Monday, 31 August 2009

On shaking groove things

I suppose this is a song that gets played a lot in September (and we're nearly there...or there...depending on when you're reading this). I can't stay up till midnight to post this so it may just reach you in August. And it's funny to be a person who goes to bed so early now...I used to get up at midnight in the old days! Anyway, here it is. It's not very subtle.



Back in 1978 I loved the band Earth, Wind and Fire with a passion. I was 12 and had this album



and listened to it over and over again. This was before their other huge hit 'Boogie Wonderland' came out (and that one crops up in some odd places now...those pesky penguin dancers in 'Happy Feet' for a start) and I never liked that one (or indeed anything they did after 1978) quite as much as all the fine stuff on 'Vol 1'. Disco has kind of a bad name these days but like any genre there is some excellent music in there and certainly some of my early loves were disco-funk all the way. Some of you will know that I have a poem that references Sister Sledge (my first postcard in fact) but probably not so many of you will have read a prose piece I wrote about a record by the band Chic for writer Laura Hird's website back here.

As well as the bass and the production and the vocals a lot of what attracted me to good disco records was the accent on hedonism and dancing and just having the best time ever (at least once a week...if not more often). I am (and always have been) a good-time girl (at least half of the time anyway...the other half I'm miserable as sin...) and I haven't given it all up entirely either - just this Saturday I was out dancing the evening away, for example. OK, it was wild, random ceilidh dancing this time (to this band) but it's all part of the same thing...the beat goes on...and a' that. And the more I learn about the miseries of the world the more I know how important it is to hear that beat sometimes and dance to it when you can (and in time if you can manage it but I'm not that fussy). You might remember I have a dancing poem (that's here) but to finish this thought, here's another Earth, Wind & Fire track called 'Saturday Nite' (and yes, you do have to spell it like that – it's official disco spelling...and if you don't do it right the 1970s fairies will come to haunt you...very noisy fairies...platform shoes...). Here it is:




x

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Postcard power

It's been a funny week. But then maybe they're all funny. Anyway...on with it...what of poetry? I've been reading quite a lot of it (in the form of pamphlets by Anna Dickie and Tom Duddy and books by Liz Gallagher and Margaret Atwood...more of all those later). Of course I've been wondering on and off about my own output too (as you do...backwards and forwards...right and left...pacing about the room...as you do...).

After a year or so of thinking about my poems in their pretty green book this week I have been considering instead their somewhat forgotten older brothers and sisters (my poetry postcards). The cards are something I'm really proud of (though done with lots of tech and visual help from Mark as usual...I couldn't lay out a picnic on the computer never mind ten beautifully designed postcards). They all look great and they've all sold well and I still like most of the poems I chose for them (in one way or another). Card no 2 ('Diving') will come into its own in September because the friend I wrote that love poem for is getting married and wants me to read it at her wedding! See the power of poetry! The poem 'Diving' by the way is on the website under 'poems' (under 'love') if you're interested (it's in 'More about the song' too - on the 'love' title page).

Also recently I've had more orders for the cards (whole sets) and I've sent some off here and there too as swaps or gifts (the whole purpose of them is dissemination of poems...why keep them in their box in the dark?). A lovely New Zealand blogger even put them up at her place and the photo she took is so great that I'm going to borrow it! Here it is (thanks Andrea - her site the Rainbow Notebook is here).




I suppose I am half thinking now about whether to do some new cards and if so then which poems to choose. I have a few ideas (suggestions people have made in the past) and I may put some thought into this now Lovely Girl is back at school. I love the freedom of poems on cards...they really can go anywhere.

I wrote a little poem about postcards and photos and bits of newspaper (and indeed anything people might keep in a drawer/in their bag/by their desk/in a file somewhere). Maybe you'll like it. Maybe I'll even put it on a card. It's a couple of years old but I've never done anything with it. Here it is:


Little art


Carry it with you
Close, secreted
A card from a gallery
From way, way back when
A photo of a time
Things were better
(Younger anyway)
Now hanging on faintly
To pieces of then

A drawing of something
Especially significant
A splash of the past
As the new days go by
Thin comforts we keep
We treasure
So blindly
Graphic mementos
Prompts for the eye

RF 2007


What old cards and photos and scraps of paper do you keep in your secret stash? Though of course if you tell me they won't be so secret anymore...

x

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

New Jersey, Manchester and possibly the best TV series ever made

(I didn't mean to post again so soon after that long post but one of the links on here is only live till Sunday.)

