Monday, 29 September 2008

Woof woof, here come the buns

I am not one of life's planners – not at all. I plan my life about ...well, let's see...maybe 3 months in advance (or at most 6 months in advance for holidays and such like). If I have a plan at all it's a very loose one (so loose it falls to pieces quite regularly) and I've always been like this ever since childhood. Other people think I am organised and focussed and what-not but it's all a lovely illusion - I am really very drifty. For example I was not one of those children who planned what I would be when I grew up (do children ever do that? I'm not sure). I might have thought (or hoped) it would be something to do with writing...maybe...but nothing clearer than that. Likewise I never (not once!) planned a wedding day as I'm told some girls do (and I'm still avoiding that whole business quite effectively). Above all I never, ever, ever planned having a child or children. I never thought about names or how he/she/they might look or what kind of holidays we might have. Because of this Small Girl's arrival was a very, very unlaid plan. I decided at about 33 years of age know... maybe we could try after all (my Beloved being a fine, upstanding individual and all that – it seemed a waste not to even try) and then POW, as if by magic..there she was! Our baby! It was one huge shock to the system. For quite a long time I kept expecting Social Services to turn up – the whole thing being so obviously a huge in charge of a baby? No way!

Partly because of this lack of any planning whatsoever motherhood has been mostly a series of quite terrifying surprises for me. I really had no idea what I was getting into. The horror of worrying, the tedium of Mums' activities, the never getting to skive off (not what I would call may not be with them but the worry... that never sleeps) – all this has been like a series of mind blows. I will get through it (most likely) but my goodness... it's a job and a half - it makes me tired just thinking about it. And that's just one very sweet, mostly healthy little bundle of love. I'm a wimp I know but I have never pretended to be anything else to be fair.

One of the many things I was not prepared for was how you have to kind of relive your own childhood when you are looking after a small person. The songs, the stories, the arguments at school, the impossible decisions...all those things you have experienced yourself and then left behind...there they all are to be endured all over again (this time by proxy). Avoiding the heavier subjects this time I would like to mention some of the music and books that I have been reacquainted with over the past few years. Let's start in Sweden...

Now I quite liked ABBA when I was nine/ten years old but I never expected to have to listen to them again once I had moved on to other, better music (nobody tell that white water rafting ABBA fan...he'll be round here to beat me with his paddles...) and yet here I am in the year of 'Mamma Mia' (the film), once more listening to 'Take a chance, take a chance' and bloody 'Fernando'. I mean, come on...all the music in the world and here I am with 'Voulez vous, ah ha'! It's just too bizarre. I know I could refuse to have anything to do with the whole fiasco but then that wouldn't help Small Girl in the fitting-in-at-school business (not her strong point at the best of times). So I watch the film. I listen to the songs (though I draw the line at Pierce Brosnan's singing – we got the ABBA CD not the film soundtrack). However you play it, it is the cruellest déjà vu.

And then the other day it was 'Grease'. Small Girl had borrowed the DVD from a friend and as the story is mainly about sex and she is only eight I knew I would have to sit in for explanations and interrogations ('why does she think she is pregnant?' 'what kind of reputation?' 'is he trying to touch her boobies?'). Watching 'Grease' again 30 years on was just too weird for words. I still knew all the lyrics for a start...quite unnerving and's no wonder I don't know much of substance...look how full my memory is with all this twaddle. Mostly I never expected (or wanted) to see it again because it feels like my childhood not hers (hers is 'High School Musical' – she can have her own twaddle). After all I still remember queuing to see 'Grease' in somewhere like Darlington when it first came out (or when it got to Darlington – probably about a year after its initial release). I remember LOVING John Travolta for about 10 minutes (we all was a holiday didn't mean anything). I remember seeing 'You're the one that I want' on 'Top of the Pops' for weeks and weeks and weeks. It was all very exciting...but then (here's the important bit) I moved on. I never expected to have to watch the damn thing again! I especially didn't expect to watch it again and answer five hundred questions about sex and car maintenance at the same time. Also I am not one of these people who loves nostalgia...I like to move new new old music...and I really don't want to have to hear Travolta stranded at the drive-in again..especially now I'm old enough to realise how ridiculous he looks as a 'teenager'. He and the rest of the leads are so obviously middle-aged that the high school prom looks more like a fairly sad high school reunion. They look like parents! It's kind of sick...

It's the same with books. I read Small Girl a lot of bedtime stories and this week she chose Enid Blyton's 'First Term at Malory Towers' (one of the girls' boarding school books, published 1946). Now I was CRAZY about the Malory Towers books when I was eight or nine so I was quite keen to oblige...and then we started. It is so unsettling rereading these books and realising quite how cringemaking some of them are. It's amusing but that doesn't stop it still being a little awkward. At Malory Towers anyone who cries is a baby, anyone who misses their family is simply not sensible and anyone who breaks a rule is...well, a revolutionary to be shot at dawn before breakfast and prayers. Oh and the Scottish girl is careful with money! How could I ever have liked these books? Was I completely stupid? No, just young and...well, yes, more stupid than I thought at the time, obviously. Small Girl is loving 'First Term' I should point out...some of the girls are 'beastly' (see previous 'Brideshead' post) and do horrible things (she loves that!). Some of them even slap each other in rage...very fiction anyway.

Thankfully there are other happier revisiting experiences for me too. Not long ago I read both Dodie Smith's dalmatian books ('The Hundred and One Dalmatians' and 'The Starlight Barking') to Small Girl at bedtime and unlike the Blyton they were a joy to rediscover. This time I didn't have to laugh at my younger self for my junior tastes as I still really enjoyed them both – especially the less well-known sequel 'The Starlight Barking' that had been one of my very favourite childhood reads. I still loved the idea of a day when only the dogs wake up and Small Girl, of course, was thrilled (what with her Magical Kingdom of Dogs fantasy and all). Most interesting of all was the realisation that I have somehow turned into the character of Missus (the main bitch, Pongo's 'wife', nothing to do with hiphop). If you have only seen the films you will be confused by now as they changed the female lead dog's name to Perdita in the films whereas Perdita is more a minor character in the books. Still, it's true, I am Missus – quite nervous, a bit fussy, fairly vague, easily confused by real life but then, to everyone's surprise (especially her own), sometimes a source of wisdom. I haven't got quite so many offspring as Missus but I'm more maternal than I expected too – not very good at the driving to appointments but really not bad at the emotional stuff (so far). I can't tell you how strange it is to realise that you have grown up to be a Dalmatian bitch (strange but at the same time not completely unpleasant). It could have been worse - I could have turned into Cruella de Vil...

