Sunday, 30 November 2008

History remade?

Like most of you (I suspect) I keep lists and lists of books I want to read. My list is not necessarily a list of books I want to buy...though I'll buy some of them...but mostly I borrow from the local library or from friends and then once I've read a book if it's something I really like I might buy a copy (either for me or to pass on elsewhere). In truth I have several lists – prose books (fiction and non), poetry books, music CDs to try/buy, films to catch up on (and boy, am I behind on that one!) and finally books/films/music I must get hold of for Small Girl at some point too.

For a while now I have had 'anything by Bernardine Evaristo' on my books lists because...well, firstly I read something interesting by her in the magazine 'Mslexia' a while ago (when I used to subscribe...I stopped this year after subscribing since issue one). Also, even further back in time, I read a great article by Evaristo in a newspaper criticising some of the main poetry publishers (for their failure to publish many non-white poets as it happens... but I'm quite happy for anyone to criticise poetry publishers about anything really...some of them...the Carcanets and Picadors...I can't say they rock my world very often). So, as she was on my list, at some point I tried our local library for Evaristo books but found nothing. They're normally pretty good but when I first tried (maybe a year ago) they didn't have her 'Soul Tourists' (2005), or her 'The Emperor's Babe' 2001, or her 'Lara' 1997 (due to be rereleased next Bloodaxe). All of these works are verse-novels and so a little unusual I suppose... maybe too much so for Angus libraries (though I did just the interests of research...and they do now have the new book 'Blonde Roots'...the one I will get round to talking about any time soon!). But as the municipal shelves at that point were bare I just got on with reading other books from my lists and waited, most likely, for a big bookshop trip or something (I am a long way from big bookshops here and whilst I do use Amazon it's not that often...especially since I learned more about how much they pay publishers...).

In the meantime however Evaristo was working on a new project (or more likely lots of new projects – she strikes me as a woman with huge energy!) and this year she published a new book 'Blonde Roots'(Hamish Hamilton). This is a prose novel (not verse) and it is about slavery...but with a difference. In this book the slaves are white and the masters is history rewritten with 'Aphrikans' taking slaves from 'Europa', 'blak' people treating 'whytes' as goods to be traded and as inferior, inhuman and beneath consideration. When I first heard about this book I remember just thinking 'Wow! What a great idea!' I don't think I've ever heard of anybody coming up with this particular idea for a book before...have you? And yet it's one of those great, seems-obvious-when-you-think-about-it ideas. Why has nobody written this before? Imagine the film! Imagine how you could horrify white right-wing relatives by even THINKING about giving them this book for xmas ('white people not in control of the whole world– are you mad?' 'Not any more...')!

It sounded so interesting that I added 'Blonde Roots' to my books list...but this time with a few extra asterisks and underlines. A short while later I was doing some on-line shopping (at WH Smiths, as it happens, because they all do free p & p now that Amazon do it) and I thought...'do you know what...early xmas present to self...I can't wait any more...I'm just going to buy it'. I just couldn't wait to see what Evaristo had done with this biggest of huge ideas (I imagine the likes of PJ O'Rourke might call it a 'liberal wet dream'...remember him, by the way – 'Rolling Stone', 'Republican Party Reptile' and all that? I interviewed him once. He was dull).

So...back to the book...are you on the edge of your seats? Has Evaristo taken that great idea and written a great book? Is it life-changing, earthshattering, a total knockout?

Well, firstly I would say – buy it (or borrow it) and read it for yourself because it really is a very interesting and unusual book. I read it in a couple of days – mainly, I think, because it's engrossing, fast-moving and strangely easy to read (considering some of the gruesome details...this is the slave trade...nothing very pleasant happens...). In fact I read it so quickly that I may well go back and read it again some time soon. Evaristo writes as if her pen is on fire – the enthusiastic details of clothes and food and places and people shooting out, white-hot – so the prose fairly whooshes along, like flames through a dry forest, and you really do get carried along with it. I'm not going to retell the whole story for you or anything (I can't be doing with reviews like that...) but it is exciting - that much I will give away.