So, we finished watching 'The Sopranos' last night. Some of you may remember that I got series one for my birthday in January and Mark and I have been watching it avidly ever since (dvd box set after dvd box set...like a sickness). I've hardly watched anything else all year and really, who needs to when it is quite simply some of the best TV ever made. I'm even glad I watched it in this concentrated way rather than over the seven years or so that it was broadcast (1999-2007) as it really feels like I have been in New Jersey for the past seven months or so. It's been a bit weird (and nasty a lot of the time) but it's been brilliant too and popular culture at its very, very best. Thanks must go to Ken Armstrong because I think it was him who persuaded me to give it a go. I had never fancied the series when it was on (another mafia story – who could face that?) but of course it's a lot, lot more than just another mafia story. Like much of the best fiction or creative work...it's about everything. Just everything.

I'm not going to go on about it anymore just now (though I'm sure I'll come back to it) but I did just want to say how amazing it was that they featured a poet (and a British poet...a poet from't north of England, no less) on the soundtrack at the end of one of the episodes. How exciting...I know I'm a bit late with this but still...how exciting to have a poem be part of a fantastic series like that! I hope the poet in question was suitably excited too (though I was probably excited enough for all of us). You can see some of that ending here (though please don't look if you don't like swearing – it is FULL of it). You can also hear more of the John Cooper Clarke poem here (again more swearing...that's kind of the point of it...) and suitably enough there's a radio documentary about JCC (and punk and Manchester) online this week (till Sunday – it's here). He's very good on fame...amongst other things.

But for now it's goodbye to the family Soprano (and all the other many, many characters from the series).



I'm spoiled forever now. I don't think I can ever watch TV again. Really.

x

Monday, 24 August 2009

An Edinburgh weekend

So 32 hours in Edinburgh...jam-packed. What did we do...what did we see...what did we bring home to mull over?

Saturday 8.32am
We leave Montrose on the big train south. It is a beautiful, beautiful train journey south to Edinburgh from here (well, when it's not crowded and it wasn't this time). We look at the water (the South Esk, the sea, the Tay, the sea, the Firth of Forth...) and read (a strange article about publicity-shy Alain de Botton going to work in an airport in my case). Then we play cards (at Girl's request) - pontoon (that she likes) and then Mark and I play cribbage. Rock'n'roll diaries, or what? Please try to contain your excitement.

I am reminded on the train (by looking around...) that a lot of people in cities wear make-up and smart clothes and that I have pretty much forgotten all about such things (they were never exactly my specialist subjects to be honest). One of my Leeds friends said (on her first visit to me up in Angus) “now you live in the country and you look like you do.” But she's an old friend. So I was not offended.

Saturday 10am
We wander about Edinburgh and soon realise that any Scottish people left living in the city are in hiding due to the huge numbers of visitors from elsewhere who are here for the various different bits of the festival. It feels a bit like Disneyland Paris in that respect (we were there for 43 hours in the summer, remember?). In fact it feels a lot like that – I think maybe I even see some of the same families. They look just as tired as they did last time.

We have the most delicious elevenses in a lovely super-posh café on George Street (nothing like that in Montrose...) and then head to the reason for our visit – the Edinburgh (International) Book Festival.

When we first arrive I'm really surprised by the whole Book Fest. set-up. I don't know that bit of Edinburgh well so somehow I'd imagined it would all be...bigger. I mean the programme is HUGE (a big thick book in its own right)...but the site when you get there is...not. They do a pretty good job of squeezing such an ambitious project into a smallish space but there are times when it starts to feel a bit cramped and uncomfortable. Like, you know, this is a big city...so do we have to all queue on this crowded walkway? Do we have to plan our toilet trips so far in advance? Do we have to squeeze into this bizarre café/book signing area where all the old hands know the ropes (quite literally) but the rest of us just look bemused and end up standing in (horror of horrors) the wrong place?

Anyway, here we are and our Girl is excited (mainly by the huge children's bookshop on site) so we go for an expensive but not very nice sandwich in the chilled-out Spiegel Tent (and spot at least one quite famous author having her lunch with someone who must be from her publishers...it doesn't look like she's exactly having fun...). After this Mark takes the Lovely Girl off to queue for the Michael Morpurgo reading (it's a sold-out event – we got the tickets ages ago) and I disappear to do other things. They both very much enjoy the reading and as the Girl has a couple of Morpurgo's books already she wants them signing so they queue up (again) for that. They queue for ages but the Girl doesn't mind (she just reads...right place for it I suppose). I am glad Mark does this part of the trip as I am not a huge fan of the whole idea of book signings and would not want to pass on my moanings on the subject to the innocent child. I tend to think the whole business of book signings has got, as it were, completely out of hand.

