Tuesday, 23 December 2008

list two

but who really cares what i liked? where's the interest in that? what didn't i like

i'm not going to name individual poets because they're fragile wee souls and at the end of a day reading a poem doesn't take much time or drain that much from your life. that said, particularly towards the end of the year, i read some of the worst poetry i've seen in my life. i'd expect better from teenage school children, i've read much better by teenage school children! so bad has it been i've been considering a book burning. i welcome the credit crunch if, at the very least, it silences the complacent, slovenly, selfish voices of the middle classes. everyone else should reclaim the word and riot in the streets

books. not much better. the british equivalent of gialli seems woefully absent. something along the lines of a hardboiled midsummer murders if you're lucky. a word for the genre. shit. and heaven preserve me from anything along the lines of i grew a lemon tree while travelling with gypses of kazakhstan and bought a house in bulgaria. are there any books like this that are any good? only the ones where the people actually do something. in which case they're probably too busy working to think about writing down their 'insights' now that they've spent the money they've made speculating. a pyre of such books should be made and nigella lawson and all her ilk driven thru the streets to be burnt upon them. okay, not burnt, seared, in a light hand reared olive oil with bunny's ears. cook books!? are you kidding me. a plague on all their houses

films. this bearing in mind i'm an afficionado of shit films. yes i have watched the crow:wicked prayer (yes, it was dreadful) and yes, i have watched much of the oeuvre of the pony tailed pudding that is steven segal. but...

charley wilson's war. hang your head in shame tom hanks. not quite the right wing wank fest that is red dawn but they made that up! we've funded a war in afghanistan. ho ho ho! i was aghast. then there's the 'genius' that is michel gondry. yes mr gondry i truly loved eternal sunshine of the spotless mind you the same could not be said of the misogynistic tit odyssey that was science of sleep or the turgid stink bomb that was be kind rewind. no it could not. then there was no country for old men and there will be blood. cruelly boring films, teasing the viewer with flickers of what might have been but instead drowning them in leaden layers of I'M TELLING YOU SOMETHING. yeah, i'm telling you something too, i'm sure the neighbours can hear me shouting it...

as for the dylan biopic, and i use the term loosely, i'm not there. all the reasons dewey cox was good = all the reasons i'm not there was unwatchable. and really, it takes a talent of some depth to make the dylan even more of a cock than he actually is. using richard gere to do it tho, that'll work. but using midgets in dream sequences. are you joking todd haynes!!!! awful, worst film of the year by a country mile but still not anything like the bloated shit fest that was the fountain.

will i go on about it again? why not. at least i'm not there even if it was less than the sum of its not very impressive parts seemed at least to be doing something, even if that something was to be actually employing richard gere or making me want to punch that 'rimbaud' character almost as much as i wanted to punch richard ashcroft in the drugs don't work video. no, i just want to punch richard ashcroft. a lot. but that's by the by, at least i'm not there didn't scar me with its badness. the fountain on the other hand... perhaps it's interdimensionally bad. i was watching event horizon the other night and it came to me that the fountain may have slipped through a hole in imaginative space to insult us with its presence. but some nice backdrops i've heard it said. yes, yes, it's biological photography, like someone's ejaculated into weak tea.

so, yet again, the worst film in the world. EVER. the fountain. aronofsky, for you, there is a special hell

list one

i read a fair amount of poetry this year. most of it, it has to be said, was older and, maybe because it's stood the test of time, better. best of the (new-ish)bunch came early on with soirbheas by meg bateman. i loved it from the first and nothing else has come close.
honourable mentions to robert alan jamieson for nort atlantik drift.

of the old stuff open world by kenneth white is something i've browsed most of the year, i was very happy to get octavio paz's collected works and i was, as usual, stunned by margaret atwood's poetry but, just because of sheeer enjoyability, my favourite collection of the year (old school or dead) was raymond carver's all of us. tess gallagher sold me on it sufficiently at this year's stanza that i got a copy over from the states and i haven't looked back since. everyone should have one.

books. i got even less lucky with books this year, especially fiction. on the non-fiction front i started the year with geert mak's in europe, which i enjoyed so much i'll be reading it again, even if i felt it flagged a bit towards the end and i don't necessarily agree with his conclusions. i'd also recommend his, much smaller, the bridge, about istanbul and i'm currently enjoying his history of amsterdam. if you haven't read him i'd thoroughly recommend him .

fiction. while kc constantine's hardboiled dialogue driven grievance sparked a late interest my fiction(esque) book of the year has to be marie carter's the trapeze diaries. small, perfectly formed, perfect. i enjoyed it so much i owe her a story in return, something i'm having to write from memory no less!

