Saturday, 28 November 2009

To hell with the sainthood

Never mind the saints, here's a newish poem. Not sure what I make of it myself.


Oh, she has done some terrible things
I heard she drank a vat of vodka
Laid herself out on a slab, to be troughed
She slept when she should have woken
Stayed up when she should have slept
She's a disgrace, really

Nothing more to be said

Some people don't trust her
And you know, I don't blame them
She has mislaid friends (casually)
Sold precious jewels (flippantly)
And she has covered her tracks
But they glow, oh, how they shine

RF 2009


Thursday, 26 November 2009

The patron saints of poetry

Dark wintry nights...and Mark suggests I might want to get on and watch some of the stuff (arts programmes and foreign language films...) that I've had saved on the magic TV recording box for AGES. So, this week I set to work and watched the one bit of the BBC TV poetry season that I somehow hadn't got round to viewing so far (the 'My Life in Verse' with Cerys Matthews...former lead singer and gorgeous thing with the band Catatonia). I don't know why this programme had languished on the magic box for so long (after all I watched the Sheila Hancock, Robert Webb and Malorie Blackman 'M.L.I.V.s' months ago...and wrote about them here). Anyway, I watched it. Finally.

Remembering how rude I was about Owen Sheers' 'Poet's Guide' Milton programme back here (remember he came and was...miffed in the comments box...and I did apologise...sort of...), I would have to say that there is a lot of fairly basic stuff in the Matthews 'M.L.I.V.'. It does have more than a hint of 'beginner's guide to poetry' and indeed 'beginner's guide to the world and life' because at times she does a good impression of a person who knows absolutely nothing at all ('Oo, look'...she almost says...and please insert Cerys' soft, fairy-like vocal tones...'people in Scotland like Robert Burns and haggis'). But (and here's where it gets unfair, sorry Owen...again...) somehow with Cerys I really didn't mind some of the stating the blooming obvious that went on. She's just so....properly wide-eyed and endearing (on TV idea what she's like in the flesh) and her naivety just comes over as really genuine and inoffensive (to me anyway...I can be fairly naïve myself some of the time). After all most people don't have a clue about poetry (and it's a big subject...) and also plenty of people are scared to ask questions about it for fear of seeming stupid (no comment...) and so in her programme she did ask some experts some fairly basic questions but worked and made for a very enjoyable programme. In fact when she got to the Northern Irish section it was really quite moving (she discussed the Seamus Heaney poem 'Punishment' with the writer Glenn Patterson...not someone I've ever come across before).

The programme really consisted of Matthews taking a wee tour, if you like, of the patron saints of poetry of these isles - Dylan Thomas (Wales), Ted Hughes (England), WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney (Ireland) and then Robert Burns (playing for Scotland...interesting that only the Scots need to go quite so far back in time for their poetry saint, isn't it?). It's hard not to mention the fact that they're all still men too (did you notice?). Might Carol Ann Duffy break that mould some time soon and be the first poetry saint for all of us (after all she has everything but Welsh in her palette, doesn't she?)? Or have we passed the time for patron saints of national poetry anyway (what with the internet and everything)? As Matthews toured the countries and their monumental poets it was all most interesting (even the stuff I already knew - which was quite a bit of it) and so I ask myself why did I like this programme more than, say, the some of the Sheers 'Poet's Guide' series? Not sure. Was I just in the right mood for it? Maybe. Was it because she made lots of (fairly vague) links between poems and songs (which I'm always going to like)? Possibly. Do I just like her? Well, it's not impossible...I wasn't a huge Catatonia fan but I did have the big album 'International Velvet'( had some cracking songs and some good lyrics). Anyone for a bit of 'Rrrroad Rrrrage' for example? And I particularly liked this sweet little George Harrisony number on the album too:

Matthews finished off her 'My Life in Verse' quite beautifully, I thought, with this long, slightly awkward, rambling sentence (and what's wrong with long, slightly awkward, rambling sentences, I'd like to know?):

"When you look at people's poets...the likes of Yeats and Thomas and Burns...they make our words...the words that belong to each and every one of us...seem like gold dust...and that they are powerful...and they are precious."

Yes. Yes. And yes.


p.s. There's a little clip here from the 'My Life in Verse' of Cerys singing 'Down by The Salley Gardens' in a pub in Ireland (which I'm guessing is a bit coals to Newcastle). There's also a bit of a Breakfast TV interview with Cerys about the programme here (where she says how good all the other singers in that Irish pub were and how she wishes they'd been shown in the programme too!).

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

And the odd one out was...

