The Cripple Who Is Whole is a collection of twenty six poems describing my misadventures with my mental health, toxic masculinity; and coming toward a place of healing with both. Written primarily as performance pieces, every word had danced on stage and breathed deep of poesy and performance.
Ben Riddle has been writing and publishing poetry for some ten years now, and performing poetry for eight. He is a graduate of the University of Western Australia and Deakin University, the winner of the 2016 Fred Wm. Simpson Prize for English Verse, and has performed stages on either side of Australia and in Singapore. He has given two tedx talks that were a bit eh, founded both the Said Poets Society and the Perth Underground Press, and one time he had a poem published on a bookmark.
No one gave him a copy.
It's a pleasure to have you here with us today Ben, to talk about your chapbook The Cripple Who Is Whole. Can you tell us a bit more about it? For example, what were six things that went into the writing of this book?
In 2012, I had a writing residency at Macqueen Books under Jamie MacQueen, and on my first day, he told me that I needed to stop what I was doing and embrace performance poetry.
Poems on Oak in 2014 was the first performance poetry gig I ever did. Run out of the University of Western Australia, it was a night of candles and lanterns and the performance arts. I would have done Cavalier, Pagliacci, maybe Howling. I remember coming off of stage and being told by the singular genius of Matt Norman that I was “not terrible.”
The Said Poets Society and I for five years just kind of toured around doing shows and workshops in schools, universities, and with youth organisations. Cavalier opened what must have been hundreds of workshops, and Circus was always my ace in the hole when I needed to kill two minutes at the close.
In 2016, I published a limited local run of Cripple that was just ten poems. It was never available elsewhere. I sold out the initial run of like fifty poems, and maybe another print or two, and then put the project down. I was trying to step away from everything at that point, I think, and letting the original Cripple go out of print was just another casualty in an era where I was struggling to hold on to anything.
I toured a show of Cripple across three events in 2017, I think. This was the old version of ten poems. Therapy wasn’t there yet, neither was Iceberg. At the second of the gigs, I did two sets at the Perth Poetry Club. The first set was strictly from the show, would have been like the first four pieces of the book. Then the second, I threw away the script and talked about my experiences with rape culture in my local scene, and my own sexual assault at the hands of someone who had been a mentor of mine in the arts. I did poems about my experiences as a sexual assault victim, and being told by members of the scene to not talk about it; to not bring it up. I named no names, but made some quite pointed remarks. The gig went well, and then my life exploded immediately after. I was doxxed. I received a bunch of hate mail, and the like via my old Facebook artist page. I received more on my personal social media. But worse than that was watching my partner receive hate for being associated with me. Even my boss, in an industry unrelated to the arts, received messages and phone calls about it. And then I had one more show in the run. So I get up, dressed to the nines in the costuming I’d always written for Cripple, and for an hour or so, I hit on stage. The crowd is smaller than we’d hoped, but for these fifty odd people, I do my poems, and tell my silly jokes, and at the end of it, this boy of like nineteen comes up to me, and hugs me, and tells me that was what he needed. I disappeared for a long time after, playing silly small gigs. A different day, I’ll talk more about them, but I’d like to honour Poetry on Eighth, Clear Your Throat, Words Wide Night, the Windmill Comedy Club, Psychomug and everywhere else that gave me space and stage to find myself again.
Then through a series of misadventures, I found myself in Singapore in 2019; just before the pandemic. I did a string of open mic spots including washing out of a slam, and then the last night I was there, I got asked to talk at this fundraiser. I got to perform, and I did Cavalier and a few other things, but also talk about community. To me, community is like a blanket in which every thread is someone else’s story, and the performing arts is a place where we can come together and knit, and share and teach and learn, and be together. There will always be inequity outside of our shows, but it is our duty and privilege to facilitate safe spaces, and to tell and facilitate the stories that will helps the next generation of artists and performers coming through be better. And after, I remembered people asking for copies of the poems, and that was when I decided that resuscitating Cripple was something that was important to me, and that I wanted to pursue.
Five things you need to get some writing done?
Coffee and a cafe. Soft noise around me, different voices preferably. Something to fiddle with in my off hand; a chain, a pen, a ring. A story, a sound; an idea.
Four types of readers who will enjoy this book?
This is poetry for people that don’t like poetry. For people that have lived with or lived next to mental health. For people challenged by the duality of how they feel inside versus who they have to be out, and for people looking for hope.
Three challenges you faced in the writing of this book?
Looking at the immediacy around this release, it’s been trying to convince anyone online that I knew anything about anything. Bringing Perth Underground Press up to speed has been challenging, but deeply rewarding, and learning about copyright as it pertains to font and what I'm allowed to print and sell via certain mediums has been a whole thing.
Two poets that have influenced your work?
Phil Kaye and Javon Johnson were two writers that informed the way I approached performance poetry, and their influence is likely everywhere through this collection. Kaye’s Project Voice was further a source of inspiration for why I wanted to run poetry workshops, and Johnson’s balance of pursuing academia and the arts is something that I sit with and try to emulate at every opportunity.
And lastly, one thing you hope readers will get from this book?
I want people to find hope in these pages; whatever that means to them.
You can buy "The Cripple Who Is Whole" here, or download it for free here. You can connect with Ben (and please do!) on Twitter or Instagram.
Disclaimer: "EMC's 6 things" interview series seeks to promote the artist and their featured writing and is in no way an endorsement of any of said artist's services, opinions or other work outside of this feature.