Instead I look at the not-children's bookshop (adult bookshop would suggest something quite different...) and go and say hello to all the poetry books that are on display (a couple of good sections). I see plenty of Carol Ann Duffy and lots of Jen Hadfield and chunks of Ruth Padel and Don Paterson, Jackie Kay and many other poets that you might have heard of. I look at Duffy's book of love poems ('Rapture') again and still can't decide whether I want to own it or not. Other people's love poems...I'm just never sure they're what I want to read at home. Saying that I still might buy 'Rapture' (probably second hand...one of these days). I also pick up Kei Miller's book 'There is an anger that moves' (because I've seen his name online here and there) and I do like the snippets I read in the crowded store (though it's not an ideal way to peruse poetry really). Again it's one I might buy on another day, in another place (I very much like the opening poem). We're spending a lot of money on this weekend away (train, hotel, tickets, food...) so I can't just buy a heap of books without giving it some thought – I have to make sure it's something I really, really want. And now I sound like a Spice Girl...time to move on.

Saturday 2pm
Speaking of girl power I now have on-my-own free time till about 4pm. What to do? I suppose some people would go clothes shopping or something but not me. Instead I walk in sunshine to the Dean Gallery and just sit outside for a while enjoying peace and quiet and a chance to think. Then I go in and see the current (free) exhibition (also mentioned by Swiss in the city – back here). I enjoy parts of it - the Letter Writing Project by Lee Mingwei (and I did add a little letter of my own – why the heck not?) and the film by Joshua Mosley about two dead French philosophers wandering about a forest. And then I go downstairs to look at the Dalí and the Miró (both always good for a laugh).

Over the road at the National Gallery of Modern Art I go into their (also free) summer exhibition and am pleased to get to know photos by Francesca Woodman (I'd never heard of her, she was an American who lived 1958-1981) and the fascinating work of Vija Celmins (never heard of her either – loved the work though...spiders webs and stars and all sorts of lovely dusky, dusty things). In contrast the work on display by the show's big names (Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol) just bores me and I get away from it as quickly as I can. I try to be really fair when I look at the Hirst section and not let things into my head like 'he always seems such a tosser' and 'I knew some of his friends once and they were tossers too...' but none of that does any good. I just find his whole area more shop than gallery, more product than art, more money than...well, anything else really. And it's not just hating famous Brit artists (or whatever they're called) because I really enjoyed the Emin exhibition here last year. And it's not a gender thing either because after this visit I go upstairs to see one of my favourites things in Edinburgh (Picasso's little blue period piece 'Mère et enfant'). It's always up there (as part of the gallery's permanent exhibition) and I could just look at it for hours. And Picasso was a bloke, right? And probably a tosser a lot of the time too.

Then I go to the hotel nearby and read an interview with Richard Dawkins (another one...) and a piece by Margaret Atwood about her latest literary tour (can't seem to find that online). The Times newspaper is free every day at the Book Festival (hence my change from usual paper!). It's not too bad.

Saturday 5pm

We eat. We meet up with Gillian Philip who I know vaguely through writing matters and who is here for work and play (she writes fiction for teenagers). She goes off to hear David Peace at the Book Festival and we three go up to the Royal Mile to see all the shenanigans going on up there. We have a lot of fun watching a very entertaining Canadian unicyclist (wearing only his Y fronts...) and then we go back to the hotel and to bed.

Sunday 7am
We get up early as Lovely Girl's first choice of book reading is Jacqueline Wilson and that starts at 10am (festival doors open at 9.30). We are all pretty sleepy but we shake ourselves into action. Jacqueline Wilson is VERY popular with young girls in the UK so this will be a busy one!

Sunday 9.32am
There is already quite a queue outside the tent where Wilson will be reading but we join it and I try not to think too much about my years and years of panic attacks in crowded places (see two posts ago...). There is more than a hint of power-mothering going on in the queue (those horsey English women – where do they breed them for goodness sake?) and I consider copping out and getting Mark to take the Girl in instead. But then I think that I really would quite like to hear Wilson so I stick with it and in we go.

Jacqueline Wilson is charming so even with the hordes (and the odd waves of nearly-panic-nausea) it is a very enjoyable hour (the writer smiles and smiles and smiles). There is a good interview with her in yesterday's paper (here) and very much part of her tale is that she was told she would never be a writer (by everyone – including her mother!) and look at her now (one of the most successful children's authors around for sure...and a very good one too). Lovely Girl is disappointed not to be one of the chosen few to get a book signed at the end (Wilson has a lot of devoted fans and due to a recent illness is under doctor's orders not to sign too many books!) but I have to confess I am not disappointed (once again the queue is enormous, even with the limited signings available). The on-site children's bookstore is mobbed so we leave the site to find a quieter spot.