...number 2. Here are the details for all the true or false statements from the last post:

1.My Mum was born and brought up in Scotland so even though I don't feel very Scottish (especially now I live here) you probably could say that I am at least a tiny bit that way.

This is true. My Mum's parents eloped from England in the 1920s. I think it would be fair to say that my beautiful redheaded Grandma was not considered a suitable match for the Grandad I never met – she was a young shop girl from the Wiltshire countryside and he was older and from a much more middle class background, quite well-off. They settled in Edinburgh, he got a sales job and they had three children but then he died and another whole chapter started for my Grandma and those bairns (they were evicted and then forgotten by his family...but that's a story for another time). My Mum did stay in Edinburgh her whole childhood but I don't think she's ever considered herself Scottish (though she does sometimes call herself an 'Edinburgh girrrl'). I suppose that's one the reason I don't feel at all Scottish – that and being born and brought up in England myself.
Mark is more conventionally half Scottish (his Mum was born and grew up in Glasgow and is most definitely Scottish) and all that does mean our daughter Scottish exactly? She sounds the most English in her class but looks the most Scottish!
p.s. Hope, you were nearly Mum would call herself English and she does go to quaker meeting but she's not technically a quaker (it is a society and, these days particularly, you have to join). It's my Dad's family that has the quaker background (you can't get more quaker than Fox...even though we're not descended from George Fox, in fact). Most of us in the family went to quaker school at some point.

2.I loved the high jump at school – it was my favourite athletic event in P.E.

This is the falsehood. I was pretty sporty at primary school – competitive and quite able – but I can remember quite clearly the first few times we did the high jump because it horrified me. That whole thing of flinging yourself into the air and believing you can fly...I've never been one much for that (in practise anyway...not bad at theory). I did OK at high jump in school (the competitive urge got me through) but I really didn't like it and I stopped doing it as soon as I could. Once I got to high school I became far more interested in the old extra-curriculars (drinking, smoking, lazing about and misbehaving...) and I did as little of any conventional P.E. as possible. The high jump thing stuck with me because I was a fairly confident child and I think it was the first time I ever thought 'I can't do that' ( though I've thought it a lot since). This change and realisation even made it into a poem but it's not one I'll ever make public, I don't think, as it is full of very, very personal details (the high jump bit is one of the cleaner sections). The poem is called 'If only I was a catholic (I have so much to confess)'.

3.Though I don't drive very much now I passed my driving test first time.

Amazingly this is true. Mark says all the best drivers pass second time.

4.I do know the way to San José.

True because I've been there. In 1987 I went to Central America with a group of people from university. We were heading for Nicaragua (and got there) but we flew to Costa Rica (and its capital San José) and then took a bus north. I remember some of the others singing the 'Do you know the way...' song at the airport. Hilarious for the cabin crew I'm sure.

5.I was once an extra in an episode of the TV soap opera 'Emmerdale'.

True. In the mid '90s I was living in Leeds and working in nightclubs – particularly ones with a fairly hefty gay (or at least experimenting with gay) clientele. Anyway a character in the TV soap 'Emmerdale' (that's filmed in and around Leeds) was coming out as a lesbian and she (Zoe, a pretty vet in the story) was meant to be going to a lesbian & gay club in the city. A friend of mine was given the job of peopling this club with extras that looked the part and so, hey, I was an 'Emmerdale' lesbian!

6.I have worked as a tour guide in Moscow.

True. Whilst at uni I had a holiday job accompanying groups of high school kids from the USA on their (very cheap) trips to the USSR (it was the late '80s). I had to greet the kids and their teachers at Heathrow and then fly with them all on to the USSR (via Paris...whistle-stop tour and all). I stayed with them for the whole tour (Moscow and Leningrad and then back to Heathrow) and looked after their every pesky need ('gee, my hairdryer doesn't work and the food here is disgusting'...actually that's unfair the kids were great). Whilst in the USSR we did have a Soviet guide with us too (every step of the way) but technically I was a tour guide in Moscow. It was very long hours and very badly paid work but the scenery was lovely.

7.I cannot understand the appeal of prawns (as a foodstuff).

True. Why would you eat prawns when there is anything (and I mean anything!) else on offer?

8.I was a member of the Fonzie Fan Club ('School of Coolmanship') when I was about 10.

So true. I loved the TV show 'Happy Days' (theme tune below) and joined this fan club in good faith. Members got certificates for 'coolness' (bronze, silver and gold) but my gold never arrived. Then one day we saw (on 'That's Life' on TV) that the whole thing was a con and nothing to do with Fonz or the show! I was very disillusioned. Still am.