Other reread books we have enjoyed together include my favourite of all time 'Ballet Shoes' by Noel Streatfeild (I've always loved big houses full of a crazy mix of people - I live in one right now) and 'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M.Montgomery (that Anne – so feisty!). Small Girl in particular liked 'Heidi' by Johanna Spyri (she went wild for the idea of sleeping in hay) and I really loved getting back to 'The Railway Children' by E. Nesbit. I suppose 'The Railway Children' was an obvious one for me to connect with as a child (the disappearing father etc.) but one of my favourite bits concerned the mother. and how she coped while Father was off in prison, terrible people being beastly to him, being accused of treason and so on. I always loved it when 'Mother' sold a story to a magazine and there were 'buns for tea'. I's so English and of course they were hardly destitute – they were posh folks down on their luck, not really poor people – but still I loved it. There was something about the link between food and writing that appealed to me then and that still appeals to me now. I don't make heaps of money out of writing at the moment and we can't rely on it by any means but I do make some money (books sell, I get paid to read and, most unbelievably, to sing sometimes) and when I do there is nothing I like more than spending it on food - the tastier and more comforting the better. 'Poetry money' I say to my Beloved as I spend it, a big grin on my silly face, on Chinese takeaways, on a trip to the supermarket or just, quite simply and most beautifully, on buns.

So, with that in mind here's a picture of Verona and I earning hard cash at Brechin Arts Festival the other day. I don't put photos on here much...I'm lazy that way...but as I said before we did a show last week with poet Raymond Vettese, singer and writer James Penny and musician and singer Andy Davis. We're fairly tiny on this photo...who knows maybe we really are this small (thanks to Susan Storrier for the pic). It was a great evening and I read poems, Verona and I sang, the audience was lovely and I sold another stack of books. There was poetry money and all was well with the world for a couple of hours. Now, anyone for buns?

Friday, 26 September 2008

Edinburgh bound

The schools here break up in a week's time for the two week tattie holidays. I am just about getting Scottish enough to be able to say that sentence without sounding ridiculous (though Small Girl likes to call them the 'potato holidays' in a very English voice...just to be different!). Do they have tattie holidays all over Scotland...or is just round here where the fields really are filled with the vegetable in question? I have no idea. I'm still not that Scottish, obviously. point...during that fortnight we are going to Edinburgh for a few days - mainly family stuff, 'Mary Poppins' and all that...but I'm interested to get any tips for places in the city that I might not know (I have been quite a few times but I've never lived in Edinburgh so my knowledge is limited). Any good places to eat or drink, any interesting parks, museums, streets, shops...especially ones I might not have across so far...I'd be interested in any and all information - the stranger the better. Think of yourselves as the rough guide compilation team. Or something.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

What's up book group?

I expected that last Brideshead post to be a quiet wrong can you be? I've never been to a book group (though I did watch the C4 comedy series of the same name – very funny) but suddenly I feel like I'm in one...and hey. it's not half bad! In the past couple of days your comments on that bit of old tosh/classic novel (delete as appropriate) have been very interesting...and funny...and rude (mentioning no names...).

In the meantime I have been memed or tagged or whatever the correct term is. The delectable Barbara Smith has passed on this '6 Unspectacular Things about yourself' task. It's an odd one...I'm not sure what exactly counts as here are 6 things about me that I don't think you know so far and that are not really to do with poetry or writing (except everything is always to do with writing for can be a pain sometimes!). I hope they are of some interest.

1. I've always loved listening to music radio shows. When I was a kid it was anything (local radio or even Terry he still doing the breakfast show on R2...quite miraculous...). After that I listened to lots of different shows over the years as my music taste changed and rambled about. These days I listen to Mike Harding's folk show on BBC Radio 2 (usually on 'listen again'). I like his show because he's so enthusiastic and whilst I don't love every single track I'm interested in hearing all kinds of music within the genre (mainly because a lot of it is still quite new to me). I also like Stuart Maconie because he is a real music fan who puts music before his personality. As a rule I don't listen much to personality DJs (Chris Evans etc.) and oddly, perhaps, I was never a John Peel listener...I just didn't much share his taste in music very often. That's yet another thing I love about's really hard to pretend you like something...a person can sit and pose with what they think is the 'cool' book to be seen with (whilst really daydreaming about 'Countdown')...but can anyone sit and listen to 'cool' music (or 'cultured' music or 'interesting' music) if they really don't like it? I know I can't.

2. I always dress unsuitably for weddings. I don't mean to – it just works out that way. I'm really no good at anything to do with formal attire and I always end up looking like I'm either there to serve drinks or to be part of some kind of cabaret entertainment.

3. I am the youngest of 6. I have 3 half sisters, 1 half brother and 1 adopted brother. My oldest sister is 21 years older than me.

4. I passed all my science O-levels but my understanding of the principles of physics is so appalling that it is a source of much amusement for my Beloved. And there are little men in the TV - I don't care what he says.

5. I can swim in that not-really-going-places way but I never could dive in to a swimming pool. I tried to learn but just couldn't make myself stop looking up as I hit the water. Ouch...and ouch...and ouch again. Interestingly the poetry postcard of mine that has sold the most is the one called 'Diving' (it is a love poem though...and nothing to do with that other kind of diving either, Ken Armstrong, before you say anything!).

6. I love photo albums and can sit for hours looking at ours. I'm not fussy though...I'll sit and look at other people's for hours too. I love them because family pictures can tell so many stories. I do wonder sometimes how that will change now most people have digital cameras and only the good photos make it into albums. Back in the pre-digital days we couldn't be such perfectionists – family albums were full of out-of-focus snaps and heads cut in half...the good old days...

Now I am supposed to list rules and pass it on and all that but...I'm not going to. Anyone who wants to have a go...feel free...otherwise leave me one unspectacular thing... or little detail of your life... in the comments. I thank you.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Don't be so beastly! It's Brideshead time...

I am one of those weird people who has managed to live this far without ever seeing any of the 1981 TV series 'Brideshead Revisited'. Is that a record? How did it happen, you ask? Well, for a start I was at my weird Quaker boarding school in North Yorkshire when the series came out and we didn't get much TV access. All I watched in that period was 'Top of the Pops' and 'Fame' and I was really far more interested in Littlewoods own brand vodka and sexual experimentation than TV so I wasn't really bothered. Also I am not a fan of Jeremy 'stiff upper' Irons – men with those ridiculous plummy accents are just not my thing (I've tended to prefer the bit of rough...not nearly enough gamekeepers or...truck drivers in Brideshead) – and in general stories about toffs going to Oxford have always been low on my list of priorities, especially when I was younger. I have been a bit of an anti-snob snob in my time, I will admit it. These days I try to be more openminded and I am...most of the time. In the interests of fairness I will even try and incorporate as much Brideshead language as I can into this post. So, tally-ho, chaps, let's go hunting!

