand holding an open notebook in her hands. She wears a green polka dot dress, a red and gold flowery scarf, a bracelet and a red cardigan. Some blue fairy lights and the letters "FTRW" can be seen on the background.
Dang, I miss this stage. Image: probably Dave Morris, ca. 2016.

It all feels very homecoming. It was in September 2015 that I began writing and sharing poetry at a Find the Right Words evening headlined by Jemima Foxtrot and the now stratospherically famous (and very well deserved) Inua Ellams, who hosted the pre-open mic workshop. The headliners, open mic-ers, audience, and above all FTRW hosts Jess Green and (until a couple of years ago) Toby Campion, were so open and nonjudgemental, I kept coming every month give or take.

Cynthia, a mid-fat light brown person with curly brown hair and black-rim glasses, stands on a stage holding a microphone on a stand on her right hand and a couple of A4 sheets of paper on her left hand. She wears a white dress with blue and red flowers, circles and stripes. Some blue fairy lights can be seen on the black curtain background.
Babby’s first poetry open mic, Find the Right Words on 30th September 2015. Little did I know what’d come next! Image: probably Dave Morris?

Here I have made so many lovely friends, met some of the most mindblowing performers in the country and the WORLD, and have kept evolving and learning through the years. During so many periods of chaos, FTRW has remained the anchor.

Since lockdown, the event has been taking place as a podcast, available on Patreon for a fraction of the price you would spend on a ticket for the live version Upstairs at the Western. It’s very special, and you should definitely subscribe and help keep it alive in this form at least until we can safely go back to the stage and hang out with these four big letters.

Upstairs at the Western stage and curtains under a blue light. A microphone stand in the middle. Behind the mic, large wood versions of the letters "F" "T" "R" and "W" for "Find the Right Words" stand one next to the other, the "T" resting diagonally on the "F".
Four Big Letters for Find the Right Words. Image: FTRW.

Shameful (non) self-promotion

CW: confidence issues, mental health, the world.

Last week, I was talking on the phone with my DSA mental health mentor. She was asking me how I was doing with my dissertation proposal, and I told her in honesty that I hadn’t had the opportunity to work on it in the past couple of weeks: I was too busy dealing with Covid-19 aftercare at home; juggling with survival, brain fog and fatigue; proofreading typesetting for my book; and so on. She then stopped me in my tracks and, barely containing her excitement, she jolted:

— YOU HAVE A BOOK?!

Mood. Image: Michael Poley for AllGo via Unsplashed.

I was puzzled. I have been speaking to this mentor since May 2019. By then, my proposal for a poetry collection had already been accepted by the publishing house, and I was attempting to edit previous work and write new material during a human relationship crisis. I was sure I had told her about the book several times before, but maybe she had forgotten. I shrugged and replied:

— Yes? Of my poetry?
— I didn’t know you had that in you!

Basically, because of the social and professional repercussions of said crisis that May, I had lost all opportunities of creative interaction and friendships in all but one aspect of my life. This was the poetry scene. For almost a year, I would only leave the house to go to university and to go to spoken word events. My mentor certainly knew about this, didn’t she? There were times I would head straight to the pub, coffee house or theatre where a poetry workshop or open mic would take place right after our meetings. I must have told her in one of those “what are you doing for the rest of the day?” farewell chats.

— Really? It’s basically all that I do. I would go to the open mics right after uni.
— Well, congratulations! Tell me when it comes out, so I can get a signed copy!

I should have been flattered, but I was confused. How could she not know about the things that kept me alive? A lot of our sessions involved time management, bullet journalling and planning the week ahead, hour by hour. Several of those hours had to do with writing, listening and sharing poetry – especially, The Book. How did she not know? I must have spoken about nothing but The bloody Book, hadn’t I.

Image: Giovanna Gomes via Unsplash.

Sometime last year, I was having a pint with a few fellow friends and poets before one of our favourite open mics. I had arrived in advance after one of these mentoring sessions at uni, so I spent the time in between writing new work. I told this to my colleagues, expecting they would understand, and one of them interjected:

— That book’s been coming on for a while, hasn’t it.

