This summer I was delighted to receive a commission from Push the Boat Out Festival for their Poetry Feast of Mythical Beasts! They invited applications from poets to reimagine Scotland’s mythical creatures in a contemporary context. I’ve long been fascinated by the ghostly portent of the bean nighe, a woman who dies in childbirth and is consequently fated to wash the clothing of those about to die. For this commission, and provoked by recent political events, I’ve reimagined the bean nighe as a woman who experiences a miscarriage and dies after being refused abortion care. My bean nighe is fated to haunt maternity wards washing the hospital linens of others doomed to the same fate. In this performance I embody her through poetry, movement, music, and textile work.
This is by far the most emotionally challenging piece of art I’ve created. It involved intensive research into the science behind and medical care for miscarriage and abortion, as well as the emotional journeys of those who experience them. I deepened my understanding of (and anger at) the legislation preventing abortion and miscarriage care in various states and nations globally. The most difficult aspect of developing this piece was balancing my political rage with an appreciation of the deep grief of miscarriage and working to convey the nuances of these incredibly difficult circumstances. I’m very grateful to the friends and family who read drafts and provided feedback to help me negotiate that balance.
Push the Boat Out takes place at Summerhall in Edinburgh from 4-6 November, 2022. The Poetry Feast of Mythical Beasts showcase runs 6-6:50pm on Saturday the 5th in the Dissecting Room. I’m honoured to be sharing the stage with six other fantastic poets also performing their new beastly work: Hollie McNish, Dave Hook, Ceitidh Campbell, Anita Mackenzie, Julie Rea, and Calum Rodger. More information and tickets available here. The event will also be livestreamed for free via this link.
I’ve created a zine featuring my poem which will be on sale at Summerhall from Lighthouse Books throughout the festival. It costs £5 and all proceeds from zine sales are being divided between two nonprofit organisations. The Glasgow-based organisation Miscarriage Support provides counselling for women and couples in Scotland who have suffered miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal loss. The US nonprofit Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project assists pregnant people who are financially unable to pay for safe, legal abortions or emergency contraceptives.
If you want to learn more, I’ve set up a page on my website where I explain the mythology of the bean nighe, detail the issues motivating me to create this piece, and link to further resources. Find it here. Thanks for reading, and hope to see you this weekend! – Katie
This piece was commissioned by Push the Boat Out Festival for their 2022 Poetry Feast of Mythical Beasts project and inspired by the Púca Printhouse map of ‘The Mythical Beasts of Scotland.’ The project was supported by the Gaelic Books Council, the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund, VisitScotland, Museums Galleries Scotland, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.