non-fiction. i was luckier with non fiction. robert crawford's scotland's books is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in the subject. peter conrad's creation is compulsive if maddening and not as good as his book on modernism. there were many but the clear winner was richard holmes age of wonder. utterly fabulous, assuming an interest in science and romantic poetry and the crossover of the two. if so you need to steal a copy of this if you can't afford it

film. early on i very much enjoyed the squid and the whale but beyond that there wasn't much in the way of quality english language cinema i enjoyed. genre wise shoot 'em up managed to distill the whole of the action genre so that it was as stylised as noh theatre. from the immortal line 'fuck you, you fucking fuckers' i was transfixed. for those without genre sense it will be utterly hateful, but for me it's triumphant, hilarious genius. and while i'm on the subject, in the year of obama if i see a better satire about race relations than the harold and kumar movies, esp the guantanamo bay effort, it'll be a surprise. throw away your copy of crash (really, just throw it away) and get this. honestly.

the others seem kind obvious - ne le dis a personne and das leben der anderen probably my favourites of the year. all health care workers should watch the diving bell and the butterfly and i was engaged and entertained by paris je t'aime. i was also surprised by the assassination of jesse james, a slow and compelling look at celebrity, rather than just a western. worth a look

special mentions - the savages (laura linney again), in bruges, flawed, under-rated and not the painterly film it might've been but quality. and fur, which it appears only me and the cast have seen. not quite the diane arbus story but if i've seen better set design i don;t know where

film of the year tho? a musical. walk hard - the dewey cox story. funny, knowing, a delight

Monday, 22 December 2008

adrian mitchell

adrian mitchell has also died this week. michael rosen writes a touching obituary here. i wasn't much of a fan but i still find myself reading him from time to time. i meet him years ago and found him to be an extremely pleasant and engaging man. one of the poems he read was this one, which caused some discussion between someone from the sixties and someone who wasn't. he'll be missed.

To Whom It May Concern

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I've walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain,
Couldn't find myself so I went back to sleep again
So fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames.
Made a marble phone book and I carved out all the names
So coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

I smell something burning, hope it's just my brains.
They're only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains
So stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Where were you at the time of the crime?
Down by the Cenotaph drinking slime
So chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

william maxwell

What we, or at any rate I, refer to confidently as memory - meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion - is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end.

william maxwell

so long, see you tomorrow

one of the advantages of reading a collection of books that others have liked or been influenced by is that at least you either get to revisit works you've previously read in order to compare or confirm your impressions or you get entirely new things to add to a reading list.

in this case i got to revisit william maxwell. it seems not many people read maxwell any more, least ways i've only met one other and she only because i introduced her to him. whether she still does i'm unaware, i hope so, but i don't know her any more. perhaps because of that association so long, see you tomorrow has lain on the shelf for a long time. reading it now i'm reminded why i liked maxwell in the first place. something the same as when i read harper lee and in maxwell's fiction i can imagine her scribbling away in her house, letting no-one see

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

not davy graham!

just days after going on about davy graham on rachel's blog i find out he's dead too! i wouldn't expect the coverage that oliver postgate got but there should be. the term maverick genius is applied to all manner of no mark lightweights but davy graham is the genuine article. british popular music, especially folk music music couldn't, wouldn't be the same without him.

get yourself to amazon....


sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

there's a rather nice reading of this on that last post, which is why it's here

i saw, i read, i listened

am just after finishing the book that changed my life ed by roxanne cody and joy johannessen.

i came across it in the library in the you cannot remove this book section, a challenge in itself, but one that i can't help but approve of as it forces the halfway interested reader to sit their ass down and get reading in a public space. and by doing so i managed to get speaking to someone who'll be doing some singing at forthcoming performances. nice.

as to the book itself. it's not a book of criticism nor is it really a book about books that changed my life but more a book of anecdotes, short stories, insights into why and how books can affect the life of the reader. several things were immediately apparent as themes - access to books, the omportance of reading out loud, the nature of the book as escape, the book as ameans of realisation (particularly for the young) that we are not alone

what i also liked was the manner in which many of the contributors didn't talk about the significance of the book, its importance, why everyone should read it but more about why they liked it, what it meant, specifically to them. there were many books for children. very worth a read. very worth a purchase, esp given the charity it supports. they're even good enough to credit calvino's why read the classics which appears on far too few bookshelves

i found this individualistic approach again on my favourite tv this week, okay my only tv this week. here, and worth watching for carluccio's history of italy as told through the medium of biscuits, chef antonio carluccio takes us into the world of lampedusa's the leopard through the medium of the food mentioned within it. quirky, informative and funny and, after the above, yet another book on my to read (again) list.