Another reason I read 'Blonde Roots' so avidly is that I found how it was written as unusual as what it was written about. When I first read an outline of the story I suppose I formed in my head an idea of what it might well be like (don't we all do that when we read a précis or a review of a book, especially a novel?). I had imagined something that felt like a historical novel, something a bit like the very good 'Voyageurs' by Margaret Elphinstone (that I read, and then reviewed here back on 18th October) - there would be archaic language, there would be period costumes, there would be suffering...all with that clever, multi-levelled twist that might well make some readers see slavery from another angle. I suppose I thought too that it would probably be a BBC series by the spring (reusing the costumes, barely letting the paint dry on the 'Little Dorrit' sets before they were recycled for the new season's set-piece) . But the biggest surprise, for this reader anyway, was that it is not really like a historical novel at all in some does not fit into any ready-made slot. And this makes sense when you think about it. Why should she write this story the way anybody expects? She is writing, in many ways, about the world turned upside down so why should her novel be script-ready for the BBC Dickens department after all (and let's not even mention that 'Devil's Whore' series that's on Channel 4 just now...have you ever seen anything more ridiculous? I fully expect to see Cromwell amusing himself with a copy of 'Penthouse' in the next episode...)? In 'Blonde Roots' Evaristo has even changed the sun's behaviour because on page 61 'the weak sun started its weary descent towards the east' (my favourite line in the matter-of-fact, so matter-of-not-at-all-fact) so why should she do anything the way a silly old reader like me expects her to? I love it when writers work this way...take the ball, run with it, have no intention whatsoever of giving the thing back...

So whereas I was expecting to be unsettled, surprised, provoked by the racial aspects of the story (and that does's a provoking book throughout...not one lazy line) in actual fact this novel unsettled me in ways I couldn't quite put my finger on to begin with. There is the very strange feel she creates, for example, by having the story set in a kind of past-but-not-past. Yes, the 'whyte' slaves are transported, squashed in their own shit, in ships (not planes...there are no aeroplanes so the setting is definitely past-like) but the language is not anything you might recognise as olde worlde and that's...kind of odd (well, I found it odd anyway). The language is very varied (all kinds of interesting dialects and wordplay) but there is definitely a lot of our modern world language in the mix too. It comes out particularly in asides or afterthoughts from the main character ('whyte' Doris..or Omorenomwara to use her slave name) and often just when something really horrible is happening. I wondered a lot as I read this book why Evaristo had put some of this very modern language in...and I think there might be several reasons. Firstly I think it means the modern reader (whatever their colour or race) identifies with the slavery experience very can't push all the horror (and there is plenty of that..plenty of torture and cruelty) away with a 'yes, it must have been terrible' because the main character talks like you, your friends, the people you know least some of the time. Also you don't quite know where you are as a it past, present, it history, fantasy, science fiction? Then Evaristo throws humour in too...just when things are at their's really very different, very unexpected, simply not cricket, somehow. All this confusion helps the novel do its job very well – it helps turn the world upside down, inside out, back to front. It's symbolic, on many levels, I imagine, and it certainly makes the novel feel like nothing you've ever read before. Since I read it last week it has worked its way quite thoroughly into my thoughts and wonderings. Take last night - we've been recording and watching the very interesting Simon Schama history series 'The American Future' (much more worth your TV time than the silly old 'Devil's Whore'!) and last night we watched the programme that talked about slavery and black churches and the civil rights movement in the USA. So much of it made me think of 'Blonde Roots', of clever points that Evaristo makes in her slavery story, of how she shows brilliantly what you can do with history if you put your mind to it. I might come back to 'The American Future' in another post maybe...that bit about Fanny Lou Hamer singing on the bus...singing, know how I'm always going on about singing...

But in the meantime get yourselves a copy of 'Blonde Roots'...however you manage it...because it is ambitious and challenging and it will make you think hard about all sorts of things (about the differences between people, about how our world is and why, about how people have treated people and how they might treat each other in the future) but also I think it will make you think even more than you already do about what writers write (and why and how). 'Blonde Roots' has been received well in the UK so far (hey, it's in the Angus libraries...she's really arrived!) and it's published in the USA in early 2009 (where I imagine it will make a fairly huge splash of one kind or another). To find out how it gets on keep an eye on Evaristo's very interesting and lively blog. Whatever will she write next I wonder...and will 'Blonde Roots' win any prizes over the coming months and years? I think it might. I think it probably should.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Never beyond your Ken...

I haven't had a book review for a while so I was quite excited this morning to see the one of 'More about the song' over at Ken Armstrong's place. Far be it from me to suggest what you might do about xmas shopping but you know...or you's still for sale from me...or various shops...or Amazon...

All this reminds me that I keep meaning to sort out a reviews page for my website (my favourite reviews so far are Sorlil's Poetry in Progress one from back on 4th September, ink-sweat-and-tears from back in July and the one in 'The Skinny' in...July...I think). I would do links now but my laptop is unwell and I am on Mark's mac which I barely know how to use! I think I wore my machine out yesterday working, as I was, on a review of sorts of 'Blonde Roots' by Bernardine Evaristo. I'll put that up in a couple of days...when I've got my own machine back!

p.s. machine fixed so links are on now!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Freak like who?