Sunday 11am

We go to Waterstone's bookshop on Princes Street and it's really quite civilised considering the festival round the corner. Lovely Girl walks from stack to stack with a misty look in her eyes ('ah books, my friends!'), Mark watches the cricket score on his phone and I go down to the poetry section in the basement. Now this is more like it – a great selection and peace and quiet to enjoy it all too. I browse and browse. I look at the Kei Miller book again. I say hello to Katy Evans Bush (well, her book anyway ...I don't buy it though – already got it). I pick up a Glyn Maxwell because I remember reading about him at TS Eliot prize time and thinking I liked the sound of his writing. I look at lots of books and titles and names (so many poets in the world, I think, as I see name after name that I've never heard of before). I look at Nick Laird's book and think how nice it must be to have your poems in a Faber and Faber cover and be married to Zadie Smith (but I'm sure he has his problems too...who doesn't?). I would very much like to have poems in a Faber and Faber cover but am aware that this life outcome is unlikely (things as they are) and that this is something I really shouldn't dwell on too much.

As I was just sorting out bookshelves at home the other day I am all too aware that I buy quite a lot of poetry books that I then hardly read at all (there are some I do read and reread but they are quite a minority). With this in mind I try hard to pick a book today that I might actually still want to read in a week's, a month's, a year's time (it's hard to work this out in advance of course). In the end I buy Margaret Atwood's 'The Door'. I have read her prose before but never her poetry and the lines I read from the book as I stand in the shop seem to speak (or sing?) out to me in a way that so many of the others don't. I have said before that one of my problems with a lot of printed poetry coming out just now is that so much of it seems to be trying so very, very hard to be clever (I am all for cleverness but not that forced look-at-me, pat-me-on-the-back, aren't-I-brilliant cleverness...as much as anything it's just not to my taste...and there's so much of it already). Maybe because Atwood's novels are so prestigious she doesn't feel the need to lay her poetry on with a trowel because 'The Door' certainly does come across as simpler, clearer, less cluttered than a lot of the other books on the shelves. Maybe I misjudged it though and I'll hate the book when I actually sit down to read it more thoroughly. I'll let you know...

Sunday 2pm
After another meal out Lovely Girl and I go and line up for Anne Fine back at the Book Festival. Fine is reading in a smaller venue (and this event is not sold-out) so this is quite a different experience to the other two readings. The Girl is very fond of one of Fine's books ('Bad Dreams' – a very serious little novel about a bookworm, a great story, we both loved it) and she also liked 'Mrs Doubtfire' (Fine, of course, wrote the book that inspired that movie) but beyond that neither of us know much about her apart from the fact that she's English and has written lots of books for all ages.

I can't say this bit is the hit of the weekend for me. Mainly Fine reads from her new book...which I have to say sounds fairly painful – one of those books full of 'hilarious adventures' and 'crazy characters' (er, cheesey stereotypes more like...) that are so not my reading choice these days. She does a lot of laughing at her own jokes and to be fair a lot of the audience laugh along too (our Girl included) so maybe it's just me (I'm afraid I am very, very picky about humour...even worse than about poetry). Her humour, in this instance, seems to consist of some tired old stuff about Scotland (the weather, the crazy characters...) - all with the excuse that she used to live here (well, in Edinburgh anyway). She also reads sections of the book featuring a 'hilarious' New Age bimbo character (that reminded me of stuff Alexei Sayle was coming out with twenty years ago or more...it was new then!). Then she does a lot of slagging off of whatever the hell 'political correctness' is (and this activity is usually an excuse to get away with lots of tired and lazy material, I find) and then a lot of talking about how she couldn't work with anyone ever (hmmm...). More than once, partly because of her horsey English lady voice, she makes me think she might just be Jennifer Saunders trying out a new daft posh lady character for 'Jam and Jerusalem' (and no, I haven't watched the new series, but my Mum has...). I don't hate all of the reading though – Fine says some good things about kids and reading, some OK stuff about families – and I do laugh once or twice. She is nice to Lovely Girl too and answers her possibly bizarre question and signs her book (small queue) so all things considered I might buy more of her books for the Girl in the future....though not in any particular rush (and not the new book – not never!).

Sunday 4pm

We do some more wandering the streets and watching street performers (one Scottish fire-eater, one New Yorker comedy-escapologist) because it's not raining and the Girl loves all these (really) crazy characters. I love them too...always have loved buskers (the more creative the better) and anyone who attempts to make their living from standing outside doing something unexpected.

