Monday, 30 December 2013

The End Of That















Well, that's torn it. 2013 is almost over and done with, and did I set out to do everything I promised myself? Not at all. I began the year setting myself a strict target for the number of poems to write per month, intending to apply the same discipline to that I had to building my fitness up to a strong showing in a 10K race a couple of years ago.  In the end, I failed and didn't even have the decency to be disappointed in myself.  So it goes.  If a publisher or editor had been on my back in the same way that sponsors had been gambling on me getting a good time in the 10K run, I might have ended up nearer my target.  I like to think of myself as being self-motivated enough to not need external pressures to get work done, but the reality is that I'm as prone to procrastination as most people, and probably need to have somebody with a clipboard stood behind me telling me to get on with it.  If private humiliation as opposed to public humiliation is all that's at stake, well, I can always lie to myself.

But… but but but… it's not a lie to say that I did get some writing done, and no more or less than usual.  I'm also proud that a short story of mine got used by "The Alarmist" for their second issue, which was the first story (as opposed to poem) I'd ever had published anywhere.

And then in the summer, this happened…



















I was carrying a bottle of water around with me in my work bag, and it burst open on to my poetry notebook, completely wiping out a lot of the new work in the process.  I think that most of the ideas it flooded had either already been typed up or disregarded as bad material, but I'll never really know for sure.  With incidents like that one slapping me in the face, it's no wonder I didn't write as much as I aimed to.

Looking forward, I have absolutely no idea what I'll be doing in 2014 in terms of live performance work. I have two gigs lined up, one in January, the other February, but by the autumn I'll have spent fifteen years on the London live poetry circuit.  Given that fact, it's no wonder I feel I've hit a point where I'm no longer in the mood for spending time constantly chasing live work at the expense of creating new written work (and possibly getting it published).  We all have to network and maintain a physical presence in the real world to get work offers whether we're at the top of the game or at the very bottom, but it's now becoming harder and harder to get heard through the noise, and near-on impossible to persuade the bigger promoters to attend low-key gigs whether you're a new poet or an established one. I'm questioning whether I should just focus on writing and let people come to me more in 2014 (and if they don't, so be it).  This might mean a slowdown in the amount of gigs, or it might not - but I'm not going to get worried about it.  Poetry will still get written, and hopefully more of it will get published if I give it enough focus.

If I have one big hope for 2014, it's that poetry in general will finally gain a bit of self-respect.  I'm talking to all of you here.  At the very start of 2013 I was at a private showing of work by some highly touted up-and-coming artists, and all of them were able to present themselves with huge confidence and knew that what they had created had huge cross-appeal.  They weren't perfect in the way they conducted themselves, rolling their eyes now and then at the odd stupid question from an arts administrator, but I couldn't help but contrast their behaviour with those of the poets I knew, who have always felt cloying and desperate for attention in comparison.  Poets are either apologetic about what they do, self-deprecating to a fault, or they'll come across like Youth Club workers or leaders, trying to be accepted by the gangs around them and using all the right language whilst knowing deep down that their faces don't quite fit. The best artists and musicians aren't generally afraid to be themselves, are proud of the work they've created, expect to be accepted for the absurd nature of what they do, and couldn't care less if they're not.  Poets, on the other hand, are utterly desperate for acceptance and truly terrified of any criticism at all.  There are no easy answers to this, and it seems like too much to hope for that such a huge problem can be resolved in a single year, but let's all at least have a crack at it.  Let's pretend that we really are at the start of a brilliant new phase in British poetry, and that it can only get better if we're proud of both of the form and the unique attributes we're able to bring to it.  Let's be confident enough to be ourselves, and turn down that glassy-eyed, over-enthusisatic handshake just a few notches. It might get us somewhere.

See you in the new year.  