Translation: “are you talking about The bloody Book again? Get over it. No one cares”.

My reaction. Image: Navabi stock photos.

I felt self-conscious and sad. This person was still friends with the people who had made it impossible for me to do anything else in this town. I didn’t want to lose my last remaining den of security, now with cracks in the ceiling. I stopped talking about the book altogether.

Mind you, this person won’t stop advertising his self-published poetry zines and recordings to anyone with willing eyes and ears. I was stealing his spotlight and taking way too much space on the table. So, I chose to be quiet until the publishing date was closer, and I had to speak about it. But I have lost practice and I am scared.

Around the same time I had that awkward interaction with my DSA mentor, I had posted a recommendation quote for the book in a way to advertise it across my social media platforms. Again, I received a few congratulations from people who did not know I was being published soon. Bear in mind, I had advertised the initial news about being included in the publishing house’s roster for upcoming releases, the news about the title and synopsis made official, and the unveiling of the album cover. A lot of the people congratulating had known me for several years, or at least I thought. Again, it had perplexed me that they had just found out. Have I been this quiet?

Also mood. Image: Navabi stock photos.

Maybe they have other things to think about and notice. After all, we are in the middle of a pandemic, an economic crisis, and the brink of civil war wherever you are reading this. I know I am not the centre of the universe, and neither are other writers, and I should be grateful for any speck of attention. Especially now, and after that pileup last year.

Either way, I wish I had an assistant and a street/online team who did the advertisement for me and spare me from feeling like an arsehole regardless of how little or how much I do.

Screenshots from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles.

My assistant and team would tell you now that Meanwhile, my debut poetry collection, is now available for presale on Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles. They will also warn you not to buy it from these platforms because in the publishing houses and authors get peanuts from sales on these big websites; and they would encourage you to wait until it is available on the Burning Eye Books website and on my own store for presale.

My PR/assistant team would release it on presale right away, come up with ideas and bundles, encourage me to release a mailing list or whatever, and they would whack me with a stick if I replied “The bloody Book again? Get over it. No one cares”. But I’m tired of people who say they know me telling me they didn’t know I was a writer when it’s literally the only thing I can do; and equally tired of privileged white guys telling me to shut up and let them blabber a bit more about their vanity rags.

Summertime Radness: Los Santos

Content warning for mostly simulated violence and alcohol use.

Colourful mural at Sinners Passage in Los Santos, GTA Online.
Mural at Sinners Passage.

The other day, I woke up and hopped on my motorcycle to go to a nightclub called Tony’s Fun House. The Bosnian DJ Solomun was playing a flawless set, closing with a core-shattering remix of Leonard Cohen’s swan song “You Want it Darker”. I went to the bar, got a shot of whiskey and my sight went wobbly for a few seconds. I went to the loo, and when I tipped the freshen-up guy, I swear he gave me a secret cult greeting I had seen some decaying movie star do on daytime television. Then I went to the beach and got on a rollercoaster. No hangover, just fun. It was getting dark and rainy, but still did a few risky missions for my friend Gerald. He helped me so much when I moved to this city. First, I tried to steal a chopper at the airport, but the guards killed me. Twice. So, I gave up for now and did some teamwork with other strangers, stealing a caravan from some rednecks. Got paid for the missions, both failed and successful. Then I came back to my casino penthouse, got more money on the spinning wheel and bought some art for the master bedroom and entrance. Just a normal day in Los Santos. All fine and dandy, unless some teenage modders bomb you from their flying bikes and turn you into a tree.

Selfie of a character from Grand Theft Auto Online, somehow fused into a tree.
E! Tree Vinewood Story.