You know how I get late to everything...years behind with films/movies, late to blogging, still a teenager in a middle-aged body? Well here I am late to YouTube too. I know how easy it is to put a video on the blog...will I be doing it every week? Probably not but today I thought I might share a fantastic piece of pop music with you. It's from...last year some time I think.

I'm not very up with anything like pop or club or dance music these days but I have a friend who comes to visit from Leeds about twice a year and he brings me anything good that I might have missed (which is most things because I go to the folk club here mostly so I'm quite up-to-date with new folk...and some old folk...but not much else). Last xmas he played me this track by Scroobius Pip and I have to say I absolutely love it. Some of the lyrics are very, VERY funny (some are less so but such is life and writing...) and though the version on YouTube is not quite the one Andy played me (it seems to be missing the big acid breakdown section...if that means anything to you whatsoever) it's still good...great even. I stopped club DJing in about 1997 and this is one of the first things I've heard in ages that's made me wish I could go and play it to a crowd of crazy people in a big sweaty, packed room at 2 o'clock in the morning. Make some noise? Make some noise? Oh yes! Yes please!

But by the way...Led Zeppelin are NOT just a band! The very thought of it...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Oh Monday, Monday

Poem and post on holiday for a while.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Only as good as your last reading

A couple of posts ago (the video clip one) the Solitary Walker and I were exchanging comments about how much we liked the poet Lemn Sissay. As I said in the comments I first saw him about 20 years ago (at the now disappeared Duchess of York pub in Leeds...Leeds Alternative Cabaret, the night was called and I was there to review it for a small 'alternative' magazine). He was brilliant and inspiring then and he's still both of those things. I interviewed him back then for that same small 'alternative' magazine too and he was fascinating and friendly and kind of bursting with ideas and creative energy.

Lemn has a new book out called 'Listener' and so I keep coming across him in the media just now. There is a good interview with him in the print magazine Citizen 32 and for the next few days you can hear him on listen again on BBC Radio 3's The Verb programme (talking to Ian McMillan...who makes me sound like a softie southerner or something!). Lemn talks a lot of sense about poetry...makes sense to me anyway. If I was a heroes type person he would be one of my poetry heroes...but I'm not really...and he'd probably hate the idea anyway! There's some other good stuff on the Verb this week too.

P.S. The title of this post comes from the poem that Lemn reads on the Verb this week called 'Applecart Art'.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Change is good

I hardly ever put images or photos up on this blog. As I've said before I'm not much of a visual person so usually on here it is words, words and more words (poems, rambles, rants, stories, jokes...). Maybe it's the video (post below), maybe it's the thing of looking at Colin's photos of last Friday in Edinburgh, maybe it's just the time of year...but I've been looking at photos this week and I thought I'd post some, just for a change. I won't write a lot with them - I've been writing a lot of long posts (and comments and replies to comments...I think this is maybe the golden age of this blog or something!) so I might let the photos speak for themselves a little. They're a mixed bag...beautiful places, funny details...bits of my life. Some of the photos we took and some were by my friend Andy. I hope you enjoy some way or other.

The coast just down the road from here

Elephant Rock - just south of here

Last winter we made 'our family in snow'...Mark, me, my Mum, Small Girl and Old Dog (very small - in front of big snowman).

Fields of barley - just up the road

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow - we went when they reopened not long ago. Are these heads still there? Anyone know?

Old Dog is a cairn terrier (and my Mum's originally) but this is New Pup (Zoe - a border terrier). This photo is from back in the summer but she is about 8 months old now.

Small Girl's hair took a long time to grow so I couldn't get it into plaits until this year really (when she wanted to be Dorothy at Playgroup she had to wear false ones made of wool!). This year (her 8th) her lovely red curls made it to plait length...look how the plaits curl though!

So there you go. Simple things. I watched a report about rapes in the DR Congo on the news last night. Not really in the mood for words.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

And now for the video evidence

Well, it sounds like some of you have already seen this on YouTube but here is a video clip of me from last Friday's trip to Edinburgh (full report in post below if you haven't already read it). The video side of things was all a bit of an experiment but I think all the footage has come out really well so thanks, oh beloved Mark (as ever). There is a little background noise of people buying drinks and stuff but that just adds to the ambience I think! Hugh McMillan has one of his clips on his blog just now (there are three of him in total – all brilliant) but I've only chosen this one for me as it's quite a long piece. It's the very new dancing poem that I was mentioning a few posts ago and it is absolutely PACKED with rhymes so if you don't like rhyming poems best not look or listen! I write rhyme when it feels right and non-rhyme...ditto...and in this case heaps and heaps of bouncing rhymes seemed the way to go (with some non-rhyming bits here and there too). The form matches the content for me as the poem is the product of all my years dancing (disco dancing, headbanging, raving, ceilidh dancing, ballroom dancing...). It is also a kind of tribute to some of my very best friends (many of whom are crazy dancers of one kind or another) as well being about life, happiness, taking part and...well, you know...everything. As I mentioned in my intro (which was too long to include!) I also had in mind the documentary that Stephen Fry made about manic depression/bipolar disorder (which I watched for the obvious family reasons). There was one section where Fry talked about dancing and how self-conscious he felt and how unhappy he was about his body. He talked about how there was nothing he would like more than to be out on the dancefloor, grooving and looking great and there were a lot of sad moments in that series but that was one that I remember particularly. There is nothing like a dance!