I did read some Evelyn Waugh years ago. I read 'Scoop' after uni mainly because I was very interested in journalism and journalists at the time (20 years ago now). I even fancied being a journalist but it wasn't for me – mainly because I am no good at recalling facts (which obviously means I would have made a great tabloid journalist but, you know, one has one's limits). I didn't even think of reading 'Brideshead Revisited' back was SO not the kind of book I was interested in then (I was political, right, it was obviously all about FASCISTS!). Also I had just spent three years in Cambridge surrounded by spoilt rich kids of pretty much every persuasion (I'm a spoilt, dysfunctional middle class kid myself...a world apart you know) and so I was hardly in the mood for more of the same in print. I had been very disappointed to find that Oxbridge institutions were still so full of what we used to call Brideshead types when I was there (1986-9) - I had shown up naively expecting to find intelligent students from all over the country, from all kinds of backgrounds, all there on merit (silly one!). There were some people like that...but there were also heaps and heaps of rich Sloanes too – all talking bollocks about skiing, getting their CVs together for city careers, drinking Pimms and talking in those annoying bloody voices! I lived in the north east of England till I was sixteen...I didn't believe there were really that many Sloanes in the world! So many stripey shirts! After 3 years of “What's wrong – family no money?” (a bloke really did say that to a friend of mine) I was desperate to get away from 'Brideshead' world so I got on a National Express coach out of there as soon as I could. Once free I just kept going... further and further north...until it was just all like a very well-enunciated bad dream.

Now I'm older and wiser I can recognise that maybe I overreacted... just a tad. I'm sure at least some of those annoying Sloanes were nice people. And I could have enjoyed the pretty buildings more. Plus I still hadn't read the book...what did I know about a 'Brideshead' world?

Well, finally, twenty years later..I've just read 'Brideshead Revisited' (partly because at least one of you talked about it back at the reading list post on prose fiction). Not having seen the TV series at all means that I came to the book with no real idea of the story or the individual characters. I was as unprejudiced as a person who's not keen on rich, Southern toffs can be. I mean I never joined the Socialist Workers Party or anything (but mainly because I was too lazy...I'm not sure they'd have had me).

But the did it go? How did I get on with Sebastian and Lady Julia and dear, dear Charles (Charles who is so plodding and ordinary and who only really comes alive when he meets the fabulous Flytes...when he's “discovered” by them)?

Well, let's see. I did really like some of the writing. Written in 1944-5 and first published in 1945, it is a marvellous period piece (with most of the action set in the 1920s and 30s...capturing, as Waugh saw it, the last era when beauty could flourish, the time before English society went to the dogs, got common and lost all its sheen). Of course English society only looked remotely sheeny back then if you were looking from the top end down – nothing particularly beautiful about the life of a 1920s parlourmaid, I don't imagine, and this is no 'Gosford Park' – anyone who isn't above stairs is of very little interest in this tale. Halt, I tell a lie – there is Nanny, darling Nanny...always knitting, very stupid. And there's Lunt, Charles' Oxford scout (or cleaner). Lunt spends a lot of time wiping up the sick of rich young men and that much has not changed...when I was at Cambridge we still had bedders (Oxford has scouts, Cambridge bedders...ra, ra bloody, ra) and they still spent most of their time wiping up sick...and urine. One morning I remember finding the bedder from our floor (a woman in her sixties) in tears because a group of rugger lads and got pissed and then pissed all over the carpet outside the door of a geeky guy they didn't like. The great and good? Sometimes I remember why I didn't like it there very much. Privilege does not always bring out the best in people.

Still, back to the book! There are some lovely pictures of that (in some ways) innocent time and some lovely lines. “I happen to like this bad set,” says Charles when he has broken free from the “middle course of culture” and found a group of new outrageous, fairly gay, society friends (with Sebastian the jewel in its big camp crown). “I like getting drunk at luncheon...I usually have a glass of champagne about this time. Will you join me?” His conventional cousin Jasper is unimpressed. Jasper is not interested in “an enclosed and enchanted garden”, in art or in beauty, in falling in love with pretty golden boys (as Charles..and Evelyn Waugh both did as part of their university education).

There are some gorgeous words too...Charles' father “footles about collecting things”, “crapulous” makes more than one appearance, modern art is “bosh”, EVERYTHING is “beastly” at one point or another, the trains abroad are full of “peasants” (honestly, these days, you call someone a peasant and they just overreact, innit?). Charles undergoes a “conversion to the Baroque” at Brideshead (the big fancy country house) and, I suppose, we readers are meant to be seduced along with him. It is tempting...the servants, the richness of everything, the grounds, the fancy bathrooms, life being one big long cocktail party. Who wouldn't weaken..? What would you rather have - egalitarianism? Oh, that's beastly, darling. Let's not even think about it.

Overall the book is just so sad the ways it is meant to be and a few more besides. All that money, the beautiful house and...yet so miserable. Yes, I know that's kind of the point but still...whiney really-quite-vacuous Sebastian drinking himself even more stupid, silly really-quite-vacuous Julia making disastrous man choices, tiresome Lady Marchmain weighing everyone down with restrictive religious mumbo jumbo that only makes them miserable (oh for god's sake, if you're going to be rich, just enjoy the bloody money, why can't you!). Then there's zombie-like Charles following them all about like a lovesick schoolboy...and lovesick for what? That miserable annoying bunch of layabouts! Pot/kettle I know but still I really did struggle to give a flying fig about any of these characters. It was only some of the great lines and little details that kept me reading as Sebastian got drunk (yet again) and Julia pouted and tossed her hair (yet again) and Charles thought about how brilliant they all were (yet again).

The feature of the book that confused me most of all was Lady Marchmain. At the beginning you think she is going to be a significant character (“She sucks their blood” says the delightfully outrageous Anthony Blanche of Lady Marchmain's relationship with the rest of the family and you think...oh goody, here's the drama) but then she is hardly in the book at all. I saw a trailer for the new 'Brideshead' film (out this year, I presume) and again the trailer made the mother of Bridey*, Sebastian, Julia and Cordelia look like a central character but if she is they must have written her a few extra scenes. I know Waugh tells us she is formidable, a great force in the family but we don't really see or hear it in the book. I know there is the whole religious question but to me that all felt forced and laid on top of the other better writing –somehow getting in its way. It also felt so like the work of a new convert (as Waugh was to Catholicism) trying to persuade us all how clearly his was the true way. It was an odd way to do it though (aren't converts always a little overzealous?) as to me he just showed Catholicism as cruel, unfair, inconsiderate and a bit..well...fluffy and silly at times. Is that really the way to win round the infidels? I know... let's force an old man to convert on his deathbed. See, told you God was good. That's not going to do it for me, I have to say.