Quarantine doesn’t exist in Grand Theft Auto Online. Illness in general doesn’t exist, unless it’s mental, and it only happens when you kill innocent people. Opposite gangs are fair game, specially the very nasty ones like Vagos or Marabunta Grande. The ones that treat innocent people badly and give your community a terrible name. When randos insult you, your shotgun gives them a comeback. If the cops come, just blow up their cars. The worst they can do is kill you. Before any witnesses have time to organise a march in your name, you just wake up on the side of the road, your vehicle impounded. Up to you if you pay the fee or respect yourself and nick it, flee to the hills and hide until they forget about you in a couple of minutes. You won’t get bored and radio isn’t shit. Cara Delevingne is the Non-Stop Pop host, and she only plays bangers. FlyLo and Frank Ocean have their own eclectic radio stations, and George from Twin Shadow hosts Mirror Park Radio if you’re in a 2010s hipster mood. Some time ago, you collected a bounty for Maude. The guy called you an inbred moron, so you shot his leg and took him to your car. You played Mexican music all the way across the desert.

Character from GTA Online in Mount Chiliad. She has green and brown hair, wears an orange breathing mask and a red leather jacket. In the background, a backpacker looks confused.
Selfies with randos at Mount Chiliad.

This summer, I have been living vicariously through GTA Online. I got GTA V only because it was free on Epic Games a couple of months ago. Then, I installed it and started playing to avoid real life’s boredom and doom. It was a cinematic farcical world of sea, sun and beautiful people. Very soon, I quit the main story and got a lot more invested in the online multiplayer sandbox. The character customisation options, as well as the life and work possibilities seemed a lot of fun.

Character from GTA Online dancing at a nightclub. The Blessed Madonna playing in the background. The character is happy, wearing sunglasses and a trucker hat.
Joyful dancing.

My character loves dancing at the club and listening to music. She is Latinx, hates racists and loves motorcycles. Her fave is Dinka Akuma, but she’s currently tilting towards the Shitzu Vader. She also really likes convertibles. There are a couple of dancers who’ve caught her eye at the Vanilla Unicorn, but she hasn’t had time to bring them home – as far as I know. Sometimes, I login and there is underwear I don’t recognise on the floor. She also eats a lot of takeaway burgers and pizza when I’m not around. She is still quite skinny. For some reason, character customisation won’t let you have fat characters, even if the NPCs come in all shapes and sizes. One of the best DJs in the world, The Blessed Madonna, is featured in the game in all her fat gender nonconforming badass riot grrrl glory. My character has seen her live a few times and is now wearing the t-shirt. She gets very happy when Madge plays “Stepping Out” by Joe Jackson on her set.

Mirror selfie of GTA Online character at a clothing shop wearing a bikini, shorts, flip flops, glasses and ear protection. She's light brown with brown hair and tattoos all over her body.
¿Por qué te tatuatis? Pos nomás.

My character is covered in tattoos, like Don Cheto’s son in “El Tatuado”. She wears baseball caps like it’s 2003, short shorts like it’s the 1970s, and high heel boots like she could run for her life without spraining an ankle. She also likes smartwatches, and perhaps influenced me to get a smartwatch myself. Mind you, a Samsung. None of that iFruit nonsense. She once met Danny Brown and he didn’t invite her to his penthouse party… yet. One of her bosses reckons he can let her in some day if she does something in return. But she’s kind of busy, sometimes being CEO of Nonconglommo, sometimes leading the Batcats motorcycle club. She can literally print your money, but she often must steal supplies from rivals and coppers before her staff can make products. She wishes she could be kinder to staff. Some of them cough now and then and it makes her paranoid. But as I’ve said before, in this world there is no quarantine and there is no gringo virus.

Character from GTA Online, green and brown hair, bikini and tattoos, having a hot bath at the jacuzzi in the rooftop terrace at the casino.
Casino jacuzzi lido time.

That’s why I like it. Escapism. Empowerment. Having a hot bath, fun haircuts, driving around listening to music, wearing cute clothes, swimming at the pool, playing darts, dancing, taking selfies, downing a few shots, watching crap television, having colourful art, shooting awful people, going on treasure hunts, joyriding at races and not finishing, doing team missions and doing quite well, basking in the sun, the rain, the very rare snow.

Picture of a landscape in GTA online from the pier at night. There's a mountain, the sea, the moon, the stars and some chemtrails.
Late at the pier.