Apologies however for my odd Scouse-goes-Welsh pronunciation on the title. I'm not sure what happened there!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Postcards from the Song

So...I've been warbling on about it for a while now...there was a night out in Edinburgh on Friday...some poems, some it's how did it go? Did we bomb? Did anyone come? Did we end on a song? was fantastic! You can see photos over at Colin Will's - although it seems he got my photo mixed up with one of a tired-looking sweaty woman who I don't quite recognise. You will also be able to see some video snippets of Hugh and I quite soon...when my beloved Mark has done all his other chores...he's a busy lad, lots to he has to recover from the stressful experience that is travelling with me ('neurotic' really doesn't cover my behaviour when I get on busy public transport...where's that damned chauffeur-driven limo when you need it?).

So, the night. First off the venue (Forest Café) was great. The staff are friendly, the room is a good size and very relaxed (none of that sitting in rows business that makes me twitch uncontrollably...). The sound system was good (thanks Mark for looking after that all night too!) and there were all kinds of food and drinks the very welcome sight that is a tap where you can help yourself to free water (so simple but so useful!). OK the toilets did seem to get more and more threatening as the evening went on...but you can't have everything and I've seen much worse (Glastonbury toilets...once seen, never forgotten).

It is a really unusual venue (Hugh McMillan kept saying 'it's like the Beat Hotel'). It's free to hire on the condition that you don't charge admission and people float in and out all night... but in a good way...if they stay (which they did in impressive numbers) you know it's because they are enjoying it, not just because they've paid and they're staying to get their money's worth. Sure some people are there for the free WiFi and the warmth and comfort too (and there are all ages, all fashion schools in evidence...) but some of the talent on offer was so great that Mark (sat at the back with the sound desk and the video camera) said it was interesting to watch people getting drawn in and sitting down to stay, paying their laptops less and less attention and the tales and poems of Hugh McMillan, for example, more and more. I was sat right at the front (to jump up on stage and introduce everyone) but every now and again I would turn round in a set to see how the audience was going and pretty much every time all I could see was a room full (really full!) of engaged faces (attached to bodies obviously). It made the organising work all worth while (it wasn't really that much...I got in touch with people, I did a little planning...). I chose all the people on the bill because I think they are all fabulous so I was glad the audience agreed with me. Poems and music, poems and music...I know I bang on about it all the time but for me they make the perfect combination (when they're both good...). The poetry (and lyrics) stir your brain and the music works on everything else....a night out for the whole body, mind and soul! Hallelujah indeed.

We started off with Andy Spiller. I asked Andy to go first because... someone had to – there was no pecking order or anything! Andy is a great guitarist and one of those quite quiet, unassuming guys who really loves to play and gets lost in music right before your eyes. On his song 'Lotus' in particular (a lovely song!) I watched him just travel miles whilst stood there right in front of me. We were tripping, man, really tripping! I look forward to many more musical poetry nights with Mr Spiller on the bill!

After Andy I did my first set which was mainly poems about music. Obviously I can't tell you how I did really...I think I was a little more on edge than normal on stage (because of the organising side of things perhaps) and at times I think I spoke a little too quickly...but overall I enjoyed it and I think others did too. I tried out my new dancing poem and that went well. That poem ('Are you askin'?') is very much at the performance poetry end of my output I suppose (I write some poems that might get filed under 'performance' and some that might just fit under 'literary' at a push – but overall I wish the terms just didn't exist at all...I much prefer Colin's 'polymorphous'...damn those pigeon holes!). Maybe thinking about stuff like that made me a bit nervous too...when I read to a crowd that knows me (like at the folk club here) they have heard me do all kinds of poems so I don't worry about how I am coming across and I just get on with each poem on its own terms. I suppose with this being my first outing in the capital I did have certain other nonsense of that kind on my mind...I'm good at filling my brain with unnecessary nonsense...too good!

After me came fiddler Kevin O'Donnell (accompanied by Kim Edgar on guitar). I'd never heard Kevin before but had asked him on Kim's recommendation and I'm really glad I did. Kevin was charming and maybe a little nervous but then, when he picked up the bow, he played with a passion and a gentleness that, again, was a delight to witness. The fiddle is one of those dangerous instruments (an unskilled or misguided player can cause a lot of damage to an audience!) but Kevin was skilled and spirited and really quite smashing. The crowd loved it!