We have another meal, get another train, play some more cards. I read a lovely article about Michelle Obama and Washington DC and 'controlling your own destiny' and think 'well, Faber and Faber...you never know, do you?'. And then we're home.

x

Friday, 21 August 2009

Got to have a song for the weekend

I can't possibly leave the post below as the last thing whilst I'm away over the weekend - far too woeful. So, as usual, it's up to music to change the mood...well, at least a bit. Some of you might remember that back here I wrote about Martin Simpson appearing at our local folk club. He really is brilliant and we were just listening to one of the many albums of his that we own (as we took the Girl to some ABBA related event in town...) and I thought 'yes, some Martin Simpson would do nicely'. I went looking for his version of 'Boots of Spanish Leather' (which we love) on youtube but I couldn't find it. Instead I found his version of the Randy Newman song 'Louisiana 1927' (there's some chat at beginning but I quite like that):



I suppose this one might be kind of fitting this week so I've gone for this old blues number too:



Martin Simpson has a new album just out called 'True Stories' and is back at our folk club in Montrose on 6th October. Hurray, hurray, hurray!

Back next week. In theory.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Don't panic!

There have been some fascinating blog posts about this week thanks to a meme called 'transformative moment' that started (I think) over here. Our friend Titus wrote one of the most amazing, heart-stopping contributions but the posts have all been interesting in their way (that JoAnne McKay, though, she can't half write...).

I wasn't going to join in (after all, I barely know Steven over at the Golden Fish and it's a weird week getting Girl back to school and all...) but then the subject started to interest me. Of all the things that have happened to me what would I choose to write about? What would be interesting? Every single thing we do changes our life in some way – but what was especially significant for me...what has made me the strange bundle of features that I am? I think about other people a lot ('why did he say that?', 'what is she up to?', 'is he really what he thinks he is?') and to be honest a lot of the time I try not to think about myself (you might not believe that but it's true). With this question, however, there was no getting away from it. Here was a mirror. Who dares to look?

So I pondered a little as I walked the dog and got back into the term-time routine. I thought about happy changes (the evening I first caught Mark giving me a sparkly-eyed look, the moment I realised I did want to try and be a Mum after all, the day our Girl was born) and then I thought about some of the old miseries (I can't even be bothered to list them – what a load of tiresome old baggage!) but then this morning I had a thought about what I might write after all.

Panic.

Yes.

Panic.

Panic is something I've touched on here sometimes (jokes about driving, comments about crowded places, stuff about general nervousness) but it's not a subject I've ever really written about in any detail before (anywhere, ever...I don't think). I've read plenty in newspaper features and in famous people's biographies about panic attacks but it's something I've kept back from a little (as if hoping, perhaps, that if I didn't write about it then it would magically disappear). There are bits about panic and anxiety in my poems of course but nothing too laboured (I hope) and if anything I've tried not to make too much of my panic experiences because I know that it's kind of a boring subject in a way - especially to people who've never really experienced it. It's a somewhat invisible problem but it's something that affects a lot of people. And it seemed the thing to write about today.

So my transformative moment (or one of them) would have to be....my first ever panic attack. It went a little something like this.

I was on an aeroplane (bad choice – no possible exit!). I was in my mid 20s. I was wearing a suit (or some other kind of horrible mid-market executive outfit) because, unbelievable as it sounds now, I was on a business trip. I was even in Business Class! Can you imagine?

I was working for an advertising agency (in the Research & Planning Department...what a load of rubbish, honestly) and because I knew a few languages I'd ended up getting sent with one of our clients (a large chemical company's fibres division!) to an international synthetic fibres convention in Germany. It was not exactly a milieu where I felt at home (suits, suits and more suits) and I'd been bored at the convention all day and bored at the horrible drunken business dinners by night. By the end of the few days I was desperate to get back to Leeds, to my then boyfriend and to my weird double life (ad. exec. by day/crazy loved-up, bug-eyed raver by night). I got on the plane with no thoughts of fear because I'd never been scared of any kind of travelling up to that point, I'd never really known anxiety as I'd been a confident child and a know-it-all young adult who found almost everything easy. I got off that plane quite a different person.

I think the panic started as we got near to the clouds on take-off. I was sitting next to a guy who looked a bit like Neil Kinnock and I think he worked in a shoe factory or something. I think I remember that he had a magazine about shoes in his hand. I think he was sat by the window. All I remember clearly is suddenly looking out of that window and thinking 'what the hell? How did the ground get away so fast? Where are we? What are we doing? Does everyone else know we are so high up and going so bloody fast?' There were lots and lots of other crazy, crazy, very fast questions too. I didn't say anything out loud of course (panicking people rarely do – it's mostly internal torture) and it's quite possible I even carried on a boring conversation with the Kinnock guy about where we'd been and who we worked for and what we'd had for breakfast. But inside I was thinking like a car alarm 'panic, panic, panic'. It was really terrifying. It was really surprising.

