OUTscription by Roma Havers

Roma Havers is a Manchester-based queer poet and theatre-maker, whose current work explores failing bodies, outness and how poetry can shorthand memory into something new.

I began writing OUTscription in June 2019 during my residency at the MMU Special Collections Library with ‘Let The Artists In’. I spent several days in the archives distracted from my planned research for the dance poetry show I was writing – LOB – on tennis and OUTness. I became transfixed by one children’s book, pulled off the shelf because of the tennis player on it spine; it was Winifred Norling’s ‘Jennifer Wins Through’, a girls school mystery about a girl who gets in trouble for telling the truth and is sent to a school for naughty girls. There was an inscription on the front of this book, the name Leopold and an unfinished address, an address that I had walked past many times, a road many of my childhood friends had lived on. The last time I returned to where I grew up was  the year I came out and the year the only gay pub in Reading became a pizzaria. It is not a place I like to think about. This felt like an un-ignorable coincidence.

The project then became about three things. Find Leopold, find Winifred’s history (which I selfishly hoped to be as queer as her pearl necklace seemed to be) and make sure Reading doesn’t get in the way. Somehow in the week I hand-carried all my belongings between three addresses, ate mainly pickled food and was dramaturgying a script merging verbatim accounts of Peterloo and interviews with modern protestors. Everything got in the way – no one replied to my emails, dead ends appeared everywhere, no amount of research could calibrate the details on a Goodreads page, and Reading’s personal history got in the way – even though I lifted  directly from Oscar Wilde’s ‘De Profundis’ to keep a wall between me and it. And these little poems emerged, turning themselves into articles, upsidedowns. They are brutally unacademic in their refusal to attribute, in their  loose sources, in their cyclical lack of conclusion and of course the terrible mischievous I – who follows you into the archives like a dog while you are pissing, although you beg it not to. OUTscription to me is the opposite of inscription, the opposite of laying claim, of leaving your mark,  different ways of writing into the Hokey Kokey Pokey of history – in out in out shake it all about. 

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