Was it at this point that I invited Claire Askew up on stage to give us a bonus poem? I think so. Edinburgh resident Claire had really helped by recommending Forest as a venue so this was a little thank-you. Claire was great to watch too and introduced her dramatic poem and reading with lovely subtle deadpan humour. Thanks again Claire...all the performers were thrilled with the venue and want me to take them back on a regular basis. I'm not sure I will do that...organising from this distance is not ideal! Maybe we'll go somewhere else...

Next on the little crowded stage (beware the drum kit...) was poet Hugh McMillan...all the way from Penpont near Dumfries. In his first set Hugh read from his latest book 'Postcards from the Hedge'...he even stuck the poster from it up on the wall as a visual aid (always the educator!). I was a bit nervous about Hugh never having seen or heard him before...was there a reason he has been called 'Scotland's most overlooked poet' (or some such)....did he have a terrible flatulence problem that no-one had told me about or something? Was he just a giant pain in the arse? sounds like he drives his wife crazy but as far as we the poetry audience were concerned he was absolutely brilliant. He was interesting, funny, tragic, strangely charming...and the poems spoke for themselves well too (so much variety, such a skillful blend of style and content). The audience loved him, really loved him...I watched people warm to him with every new witty line, with every clever observation, with every beautiful little detail. It was quite a masterclass. Why he's not headlining at StAnza every year I really don't know. Or at least every other year.

After Hugh came Charlie Williamson – all the way from Montrose like me. Hugh and Charlie have things in common, now I think about it. They are both family men (3 kids each I think) and they both work 'regular' day jobs (or jobs anyway). Plus they are both funny, thoughtful...good blokes. They both like a drink too! Charlie's secret though, is that he has a voice to die for. He can just stand and sing and fill a room with the most amazing accompaniment (well, apart from the beer...), no frills, just fine, heartfelt singing. I love listening to Charlie sing...truly the human voice doing what it does best...and he did a great set on Friday. On a related note Mark and I stuck the radio on when we got back into the car in Montrose. It was on R4 (Mark likes news) and it was an excerpt from that week's Women's Hour talking about the range of the human voice and how many of us don't get near using our full power for a whole range of reasons. I thought of Charlie and his room-filling range...some people manage it, some people really sing!

After a short break I read a few more poems – this time about everything but music. I read about city living and being rubbish at office work and war and relationships and dinosaurs and the end of the human race. As you do. I probably enjoyed this set more...the night was going so well...maybe I was even relaxing! Maybe I spoke a little slower...

Next came Pauline Hynd (formerly Pauline Meikleham...she's trying out a new stage name!). I've seen Pauline several times at the night she runs herself in Dundee (Out of the Woods). As she's usually running the show she is usually on early and no doubt her thoughts are somewhat on other things so it was great to watch her let loose (as it were) to just do her own thing. And what a thing! Pauline was on fire! Again this is a performer with an amazing voice -she can sing in any style you like and sometimes several different styles in the same song – and her songs are funny, clever, really original and kind of groovy. I think she is something really special – a real entertainer, a beautiful singer. Watch out for that new name because that Pauline Hynd, she's tremendous!

After Pauline, Hugh did his second set (reading from his other books – he has several). He stepped effortlessly back into his wandering stride and the audience just lapped it all many good moments and poems, such a great way to spend an evening, people were literally hanging on his every word by the end. There were many highlights but I liked 'Marked' in this set best of all (it's a poem about marking exam papers, taken from the book 'Strange Bamboo'). I'd loved it in the book but read aloud it was close to perfection. If I'd been a Strictly Come Dancing judge..I might just have held up my '10' card. Full marks indeed.

The last performer of the night was Edinburgh singer and musician Kim Edgar. I first saw Kim performing with the magnificent Karine Polwart in Dundee earlier this year and slightly later on I bought her CD 'Butterflies and Broken Glass' and little by little I fell in love with her voice and her lyrics and her whole musical project, if you like. She has the gentlest voice you can imagine (but still a steely power in there somewhere) plus she is a great pianist and guitarist and a gifted writer too. On Friday she started off with two numbers that were poems of mine that she had turned into songs ('Significant other deceased' and '25 year tears') and as you can imagine this was really quite exciting for me! I had not heard the tunes before and it really was quite earthshattering to hear them in that place, surrounded by friends old and new, sung by that voice, turned into quite such beautiful entities. They are both lovely but 'Significant other deceased' (perhaps because she sang it first) nearly knocked me off my chair. It is a sad poem (simple but sad) and she turned it into something...almost celestial. I didn't cry (oddly...I cry so much and so easily!) but my goodness, I won't forget that experience for a long time. Kim also sang her own beautiful song 'Heavy Skies' and one she co-wrote with Karine P. Go and hunt down Kim's CD, honestly, you won't regret it.