9.Despite much evidence to the contrary I do in fact have an honours degree (of my own) from one of those and famous English universities with all the pretty buildings (no, not Essex...).

This is true. I went to Cambridge University (under my real name of course) and stayed the full 3 years (studied Modern Languages). I didn't like it very much and didn't work very hard and I probably should have gone somewhere else but you don't know that till you try do you? Plus my Mum was very, very proud.

10.I once read a Pablo Neruda poem to a room full of inmates in a men's prison in Cáceres (Spain).

True. When I lived in Madrid (1985-6) I shared a flat with a Chilean guy and this meant I pretty soon met every Chilean in the city (very exciting for a girl from Teesside I can tell you!). Two of my friends were really great musicians working as buskers (because of course like many Latin Americans in Spain at that time they were not officially there). These friends were invited to a weekend of Chilean cultural exchange (or some such) by the local council in Cáceres (a few hours west of Madrid) and it was all expenses paid (train tickets, hotels, food etc.). Somehow my musician friends Hugo and Leo got me invited too and off I went (at 19 you don't question you just go!). Because I was getting all the freebies I had to work though so when it was time for the prison visit part of the cultural tour they took me along and made me read a poem. It was very strange being the only female in the place (much noise and shouting as I walked through the courtyard...) but my friends were lovely and I trusted them to look after me. I've never been to Chile but I would like to go one day. I presume a lot of the people I knew went back there after Pinochet died...but I don't know for sure because I didn't stay in touch with anyone – shame really. Even then I wanted to be a writer (but was a bit lazy) and Hugo (who was very wise...a great guy) said to me 'if you want to be a writer you have to practise every day, every day!' I hear his voice in my head quite often (because now I do, Hugo, I do!).

So Susan at Stony River got the answer right first (and Liz got it too). Well done you two and thanks for playing everyone.


Monday, 23 November 2009

Monday nonsense?

Hope had this over at hers last week and it looked fun so I thought I'd try it. Fun? Fun, you say? Well, yes, it seems to have been poetry, poetry, poetry on here of late (when did I get so obsessive, really!) and I felt like a change.

So all you have to do is look at the 10 statements below and work out which is the deliberate lie. There's no prize...well, hang on...maybe there will be a prize (depends how many of you get it right). Let's just hope you do better than I did at Hope's (I got the rules back to front...I mean...the embarrassment). Here we go:

1. My Mum was born and brought up in Scotland so even though I don't feel very Scottish (especially now I live here) you probably could say that I am at least a tiny bit non-English.

2. I loved the high jump at school - my favourite bit of P.E.

3. Though I don't drive very much now I passed my driving test first time.

4. I do know the way to San José.

5. I was once an extra in an episode of the TV soap opera 'Emmerdale'.

6. I have worked as a tour guide in Moscow.

7. I cannot understand the appeal of prawns (as a foodstuff).

8. I was a member of the Fonzie Fan Club ('School of Coolmanship') when I was about ten.

9. Despite much online evidence to the contrary I do in fact have an honours degree (of my own) from one of those rich and famous English universities with all the pretty buildings (no, not Essex...).

10. I once read a Pablo Neruda poem to a room full of inmates in a men's prison in Cáceres (Spain).

So, let's hear your guesses (educated or otherwise). Or maybe you just couldn't care less. In which case - fair enough.


Saturday, 21 November 2009

A case of who?

Thanks for all your comments on the last post...they will all help me to put on some great events up here, I hope. I won't be doing anything too regular (heck, then it would start to feel like a job and I'd have to run away!) but the size and enthusiasm of the audience in October took me a little by surprise...and it certainly made me think it was worth moving into this a little further. Montrose is a small town (tiny really) but there's lots going annual music festival, a great folk club, a new blues club, lots of local singing and theatre groups...and now some really brilliant poetry events too. Fantastic.

Speaking of poems, I know that lots of you like a bit of Joni Mitchell as much as I do (we talked about her a little back here). I even had the name Joni on my list of possible names for girls when I was expecting our wee 'un (though it wasn't what we went with in the end). One of Mitchell's songs that hangs about in my head now and again is 'A Case of You' (it's here...though sounding a little different to the 'Blue' version - lyrics are here). It has some great lines - “I live in a box of paints”...and so many others.

Anyway, here's a new poem of mine that uses some of this song whilst working out to myself some truths about a difficult relationship (can't tell you who it refers to but it's not Mark, that's for sure). See what you think.