Sunday, 1 December 2013

People often ask me if I have any words of advice for young poets

Well... they don't, actually.  Let me give you a bit of background here.  Once upon a long ago when my profile was a bit stronger than it is at the moment, I scribbled a few words down as advice I'd give if I met a new poet on the live circuit and they asked me what pitfalls they should bear in mind.  I was going to place this on my MySpace blog (I told you this was a long time ago) but ultimately chickened out.  Who was I to be dispensing this information, after all?  Who did I think I was?  Luke Wright? Scroobius Pip?

But to hell with it.  My opinions on this aren't necessarily more or less valid than anyone else's, and whilst I genuinely don't expect a newcomer to turn to my blog for advice, it's always at least halfway interesting (and usually bizarrely controversial) to read somebody's angle on the mechanics of the London poetry circuit.  So here are some points...

1. If you compete in slams, for God's sake have some fun at them.

Away from the major competitions such as Farrago where the results can carry some weight, slams are primarily supposed to be fun, an entertaining alternative to open mics, so enjoy them as a night out.  Do your best, but don't be surprised if the novelty act or the cocky 16 year old with ideas above his/her station wins - audiences at slams are often illogical and just as likely to vote for some random eccentric who'll never be heard from again as they are somebody with exceptional delivery and ideas.  Therefore, whichever way the coin falls, accept the outcome.

There are also few slam events I've been to where somebody hasn't complained of "fixes".  "But it's not fair! The audience cheered far louder for me than they did for Roger the Rude, Nude Ranting Poet!" Doing this is proof in itself that you've forgotten to have fun at the event.  (And anyway, how could a poet like Roger fail to win, you liar?  That's everything you need, right there, all bases covered. I'm almost tempted to go out and create that act myself.  It's even better than my idea to create a novelty act called Gravy Davy, the rhyming poet who primarily writes about traditional roast dinners).

2. And slams shouldn't be your only training ground, anyway.

All too often serial slammers make the mistake of developing entire live sets based on their greatest hits.  Sets should arc effectively and shift and change mood to keep the audience interested - blast out very samey, high-energy ideas, and you're going to lose their interest quickly (or indeed vice versa).

So use the open mic opportunities open to you to experiment and develop other work as well.  For one thing, an open mic audience is going to respond to your work in a much more typical way than a rowdy  slam audience.  Get a feel for all the circuit, not just one corner of it.

3. Ten minutes slots should be carefully planned.

It's common for new poets to be given ten minute slots at events rather than twenty minute ones, and it's not a lot of time to play with at all.  You essentially have the amount of time it takes to listen to two modern hit singles to establish a rapport with the audience, give them your best poems, and get out of there having given them (and any promoters lurking) the impression that you'll be worth seeing again.  A lot of established poets would struggle with those limits, and it's a lot to ask of a developing artist, but  it's also something we've all had to do.

Given the above, the first question you should ask yourself is whether you're planning to include that 3-5 minute epic poem you're in love with.  The answer all too commonly seems to be "Yes", and it's often a waste of precious time.  Firstly, are you absolutely sure it needs to be that long?  If you strike a red biro through some of the lines or even whole stanzas, does it lose its overall message or impact?  If the workshops I've attended are anything to go by, the answer here is usually "Yes" once again, so I'll repeat my question... Are you sure?  Is the work actually not incredibly repetitious, and are you not finding lots of new ways to express the same idea or image over and over again?  Ten minutes would usually be better spent giving the audience a wide idea of the scope of the work you can do, and far apart from that, if half the room dislike the long poem, they may spend 3-5 minutes more time  disliking your work than they otherwise might.  With time limits like these, clock-watching becomes really important.

Above all else, don't be afraid of using the red pen.  Even if there are lines in the poem you think are too wonderful to lose, you can farm them out to other pieces of work.  I have a notebook filled with stray lines that are waiting to be placed somewhere new or written around, and I usually either end up completely going off them (meaning they were obviously never all that wonderful in the first place) or finding them a place in a new piece of work within a couple of years.  Either way, it's no loss.