So that was it...the end of the night...everyone tired but very happy. The guy at the venue said what a great night it had been, the atmosphere, the crowd, everything...and that was good to hear too. I felt kind of proud of all the performers and of course was tired too but couldn't sleep (once I'm hyper..I'm hyper for life!). We stayed over and didn't get back up north till Saturday night and then there was normal life to resume and all that. For now...I wish you'd all been there! And Hope...the vids are on their way, I promise!


Wednesday, 12 November 2008

November skies

Yesterday I did a bit of blog maintenance. A couple of months ago I had got mixed up and I thought I had posted the same poem here twice (I hadn't, as it happened...I'd just got confused) but I decided I needed to go through the whole blog and note which poems had been posted here and when. So yesterday I went through all the posts and it was really weird going back to the beginning (February 2007!) and seeing what I was thinking back then when I opened the blog doors, as it were. I do keep diaries and reread them now and again but this was even weirder (it being public and all). It reminded me who my first readers were here and how I started tentatively but then got to quite enjoy it all – the strange virtual meetings, the finding people you might even like in real life, the reading all kinds of writing and then, best of all, the moments of real happiness when someone likes a poem or writes just the right thing in a comment or a post at just the right moment. Now and again these days there have even been some great debates and exchanges on here and that is just fantastic. My Mum has always been a Bloomsbury set fan and I know she is slightly disappointed that I don't fill the house with brilliant literary and other artistic minds at all times...little does she know it's all going on in the laptop...that in here, now and again, I have my very own low-rent Virginia Woolf moments! Who needs TS grumpy Eliot when you have sparkling Fiendish and charming Ken Armstrong and Colin 'the godfather of Scottish poetry' Will? If it wasn't for Colin visiting here at the beginning when I was Rachel-no-blog-mates I think I might have given it all up as a bad job – he is a top geezer that Mr Will. And everyone else who reads and comments too - I do quite honestly love you all...I'm a big soppy girl that way, far too open, far too honest, gets me in all kinds of trouble...Take blog awards all of you, take them, run through the fields and be happy...even those of you who never leave a comment (and I know who some of you are!)...I probably love you all too...well, most of you...

Sorry...gushing overload. Deep breath. Assume serious poetry face. Feel uncomfortable. Resume normal rather confused expression.

When I was going through the poems and blogs I came across this November poem. I wrote it a couple of years ago when I was out shopping in Montrose (while Small Girl was at post-school dancing) and the sky was so breathtakingly beautiful it...astounded me. I don't write the most visual poetry and I don't concentrate on visual details as much as some poets but now and again even I get carried away by my eyes. We do get the most beautiful skies in the world here...something to do with the sea and the Basin perhaps but this poem is a funny one in some ways – it is one of mine that I'm less sure about. Usually I feel fairly sure when a poem is finished (to my eyes and ears at least) but this a bit different. It is a bit messy and I know that will annoy some readers but the problem for me is that I don't mind mess really...mess is normal, comforting honest...and I don't expect poems to be always perfect (although obviously I try my hardest with them in many ways). Oddly I've got it in the 'writing' section on my website when it probably should be in 'seeing and believing' instead (or as well). I sent it to a poetry magazine once and got the comment 'I think you are working your way towards an exciting style'. I kind of liked that comment. When you get to the supposedly exciting moments they can be disappointing, can't they? Sometimes the best bit is the getting there. See what you think...

Be quiet too

That full blue of evening sky
Is that simply this
The colour of magic?

It is warm and cold
The most amazing sight
But ordinary too

It stops me dead
At half past four
On a November afternoon
For quite some moments

I think of words for colour
For wholeness and everything
And find nothing with the spell
Of that buzzing blue

There are times and colours
And feelings like this
(‘You’ll be pleased to hear
Results are negative’)
So much strength of their own
They can be better left
To silence

So I pause and
Like a good Quaker
Feel the huge relief
Of noiseless time

It is just blue

I keep quiet

Now you try it

RF 2006

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Going places

This Friday I'm off to Edinburgh to take part in an event at the Forest Café. I've mentioned it once before but it's only a few days away now so I'm mentioning it again. The event is called Postcards from the Song and it features poetry from Hugh McMillan and from me and music from a range of hugely talented individuals (details below). We will start at 8pm, admission is free and non-alcholic drinks will be on sale (but bring your own if you want something harder – you just have to pay corkage). Any spare cash can be used to buy books or cds from any of the performers, I'm quite sure. I might even have postcards for sale too.