Likewise how are we supposed to believe for one second that daft old Charles does eventually see the good way to paradise? Just because he doesn't get his girl? Because the chapel is so pretty? Is this the same character who earlier on sees his best friend (and first love) broken by the pressures of the family and its church of choice? “ 'I should like to bury something precious in every place where I've been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember,'” says Sebastian in the early, happier section of the book. He never does though. He just fact he rusts like a drunk...

Much as a lot of my favourite lines were the throwaway ones, most of my favourite characters were the minor ones – gruff Lex, adventurous Anthony (“a byword of iniquity”), Lord Marchmain (who abandons the charade of society and hides out in Venice with a dancer) and most of all Charles's father, Ned Ryder. I almost wanted to read another book about all their stories and forget the silly Flytes. Ned Ryder, for example, is not a major character by any stretch but the way he treats his son (as a nuisance) really did make me laugh (a bitter kind of laugh but a laugh all the same). Charles comes home for Xmas and his father does everything he can to get him to jolly well bugger off again. There was a refreshing honesty in that – these days we're all supposed to like our families...well, really. Poppycock. Likewise Anthony, for me, has some of the best lines - “'English snobbery is more macabre to me even than English morals'”, he says towards the end of the book and whilst English snobbery is not what it was it's still something the English enjoy excelling in a little much for my liking. I'm with Anthony, all the way.

Overall this book was not a great reading event for me - I expected more somehow. In the end I felt it provided a few laughs, some clever commentary, more than its fair share of prettiness but plenty of stomach-turning too, plenty of sloppy thinking and propaganda. If you believe what you read on the holy pages of wikipedia Waugh wanted us to feel the “atmosphere of a better age” in 'Brideshead Revisited', to see what we were losing and feel its loss and I suppose it is the nostalgia factor that has ensured the story's continued success. Pretty buildings and cruise liners aside though I finished the book, put it down and thought 'do you know, maybe things aren't so bad these days after all...'

* This made me laugh every time I read it as a 'bridie' round here is a pasty filled with steak mince. Quite apt really.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Quiet, please

I have been posting a lot lately. I think of myself as quite a well-balanced person these days (you should have seen me before!) but maybe I'm still some distance from that...maybe I am still more obsessive than on a level, more manic than mellow. I mean, look at me now...I could be getting ready to take Small Girl to school...making myself look...tidy like some women do (how do they do that?). Instead, I am typing...half-eating breakfast...ellipsis fever, as ever.

Anyway, this will not be a long post - I just fancied putting a poem up this morning. So here's an old poem...ten years old or so. It is one of my favourites and interesting to me because it articulated how I would write poems (and why) from quite early on... before I really understood what I was doing! Hah! How about that! I always think the poems know better than we's really strange but somehow true, I think. And all this from the person who believes in nothing!

I thought of this poem because of discussion in the comments in the last post with Barbara and Colin, in particular. I do like discussion with good people. There are so many morons in the world...selfish bores, nasty, bitter little people who refuse to smile...I haven't given up on any of those people (yet) but I much prefer it when I find the people who will think, who will discuss, who will add something to other people's lives not just take, take, take...

Which reminds me - the word 'bark' in this poem...when I wrote it I was living in a grotty small flat in Leeds. My neighbours in the next building (horrible people) left their huge dog alone all day and it barked and barked and barked. I was going through a long, drawn-out agoraphobic phase (oh and claustrophobic...I think I've mentioned that before!) and I was stuck there, crazy as hell, listening to this damn dog. I did go and tell them about it once...their response was fairly typical...a loud, growled “what do you want us to do, have it's fucking tongue cut out?” (Excuse the swearing – it's there for realism). I was not up to dealing with aggression in those days. I went home and cried for about two weeks. Then I moved. I moved in with my beloved (a wise choice!).

This poem is in my book – right at the front. It's a brave little thing. I think the whole putting out a book is brave too – no publisher to back me up, no publisher's name for people to see and say 'oh, it must be good, so and so has put it out'. No. It's just me. (Well, me and him indoors who's good at all the stuff I'm not!).

Here's the poem -

A little sh

Words speak
For me
They even sing
Or bark
It's nothing
That I have
No voice
For words
Will bring
Their own
Sound in

RF about 1997

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Visually elsewhere

I write about music and books and films and TV but I don't write much about visual art (painting, photography, or those fancy not-so-new-now installation things). Also I'm sure I have mentioned now and again my less-than-finely-honed visual sense. The fact that I fail to notice visual details (“The picture's moved? What picture?”) is a source of comedy for some of my visual artist (and generally more visually-minded) friends but I don't mind - I notice other things...lots of them. I notice how people talk, what they say, who they are friendly to (and who they are not), what they are thinking, why they are doing what they are doing. I know I don't write much what you might call conventionally-descriptive poetry but I don't worry about that a whole lot - I reckon there is plenty of very, very descriptive poetry being written already (plus I think mine is descriptive...just not necessarily in a visual way). A while ago I wrote a poem about this and called it 'Seeing isn't everything' (on website – in 'Seeing and believing) and it is a poem that has done well for me. It was chosen for the magazine 'Pushing out the Boat' last year, I put it in the book and I've had some good reactions to it. Also the poem helped me understand the way my mind and senses worked and helped me feel OK about the whole thing. We are what we are, after all. I don't think we all need to notice the same things.

However...however...we are what we are but we can still change too, right? I try to change...all the time I am still working on the visual sense...still trying to see more and to see how other people get so much out of seeing. I go to galleries – as often as possible considering where I live and how I get about (not very well) - and I read articles about art and artists. I watch those TV shows where they try to bring art to the plebs (like me!). Also I visit blogs where the writers DO have a highly developed visual sense and interest in visual art (Dave King, Baroque in Hackney...). I read them and I look ...and I read and I look. I'm not sure how well this is going...but it's a project now, no going back.

