Hidden between a café and an optometrist, Paper Mountain’s unlit entrance seemed discouraging at first, but the light music and laughter trickling down the staircase promised everything but discouragement. The stairs lead into a gallery on the left and on the right, an intimate space decorated by odd chairs and warm light. In that space, stretching under the spotlight in a black bra, shorts, a cardigan and her infamous red hair is Maddie Godfrey — a Perth-born, London-living, internationally acclaimed performance poet. As the audience filters through and finds their seats, she takes off her headphones, faces the crowd and so begins the fifth night of Maddie Godfrey’s debut Fringe World show, If My Body Was A Poem.
In this hour long performance, Godfrey uses her voice and body as vehicles and takes us through a journey of heartbreak, self-realisations, pain, and at the very end: healing. She is unapologetically herself. She makes you want to laugh loud with your mouth wide open and cry deeply while holding your chest, and she is right with you the whole time. Godfrey captures our attention (and hearts) as she opens the show by dancing to Katy Perry’s Firework with an Oreo in hand, and then introduces herself before seamlessly moving into her first spoken word poem, “If My Body Was A Poem”. She then moves on to list some facts about her body: 160cm tall “…or short”, seven tattoos, nine piercings and a faded birthmark. As an audience, we have already fallen in love with her.
After the introduction, Godfrey strips her body of her cardigan and enters a new space where she explores gender politics and feminism through a personal narrative about her father. She begins with “My dad is a mathematician” and proceeds to use the image of a Venn Diagram to critically paint a picture of gender binaries; “I have never felt trapped in this body,” she voices, only trapped in what others have labelled her. As her childhood unfolds, we learn that it is through her father, who “taught [her] how to shave [her] legs, the same way he shaved his beard”, that Godfrey came to identify herself as a feminist. Standing up on a chair, Maddie Godfrey quotes famous feminists such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Emma Watson and bell hooks, and uses her white privilege to cast light on intersectional feminism. As she unwraps the term and shows us what intersectional feminism means, Godfrey speaks a powerful line: “We must recognise our privilege before we can speak of our disempowerment.”
Between her spoken word poetry and narratives, Godfrey shows us the various ways in which her body moves. She dances, draws on her skin, shaves and even does a few workout exercises. Each interlude leads up to a new exploration of body politics, gender and sexuality. In the second-half of the show, Godfrey takes the audience through her girlhood as she pairs each stage in her life with an incident of sexual assault written on post-it notes, which she then proceeds to stick on her body: a metaphor for the ways in which our society almost always puts blame on the victim. We watch in silence as Godfrey reveals her trauma, acknowledges it and then removes the blame from her body. Closing her show, Godfrey leaves us with the poem, “I Love The Way You Take Up Space”, named after a Told Slant song. This is how she heals.
Maddie Godfrey’s body is a poem, a canvas, a vessel, an explosive piece of art, a vehicle moving into better spaces. In If My Body Was A Poem, she is raw and vulnerable; she is humorous and daring; she is honest in her experiences as a woman. In a world that is constantly trying to mute us, Godfrey empowers women to raise our voice, to take up space. If My Body Was A Poem breaks your heart and then puts it back together again. With Maddie, she shows you the bruise and is not afraid to say, “Yes I am hurting.” With Maddie, she writes about the bruise, waits for it to heal and says, “Look, I made it to the other side!”