4. Try not to apologise for poems in advance of reading them.

Even established poets do this, but that doesn't (in my opinion) make it right!  Poets tend to lean naturally towards self-deprecation, but if you apologise for a new piece of work or for the subject matter of a long-standing piece of work, audiences will be more likely to judge it critically.  Why should they do otherwise when you've already planted the idea in their minds?  It's OK to announce a poem as being a new piece of work in progress at an open mic if you're soliciting feedback, but I'd be careful about doing so in a live set people have paid to see, and I'd be doubly careful about adding the shrugging disclaimer "so it might be a bit shit, sorry about that".  It makes you seem like a nice, honest person, but it may not flatter your work, which should be the thing you care about most. Would an up-and-coming live band do this before a new song, or a comedian before a new routine?  Not normally, and there's a good reason for that.

5. The page/ stage (spoken word/ published poet) divide is a myth.

Well, it is and it isn't.  It certainly seems to exist in plenty of people's minds.  But here's my tuppence worth - if a non-comic spoken word act can't produce work which stands up on the page, they're not a very good poet and they're depriving themselves of numerous opportunities.  If, on the other hand, a poet's published work is fantastic but he/she mumbles towards his/her feet at a reading, they're still a good poet, but they're also depriving themselves of numerous opportunities (and possibly wasting the time and money of anyone who has actually paid to see them).

So-called spoken word poets and page poets - especially people who deliberately define themselves as such - could learn a lot from each other, and should.  If you're of the divisive "us and them" mindset (as a depressing amount of poets are) and believe that spoken word artists are beneath you, or you're a spoken word artist and feel that anyone with a Picador or Faber and Faber publishing contract is obviously an academic, elitist bore from whom you can learn nothing, your envy is blindingly obvious and is also costing you chances to develop.  As a punter I would love nothing more than to turn up to live events to watch amazing writers completely engage with audiences.  I'm not really interested in watching confident, cocky performers delivering below-par material, or excellent writers underselling their work and making it sound worse than it reads in my own head.  I'm sure this goes for most people.

In short - collaborate with each other more. PLEASE. Divides only exist because you're an insecure bunch of fools who put the barriers up yourselves in the first place.  Oh OK, it's not as simple as that, but that's as much depth as I'm prepared to go into on this debate.

6. The more poetry you read, the better you get.

This cliche is true.  As somebody who is also easily distracted by novels, biographies, music magazines, websites, episodes of "Coronation Street" and BBC documentaries on rock stars, this is also something I need to remind myself more.

7. Be nice to promoters and publishers, even if they're not keen on your work.

Even if you're widely loved, there are going to be promoters out there who won't like your work and aren't likely to consider giving you a gig.  I'm naming no names, but I know of at least one big-name poet who in the last year has struggled to convince a big-fish-in-a-small-pond promoter in a small English city that he's worth the trouble booking.

The best thing to do would be to take the rejection with good grace and accept that you won't be liked by everyone.  The absolute worst thing to do would be to start a fight - either on the Internet or in the real world - thereby drawing attention to yourself as a prima-donna and a difficult person to work with.


Also, a simple rule of thumb which seems horribly obvious on the surface, but still trips a lot of people up – target your work. If you don’t like what they produce or promote much, they probably won’t like your material either. Take it as a compliment if you want, but don’t start a war, or waste your time trying to subvert their particular project like a big poetry radical.  

8. Charm isn't a dirty word, although it is easy to be jealous of charming bastards.  I often am. 

Whatever field you work in or career you have, there are always going to be people who get more attention just because they’re “likeable”, or friends with a lot of the “right” people – sometimes more than they are actually talented.  Get used to it, or your teeth will be ground to dust before you get to the age of forty, whether you carry on writing poetry or not.  Or try to be pleasant yourself, in the hope you can also get work on the basis of your easy charm.  This is the harder option for many.  

9. If you don't want to play the game, don't play the game.

If you want to be as experimental, jarring, awkward, and/or offensive as possible, then don’t be surprised when it doesn’t make you popular, the mainstream doesn't recognise your genius, and you end up on the cultish fringes.  That's usually the nature of going against the grain.  If all you care about is being popular, however… then play the game.  But if it’s popularity you want in your lifetime, why did you choose poetry in the first place?