With just a few days to go it's the usual thing of getting myself ready for a public reading...this involves:

1.Thinking about the poems – something old, something new and all that. I have one new poem to try that might work really well or might...not...we'll see! Usually I work round the songs Verona and I are going to perform to some extent but Verona will not be coming this time (due to a family bereavement) so that changes things. It means I won't sing (lucky audience) but I will miss having her on stage too. Having a best mate on hand is always a good idea but as it is I will be solo, exposed, no-one to blame but me (or Hugh...). I could sing on my own of course but there are lots of other musicians and singers on the bill so there's no need to do it and I'm probably better off just concentrating on the poetry and organising sides of things.

2.Worrying about how it will go – since I started reading poems in public (never mind the singing) I have yet to have a 'bad gig'. This is great of course but it does mean I am kind of waiting for that 'bad gig' to happen! I don't think it will be this one (will there be an audience? Will they yawn while I'm reading? Will they throw things?) but you never know. Maybe I had all my bad gigs as a DJ (we were always getting booked to do totally unsuitable club nights and parties...we did get bottles thrown once when we were booked for a chill-out room and a 21st birthday party arrived complete with male stripper).

3.Worrying about getting there - pretty much most of my remaining anxiety is centred around travelling these days (I'm not as bad as I was around the time of the great meltdown of the late 90s but I'm still fairly twitchy). I worry about busy trains, a lack of oxygen, heart attacks, panic attacks, the state of the railways, knife-wielding other passengers, Small Girl left elsewhere, the house burning down, the dogs escaping...then about why my head is spinning (that'll be the worrying – genius!). Luckily my Beloved is coming with me and he is like a calm person just back from a really long, relaxing holiday so he is a very good influence. All of which reminds me of a quote from the comedy show 'Everybody loves Raymond'...
Debra (the wife) 'Just enjoy the moment'
Raymond (the husband, product of a dysfunctional family) 'I have no training for that'.

4.Wondering whether we will escape school-sourced germs and bugs long enough to make it as planned – you know how it is with small children...someone is always ill. Will we have to cancel something and if so what?

5.I've never met or heard Hugh McMillan before – will we hate each other on sight? Oh I hope not...

But let's be positive! Time to rid myself of worry once and for all...yeh, right. Here are some things I am really looking forward to:

1.Having some more time in Edinburgh and this time without Small Girl. Two adults alone in the capital city – very exciting! We may just run through the streets whooping...well, I might.

2.Not having to scoop poop for over 24 hours – we have two small dogs...I don't know how people with big dogs cope, I really don't.

3.Seeing some of the friendly folk who might make it down to see us all...come join the fluffy poetry revolution (sorry, read the Russell Brand interview in the Observer's much more interesting than you might think...)!

4.Hearing all the musicians at the Forest on Friday (14th Nov). Kim Edgar I first heard at a Grace, Hewatt, Polwart gig at Out of the Woods in Dundee. Her first CD is 'Butterflies and Broken Glass' and I have been listening to it quite a lot in the past couple of months – it's quite hard to describe (often a good sign) but I suppose some reviewers might call it intelligent pop or something. She has a lovely, pure voice and sings with a Scots accent (which I most cases). She is a pianist, a guitarist and a very talented songwriter and I'm really chuffed she's agreed to appear at this gig with us. Kevin O'Donnell is a fiddler and coming on Kim's recommendation so I'm sure he will be great too.

5.More music – I'm also looking forward to hearing Andy Spiller (who I first heard at Out of the Woods too). Andy is from Carnoustie and is a mean guitarist! He came to my book launch in the summer and read a poem he'd written for the occasion which was a lovely touch. He will one day be in a band called the Lovely Andys.

6.And more – Pauline Meikleham runs Out of the Woods in Dundee so she is responsible for a lot of the great music events in the Tayside area. Pauline is also a really original singer, songwriter and performer so I always look forward to hearing her. She has a great of many reasons I won't bother singing on Friday!

7.And finally – Charlie Williamson comes to the folk club in Montrose and sings unaccompanied songs (traditional and pop) in the local singers spot. I have to say unaccompanied singing is one of my favourite things when it's done well and Charlie can make a whole room hold its breath (almost to the point of illness) when he's on a roll. I don't know what he's going to sing or anything...very exciting! Charlie wrote me a poem for the book launch too...these boys, so talented!

So that's me this week...wondering and worrying and wandering about. Some things never change...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Still full of it?

It's a bit odd just now. There is the international news of great importance (see post below) but then of course life goes on as normal and what that means here this week in fact is various death issues (nothing too close to home but enough to have an effect). So sadly we're not exactly dancing in the streets right here right now (more's the pity)... though on the plus side I am getting somewhere (finally) with my dancing poem (as in a poem about dancing...not a poem that can dance...again more's the pity).