Just recently I have been reading a lot about the Brit Art sharks-in-tanks/condoms-on-the-floor duo of Damien and our Trace (Ms Baroque on Hirst and Mr King on Trace, amongst others)...all of which makes me think that if this were a film they would be an in-and-out-of-love-and-lust couple (Damo and Trace not Baroque and King). But they're not - they're just two very, very successful artists. They have done that thing that artists struggle to do – they have made money. Is it unfair? Probably. Is their art any good? Probably not (though I do have a soft spot for our Trace herself, if not for her bed and her pants...or lack of...who wouldn't...if she were a character on Eastenders the whole country would love her, she would be a national treasure like Barbara Windsor). But is it wrong that these two do so well? Probably. Do other people deserve it more? Quite possibly. Is the system a load of nonsense (whoever gets highest price is best)? Yes, unquestionably. But is it life (not art) that has made the system? Yes. And is life a bitch? Look the answer not everywhere?

Still, I'm interested in the rest of art too – in the pictures and other creations that are all going on behind the noisy bling-fest of Mr god-I'm-so-ugly-I'd-better-get-rich Hirst. I'm not really sure how I ended up such a devoted music fan and such a keen reader but with not really much knowledge or interest in visual arts but I'm keen to investigate so off we go!

First off we are not a family of seers, I suppose. My Dad was a GP (family doctor) who loved comedy and poetry, my Mum was a Social Worker who still loves novels, biographies, theatre, TV and classical music (oh and Lloyd Webber...) and my brothers played a lot of loud rock music and watched a lot of TV and films. No one was really an art lover, looking back. My Mum would go to the Monet exhibition of the moment and things like that when in a big city but she has always liked some well ropey things at home (I'm sure I remember horrible hunting cartoons and lots of oily ship paintings and more than the odd dull landscape on our walls growing up). I do have an aunt who is an artist (Lilla Fox – she lives in Crawley and is in her 90s now but she did etchings, paintings, book illustrations, went on lots of CND demonstrations...) but we always lived a long way away and barely saw her (though she has always kept in touch). I remember watercolours of hers from my childhood (I think) and I do still love a good watercolour now but you don't see many (I like them the more washed-out the better). The Montrose sculptor and painter I wrote about recently, William Lamb, did local landscape watercolours that are beautifully faded now and that's undoubtedly one reason I like his work.

Also living where we did (Darlington, Middlesbrough area) well,...they may have arts centres now but they certainly didn't in the 1970s and 80s. I probably didn't go to an art gallery before the age of sixteen with one notable exception - a trip to the Louvre with my much older brother when I was ten. We did the obligatory find the Mona Lisa and say “bloody hell, isn't it small?” march with every other tourist in Paris. After that it was back to visiting every place Napoleon ever went, every cup he ever drank out of, every pot he ever pissed in etc. (my brother was big on military history – still is, I think).

So growing up I was exposed (if you like) to heaps of music and books and films and TV (and Napoleon memorabilia) but very, very little visual art. I knew people were artists but that's probably about as far as it went. Art was the subject I did least well in at school and I think, at the time, that was because it seemed too easy to me then...just looking and drawing or painting. I liked puzzles, questions, hard work (that was then - I'm the world's idlest fop now!). I'm not saying I was right – I'm quite sure I wasn't – but that's how I saw it then. I don't remember any of my art teachers (not even their faces!) but I can remember every book we read through primary and secondary, every play we ever went to or read, every song I liked in the charts.

When I was sixteen we moved to London and again I know I did go to an exhibition here and there but whilst I can remember all the plays we went to in that time (LOADS! After Middlesbrough living in London was like one big long theatrical orgasm or something) I can't remember any of the art. I remember going to some big exhibition at the Hayward Gallery but I've racked my brain for days and I can't remember who it was. Matisse, maybe? No idea.

At eighteen I moved to Madrid for a year and being on my own and with an easy job that gave me a lot of free time I did turn culture vulture in every sense. As well as going to the cinema almost every day (it was dirt cheap) I spent a lot of time in the Prado and elsewhere and I looked at many, many pictures by Velázquez, el Greco, Picasso, Miró, Goya...every Spanish artist you have (or haven't) heard of. So...OK...all that exposure...what can I remember? What really made a mark in my head?

A pause. A guilty pause?

Well. I can remember all the famous pictures ('Las Meninas', 'Guernica'...) but mainly because I think I spent a lot of time looking at them, trying to see what was so special about them. I could just see paint. Skill perhaps. But paint mainly. I remember other sights or images from that year in Madrid much more clearly - the sparkly dark eyes of the man I was in love with, the colour of the big bottles of beer we used to buy, the winding streets in the area where I lived, the fields of asparagus to the south of Madrid, the windmills they think were the ones Cervantes knew and put into 'Don Quijote'...all these things I can still see – clear as day. So this is my question – when it comes to it just that real life (and its memories) are enough for me? Does that sound weird? Do you think it will ever change? Am I a hopeless case and if so, what am I missing? If you told me I could never hear music again I would have to kill you, I think. If you said I couldn't read another book I would be pretty pissed off too. But with paintings and art....I'm just not sure. If I can see my little girl's beautiful curly hair (it's red/gold..and ringlets...perfection really) then why do I need to see anything else? I don't want a picture of it. What could be more interesting (to me anyway)? What could be more beautiful?

I'm a bit stumped. Any comments (beyond 'open your eyes, you thick bitch') welcome, as always.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Duck! Here comes the final curtain...

Even more thoughts on music than ever this week (is that seems so...). My musical pal Verona and I are part of an event called 'Angus Words and Song' at the Brechin Arts Festival in just over a week's time (Mon 22nd September). We are on the bill with local author, singer and musician James Penny, local poet Raymond Vettese and musician Andy Davis down at the Retreat in Glenesk. I will read about 8 poems but that never worries me (in fact I love doing it so much that it always seems a bit cheeky to take money for it) however we are going to sing too and that is more like work. We are going to sing one easy old favourite ('Sing when you're nervous'), one Verona solo ('Love song without a tune' which she sings beautifully - probably the best of the songs we have co-written) and one fairly new song ('The wandering song'). 'The wandering song' is a funny one because it started off as a screenplay I tried to write years ago. I had an idea I liked and I could see the film in my head but I just couldn't turn it into an interesting story on the page so I gave up. Some time later (when I was writing poems regularly and feeling more sure that this was really the best way for me to write) I remembered the unfinished project and it turned into a poem (or what I used to call one of my songs-without-tunes). Later still Verona read it, liked it and gave it a tune. We practised it for a while but we were never quite happy with it. Then just recently we tried it again, cut out a verse,fiddled a bit and now finally we think it has found its best self. This event on 22nd will be the first proper airing in public for this round-the-houses number. Maybe we are crazy to do a new song at a show like this...what can I say...we like to live on the edge...