I drank a case of you
Perhaps unwisely
And not surprisingly
I paid the price
Next time a thimbleful
Measured precisely
Would do me nicely
More than suffice

RF 2009

Ah, so much pain in 8 little lines. But I feel better now.


Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Putting on a show..?

I've booked all the performers for my next poetry and music event in Montrose and I can tell you that it will take place in Spring of next year (23rd April 2010 to be precise). I'm not going to tell you who I've booked yet (The suspense! The drama!) but I can tell you it's going to be a really, really good night. It's all very exciting...who needs Xmas?

As I've been thinking and planning this next event I have been wondering if maybe readers here could help me get together a wish list of poets for future events (I might ask for ideas about musicians another time). Obviously I have my own ideas about the poets that I've seen but I'm interested in yours too and I'm sure you've all been to events that I haven't and have seen lots of poets that I have yet to hear in the flesh (as it were).

So, think of all the poets you have heard read (live or on radio or on youtube or whatever) and tell me who has impressed you the most so far (list as many as you like). I am very open-minded about genres so I don't care if they write in Latin with their hat on or call themselves performance poets and play the bongos throughout – what I'm interested in is how well they communicate with an audience and how good they are at what they choose to do. Judging from the October event the audience here in Montrose is very varied (mixed ages, sexes, interests - some poetry hardcore, some poetry not-really-sure-what-it's for...) and that should be kept in mind. It is not StAnza where you've got probably 90% of the audience calling themselves poets, for example. It might help too if you keep all the following in mind as you decide who to nominate:

- Whatever their style and content the poems your poet reads/performs should be really, really good. I know it's subjective but even so...this is essential for the kind of event I'm aiming for. I want people using words in really interesting ways. And they've got to be able to keep that up for 40-45 minutes at least!

- The poets should be able to really keep an audience's interest (whatever their subject matter, language, style and so on). For example, Raymond Vettese who read at the October event here reads poems in Scots (which I can only half understand!) but he still completely held my attention and interest and taught me lots of new words into the bargain. This is the kind of performer I'm looking for - someone who really makes an impression with what they say (the poems and the bits in between). There should definitely be some kind of Wow factor (even if it is a very quiet and gentle wow). You should go home thinking 'my goodness, I'm glad I went and heard that poet today! My life is the better for that!' Or maybe that feeling will creep up on you as the next week goes by (you know what I mean...).

- The poets don't have to be funny (absolutely not) but if they can be then that is great. The reason I have put Hugh 'the goat' McMillan on twice is that he can make an audience cry with laughter and cry with real, sad tears (and teach them all kinds of historical details – result!). And his poems are brilliant! Range, my dears, range is a real bonus. For me all the best writers have range.

- Obviously I don't have huge grants to pay wages and I can't pay for air tickets or anything like that but at this stage why don't we make it a real wish list and you tell me all the poets you've seen who could fit this bill (no matter where they live or how famous or obscure they are). I'm just interested to know what you think as much as anything.

Can't wait to see who you all mention!


Sunday, 15 November 2009

A few on the go

You know sometimes you're reading just one're completely consumed by it, you can hardly put it down etc.? Then other times you're reading about ten different things - dipping in and out of them all, floating about in a somewhat dazed state? Well, at the moment I'm in the latter.

This is what I'm reading just now (in between family life, household tasks, dog walks, trips out, half planning another poetry event and so on):

John Burnside 'Selected Poems' (Cape Poetry 2006)
I bought Burnside's novel 'The Dumb House' (1997) in a library sale a little while back, read it and found it creepy but interesting enough to finish. I'm aware he's a poet too (I've seen his name on StAnza leaflets) but have never read a single poem by him before so I checked this Selected Poems out of the library last week. Can't say it's doing a lot for me so far but it's early days and I haven't given up just yet. He won a big poetry award in 2000 so I suppose he can live without the Rachel Fox thumbs up anyway but I'll keep reading and maybe get back to you. Anyone else a fan and want to add something?

Rachel Fox – various
I read my own stuff all the time (don't we all?). I'm constantly rereading, rethinking, reevaluating my own work. I even reread my own diary quite a lot...often with a sense of confusion and/or disbelief (did that really happen? How did I end up doing that?). You could say it's ego gone mad but I think it's a lot more to do with confusion.

Liz Gallagher 'The Wrong Miracle' (Salt 2009)
Liz is coming here (virtually speaking) as part of her blog tour at the beginning of December. I have been reading this, her first poetry collection, off and on for a while and I came to Liz's work via her online personality really (got the book via a swap with her). Online she is very appealing... funny, friendly, cool as Kerouac...and though her work is very different to a lot of the poetry that I like and read regularly I find myself coming back to it often and rereading and enjoying it. It does make me want to hear her read some aloud too. Got any audio/video yet, Liz?