Ah, the riddles and woes of working in an underpaid artform.  

10. Dave, see point 3. This blog entry needs a lot of red biro lines through it.

Shut up. 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Objectify

(I actually wrote and performed this for a feature slot for one of Kevin Reinhardt's poetry events, then never did it again. It wasn't the intention to abandon it so swiftly, but its Vonnegut-apeing quirkiness probably didn't seem quite as clever to me later on as it did the morning after writing it.  These things happen.

I can't remember how I handled the "insert your own…" aspects of the piece. Pointed to the page, I think. That should be bloody high on the list of things you really shouldn't do in front of a live audience.)

We have all, at one point, fantasized about “being” with celebrities.
Don’t try to deny it.
Don’t sneer at me.  Don’t pretend you’ve never been
captivated by shallow glitz.

 Insert your own fantasy here    ---------------------------------------------------------------
Insert your own poem here:




 I cannot do it for you.

Eventually these dreams become tiresome.
Once the admiration of your friends
wears off and turns to jealousy so you
have no friends, you are left alone.
Your lover talks to Dazed and Confused
about the tragedy of war and a
new fragrance she has launched, and
you are merely a vampire in a hall of mirrors.

For today, however, I am
imagining getting together with the
woman on the late news programme who is
researching corruption in the American Military.
She sits, stuttering slightly, wearing
more make-up than she’s clearly used to,
trapped inside a television against her will.

I know how things would run.
I would meet her at a party.
One of those crap London dos full of
rich kids talking loudly and
confidently about subjects they know 
nothing about.
She would be fascinating and approachable.
Her angular nose would bump against
mine when we tried to kiss, but it
wouldn’t spoil the moment.  We’d laugh, and
the pressure, and eventually her clothes,
would be off.

Her busy work talking to people she
hates and trying to extract the
truth would make her lonely, and so
she would need the slow pleasure of warmth,
would not see it as restricting or
suffocating, just liberating.

Maybe weeks, possibly months down the line,
her single-minded passion, her
interest in the world, her beliefs would
make her enviable company.  If I
didn’t love her by this point,
I’d at least feel something approaching it.

But I have a life of my own, and I wonder:
How would I feel when, for the seventh
morning in a row, a tin soldier from her
war model kit, commonly used as a demonstration
tool on broadcasts, got stuck in a bloody
trench in my foot?  How would I take it
when she left me after
six months to do research in Kyrygstan?

There are always these doubts.
I know.
I have been married nearly a thousand times to
different women, all for a few moments.
I quickly turn my attention to the PA on the
sixth floor downstairs, the woman in
vintage clothing who lives on the
tenth floor of a run-down tower block,
the lady in the silent home film I have
found in the local junk store.
It always ends the same,
and I do about it what I do in real life.
I sigh and do nothing.


Thursday, 7 November 2013

You Must Have Noticed

(One more from the file of very old poems. This crept into a self-published pamphlet called "The Blues For Dummies" I only ever made about twenty copies of ten years ago.  It was a horribly designed, flimsy xeroxed effort which was supposed to have generated extra revenue from gig bookings, but in the end only used to earn me a few quid a night - perhaps because it looked so unpromising.

 Possibly in a bid to confuse my future self, there was also a poem called "The Blues For Dummies", but that never made the final cut for some reason.  Maybe I should try to find that somewhere among my piles of paper…)

Check “Last Ten Calls” on your mobile and
watch the jagged, dot matrix
parade of names of
cumbersome, beer gutted,
list loving single males
flick past your eyes.
Make a note of them.
This is your army.
Her name isn’t there.

“1471” the land line,
listen to the lilting female voice, the
only one you’ve heard
crackling down the line in a
fortnight, slide from sleepy
vocal ballet to eighties
Numanoid robo-jerk as she read off
your parent’s number.
Her number isn’t there.