I learned very quickly what this kind of panic is like. Things happen when you panic that no-one else sees for a start – like suddenly the place where you are shrinks (so the plane felt really, really small...a bit Alice in Wonderland...horrible, not at all funny). Also the voice in your head gets really, REALLY loud. And you sweat. And you worry that you'll be sick or crap yourself or something (and when I say 'worry' I don't mean a mild concern...I mean worry like every cell in your body is stretching and going to pop). You are hyper-hyper-super-self-conscious and it's really, really revolting. You want to be beaten over the head with a mallet ('please stewardness, hit me hard!'). You want to lie on the floor and have people trample all over you. You want to die. And as quickly as possible, please.

Do you think I'm exaggerating? If you do then I would say you've probably never had a panic attack so (a) you should feel glad about that (b) you should to try be a bit more empathetic and (c) you should watch your step because it's often the people who think they'll never succumb who end up going through these kind of emotions and experiences. I suppose I had always been a bit emotional but I'd never had confidence problems or anxieties or travelling worries before this flight. I'd been on planes before. I'd even enjoyed flying up till then. Now, suddenly here I was at however many thousand feet with a shoe salesman and a panic problem that made me feel like a human warhead. I'd never panicked before so I didn't know about deep breathing or anything simple like that. I didn't know anyone on the plane and I didn't know who I was either all of a sudden. I just sat and freaked the fuck out (sorry, polite readers). It was, what, an hour in the air? But it was a very, very long flight. I don't remember getting off.

I suppose if I'd found a good doctor straightaway, immediately stopped taking recreational drugs (and never taken any ever again), had a less confusing family, if I'd learned to meditate within weeks...stuff like that...then maybe the panicking business wouldn't have taken such a hold on me. But I didn't do any of that. I carried on with my life as it was, I saw bad doctors, I didn't listen to them anyway, I started panicking all over the place (buses, cinemas...anywhere with a row to sit in)...and then I walked out of my job and started panicking professionally (well, I was a nightclub DJ too - who would notice in the dark?). After several years of dedicated lunacy I even started panicking whilst driving and had to give that up too. A lot of things changed in my life as a result of this new ability (far too many to go into in one paragraph) but they weren't all bad changes. Some of them were very, very good changes in fact (nothing's ever simple, eh?).

That first panic was getting on for twenty years ago now which is hard to believe in many ways. That change in my life (in my habits, in my opinion of who I was, what I did, what I was capable of) changed everything for me. For a while (quite a while!) it made everything hard. At one point (about 15 years ago) I couldn't go out on my own and walk to the corner shop without panicking. But now I can do most things again...well, little by little...and I know it's made me a kinder, gentler person (which I'm glad about...I think I was probably quite an arse as a youth). It's not been easy and it's all kind of stupid...but what can you do? Them's the breaks.

x

Monday, 17 August 2009

Plus One

My second bit of news is that I'm putting on a poetry event in Montrose this year for National Poetry Day. It will be the day after NPD in fact (hence the name - "National Poetry Day - Plus One") on Friday 9th October at the Links Hotel, Montrose. Star poets will be (him again) the marvellous Hugh McMillan from Penpont, Dumfriesshire alongside the very popular local Montrose poet Raymond Vettese. There will also be a song or two from Aberdeen-based Grace Banks, Montrose's Charlie Williamson and Monifieth's Pauline Hynd. I will introduce/compere/host but not read a poetry set as such (I found when I organised an event in Edinburgh in November last year that either organising or reading was preferable to trying to do both...). Anyway this great event is the first National Poetry Day event that I've heard of in Montrose since I moved here five years ago and I'm hoping a good audience will turn out for it. Tickets are very reasonable (£3 from Henry Hogg's in Montrose or by emailing me at usual address) but the bar prices at the Links will make up for that (they're fairly...er, ambitious). Still, all in all it's a great venue with lots of room and full disabled access and facilities. Doors on the night will open at 7.30pm with mikes switched on at 8 or thereabouts. I know a lot of you live too far to make it but spread the word if you can. I need to get my arse in gear and sort out tickets and posters and all that now the bairn is back to school. I will do it...this week!

More soon.

x

p.s. There is now a separate page for poetry events like this. It's here.

