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The Finch Girl

Hilevaara Fig 1_semicolon.jpg

Image: Eva Hilevaara Shilland (2024)

(A chapter in a book)
in Performing Punctuation: Decolonizing English Mouths, Tongues, Ears and Pens. Edited by Anna Brown and Julieanna Preston. Intellect. December 2024 (working title)
The edited book bears out digressions, indiscretions, transgressions and fabulations of grammatical marks unfaithful to propriety. It makes public an on-going and refreshed movement to play humorously and tenaciously with those small but powerful writing marks that regulate, discipline and structure textual language and spoken discourse.

My contribution to this book starts from the idea that the girl's body and the finch's head might together look like a semicolon. Imagining that the finch was placed in her mouth to lead her on her way beyond death, or back home, conjures up ideas of pausing... and carrying on; these moments of thought separated by this misunderstood punctuation mark, but also filled with hope for the future. Much like my teenage daughter's lengthy observations of Taylor Swift songs.  Composing the chapter from fragments including the Finch Girl, the story of Echo, and the Semicolon Project, with focus on young girls and the way they speak, I will ask if paying attention to ‘girlspeak’ might just give us hope for the future?

Girlspeak in Six Voices

(A performance paper)

Words and Worlds Symposium at Royal Holloway University of London

22 March 2024

For Words and Worlds symposium, I presented a multi-voice reading (myself, five other women + a birdsong recording) of sections of the 'Girlspeak' chapter in which I stage an interspecies (bird-human) conversation between Daughter, Echo, Finchgirl, Fringilla, Mother and Swift, a charm of winged female creatures perched on a tall pine branch above a raging forest fire. For the chapter, the conversation is composed of fragments blending speculative fiction, quotes and birdsong; mimicking adolescent girls’ prattle, and foregrounding this ‘girlspeak’ as a radical strategy to harness alternative approaches to the patriarchal system’s impasse that is failing to act in the face of the current ecological crisis. I ask in the chapter - inspired by an archaeological discovery of a skeleton of a young girl found with a chaffinch fledgling’s skull in her mouth - what if the Finchgirl was able to speak in ‘Finch’, able to communicate with birds in their own language? What if the young chaffinch was tasked to teach humans how to live alongside birds and other more-than-humans? What could we learn listening to the Girl with a Finch in her mouth? Might the words of the Finchgirl and other adolescent girls offer us the language required to act now?

Performed by:
Echo - Abigail Conway
Daughter - Eva Hilevaara Shilland
Finchgirl - Nomakhwezi Becker
Fringilla/SFX - Katja Hilevaara
Mother - Rachael Newberry
Swift - Abby Sinnott

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