‘Alright, Girl?’ by Maria Ferguson – reviewed

‘Alright, Girl?’ by Maria Ferguson – part of The Living Record Festival – is a sound-scaped binaural recording of her debut poetry collection published by Burning Eye books. It’s not the easiest of listens content wise, but the lilting, lyrical tones of Ferguson, moving between her own voice, the voices of friends and family, enemies, strangers, lovers, occasionally rasping and deep as she seems to enter the characters she conjures up from the past, keeps you listening intently right through to the end.

Ferguson’s spoken word is bold and authentic. Her luscious adjectival descriptions sit alongside the insertions of dialogue – “Ere darling I’ll do it for you cheap” – and changes in tone and register to indicate the movement between characters. As she evokes the East End of her childhood she also evokes her grandmother, and her parents’ wedding song, West Ham’s anthem ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’. She is told by a pub regular that as an EastEnder “that makes you one of us, don’t you dare forget it” in an almost threatening tone.

Ferguson unhinges chronological time. A standout line for me is her recalling a childhood memory of watching her sister run into the house saying “It was only then I realised/ How much of a woman she is” [my italics]. The then-ness/now-ness of this line is heart-breakingly lovely.

‘Alright Mate’ has pathos but not self-pity. Ferguson recalls a prom dress from Coast, which is perfect “Apart from the fact that it doesn’t fit”. Her verbal asides to the audience and her story of tanning beds where she “scorches her arse” are both funny and achingly raw. She talks of big school and SATs revision, slipping between time zones again in an uncanny way, the soft susurration of traffic in the background. ‘My letters after Hugo Williams’ mentions a cigarette lit from the hob: “That smell of burning hair. They are tired things and sad” she says but does not dwell on this.

In’ Letters She Writes and Does Not Send’ she summons up the future in the past “I didn’t know you existed yet”, and references to WkD and blue vomit will resonate with many a late 80s early 90s beginner-drinker. The poem ‘I’m Scum of The Earth Me’ belies its title with some of the emotions expressed: “I just remember the feeling of being infinite” she says, and who amongst us hasn’t, once at least, conjured up that feeling?

Three Years’ makes reference to Facebook and suddenly the recent past intrudes on this autobiographical story of class, gender and coming of age. In ‘I’m Getting Old’ she speaks of a funeral she has been to and in ‘Running Water’ she becomes conscious of not leaving taps running, of the concerns of adulthood and the waste of young lives lost.

‘Twenty’ takes us to drama school and ‘Body’ reprises the seemingly unsolvable conflict between reconciling the human form with the societal pressures of the perfect body. Ferguson deals with this with candour and wit: “My body is getting bigger and smaller and bigger again” but she is “starting to accept that”.

As significant others enter her life she chronicles the desire to change for someone and yet not change too much, and the ambient sounds of birds tweeting and a jogger breathing fast running by rise up to meet our ears. She refers to mothering and to children “with proud love” and reminds us that monsters under beds scare adults as well as for children, as much as we try to pretend they don’t exist.

She ruminates on living in London and the endless outlay, scrappy flats, crazy bills and in ‘Gargoyles’ she returns to body image but this time she can stand naked and not shrink. She says “looking forward to the future there will be endless glasses of wine. I will make my peace with the cruel hands of time”. Ferguson has an uncanny knack of elevating yet also half teasing the objects, places and ideas she deals out to us. ‘Sonnet for my Girls’ is a paean to friendship, womanhood “Still I don’t think these women know their worth or how they are the centre of my earth”.

And finally, in ‘Changes’, she is bar staff in a pub where men remember their own East Ends and we are taken back to the start again. In their fear of the new we are reminded of the “lost perfume” of the past. In the end is the beginning.

I listened to it twice, all the way through. It still wasn’t enough. I recommend you do the same. Do you yourself a favour. Alright?

You can listen to ‘Alright, Girl?’ until the 22nd of February so be quick and get a ticket here