Jack Kerouac 'On the Road' (Penguin Modern Classics first publ. 1957)
This is one of the 'classics' that I've somehow never read. I bought it in one of those giant Tescos when we were staying down in York (don't hate me...someone had given me a Tesco voucher as a present...and it was on offer...what did you want me to buy – bubble bath?). I'm about halfway through OTR now and whilst I'm sure it seemed very exciting back in 1957 I can't say it's exactly wowing me as yet (though my favourite line so far is on page 33 "I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was 'Wow!'"). Will it keep the 'classic' tag for much longer though, I wonder? That's another question for the time machine, I suppose.

Hugh McMillan 'Aphrodite's Anorak' (Peterloo Poets 1996)
I'm always reading something by McMillan, the old goat. All his poetry books are great and this one is no exception (there's a poem in it called 'Blethers' that is really, really beautiful). He sent me this as a thank-you for being president of the unofficial Hugh McMillan Appreciation Society.

Helena Nelson 'Starlight on Water' (Rialto 2003)
As we were talking about poet and publisher Nelson the other week I decided I wanted to read more of her poems so I bought this book via the evil Amazon empire (well, the Market Place bit and a very nice person in Suffolk, as it happens). I haven't read it all yet but I am really enjoying it as I go. It's big on beauty and yearning from what I've seen so far. It also speaks to the reader quite a lot (which I like). It's nice to feel involved...

Don Paterson 'Landing Light' (Faber and Faber 2003)The new Paterson poetry collection 'Rain' sounds right up my street (and in fact through my door and well into the house) but I refuse to let myself buy it until I have read this one a bit more (I bought this in Dundee Borders most likely, last year some time). It's quite a mix of poems that (a) a lazy arse like me can read without too much background and (b) some that I might need a reference book or two for. The overriding feel of the book for me is of a man writing like he is about a hundred years old. It's quite spooky and it puts me in mind of all the Tiresias sections in T.S.Eliot's Wasteland (it's like you can hear the winds of doom blowing, the sands of time slipping away). Apart from the fact that I am totally rubbish with any kind of classical and/or mythological references I am enjoying it too. And while we're on the subject why is it that I can hold silly, shallow information much better in my head than proper educational stuff that might one day impress someone (I mean hell, I was writing about Meat Loaf last week...)? Is it possible to be reprogrammed do you think - have all the crap replaced with Greek gods, chemical formulae, history and many, many ancient languages? (Er, no...far too late for that).

Graham Robb 'Rimbaud' (Picador 2000)
I picked this biography up in the town library the other week and it is a really great read so far (and young Rimbaud hasn't even left school yet!). I'm finding it much more exciting than the Kerouac 'classic' and overall poets can make excellent subjects for biographies I think. Any suggestions for the best (and worst) in this category? Any poet biographies you'd like to read and/or write?

Various 'The Nation's Favourite Comic Poems' (ed. Griff Rhys Jones BBC Books 1998)
I bought a collection of these Nation's Favourite books cheap as stocking filler type items for the Xmas present cupboard (remember – poetry is for life, not just for Xmas) and I was flicking through them to see who might like what. I stumbled across the poem below and enjoyed it very much so it can be this week's Monday poem. I don't think I'd never read anything by Gavin Ewart (1916-95) before (at least nothing comes to mind) but I loved this (and no knowledge of anything complicated is required for total and speedy understanding).

The Black Box

As well as these poor poems
I am writing some wonderful ones
They are all being filed separately,
nobody sees them.

When I die they will be buried
in a big black tin box.
In fifty years' time
they must be dug up,

for so my will provides.
This is to confound the critics
and teach everybody
a valuable lesson.

By Gavin Ewart

So what are you reading?

p.s. Forgot to mention...I still read to our Girl every night and we just finished 'The Little White Horse' by Elizabeth Goudge (orig. publ. 1946 and recently filmed as 'The Secret of Moonacre'). I never read it as a child and it's possibly the book we've read together that I've liked least (and not just for all the God content). Girl thought it was OK but then she pretty much likes all books (so far). Plus it has dogs.


Thursday, 12 November 2009

A little bit of politics - song for Gordon

Here's one for the current Prime Minister of that strange beast we call the United Kingdom.