Consider last conversations,
the chew of clicking chat,
innocent innuendo expanding,
remarks on new men she’d met
clattering like sharpened
flints of secrets from her
pocket which she toyfully
hid with her foot, protesting
their platonic status.
Your mind wasn’t there.

You’ve had your last warning.
She’s sick of waiting for you to decide.
She knows if it were up to you
you’d spend your whole life

waiting for the right time to surrender.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Before I Die

Hello.

Just to let you all know that I'll be performing at a new poetry night "Before I Die" on the 6th November - details on the left.  "Before I Die" is the name of the poetry night, incidentally, hence the quotes. I'm not actually planning to kill myself afterwards, though I'm trying to decide what to include in the set as we speak, and I've found some ancient old howlers on my hard drive which might make someone else want to kill me if I read them.  But I won't.

So expect good material, some new material, a whole lot of open mic opportunities, some killer poems from Tom Bland and Sunshine Faggio, and the start of what will hopefully be a regular night on London's poetry circuit.

The Facebook event page, for those of you who do Facebook, is here.

The "I'm sick of poets plugging their work online, who do they think they are?" whiners group, on the other hand, can be found somewhere off the edge of Beachy Head.  

Saturday, 5 October 2013

London

(Sorry for the long break between blog entries - I moved house at the beginning of September and BT were supposed to connect me back to the internet within a couple of weeks of the move date, but in reality didn't happen until a few days ago. 

Let's not go on and on about that, though, or talk about how naive I was to actually try staying with them.  Let's put a poem up, shall we?  Yes).


As the man in the Bell Pub
with grey octopus hair
tried to tell me, there is
poetry in this city –
you can find it (son)
in the warm vanilla ice
cream light of night
time terraced houses, the
hilltop display of Christmas
lights strung out
across midnight wires of
roads, the sight of
Canary Wharf, viewed
like a quiet, gently
humming generator from afar.

Try to see it (he said)
in the Heathrow Planes
morsing signals of
life to us down below,
winking that there is
even more life and love
above, and try to
understand that
every scuff your feet
leave on the pavement is
another line on the
city’s Pollock painting.

Your problem (he sneered) is
just that it always continues,
with or without you, and
you cannot see it all at once.
It cannot be fixed, defined,
badged with single
metaphors, and soft
signs of easy requited love.
It writes itself, and will
continue to do so,
even when you’re gone.
“How do you like that?” he
asked, leaning back in
his chair, killing me off
with the point of a single
stinking, righteous finger.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

About Time


After you remember the
missing pieces of a 2001
alcohol blackout, and
ring your friends to
apologise, know this –

there are other bits
missing up the hoover too,
bagpiping a dischordant dirge of
protest at every attempt to
spring clean your life.

So write “sorry” on the banners
in bold, definite letters,
cover every window in
explanations, and replace the
feathers in your pillows
with chicken necks. 
Hang on, let no light in,
and sleep little –
get practice in for
whatever else will
inevitably transpire
when you’ve decided
you can live with yourself.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Poetry Mongrels


















As I've said many times before - to the extent where I'm sure it gets boring - at heart, I'm a spoken word/ performance poetry purist.  I'm never happier than when I'm watching one poet live on stage delivering a brace of strong and topically varied material to an audience - one spotlight, one mic, one voice, lots of ideas.

A lot has changed in the last few years as people try to market poetry in new ways to a larger audience, and tight themes and concepts for shows are beginning to become more prominent than they once were.  When Luke Wright and his cohorts launched "Aisle 16" many years ago and delivered a live poetry show mocked up to look like a business motivational workshop, it seemed like a peculiar but brilliantly staged anomaly, a gimmick which would never be expanded upon by anyone else.  And indeed, for a time conceptual poetry shows remained unusual occurrences, but for the last two or three years it's become impossible to head up towards any festival with spoken word content without coming across shows based on Big Themes.  Or small themes.  Everything from left-leaning politics to video games has played a role (and I was recently treated to two shows catering for each of those topics courtesy of  scratch performances from both Niall O'Sullivan and Dan Simpson at the Poetry Cafe some months ago).