Also I've been thinking a lot (as usual) about language - what we say, what we mean, when words don't cover it, when words have too many possible interpretations, when people are just too stupid or arrogant or unpleasant to be allowed the use of words. I quite often come back to the same conclusions in my head when I think along these lines. I come back to 'it's not what you say, it's how you say it' and lots of stuff about humanity and respect and understanding and love. Maybe I should have been a politician after all (long story...I'll tell you that another time...).

So here's a poem that looks like a love poem but is really about lots of things. It's one of the few I have recorded so if you want to hear it go to the website and the 'love' section of 'poems'. I've put it up today for my friend Ana Laan - twice found, twice lost again (not that she's one of the deaths mentioned, she's just lost).

All in the tone

Call me anything
But call me now
Call me gorgeous
Or silly cow
Call me Lucy
Or call me Kate
Call me Marjory
For goodness sake
Call me Trevor
If that seems right
Call me crazy
Both day and night

Call me sweetheart
But mean it true
Call me Shirley
It’s up to you
Call me later
And call me soon
Call me cheeky
You call the tune
Call me Romeo
From up above
You call me anything
But call with love


Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A brighter day

Actually the weather is nothing to shout about here today (dreich would be the local word, I'm pretty sure). It's damp, drizzling...but...BUT...(big triumphant heart-warming music) the US elections there's something to shout about!

It's no use pretending otherwise, the US elections do affect us here so I'm not going to pretend I'm anything other than thrilled about Obama's win. I know he's a politician, I'm under no illusions about the nature of politics but still...but an out-and-proud bleeding heart liberal I am SO excited about the news. I know I am an easy crier but even so...I was crying watching him on TV this morning. And what kind of tears were they? Is that joy? Is that what it feels like? Let's enjoy it while we can. The racist crazies may be polishing their guns and hatching their plans (imagine the glory in those demented circles for the hero who takes out Obama...quite terrifying) but we are not going to live in fear of the 'might be', the 'we'd better not' – this is a time to celebrate because hope and history won an election. Brighter days, indeed. (Except what did that comedian Reginald D Hunter say on 'Have I got News for You' the other week? Something about a black man winning 'now the country ain't worth a damn'? Oh not to think about that right now...).

It does of course remind a person of other elections. I remember 'Things can only get better' and Tony Blair in 1997. Despite the song it wasn't quite the same momentous occasion. At that time the excitement more than anything was seeing the end of what had been Thatcher's reign (even though Major wore the damaged crown for the last few years – it was still her era, right to the end). And did things get better? Well, some of them...and others got much, much worse (this is life after all not a Barbie film). All we can hope is that Obama's government has a little more substance behind their theme tunes than Blair's. It might happen...

I also remember the election in Britain in 1987 when so many people were sure Thatcher would lose...and she didn't. I was at a student party full of various radical and left-wing students (and the guest was Attila the Stockbroker...if you've ever come across him you can imagine how pissed off he was at the result!). It was a miserable, miserable night. Outside on the square the students in stripey shirts were popping champagne corks and earning their nickname ('Hooray Henries'). Horrid, horrid, horrid.

But speaking of the USA, as we have done and will continue to do, I've been reading 'Go Tell It on the Mountain' over the past few weeks. I picked it up on 3 for 2 at Borders a little while back because I've heard the name of writer James Baldwin (1924-1987) my whole adult life but haven't got round to reading any of his work so far. First published in 1954, this is a tremendous book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I've been reading it quite slowly (unusually for me) just because the storytelling is so vibrant, the story so full and the language so poetic in places that the words nearly drip off the page. It's subtle at times and knock-you-out-cold powerful at the words of a good preacher, I imagine (one of the main characters is a preacher and I'm sure the book will be even more exciting for those of you who actually know your bibles!).

I haven't finished reading it quite yet but I wanted to mention this book today and quote from it. It seemed a good time. In this part of the book the character Elizabeth has just visited her boyfriend in prison. He has been wrongly accused of robbery and beaten by the police. She is pregnant but has told no-one.

“She looked out into the quiet sunny streets, and for the first time in her life, she hated it all – the white city, the white world. She could not, that day, think of one decent white person in the whole world. She sat there, and she hoped that one day God, with tortures inconceivable, would grind them utterly into humility, and make them know that black boys and girls, whom they treated with such condescension, such disdain, and such good humour, had hearts like human beings, too, more human hearts than theirs.”

And now there's a black man packing his bags to move into the white house (OK he's half white and half black...but let's not be picky...after all the racists never are). It is a significant day – don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Good things can happen.