During one of our talks about songs the other day we touched on that old 'what music do you want at your funeral?' business. I won't tell you Verona's choice (that's her business...she doesn't do blogs or email or websites) but I can tell you some of mine (I have enough for a full make 'em laugh, make 'em cry mix tape). Here are a few of my possibilities:

Tricky Hell is round the corner - this track from the Bristol boy's most magnificent album 'Maxinquaye'(1995) is the one I've mentioned for years in this context. I was a very bad girl in younger seemed apt then. Plus it's a great song. “Let me take you down the corridors of my life,” groans the Tricky one and that will do me as a way out. “Until then, you have to live with yourself...” Indeed.

Paul Simon Slip slidin' away - because I want it to be a cheerful occasion.

Carole King It's too late - I love CK and...same as the above.

Led Zeppelin Stairway to heaven – do you dare me?

Elton John Candle in the wind – no, this time I'm REALLY joking.

The Rolling Stones You can't always get what you want - I know. It's been done in 'The Big Chill'. Still a great funeral song though. And my pal Andy can play the joanna bit.

James Keelaghan Who dies? - Keelaghan is a great Canadian folk singer and this song has the chorus "Who dies? Everyone dies". I like the audience to feel involved.

But seriously..after a flick through my CDs I decided that probably the one song I want most (should I drop down dead tomorrow) is I think I'll call it morning by Gil Scott Heron. I've been a big fan of GSH ever since I first heard that amazing voice back in the 1980s some time. His voice isn't gravel – it is great big boulders of rock in his throat and I used to love his albums as driving music (in the days when I still drove myself...that was before I wrote poetry regularly...I think the two are not compatible...not for me anyway). GSH has a lot of brilliant songs (and a few terrible ones) but 'Morning' is one of my favourite cheer-me-uppers. It's uplifting without being an overplayed radio regular (in fact I've never heard it on radio – not ever). The lyrics don't look anything special on the page but coming out of his fine mouth they turn into something wonderful. Plus there's this bit:

“Why should I let tears fall from my eyes
When I've seen everything there is to see
And I know there's no sense in crying...”

Not a dry eye in the house. I can't wait.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Words like X-rays?

I've been reading Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' this week. I picked it up partly because a couple of you mentioned it for our prose reading list a while back but mainly because I bought a copy in that second hand bookshop in Ballater on holiday this summer (and our list just gave me that shove to read it a little sooner than some of the other books in the pile at the end of my desk). Written in 1932, my copy was printed in 1942 and so it is old enough to remind me that it is now really quite an aged book despite its futuristic content. My copy even has one of those fabulous handwritten extras “With best wishes, Bunty. Christmas 1942” on the inside. I love that kind of thing...who was Bunty? What was happening that Xmas... in the middle of WW2? What did the reader think of the book? What did the reader do in the war? My 'Brave New World' cost me £10 which is quite a lot for an old book. I'm usually quite a cheapskate (I visit a lot of charity shops) so it was nice to splash out for a change.

I'm not exactly sure why I didn't read this novel when I was younger. My eternal excuse is the old linguist one (I was busy reading Maupassant and Lorca and Büchner) but I can't keep on using that one forever now can I? I did read Orwell's '1984' when I was about 17 and in fact I can remember that reading experience very vividly. I got to the Room 101 section whilst reading on a long distance train and it fairly freaked me out (could that explain some of my travel problems just now.? Some hope...). After reading '1984' it is just possible that my know-all teenage self felt she didn't need to read 'Brave New World' as it would probably be very similar. Stupid girl! They are completely different books but, in her defence, she was young, she had much to learn. She's learning still...

Reading 'Brave New World' now it does make me wonder what I would have made of it if I had read it at 17 years of age. All that stuff about sex and reproduction and child development...I know I feel very differently, no COMPLETELY differently about all those subjects now. If I had read this book at 17 would it have altered my behaviour back then in any way? Or would I have just not understood what it was saying very well and concentrated on other bits of the story instead? Spending a lot of my day child rearing (as I do now) means all that stuff about kids playing sex games really jumped out at me this read...but would I have just read through that at 17, thought it a bit weird and rushed on to, frankly, more interesting subjects? I barely knew young children existed when I was 17...I was the baby of the family, the only way was up.

All the soma stuff in the book cannot help but be of interest to someone who immersed themselves in a drug-led culture too - as I did with the land of the rave. In fact the book used to get a lot of namechecks in that world and there is/was a dance music record label, Glaswegian I think, called Soma. If I'd read this at 17...would I have felt differently about drugs later on? Would I have behaved differently...made different choices, as they say these days? We'll never know. I don't have regrets, you should understand, just questions.

It's interesting too that it's really about idealism. One of my favourite bits is the prologue quote from the Russian philosopher Berdiaeff (or Berdyaev you might see now... he lived 1874-1948). It's in French but I can just about remember enough French to read it and give you my rough translation “Utopias seem more realisable now than we believed in the past. And so today we find ourselves with a worrying question – how can we make sure they do not get realised? Utopias are possible. Life is marching on towards utopias. Perhaps there will be a new century when intellectuals and the educated classes will dream of ways to avoid utopias and we will long to get back to a less utopian society, one that was less 'perfect' but more free”.

So what does that make you think of (apart from is 'realisable' a word in English...well, it should be, if not)? Maybe you might think about all the daft contradictions of modern life? Like “how can we stop obesity?” Might that possibly have anything to do with the fact that all many of us do now is sit on our arses all day? Or “why can't our children concentrate?” How the hell can anyone concentrate when the TV is on ALL DAY LONG? Or “I don't feel relaxed even after a holiday”. Well, packing yourself in a jet, polluting the planet, packing yourself on a crowded beach, drinking yourself that really the best way to relax? I could go on with this for some time. Modern life is bizarre. Maybe it always has been but it does seem to be particularly bizarre just now. And that's before you even start on the contrasts between the rich world and the poor.

Speaking as one of those “politically concerned idealists” Colin Will mentioned in the comments here a couple of posts ago I think about things like this a lot. I wonder, quite often, about change too. Like, is it ever worth trying to change anything? Can people change? Is it a good idea to even think about it (as I know idealism of any kind can make a person crazy and heck, I never need much help on that score)? I can play the pessimist quite convincingly but when it comes to people I tend to think most people have the potential to be good, to be kind, to be the right circumstances. I don't know why I feel this way...much evidence is to the contrary... and yet I still feel it. Maybe I'm just sick. I read this phrase in an article about environmental issues* recently “This is partly because, as the Marxists found, the human character is sadly unreformable...” and it has bothered me for the past couple of weeks. Really unreformable? Human beings are doomed to their own crapness? I write quite a lot of very optimistic poems (as well as lots of miserable, gloomy ones). I think a lot about how things could be better and I do (sometimes) write for change...even if that makes me stupid in the eyes of those who think writing is only ever about art. That's the thing about idealists – we don't care how stupid we look!