It has to be said that a few of these shows have been excellent.  Some, on the other hand, have felt like mediocre stand-up routines with bits of poetry uncomfortably stapled on.  The shows that don't work for me are the ones with long confessional shaggy-dog stories weaving their way around what is essentially a very short poetry set, which under ordinary circumstances might be done and dusted in fifteen minutes.  Where is the meat, I find myself asking?  Where's the poetry I actually paid my ticket money for?  I can see that they do a lot to pull in the poetry-curious and the floating voters, but for a traditional, hardcore poetry punter like me (and indeed comedy lover) they often feel a bit insubstantial, neither fish nor fowl.  On top of that, there are few things more embarrassing than poets who suddenly decide overnight they can have a crack at comedy, just, y'know, because it seems straightforward enough.  After all, it's a lower artform, isn't it?  (No it's not).

So then, take note. A recent example of amazing content came courtesy of Richard Tyrone Jones's "Big Heart" radio show. I've already written about his stage show here, and it came as little surprise to me that BBC Radio 4 have snapped it up and turned it into a poetry sit-com.  It's an absolute treat, taking all the best elements of the theatre experience and sharpening them into something which is immediately both more amusing and moving.  Richard also has comedy experience to spare having spent time in Footlights and the stand-up circuit long before his stint on the poetry circuit took off, so has a more keenly tuned sense of comic delivery, character writing and absurdism than most poets.

The show is obviously necessarily dark due to the topic of his heart failure being the central theme, but like some warped, introspective, ambient soundtracked version of long-forgotten eighties sit-com "Only When I Laugh" crossed with "Seinfeld", it uses the tragedy to pull in a cast of self-obsessed eccentrics and oddballs.  Paul Birtill stars as himself, dropping in to dourly read poems about death and smoke cigarettes ("It could be worse - imagine a world where the only way to die is to be kicked to death").  Jacob, his publisher and lawyer, sniffs the rare opportunity for poetry money out of his sudden demise.  And between all this are some genuinely moving, well-written poems, representing the quiet introspective moments behind the natural comedy chaos that always occurs during moments of tragedy.  If the first episode had any flaws at all, it was that (like most sit-coms of any ilk) the show took a little while to establish itself.  Once there, however, it became a peculiar piece of work with an atmosphere not much like anything else on air at the moment, either on television or radio.  It's on every Sunday evening, and you should listen.

(this blog entry continues after the photo)




















Also gaining ground in the last year or so has been Poetronica, a combination of poetry and electronic dance music.  Scroobius Pip set the ball rolling here when "Thou Shalt Always Kill" was released many moons ago, and other ambitious poets have followed his lead and begun to set their words to music to varied results.

Spoken word stalwart Joshua Idehan leads Benin City lyrically and vocally, but what their debut album "Fires in the Park" isn't is Poetronica.  In fact, it's pretty difficult to decide what it is.  Brassy reggae sounds cut through bleak, wounded observations on failed relationships and urban scenes, while dubstep beats and jazzy riffs also emerge to join the party.  The album sounds like wandering through a backstreet in East London late on a summer night, listening to the sounds emerging from open windows - it sounds more genuinely cross-fertilised and truly urban than most music that dares to give itself that title.

What's staggering (and against all the odds) is the way it hangs together as a whole, and the atmosphere it evokes.  Frequently tugging in two directions emotionally, sounding simultaneously triumphant, defiant and despondent, Joshua's introspective lyrics combine with sunshine riffs to create something which creates mixed moods in the listener closer to Northern Soul than anything I've heard in years.  The downbeat "Baby" is, in particular, a masterpiece of both subtlety and bold strokes, pulling out of the gentle observations about a cracked relationship and morphing into something epic-sounding.  On occasion the end results echo Bristol trip-hop (and even early pioneers Bark Psychosis) but for the most part the album sounds like nothing so much as itself, yet still somehow accessible and wonderful.  If it ends up on any lists of the best albums of 2013, don't be remotely surprised.