Edinburgh books

This weekend we are off to the Edinburgh Book Festival because our Girl is a total bookworm and asked if she could go and see/hear some of her favourite writers there this year. We'll be at 3 events (all Girl's choice), staying one night in a ridiculously over-priced festival season hotel and perhaps there'll even be a chance for me to nip off to an art gallery or something big city like that. Maybe I might even bump into some of you hanging round a bookstall or sitting at a bus stop. Throw me an email if you're around and want to meet up for a cuppie or something. Juliet (Crafty Green Poet), for example...it might be nice to meet you face-to-face.

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Friday, 14 August 2009

A rose alone

Our folk club was back to work this Tuesday just gone. The guest was Michael Marra (who I've written about before...at least once) and I've posted a poem about and a clip of him on myspace this week. He really is the bee's knees, the cat's pyjamas and any other 'my goodness, he's fantastic' expressions that you'd like to come up with. Great writer, great singer, great showman (in a strangely quiet and gentle way).

I read two poems in the middle slot (as usual) – the summer one I posted back here and one other. The latter is a poem I wrote last year and have done nothing with up to now. I did give it some explanatory introduction at the folk club this week but as I was saying the words I was thinking 'I wish I hadn't started on this tack...never mind, too late now...' So I'll not do that again. Here it is...no introduction...just on its own. As it should be, perhaps.



Lonely rose


In amongst the pairs
And the busy, bright crowds
There you are, lonely rose
Soft and proud, blooming strong

You hold your layered head
So high, ever ascendant
Petals may escape
But you elect not to see

You have heard that wild flowers
Grow sweeter, more popular
You know that they are having
Warm moments in the sun

But you prefer not to dwell
On their freer, briefer, pretty lives
Full beauty's your target
Crowning colours, stately stems

And it's onwards, always upwards
For you prickly, funny, cut-off rose
You have fought for your place
But been fair, in your way


RF 2008

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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

And now Germany

Swiss was quite right - the Radio 4 series about German philosophers is just grrreat. There's only a bit of it left on the player now but still...a little good is better than a huge pile of nothing. I'm also enjoying the music used in the series...it's this:



So try to grab a bit of it if you can. Apparently the presenter Stephen Plaice is a poet too (as well as a writer for film, TV and opera). He does sound a bit that way...much sadness in the voice. Ausgezeichnet!

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Monday, 10 August 2009

Words and more words

Short posts right now! Here is another holiday photo:



(very rough translation - 'thoughts fly and words go on foot - there you have the writer's drama/problem/story')

We took this photo in France - in la Charité sur Loire where they have little excerpts like this all over town thanks to their yearly word festival. I'd never heard of the writer quoted above (one Julien Green) but you can read all about him here. I liked the quote.

Told you it was short posts...schools back next week.

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Friday, 7 August 2009

Repeating history?

What with visitors and more visitors and usual summer holiday business there is not much reading or writing going on here. I am still deep in 'A Place of Greater Safety' when I can get to it (now at page 794 of 871...) and it is still brilliant. I'm now at the bit where everyone is pretty much killing everyone and it's all grim to the point of open-mouthed horror...and yet the writing still has a bewitching light touch now and then that keeps the reader fascinated/baffled/on alert– it's quite a work of art.

Both that and Hugh McMillan's recent poem (here, oh and here) remind me about writing about history (which I did here – one of the first poems I posted on't blog). I am one of those lost folk who 'dropped' history at 14 years of age (we had to choose that or German and languages were my main interest as a yoof so it was no contest) and I wonder how different it is for pupils of the no-doubt inspirational Prof Shug. What they will go on to do/learn/write/think? Will they think about history some time before their fortieth birthdays? And did I say 'inspirational'? Didn't I write something the other week about not using words like that? Really, a person could tie themselves in knots with this writing and thinking business...

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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A year gone by

It's just over a year since I put my first poetry book out. Which book? Why, this one (all please look towards sidebar→).

Some of you own a copy...some of you don't. If you don't have a copy (and want one...) you can still buy it from my website (go to 'book' page) or from Amazon. Also I'm more than happy to do bookswaps...or book/cdswaps...or really any swap that sounds interesting so just email me to discuss (such is the freedom of self-publishing - you get a few morons looking down on you in a snooty fashion but really, small-minded snobs will be small-minded snobs and there's very little I can do about that).

As it has been more or less a year since publication I have been thinking now and again this summer about the decisions I made when putting the book out...about what I might regret or change. I have wondered about stuff like whether I was right to publish what and when I did, about whether it was wise to make it a mix of high and low, of serious and much less so, of short and long and oh, so many other mixtures! What would I do differently now? Would I wait? Would I edit? Would I stuff the whole thing under the mattress?