'Brave New World' must be a great book to teach to older kids in school for many reasons but largely because it is so packed with fantastic lines – the kind that make great quotes in an essay. I wrote a few down as I found them. There's the obvious “everyone belongs to everyone else” (can you imagine? Eugh.). There's “history is bunk” (Mr McMillan, sir, it says history is a load of crap in our book). There's “Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly – they'll go through anything” (that must have been used by a poet or two by now, anyone know?). There's “no offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behaviour” (hah!). There's “Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery”...and finally, one of my favourites, “Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons – that's philosophy.” I knew there was a reason I always found straight philosophy books hard to get through!

There is just so much that's good about this book. It is kind of simplistic compared to so many of today's convoluted novels that jump around here and change tack there. This one does start at A and end at Z, in a way, but I think that's one of the things I liked most about it. Whilst written about the future it is now almost's almost about the good old days when stories where stories....well, you know what I mean. It would be such a great novel to write essays about that it almost makes me want to go back to school just to write them. Maybe that's what I'm doing here (feel free to grade me if you like). Best of all though 'Brave New World' is full of Shakespeare (something I wasn't expecting) and, you know, I was right to mention him in the reading list for poetry earlier this week because that old Will Shakespeare – he really wasn't half bad.

*'A simple plan to save the world' by Michael McCarthy in “The Independent” (22nd August 2008)

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Light relief

Thanks for all your poetry offerings in the last post. Lots to be getting on with, lots to think about, lots of interesting comments. I started right away with Patrick Kavanagh as there were votes for him from Shug and Barbara and I'd never really taken him out for any kind of serious test drive. I'm really enjoying what I've read so far – thanks for that, clever readers.

I do like to have moments where this is something like a literary blog but I'm all for light relief too now and again. So... here's a thing I read over at Poetikat's the other week – '10 things you'll never hear me say'. Her list really made me smile so I thought I'd have a go myself. I am going to add a 'probably' to the title because life is all surprises never know...maybe I will be a Republican Party candidate by Xmas.


1.Please find enclosed an invitation to our wedding.
2.Oh goody, my BNP* membership card has arrived.
3.Yes, I'm having my nails done at 3 and my legs waxed at 4.
4.Doesn't Posh Spice** look lovely in that dress? I must get one.
5.Would you like a copy of 'The Watchtower'?
6.Oh look, I've won the National Poetry Competition.
7.I'm working hard on the beam but I think my best chance for gold is the floor routine.
8.Chairing Parent Council Meetings is my idea of heaven.
9.No, no more cake for me, thanks.
10.Driving HGVs long distance – my dream job, I'll start on Monday.

*British National Party – delightful group of individuals of the far right variety.
**Or any other daft woman in the public eye and, my god, are they thick on the ground.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Reading list for life – part 3 (bring on the poetry)

OK...I know I said Monday but I'm obsessive too and friend's daughter's wedding (tick), scarecrow festival (tick) so now let's get on with this reading list business. Cast your minds back to that imaginary 17 year old and the reading list we were putting together for them (I know it was a female 17 year old to begin with but I'm tired of being so gender specific...boys can read too, right?). This time...drum roll...let's recommend the poems or poets our 17 year old really, REALLY has to read. What or who should they read first? Which poet's name should they shriek as they run down to the local library, a half-forgotten iPod trailing in their wake? I know they could start by hunting down some poems on-line but you know me and libraries...I do love ' the running-down-the-street drama plays better, don't you think?

As we had the random pre/post 1920 division with prose let's use it again but this time let's squeeze all our thoughts into one post. I know this may make some of you feel cramped...but remember this is a few good recommendations for getting started and/or hooked - I'm not asking you to list every poet you ever read or anything. Back on 28th March of this year I wrote a great long rambling post about the poets and poetry I've read, liked and studied over the years so I'm not going to reproduce all that again right now. To get you started, though, here are my 17 year old reading list priorities for poetry written in English:

pre-1920 – Oh's my weak fact it's so weak I even considered starting with the post-1920 poetry just to make me look better. However that would have been shallow and fake and if I try to be anything in this life (and in this blog) my quest is to be as upfront, honest and truthful as possible (life is so full of crap – you don't need it from me as well, do you?). So here's the truth - I like Shakespeare (but rarely read any these days) and the pre-1920 poets I've read most often recently are Emily Dickinson (can't get enough of that wacky punctuation) and Robert Burns (I'm a New Scot...and quite a convert - it's the poem/song thing). After gets a bit misty for me. I've tried to read all the big names ( know Milton, Keats, yada, yada, yada...see I told you I was George from Seinfeld) but in all honesty...I usually start thinking about something else once the book is in my hand and end up not really reading at all. It's weird because back in our prose reading list posts the other week I found myself a little disappointed with some of the lack of interest in pre-1920 prose writers and yet here am I...admitting my...well...terribly embarrassing lack of enthusiasm for and knowledge about poets of that same era (and what a huge era...). It's not that I'm not interested in them - I just can't honestly say that I have read many of them with any great...understanding or vigour as yet. How can this be? Well...the family I grew up around was not a poetry reading family (at all), at school we did no-one before Eliot and then at uni I didn't study anything in English so I'm sure all of that didn't help but I don't want to hand out blame or excuses – I'm a big girl now after all! I have even thought about going back to study classic poetry (if such a course existed) but you know..time, money, family, stuff, plus I already have one degree that I never used for anything (other than getting jobs I didn't really want to do and shutting people up who presume I'm uneducated because of my bizarre punctuation and other weirdnesses). Also...well...I'm pretty busy writing and reading about a million other things (weak, I know, very weak...). Is it the subject matter (partly), the language (partly), the what seems like a neverending list of blokes (partly – although see below...some kind of feminist I may be but most of my newer recommendations are blokes so there's that argument as up the duff as a Republican Party candidate's teenage daughter). I even went to the Adrian Mitchell StAnza lecture on Blake this year and he was so evangelical that I thought 'yes, I'll go home and read Blake!'...but did I? Er, no. I started..but then I probably read the Radio Times and the local paper and the Independent music supplement and some Larkin (see below) and a novel and some old diaries and...well...pretty much everything except Blake. They say you need to hear the 'classic' poems read aloud to really appreciate them...but at home if I have noise on in the house it's nearly always music (addict, remember?) and there aren't many spontaneous Blake readings in Montrose. Plus sitting-still, well-behaved poetry reading events make me really uncomfortable (no, not bored...I specifically didn't say bored...) so I don't exactly rush off to them (music events every time – every time). As you can see...I need your help to make this bit of the reading list a bit more useful. So come on – let's have some must-reads please. All I can offer is the three I mentioned at the start of this extremely long paragraph. If you're still with me at this point!

post-1920 – This should be easier, if a bit short on the Scottish angle...some one else had better get to that. Sometimes these days I'm almost surprised how English I really am. For the most part when you're English and live in England you don't much think about it (perhaps sad but fairly true).

