In Conversation With Violet Malice: at The Brudenell on 26 May

There are no instruments on stage. There are no props either – just some notebooks piled on the floor.

Violet Malice takes the stage, dressed in an outfit that sits somewhere between a kinky London guard and Cheryl Cole in the Fight For This Love music video. She picks up one of the notebooks and, with no foreplay whatsoever, violently penetrates us with her words.

One hand staunchly placed on one hip, with fearless deadpan delivery in an exaggerated Northern drawl, the Brudenell audience is treated to half an hour of the lewdest combinations of adjectives I feel any of us have ever been subjected to, and we love every torturous second of it.

The audience doesn’t know whether to laugh, cringe or leave. That appears to be exactly what she wants. “Oh! My God!” a man behind me exclaims. His tone is both disgusted and impressed. But this ejaculation of emotion doesn’t seem to be directed at Violet; it almost seems directed at himself. Disgust at himself for being so impressed.

The poem at hand is titled Tinder Bender and she introduces it as being based on what real men have said to her on the online dating app. It includes such corkers as ‘’My tongue would be so far down your throat I’d basically be giving you……….” Personally, I don’t believe her. I have never known any men on these apps to be so creative, even when they do speak in clumsy sex metaphors. Then again, perhaps Violet attracts the artistic type. She is not afraid to upset, disgust or offend. This is proven in the work she introduces as “My most hated poem.” It’s about the royal family and pertains to a particular incident regarding the King and a tampon. If you don’t know the story, look it up. Anyhow, we quickly come to understand why this poem is hated, both in subject matter and content.

The gasps of shock increase with every line. Right when we think she couldn’t possibly go any further, she pushes us to another level. There are a few lines where even she briefly breaks character, astounded at what her past self put to paper. But for all the shock value of the work, there is substance. It’s not shocking simply for the sake of it, despite what some of her critics may say, as she explained in our interview, “A lot of people think writing funny poetry, particularly about sex, people think that’s just cheap.”

I would staunchly argue against this criticism. Throughout the work, there’s a deftness and observational skill that firmly proves the criticism of it being all sex no substance wrong. Her less sexual lines get just as big a laugh as the more provocative witticisms, such as one in the poem The Worst Thing Anyone Has Ever Said To Me. In it, she
describes a cocksure hookup dropping her home post coitus as being, “Sat in a black jag, like some kind of small business owner.” Lines like these showcase the comedic skill she possesses. It’s not just because she’s talking about sex that she gets reactions; it’s because she is a talented writer and accomplished performer.

The focus on sex isn’t cheap either. Despite the exaggerated character and dry delivery, there is still vulnerability and confessionalism to this work, as well as having something to say. The aforementioned poem opens with Violet chronicling her journey of over one hundred miles for a hookup, hot and bothered the whole way. She masturbates on a train toilet that still has the seat on, “Which felt like a real treat” then takes the bus, whose vibrations elicit further excitement before finally reaching the unnamed jag driver’s house where she (literally) gets what she came there for.

The next morning, this man drives her to the station, where he shouts from the window the worst thing anyone has ever said to her. It isn’t what one might expect – ‘slut’ ‘whore’ ‘slag’ or ‘tart’ for the more adventurous. No, the worst thing anyone has ever said to her is, “Thank you.”

Right from its opening, the poem is about her: her desire, her needs, her climax and her feelings afterwards, but throughout it is we the audience who alongside the jag driver see this desire as being tied up in pleasing the man and fulfilling his needs. That she would travel all that way simply for his benefit.

This is not how we view men when they travel long distances for the same reason. By calling out this double standard Ms Malice, with her explicit language, challenges our outdated views on women’s sexual desire. As she told me, “I think the power to shock people in an important way creates change, right? It makes people think about stuff, it makes people think about their own behaviour” Violet goes on to explain that presenting things in a provocative way “enables people to reflect because a lot of stuff people don’t talk about and then they don’t know that actually saying ‘thank you’ is kind of not the right thing to say.”

As well as being shocked by Violet’s sexual wordplay, many were shocked at how much they enjoyed it, that they could actually be entertained, excited even, by poetry. For all the foul language she converted a lot of people to the virtues of poetry. When I sat to speak with her, three separate people approached just to wave their copies of her collection in her face.

These days, we often forget that the poets most celebrated in our time were controversial in theirs. The lines that now seem tame to children in classrooms were shocking when they were published, fearlessly tackling the societal taboos of their day.

Violet showed that poetry, particularly spoken word poetry, can still have that place and, deserves attention; that to sustain this place it should not be rigid. It can and should be pliable, funny, poppy even- anything you want it to be, a malleable artform which thrives on unique voices.

Violet Malice can be found at where you can buy copies of her collection The Hole Thing. She has over 500 printed and – quote – “needs to get rid of them” so do her a solid and get one.

Photography by Victoria Connell.

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