one of the few perks at work is the computer's continuing ability to play iplayer. i like to sit in my office in the wee hours and catch some radio. this programme took me many attempts to get through it but it was so well worth the effort i may even have to tape it in order to listen to it again. as derek walcott is questioned about omeros, the same themes emerge, the voice, the story. he's sharp and witty. it's a real radio treat. and there's omeros on that list

the carluccio will only be available for another few days and i can;t say for walcott but follow that link into world book club and there's a wealth of other material just waiting....

finally, i was browsing for some poetry today and i came across this. i've no intention of going over the tired old laureate discussion but really how is it even possible we don't have something like this in the uk, let alone scotland. not only that but unlike the usual celebrity driven readings so beloved of the bbc, these are just ordinary folk reading a poem and telling a story. fantastic. this is what poetry should look like

so last week

prior to the recommencement of work, and my, wasn't that a charming experience, i got myself back to edinburgh and off to the pamphlet fait and payback's best of the open mic nights. the payback thing i wish i could've stayed longer for but i'd been late all evening and by the time i got there i had to stand and the swiss spine will just not put up with that! (more money to my physio i fear). but it was all very good. mike dylan, who i'd last seen singing at vox box did, i thought, an excellent set in front of a crowd who definitely were more up for the singing than the spoken word. i'd quite like to see his work written down as he seems to have a rhyming dexterity that'd bridge the gap between performance and page.

as to the poetry fair i'd gone done to eyeball the quality of product rather than content. as such i was as broadly dissappointed as i'd been at a similar event at stanza earlier this year. simple things like paper quality and font choice matter and to compromise in these seems to me to show a lack of aesthetic consciousness at the very least. and as for poor age alignment, well there's just no excuse! i have at least two pamphlets sitting that i can't bring myself to read for all the above reasons

roncadora press stood out in this respect right away. good quality paper, interesting lino cuts, obviously a bit of thought had gone into the look and feel. it didn't matter to me that the poetry really wasn't for me, the thing itself made me want to involve myself in it.

stand out for me then was the rather excellent truth and hope collection by priscilla chueng-nainby. and i didn't get it for the design, but for the poem she read first which tho i might not have liked it so much in english, i was well impressed by her decision to read it again in mandarin. a language i never get to hear slowly. i was transported!

but it was only, on the strength of the reading, that i thought, i'll be having that, that i came across the gem that is this collection. it consists of two groups of poems, mirror imaged against each other so that the back and front are both front covers. there's a cloud/wind motif on the front that she continues thru each and the pages (a nice contrast of warm gray against the ivory of the cover) are layered (can't remember the word for this off the top of my head) so that there's an image beneath the poem. in random corners there are fragments, which may be poems or aphorisms, which you don't notice at first and some of the poems you get in both english and mandarin - handy given that,after indians, the group i work most with are malaysian chinese so i can take this in and get it read as it should sound. to finish it all off when she was selling it she had a red wax seal to mark each copy. i was sold and should've bought more. sadly tho i can't find a link where you, or i, can get it.

and that for me encompasses many of the problems i saw at the pamphlet fair. people will always pay money for well designed things so why does it seem like so few pamphlets pay much attention to this. further, why is marketing and distribution so stunted - i was shocked by the tiny numbers of sales that somehow constituted a pamphlet success. plus i think it's no coincidence that amazingly i was in the bottom ten per cent of the age range present at what was a pleasant and well attended event.

to be honest i came away vaguely disillusioned. i'm unsure that any other response was possible

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

billy collins


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

here's one for rachel seeing as she's mentioned both emily d and marginalia. i can't quite believe it's not here somewhere else as it's one of my favourite billy collins.

oliver postgate

In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires, and they tell a tale...

the swiss lounge was a sadder place this morning with the news that oliver postgate had died. not that 83 isn't a good age but it seems a shame that he ended up in a nursing home rather than just keeling over

i was reading the book that changed my life anthology the other day, mainly because i've been thinking about posting something about the how books can impact what we do in our daily lives, when i came across a quote from billy collins. it wasn't so much a book that changed his life he said, but every book.

so while there are several keystone literary moments that i might pick it's as well to remember that these all came from somewhere and, along with jackanory, the littlenose books, postgate in particular opened my eyes to stroy telling and the possibility of imaginative fiction

so you'll forgive me a tear in the eye today as i remember noggin the nog, nogbad the bad, ivor the engine, the clangers, the soup dragon and the genius that is bagpuss.

goodbye oliver postgate and thank you

Friday, 5 December 2008

back to edinburgh

comprehensively burst by three days of bike in the snow i head off to edinburgh to get some writing done.