Philip Larkin. Number one priority. No question. On this Jim Murdoch and I are one! I've rambled about Larkin before but for me he just had (and still has) everything. I love the fact that he wrote both short, snappy, clever poems and long, detailed, clever poems. Also I love the bitterness and the sweetness in his writing... as well as the bitter sweetness (and the sweet bitterness? Probably that too). I think what makes him stand out to me so much is that X Factor (for want of a less trash-culture reference). It's like a tone of voice and I can really HEAR him, even when I'm reading it quietly in my head. (OK there may be a weird father-figure thing going on too but that's really not important to anyone but me).

Liverpool poets – Roger McGough, Adrian Henri, Brian Patten. It's not very fashionable to like them just now but fashion...pur-lease! They're not quite poetry gods like Larkin but they're pretty good mortals in my book and they did a lot to bring poetry back out of universities (Larkin, for example, much as I adore him hid in universities his whole adult wonder he was so bloody miserable). I'm not anti-university...not at all...well, not much...but...hmmm...I think it's another English thing...possibly a class thing...and I'll finish that thought another time.

Stevie Smith – there are a lot of great weird women poets of the 20th century but this one is as good a one to start with as any. I wouldn't put 'women poets' together necessarily but for the fact that most of my favourites are all odd ones, weird women who don't fit in anyone's group of they end up grouped as a non-group...if you follow me.

T.S.Eliot – well, 'The Wasteland' anyway. I'm not quite the fan that I know some other poets are but I will just mention him at the end here. I studied 'The Wasteland' at A level and really enjoyed getting to grips with it so I would still recommend it (if nothing else) to a younger reader (although I'm not sure how I would have got on with it without good teachers to keep me focussed and explain some of the references). I don't reread it much now, I have to say. When I try to these days I get the Monty Python/French & Saunders voices in my head ('no, no, keep away from the shadow of that red rock, you naughty boy') and I'm afraid I just can't carry on. Now you see, I don't get that with Larkin, never have. Larkin was somehow above pisstake for me and that is possibly the truest sign of greatness. For me anyway.

So now it's over to you...list away. I know some of you could probably fill blank-sheet bibles with your recommendations but let's try and keep them to a manageable number. Pick the ones you think are the must-read-firsts. Can you see that 17 year old looking up (or down) at you with at least some hope left in their eyes...where would you send them first?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

News flash

Well, a few things before we all disappear into the big black hole on Wednesday (now come there anyone out there of a slightly depressive tendency who doesn't think 'oh, if only...' when they hear that?).

Firstly the lovely Sorlil at Poetry in Progress has posted her thoughts on 'More about the song' this week. 21st Century Emily Dickinson? I can live with that! I've always liked that Sorlil...smashing lass.

Secondly there's a new blog for poets (in particular young and/or new ones) that has been set up by Claire Askew and Read This magazine. Take a look - it's called One Night Stanzas.

Thirdly I will be getting to the poetry part of the reading list for life...probably Monday. Before that I have a wedding and a Scarecrow festival to get to this weekend...

Thursday, 4 September 2008

More about the Marra

I have rambled on about Dundee's Michael Marra before. He is brilliant - quite brilliant - as a singer, a songwriter, a performer, a storyteller, a thinker...heck, I would call him a poet too. On Tuesday Kris Drever played Marra's song 'Hermless' at the folk club here. It's a lovely song and it's just my kind of thing because it seems simple and yet it says so, so much (and I always prefer that to writing that seems complex and yet says so, so little...layers of bullshit, my friends, count the layers...).

Anyway, I wrote a poem about Marra after his last visit to our folk club and I had an sudden urge this morning to put it up here. A lot of Marra's songs are called things like 'Bob Dylan's visit to Embra' and 'Frida Kahlo's visit to the Taybridge bar' so my poem is a kind of tribute to Marra and his songs. He's kind of a shy bloke so I don't know what he'd make of this! It's a villanelle again...I don't have that many villanelles but you might think so from the number of them that end up on here. If it doesn't scan for you I'm afraid you're just not reading in the right bizarre accent (mine is part Durham, part Yorkshire, part Queen's, part little bits of Scottish creeping in).

Michael Marra's visit to the Links Hotel (Montrose)

It really doesn't have to be all about hell
I've seen the light and it came from Dundee
Via Michael Marra to the Links Hotel

Was it from heaven to us that he fell?
Soulful and funny and bright as can be
It really doesn't have to be all about hell

He brings quite a singing voice with him as well
Maybe from the bottom of the deep blue sea
He creaks, does Michael Marra, at the Links Hotel

The audience and he just somehow gel
There's never any plugging of a latest dvd
It really doesn't have to be all about sell

When Michael Marra plays the score you can foretell
Happy warm hearts and faces worry-free
Adored is Michael Marra, at the Links Hotel

So up on the deck and ring the loudest bell
Tell it how it is, we love him endlessly
It really must be all about the spell
He weaves, does Michael Marra, at the Links Hotel

RF 2008

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Over there

Over at John Baker's blog he has spent some time on my 'More about the song'. If you're not sick of hearing about it already you could go and read what he has to say.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Name that tune

Flushed with the excitement of winning Ken Armstrong's race to the song lyric the other day I then started fiddling about with a poem full of song lyrics. I use song lyrics in poems a lot (songs being almost my main point of reference) but I don't think I've tried to write a poem quite so tightly packed full of them before. So, here it off the press (I was just refiddling it this morning!). It's kind of different to any of my usual styles I think (apart from the rhyming, I suppose). I'll be reading it at the folk club here tonight most likely. The guest tonight is Kris Drever (guitarist/singer/Orcadian) and he is brilliant so I'm looking forward to a night out. You see...the beat goes on...

No sense unsung

Reach out and touch
The sound of silence
Some kind of wonderful
So hard to find
If you're alone now
Feel for the look of love
All the songs know it
Love can be blind

Beware a touch too much
Likewise the hardest word
You hear a symphony
But life's off key
Smells like... another time
How tastes... the air tonight?
What's going on here?
Young hearts run free

RF 2008