Sympathy vote

He is not the disco's greatest dancer
Or anybody's favourite flavour of the month
Woe is his name
His name is Gordon

There will be no gurning calendar
In the Xmas shops this year
No preening photos
No smiling PM

No titles are coming - no rear of the year
No head of the state, no hearts and minds
There'll be no prizes
No prizes for Gordon

No, this is the man who can do no right
Whatever he touches turns to brown
We're doomed, they say
The Gordon way

His face shows the merest flicker of hope
Does he dream, still deep, of the X Factor final
A stonking 'My Way'
Before cheering crowds?

He can dream all he likes – it would never fly
There'd be a power cut (at least!) at the mention of his name
He'd forget all the words
Go Pete Tong for sure

And most likely Tony Blair would turn up pronto
With a generator, a guitar and an Elvis impression
Leave Gordon neglected
'What's your name again...sorry?'

It has not gone well - it is not going well
It is a gap in history and a time of no-one
Gordon's page is feint
His signature fading

RF 2009

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Reasons to be cheerful, bats out of hell and other unconnected items

Right then, reasons to be cheerful? There's always something.

How about (1) this great interview with poet John Cooper Clarke (from this Sunday's 'Independent'). We were talking about him recently, remember (back here)? I loved all the bits in this new and fascinating interview about people mistaking JCC for a Rolling Stone (the hair..), also the excellent quotes from poets Adrian Mitchell and Simon Armitage (SA calls JCC “a cross between Sid Vicious, Ken Dodd and Allen Ginsberg”) and there's a funny story about 'shards' too. Most of all I loved the respect (from interviewer Robert Chalmers) for JCC's “depth and range”. Respect where it's due, as they say.

And how about (2) this episode of the BBC comedy series 'In the Thick of It'? If you've never seen it it's kind of 'The West Wing' meets 'Fawlty Towers' and I would probably not have watched this show on my own but Mark started watching it and was laughing so much that I had to join in. There is a lot of swearing in it so if you don't like swearing keep well away. Personally I think swearing used in humour can be just perfect (the key word there being 'can'). There's some particularly good twitter content in this episode (and I have yet to twit and so can laugh freely...).

And (3) how about this marvellous book – 'Nude' by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

I'm not going to write a review of 'Nude' because I just wrote a book review a few posts ago and they drain the life out of me. I will say, however, that it is fabulous, and that you should most definitely read it and buy it as a Xmas present for all the people you love (buy it here). It contains probably the best short stories I've read since I last read some Alice Munro (and indeed they are probably as good as hers...yes, I really do think she's that good... dazzlingly good).

And then (4) there has to be a song, doesn't there? I posted the Ian Dury mentioned in the title back here so I can't post that one again. So what can I suggest (she says rattling around in the cds)...what have I been listening to this week? Well, for a start we've been 'educating' our Girl with some classic rock of late (and we've been having a lot of fun at the same time). We're not quite sure what she makes of this guess is you'll either love it or hate it already.

I know it's a bit Lloyd Webber in a leather jacket sometimes...but there's some great stuff in it too - some very amusing lines and some fantastic lung action. And listening to it again after all these years it does make me wonder what Meat Loaf would be like on the monstrosity that is 'The X Factor'? He'd probably eat the competition (though I'd prefer it if he ate the 'judges' to be honest...the women would be more snacks than meals admittedly).

Can't end on Meat though so (5) let's have some dessert after that main course (in the form of an Aimee Mann song). I first heard it whilst watching the movie 'Magnolia' (great soundtrack, fairly average movie).

Well, I feel better. How about you?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Watching 'Garage' and what came after (kind of a Monday poem)

Back when some of us were writing Monday Poems for TFE in September and October of this year one of the assignments involved watching a film called 'Garage' (2007 dir. Leonard Abrahamson). I couldn't get hold of the film on the week in question so I took the other option on offer (reading a particular Plath poem...and then writing this). However some of the poems others wrote after watching 'Garage' were intriguing so I eventually got a copy of the film last week (via one of those clever postal dvd rental places) and sat down to watch it on Thursday night.

From the poems and comments (find them all via TFE's post here) I knew the movie wasn't going to be a light-hearted comedy but it wasn't the doom-fest some of you had led me to expect either. It was sad, sure enough, but...really...what isn't? Some days almost everything makes me sad.

Anyway, I enjoyed the film (maybe that isn't quite the right word - let's say 'I thought it was good'). It is slow and simple and, I assume, fairly cheaply made but that can all be good when done right (and I think it was). There's some great acting, a lot of truth and a little story well told.