where i finally meet claire. and realise that my potential for small talk outside of the stated interests of poetry and cycling (okay and maybe the painting) are few. but that's okay as we get a grand blether. and i'm reminded again why the internet has such great potential for bringing folk together who might otherwise never have met. it's good to finally see the inside of the forest and i'm liking that they've made a go of the do-it-yourself ethos. it's easy and a comfort to surf all of claire's enthusiasm - i was so not as together when i was a student. it was good to get an insight into the creative writing ma as well. i've never been super into the idea, even tho i've considered it, and i'm less convinced now and certainly not for me. but as a means to an end who knows?

but writing it was i came to do and off i go, passing by the national gallery to clap eyes on diana and callisto, one of the touted 50 million quid pictures of which more later

and then to the vox box, an open mic claire's recommended. what a great time that was. i get to meet kevin cadwallender, robin cairns, jim oates and many more. some great readings, particularly gary death's protect the trees rap, gangsta oak, tawona sithole and sophia, whose spoken word i very much look forward to seeing again. and claire's poem about websites, which her tutor doesn't like, but it seems everyone else does. good on her for putting up with that. highlight of the night for me tho was the wild myrtles. the last thing i was expecting was to hear any swedish and maybe it's the time of year but the swiss eye definitely misted. oh yes, and maybe it was the more...mature age of some of the readers but i liked the number of poems dealing with children. i find writing about my daughter difficult and it was good to see how others did it.

a fine day. shame i didn't get to the poetry library tho. and on a day of learning many things i was reminded with all the cycling this walking business is not so easy. ouchy legs!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

i am the walrus

the country in the grip of ice sees me gingerly out and about for a twenty-ish training ride yesterday. caution sees my average at a withered 16.8 but, as my top speed was apparently 43.8mph, perhaps i wasn't all that cautious, or maybe just stupid. anyway, the lurgy seems to be losing its grip as my legs felt merely stiff rather than non-functional. which is good.

except. i went out for an off road training ride on saturday as i thought maybe, just maybe i could stand a cross race on the sunday. but no. courtesy of my 'coaching' i've changed the bar/brake/shifter arrangement, been too lazy to alter my grips and have ended up with ulnar nerve palsy in my left hand. very, very sore. i could manage the road bike as above but couldn't feel my pinkie and had no grip. not nice

but tonight, after three days of anti-inflammatories, large dose of painkillers, icing and what will be major strapping, i'll be out for the first night ride in over a month. naturally the boys will be looking to exploit any weakness. of course i should be taking it easy. but that's not my plan. oh no. they are weak in the cold and frightened of the ice. i will destroy them!

truly we are such bairns.....


qarrtsiluni an online project i have a deep affection for (it's the voice thing) have put out a call for collaborative submissions. it should be no secret that i like this approach in all its forms so not only will i be open to any collaborative suggestions but, if i'm out of time/unavailable i'll be more than happy to facilitate collaborations between other people

go on

you know you want to

george herbert

Affliction (IV)

BROKEN in pieces all asunder,
Lord, hunt me not,
A thing forgot,
Once a poor creature, now a wonder,
A wonder tortured in the space
Betwixt this world and that of grace.

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
Wounding my heart
With scattered smart;
As wat'ring-pots give flowers their lives.
Nothing their fury can control,
While they do wound and prick my soul.

All my attendants are at strife
Quitting their place
Unto my face:
Nothing performs the task of life:
The elements are let loose to fight,
And while I live, try out their right.

Oh help, my God ! let not their plot
Kill them and me,
And also Thee,Who art my life: dissolve the knot,
As the sun scatters by his light
All the rebellions of the night.

Then shall those powers which work for grief,
Enter Thy pay,
And day by day
Labour Thy praise and my relief:
With care and courage building me,
Till I reach heav'n, and much more, Thee.

Monday, 1 December 2008

things i've been listening to...

my dad - my dad and i haven't got on so well across the years but i've kept at it (being as i've only got one!), frustrating as at times it might become. recently i've been kind of worried about him as all the fight and self centredness seemed to have gone out of him. was across yesterday and found him back in fine fettle, better even, if anything. he even gave me sage advice. and i listened! i;m going to phone him today to thank him just to surprise him!

the archive hour - in terms of storytelling studs terkel was a major, major influence on me and i can still remember the thrill of reading of reading hard times and the good war for the first time. i remembered terkel and the power of the voice all thru my burroughs/gysin phase without really thinking about it and i've come full circle to making my own recordings now. the archive hour's a decent review of him and his work and is online for the next week

voices of a people's history - still sort of with terkel... i was having a conversation at work the other day about obama, the usual thing, she convinced that obama would make a difference, me not. looking forward to howard zinn's the people speak and coming back to listen to the speeches on this website reminded me both why obama's election matters and why i don't think it will. i'd throughly recommend sitting down with the headphones on for a prolonged listen to this - alice walker's fiery rendition of sojourner truth's speech is a good one to start