My husband says Los Santos looks a lot like Monterrey, my hometown in the north of Mexico. It kind of does: mountains, desert, tall buildings, convenience stores, massive billboards displaying nonsense, long motorways, twisted roads. The only thing Monterrey doesn’t have is the beach. We know Los Santos is inspired by Los Angeles, but the vibes are still there. After all, California (San Andreas?) used to be part of Mexico and it still kind of is. Look at the language. Maybe that’s why I like this game so much. It reminds me of when I still lived in Monterrey and I would spend hours driving around, listening to music, going to shows, buying cute clothes and snacks, discovering hideaways and shortcuts, having fun. None of the gunshots, of course. The very real gunshots against innocent people were some of the reasons I left. I guess this is a bit of a comeback with a virtual vengeance. Rebuilding the there and the here, experiencing the Hot Girl Summer that never was. Masks optional, mostly for privacy and aesthetics.

Selfie of character from GTA Online wearing a colourful print mask, a Securoserv cap, green top, Palestine scarf. At Vespucci Beach.
Stay safe, stay cool.

INTERVIEW for Eye on Leicester

Oli Page from Eye on Leicester sent me a few questions about being an artist living and loving in Leicester. This adoptive hometown of mine is more than disease and despair. It is art, innovation, hope and community, and I’m very proud of it.

Snippet: “Cynthia Rodríguez. “I love writing and performing because it’s the only two things I can do kind of well. I am usually a very shy person, but on stage I get to be honest, loud and confident”” Source: Oli Page, Eye on Leicester.

Read the full interview with Eye on Leicester here.

Leics LGBT Centre Youth poetry contest winners

(featured image: Unsplash)

Image: Cynthia smiling and staring into the camera, doing the peace sign. T-shirt from Weirdo Zine Fest, nails from Elegant Touch, scarf from Primark, fingerless gloves knitted by herself.

The lovely folks from Leicester LGBT Centre invited me to judge their latest poetry contest for members of their social youth groups First Out (13-15 yrs), T Party (13-18 yrs trans kids) and Jump (16-18).

The topic was Pride, Progress & Change, inspired by work by Dean Atta and Musa Okwonga as published on the anthologies Proud (ed. Juno Dawson) and A Change is Gonna Come (ed. Mary Bello).

Image: Leics LGBT Youth.

The “baby queers” from the centre are so close to my heart, as I have mentioned before when talking about the times I’ve given them workshops. They did not disappoint at all. Everyone’s work was powerful, honest, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but packed with a lot of soul and determination.

Books: Odd One Out by Nic Stone, Little&Lion by Brandy Colbert, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters, and Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett. c/o Category Is Books Solidarity Shelf Scheme. Image: Leics LGBT Youth.

It was so, so hard to choose only five winners out of nine excellent entries to be rewarded with books supplied by Category Is Books (the best indie library in Britain!) to keep reading for inspiration and encouragement. I was relieved the runner-ups wouldn’t go empty handed and would get some nice notebooks to keep honing their craft.

To read all the entries, go to Leics LGBT Youth’s Instagram (cw: slurs, LGBTQ+phobia, but kept PG-13 and optimistic). Wonderful stuff.

A cover, a new date and some words of praise

Here’s something to look forward to once we’re hopefully coming out of our cage and doing… just… fine?

My debut poetry collection, Meanwhile, will be officially released on the 8th of October sidiosquiere. It will be available for presale on my shop quite soon (with some more related swag?) and on Burning Eye Books website once it’s out.

Anyway, here’s the cover. Made by yours truly a couple of months ago. It felt amazing going back to my art school collage/mixed media roots, trying to convey the book contents and also the feeling of life in between life – an example of which we are all living right now.

Some wonderful people I love and admire have read the book already and have a few things to say:

Cynthia Rodríguez unflinchingly turns a mirror to self, to Britain, what it means to be a migrant, a citizen. Fearful and fearless.

Dean Atta, The Black Flamingo.

Following in the Latin American tradition but (dis)placed in contemporary Britain, Cynthia Rodríguez cleverly blurs the lines between playful kitsch, deadpan humour and lightning flashes of poetic revelation.