Straightaway after watching 'Garage' the first thought that came into my mind was that I might write something about small town life and its down side...then I remembered I'd pretty much done that for another TFE assignment (here). Then I thought about teenage drinking (I did a lot of that...and I really do mean a lot) but I just wasn't in the mood to write about that (maybe another time...). Then as I thought on and on a (really cheesey) song came into my mind and helped me on my way. I'm not going to tell you the song (maybe you can guess has an Irish connection too) but here is the poem. Like the film the poem has sadness in it but it is not overwhelmingly sad (I don't think). It is just looking at what there I see it.

Hold on, hold on

Some riders insist on hogging the front
They think it's their place, their right almost
They want to face obvious danger head on
Look it proudly in the face - open eye to open eye
They raise their arms joyfully, most voluntarily
And they laugh at the very idea of fear

Others select the middle cars
They don't look out and they don't look in
They watch the noisy folks up front
Whooping, flying, apparently progressing
And decide that often...
Just thinking about something is more than enough

Odd ones sit at the back, always
They don't really want to be there at all
They hate the people at the front
They hate the people in the middle
They squirm and shift and hate the safety harness too
They scribble in notebooks, draw wings in margins

There is movement between the zones, of course
Nothing's ever simple, nothing's ever complex
And then every once in what feels like a heartbeat
At the top of a rise, or the dip of a fall
Someone undoes a buckle and jumps clear out
The cars keep on moving, the track's unchanged

The body just falls so quickly down
Sometimes hitting scaffolding, sometimes not
And it pretty much always makes a fair old mess
Pieces of a life
Pieces of a dear life
You can't expect nothing to come from something

But below in the shadows someone will sort it
They have mops and cloths and tools down there
And an army of tough, well-worn pit ponies
All is unseen and unspectacular
By silent hands the bolts are tightened
And the whole goddamned show goes on, ever thus

RF 2009

Saturday, 7 November 2009

For Sunday

This isn't really a post - just a link. It's an old's in the book and it's here too. The other thing that sparked it (that I don't mention elsewhere) was a poem by a schoolgirl in one of the local papers. I wrote it in 2006.


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tom Duddy – another great Irish writer?

Hello friends and visitors. I'm going to write about someone else's poetry book again. Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I'll begin...

You might have noticed that I only write about books of other people's poetry occasionally – mainly because I'm not a poetry critic and the whole subject of poetry lit crit is not one of my favourites really. I quite enjoy writing about novels, films, music, comedy, even visual art sometimes these days...but when it comes to poetry I definitely prefer writing it to writing about it. I think it's partly that I tend to have fairly strong (and odd) feelings about how I want to write poetry (the whats and hows and whys) and I'm never sure how to fit that in with talking about someone else's work. I can tell you if I like something (and I think there's a chance you might like it too) but beyond that...poetry criticism can get so dry and academic (and totally not my kind of thing). It can make me quite uncomfortable...physically and mentally...look, here I am positively shifting about in my seat as I type!

I had a flick through my archives and whilst I do mention other poets' work fairly regularly all I have done on this blog even remotely review-wise has been something about an anthology (here) as well as two posts about chapbooks by JoAnne McKay (here) and Anna Dickie (here). Today however I have an urge to write about another poet again. So come on down Irishman Tom Duddy, you are the lucky subject. You are also the author of a book of poems called 'The Small Hours' that looks like this:

So let's get did I come across the work of Tom Duddy? Oh yes...

Now and again I take a look at the HappenStance blog kept by publisher and poet Helena Nelson. Many of you will know (but some of you won't) that HappenStance publishes poetry chapbooks (pamphlets) and other related thin and papery items and that the whole enterprise is based in Fife in Scotland. I own quite a few of their publications already (all bought with real money!) and probably my favourite HappenStance product so far is Helena Nelson's own 'Unsuitable Poems' (with its fine mix of style and humour and the slightly unexpected). Hell, I even included Nelson in my list of '25 writers that have influenced me' (back here – she's number 24).

I am interested in Nelson's opinion (even if I often disagree with it...and I do...sometimes we come at poetry from VERY different directions) so I was intrigued by a post on the blog (here) where she wrote this about one of HappenStance's chapbooks (Tom Duddy's 'The Small Hours' 2006):

“Tom’s (The Small Hours, one of my favourites) isn’t (sold out) – and that is partly because the poet is not a natural self-promoter. His poems are quiet. They sneak up on you sideways. But the deep, quiet excitement I felt when I first read him is with me yet.