I'm glad to report that after a bit of wandering about in the recesses of my mind I have come to the conclusion (at least for now) that I wouldn't change a thing a year on. I know that some of the poems in 'More about the song' that seem lighter/easier/slighter will always repulse certain types of poetry folk (in an 'oh my god, is she brainless?' kind of a way) but I still believe strongly that some (if not all) of those poems are of value and all go towards making the book what it is. I know that I could have put out a book containing just poems that might earn earnest headnods and words like 'proper', 'serious' and 'developed' but, for me, that wouldn't have been an honest book, a complete book or anything like the whole story. It wouldn't have been balanced and balance is something I am always striving for (aren't we all?). The world is mixed, varied, faulty, messy and I like to reflect that in my written output. I know that this is always going to affect how I am seen/known/forgotten in terms of poetry but I'm afraid that, in the long run, this is just the way I feel compelled to proceed (I suppose it could be an elaborate campaign of self-sabotage but I really don't think that it is). I know I may have closed certain avenues with some of the choices in the book but it still sells (and the postcards have never really stopped selling) and I still get a wide range of feedback from all sorts of readers so I feel... OK about it all in all (though obviously there's a bit of me that would love prizes and, you know, stature). Sure it would be nice to move on a level, to get the book 'picked up' in some way, to be able to hand over some of the promotional side of the whole affair to someone else...but that either will happen or it won't (and it's still early days really). It is poetry after all...not exactly blockbuster material...but then I am one of those twisted not-very-optimistic optimists and I still believe (on good days) that the book might surprise me and have a longer, more interesting life than some people might imagine. Some of the time it's even kind of fun watching and waiting and seeing what will happen. The big question now though is, what next..where next...how next? There are so many possible ways to go that I'm really not sure what I'm moving towards...in terms of writing, publishing, working. Mostly I'm still thinking about all the options which is quite a luxury I think. No, strike that...it's a huge luxury. And so in turn here is a luxury for you...some best of Pink Panther. My older brother was a big Goon fan and then, loving Peter Sellers, he watched all the Panther films and laughed like a very noisy drain at them. I'm not sure I ever understood them as a child but I did like watching him laugh. And it's still the holiday season (two more weeks of school holidays here) so we should all do as much laughing as possible.




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Sunday, 2 August 2009

Right here's where you start paying...

Some of you will remember that I have been revisited of late by random songs from the past (particularly big female vocal numbers). A while back it was a Carpenters song. Then it was Dusty Springfield/Guys'n'Dolls. And then last week I found myself wandering about in this song from a certain 1980 movie:




Now if you hate that song (and I have to say it is verging on the power ballad...one of my least favourite genres...) you should know that the dialogue straight after this clip features the character Bruno Martelli saying 'that was nice, really' and Coco Hernandez (played by Irene Cara in the film) muttering the words 'sentimental shit' in reply. And it kind of is sentimental nonsense I suppose...but I still kind of like it (who hasn't felt 'out there on their own' once in while...I often feel it as far as poetry goes...). Also 'Fame' was a big part of my teenage life so it's no surprise that I'm still prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt getting on for thirty years later.

Even though the film 'Fame' came out a while before the OTT TV series I'm pretty sure I watched the TV show long before its more sophisticated Alan Parker-directed cousin. I was at my weird Quaker boarding school from the age of 11 so I didn't get to the cinema much - plus this was in the days before laptops and personal dvds so we just had one TV between what felt like hundreds of us. Basically this meant we watched very, very little TV (hell, we were too busy drinking and smoking and experimenting with sex) but I do remember watching 'Top of the Pops' and 'Fame' (both in a large common room with at least 30 other people). I think during 'Fame' some of us even danced around a lot (like they do here in the film but with less ability, I imagine). Eventually at some point I managed a trip to one of Middlesbrough's two tired old cinemas and saw the film (where young people in New York drink and smoke and experiment with sex) and I remember being quite surprised by it (no real clear story, nudity, drugs, lots of poverty...none of these really existed in the TV series). The movie does have some cheesey moments but it has some pretty good sections too (and I know this because I hadn't seen it for years so I got it sent from lovefilm last week and spent a couple of very legwarmer-filled hours lost with Leroy and Doris and funny-fringed Coco). Strangest of all though was the bizarre sight of 'ER's Dr Romano, Paul McCrane, (with hair!) playing acting student Montgomery MacNeil.

Much as I enjoyed revisiting the film I haven't been tempted back to the TV series (in fact I have always wondered how much 'Fame', in particular the glossier, frothier TV version, contributed to the rise and rise of celebrity culture, X Factors and all that). It did tell teenagers over and over that singing and dancing and acting was the best a person could get. Maybe it told it too well.

And now back to the laundry.

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