Juana Ádcock, Manca.

In this confident and important debut, Rodríguez draws on heritage, culture and politics to sing a ‘Girl Electric’ – reframing and reclaiming a range of often marginalised experiences – to devastating, triumphant and compelling effect.

Lydia Towsey, The Venus Papers.

More stuff about the book, the making of it, and the ways to celebrate it will be coming your way.

Leicester on lock

My city is on the news as 866 new COVID-19 infections were confirmed in the first two weeks of June. That’s one quarter of Leicester’s total since the beginning of lockdown.

There were initially rumours about returning Leicester to lockdown, but now the proposal is to continue the current level of restriction (which is very low, to be fair) until 18th July, instead of 4th of July as in the rest of the country. But decisions can change by the minute.

The more you know the details, the more it becomes crystal clear that systematic racism, incompetence and socio-politic deprivation are heavily involved in the cost of so many lives (or at least the quality of them).

Thinking about Liverpool in the 80s, for instance. Basically defunded for being Labour by a Tory federal government, used to opportunity to cause chaos and cost lives in the Hillsborough massacre, only to have the victims satanised and blamed by right-wing tabloids.

I’m afraid COVID-19 might be our Hillsborough.

While in nice comfy Clarendon Park I’ve seen a lot of people breaking the rules, most of the focal areas affected are actually working-class people of colour. Farhana Shaikh from Dahlia Publishing was tweeting earlier today that the spike seems to coincide with the Prime Minister’s order of reopening factories. And who works in factories, particularly Leicester factories? Working-class people of colour.

This is all very deliberate and targeted. The spike does not match with the BLM protests, which were made keeping distance and precaution. I couldn’t attend as I’m in a vulnerable group, but most people in the pictures were wearing masks and staying safe. Not the same can be said about “football” fans in London a couple of weeks ago trying to “protect statues” and “stop history from being erased” while zieg heiling at the cenotaph and pissing on plates dedicated to heroes who saved lives during terrorist attacks. That far-right meeting, by the way, also included anti-5G, anti-masks, anti-vax conspiracy theorists protesting along while chanting “All Lives Matter”. We still need to hear about the consequences of that one.

Either way, I’m fuming, but also willing to continue the lockdown (if not strengthened, to be fair) until it is safer and necessary. We need to make sure our people are safe, especially if they are also from the particular affected communities by this pandemic and this system.

UPDATE: poet Cathi Rae says something similar, but more eloquently and from her testimonial as someone who has lived and worked in those areas of the city.

Performative allyship won’t lead to black liberation

(featured image source: Nappy.co)

Note: as a non-black person of colour, it’s not up to me to decide what will and won’t lead to black liberation. It is not up to me to call myself an ally either, since calling yourself an ally is a performative sign. The final decision lies on the people. This is just something I have observed online. And yes, I have done specific actions in support of BLM from quarantine, but I’m not talking about them because I don’t want a cookie for doing what needed to be done.

Performative Allyship. Source: Seerut K. Chawla.

These past few weeks I have been keeping quiet over here because I felt my voice was not needed. I did not want to take up space via performative allyship, as this is the time for black liberation.

I had initially avoided to write about my support for Black Lives Matter because the general timeline was getting too crowded with nonblack individuals and corporations showing their support. In theory, this should be a really good thing: privileged people are using their social and economic capital to spread information on the often-lethal biased actions of the so-called “justice system” against black men, women and children across Western civilisation. A lot of them were posting black squares on their Instagram accounts to silence themselves using #BlackLivesMatter. However, the feeds were soon clogged with big dark silence, making it harder to find news and advice from actual black people and activists involved in direct action.

The same thing happened when the black squares were shared under #BlackOutTuesday: darkness, just darkness. Some users did get a hint and used the hashtag to amplify the work of black creators, but it would all still managed to drown in a sea of dark.