Poetry World, alas, has entered celebrity culture. Sometimes I like the fun of that. However, I also lament the pressure it brings for poets to have to be glitzy and out there, blogging, slogging, hogging the limelight.

Some of them should be doing that stuff, no question. It’s what they’re born for (though celebrity should not be equated with genius).

Others should be doing it their own way, skulking between the pages. Let them be hard to find, verschmuggelt. Let them be a well-kennt secret . . .”

That is the kind of thing that draws me in, I suppose, (even if Poetry World and celebrity culture have been pals before...Lord Byron, anyone?). In the post Nelson also linked to another piece online (see here) and this all made me very curious about Irishman Duddy and his wee book of poems (I've read a lot of good poems and stories by Irish writers off and online recently – are you having a golden age over there or what?). So I sent off my £3 to buy 'The Small Hours' (you can buy it here) and when it came I did what you do with a poetry book (why, I read it!). And Nelson was so, so right (she first read him and fell for his work in the poetry magazine 'Magma')...Duddy's poems are irresistible, wonderful, well worth investing in.

Never mind all this effusive behaviour, you say, let's be more precise - what kind of wonderful are these poems exactly? Oh...this is the bit I hate but let's about they are gentle-and-thoughtful would that do for a start? They're also that kind of make-you-want-to-find-Duddy-and-throw-your-arms-round-him wonderful (or maybe that's just me...I am a bit of a hugger...I said a 'I'm a bit of a hugger'). Nelson is quite right about them being quiet poems too...they are so quiet that at times they are almost whispered (but how powerful the right whisper can be). The subject matter is varied - everyday life, conversations in pubs, everyday death, getting old, everyday love, Ireland, everyday sleep and being in bed, social interaction, everyday days out, tiny happenings, everyday poets (like Robert Frost), family relationships, everyday history and progress. They are finely crafted (even I can see that...) and they all make you want to sit still and just think for a while - no disturbances, no modern nonsense (and Duddy's workday subject is philosophy so I suppose that's not really a huge surprise). Duddy teaches philosophy at the University of Ireland, Galway and has written a book called 'A History of Irish Thought' (there's a little bit of author biography here, if you like that kind of thing).

I have to confess that one of my problems with poetry reviews is the way they give you lots of snippets of poems all over the place (to illustrate their argument and so on). Is it just me or does anyone else often find that feature of a review more confusing than elucidating? It works with novels but with poetry...isn't it better to just show a whole poem or two to illustrate the style and content (unless the poems are all ten pages long of course)? I prefer that route so here (with permission from the publisher) is one of Duddy's poems in its entirety. I could've picked several favourites ('The Language of Visitors', 'Harvesters', 'The Life of Robert Frost', 'The Elderberry Tree') but I asked for this one instead. It's a great piece of painting...and a sad song...and a poem too. Clever, eh?

High Grass

This time last year we joked about the state
of her front gate, while she, down on one knee,
chucked drooling brushfuls of Brilliant White
into flaking weals of rust. We were ironic too

about signs of summer in this neck of the woods -
the wrappers and cans as bright as mushrooms
across the newly mowed green; the back wall
of the community centre running red again

with young love's equations; and OF COURSE
the thrill of lying awake all night again to hear
the best of Chopin from the ghetto blasters!
A sudden sobering of mood then as she left

the paint brush across the tin, straightened (stiffly,
in stages, like a weight-lifter), and came to stand
before me, pulling herself together, pushing
her gold-rims up and back before laying a hand

on the wall between our lives. Your children,
she said, have grown SO tall, SO tall. Do you EVER
feel the time! And both of us stood in awe then
for a moment, prayerfully shaking our heads

as if to misdirect a god, divert some evil eye.
This summer her own tall sons go in and out,
hardly seeing us, hardly speaking. The scrolls
of iron weep with rust, the high grass leans

everywhichway in the garden, and the sycamore -
which the boys SWORE they'd trim back last winter -
scrapes its leaves against an upstairs window where
the curtains have stayed drawn since early June.

by Tom Duddy
from 'The Small Hours' (HappenStance 2006)
Copies are still available. Go buy.


Monday, 2 November 2009

Monday poem? Well, it's a poem and it is Monday...

Here's something we recorded earlier. In fact it was recorded at the National Poetry Day Plus One event in Montrose last month. I wasn't on the bill as such but I was compering/hosting and I did a poem in between each of the other acts on the bill. At the beginning of the second half I did this poem to warm the audience back up after the break (or something...really I just like doing it). There is a bit of a ramble at the beginning but it all helps set the scene.

Quite a change from last Monday's poem, don't you think?