Recently, some celebrities shared a video montage of themselves looking upset about unspecified actions in the past — vaguely announcing they probably did racist jokes and comments back in the days — and promising to not just not do it again, but call out anyone who does it in their vicinity. Let’s see how long they remember. Some comedians, such as Leigh Francis, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, have apologised for the use of blackface in their successful comedy shows. In the case of Francis, it seemed quite counter-productive, leading to online rabid fans racially abusing Trisha Goddard, one of his most popular impersonations.

Other famous white people, such as Lea Michele, jumped on the BLM hype train without addressing their previous problematic behaviours, as if they never happened in the first place.

It’s all staged white noise and dark squares, and the murder of George Floyd is not fully avenged. The murder of Tony McDade is not fully avenged. The murder of Rayshard Brooks is not fully avenged. The murder of Breonna Taylor is not even avenged. Trayvon Martin’s murderer is free and going on dating platforms. Philando Castile’s murderer is free. Tamir Rice is not having a high school Zoom graduation.Eric Garner is not breathing.His daughter is not breathing either. Sandra Bland. Alton Sterling. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Stephon Clark. And these are only a few, in one country, a land where not everyone’s free and a home where the bravery of existing as the underdog is a threat.

3% of the population in Britain is black, but 8% of the people who die in custody are black as well. Christopher Alder is still dead. Kingsley Burrell. Darren Cumberbatch. Mark Duggan. Rashan Charles. Xenophobia, racism and ableism clash: Edson Da Costa, Zahid Mubarek. No one has paid.

Out of prison, the genocide continues. Black people are four times more likely to die of Covid 19, mostly attributed to geographic and socio-economic factors. In words of the ONS, “other courses are still to be identified”.

Khadija Saye.

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the Grenfell massacre. 72 people lost their breath. The overwhelming majority, black and brown migrants and their children. One of them, Khadija Saye, was a promising artist about to be displayed at the Venice Biennale and homaged by Tate Britain much later.

Of all the celebrity tributes to Floyd, only Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) mentioned that Floyd was an artist himself: in the 90s, he was known as Big Floyd and was part of the Screwed Up Clique in Houston, Texas.

These black artists are only revisited after death and reap no fruits for their labour. Besides, it is not necessary to be an artist to be mourned. It is not necessary to be “an outstanding member of society” to be mourned. Not even the victims with criminal convictions deserved to die. Not even the disabled, the old, the children, the migrants with no papers who lived and died in that tower deserved this end.

Black people do not owe us talent, charisma, physical or mental work, in exchange for their survival and legacy. In fact, it is us who owe them plenty. We owe them a peaceful life, freedom, justice, reparations. We need to let them be and let them stay, and for that, we sometimes need to be quiet if we have nothing more to offer besides white guilt and black squares.

Authentic allyship. Source: Seerut K. Chawla.

Bentfest talks

Next week, Bentfest will host a series of talks on their Instagram Live if you want to tune in. The queer punk London festival will host a few of us at 6pm BST:

Images: Bentfest.

Monday, 18th May, Kirsty Fife zine reading and discussion of class, DIY politics, academia and more.

Tuesday, 19th May, Sop will talk about embodiment, chronic illness, sound experiments and more art.

Thursday, 21st May, I’ll be reading a few poems from my upcoming collection Meanwhile, and discuss writing from the in-between.

So yeah, all these days, 6pm BST, go to Bentfest’s Instagram account, look at their live stream on stories, and join the conversation. 👁‍🗨

Alone Together. Ep 2: Arboretum

Adrian B. Earle (ThinkWriteFly) is one of the most active creators and promoters of poetry in the Midlands. VerseFirst is his multimedia portal in which through podcasts and videos he showcases voices from fellow poets across the region.

His latest podcast, Alone Together, is a very interesting project merging words and sounds in small, reflective moments, following a prompt that unites them from a distance.

I am fortunate enough to be featured on its second episode, Arboretum. The poem is called “East Midlands is for Lovers”, and it features Arboretum Park in Nottingham. The episode, less than 15 minutes long, also features work by Lerah Mae Barcenilla and Leila Khanem, threaded through a path of music and ambience by Earle himself. It does feel like a late night walk around an arboretum.

If you want to be part of further episodes, select a prompt that attracts you and follow the instructions on the website.