Both these projects dropped in the last month, and have gone a long way towards proving that despite my initial doubts about poets trying to combine their art with other forms, sometimes the end results can be a lot better than a compromise and actually become wonderful mongrels, and may genuinely be our best hope at maintaining the growing interest in poetry.  If further results of this quality emerge, I'll be incredibly happy and may have to tear up my poetry purist membership card.  Despite having very little in common otherwise, both of these efforts, in very different respects, hint at possible ways forward and manage to be unique in a way that other new challengers in both broadcasting and music are usually failing to do. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Verb Circus


















Hello. Time for another plug. But you all care, I know you do.

I'll be appearing at "Verb Circus" at 2pm this coming Sunday 7th July, performing on the same bill as Fran Lock, Steev Burgess, Pauline Sewards, Jack Cooper and Gary from Leeds (he of "The Alarmist" fame).  It's £2 entry in a large tent in Camley Street Natural Park in King's Cross, right on the banks of the Regents Canal.  I promise not to disturb the Reed Warblers.

The entrance fee goes towards a fund for the upkeep of the park, so if you want a peaceful Sunday afternoon right in the heart of London, please drop by.  I'll be happy to see you.

If you do Facebook, the event link is here.  If you don't, you'll just have to scribble the details down in your diary.  

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Night Thoughts Of The Solo Sleeper

(A trip down memory lane here.  This was one of the earliest pieces I wrote which purely had 'performance' rather than page in mind, and stayed in the set for many years afterwards before I decided to retire it off.  

The structure of it was always deemed to be odd and attracted negative comments from some audience members, so I kept it in as an act of personal faith rather than anything else. The idea behind the delivery was to gradually speed it up to almost - but not quite - an incomprehensible pace for the found pieces of material in the middle as a manic peak, then tail off again around stanza 10.  Given that the found segments consisted of newspaper articles and headlines, the concept was always that you should just accept the flashes of information without worrying hugely about what they were, in the same manner that blips of half-heard or half-seen adverts would penetrate your subconscious.  

It was disliked by some for that very reason, with one person - who happened to be an English Teacher, as she was only too fond of reminding me twice - telling me "Poems should never be delivered in that way".  Them's the rules, apparently.  Even though they aren't.  Performance poets like Miles Champion and Mike Diss were deliberately delivering work in this way for most of the eighties and the nineties, so the idea that you can't do this onstage is a relatively recent one now that concerns about the accessibility of live performances have started to move to the top of people's agendas. Eventually those concerns will ebb away again, 'name' stage poets will get more experimental with their work in either this way or other ways, and as to whether I'll start performing this again, no, it's unlikely.  It feels too much like something a man in his mid-twenties would write.  But here it is again anyway).


1.
and then it all comes back to me,
when I walk through
damp busy streets
and the puddles ripple
with the interruption of passing heels,
and the image of two strangers
breaks totally,
a shimmer of street lights
zagged in a liquid storm.
A year feels inaccurate.
It feels like yesterday
you slammed the door.

2.
and he realised he
might become one of the
lost men who all date
teenage girls and dream of
having a beautiful woman
who timidly thinks she’s ugly.
She hides shaking in wardrobes
while they fantasise about
her shape, and keep onlookers
from their door.
All photographers flashes
will bleach out
the negative delusions,
she’ll realise the truth,
the last he’ll see of her
before she leaves is
her shadow on the wall,
caught in one final
global media blink.

3.
and she remembers
those inebriated nights
where it didn’t matter.
Nails in her feet
couldn’t be felt then.
She’d touch them on the bare
floorboards heading to her room
staggering on his arm,
but they wouldn’t hurt.
Nor would he.


4.
and did she have any
“date me” trousers left to wear?

5.
“and is anyone really shocked by
celebrities who put their fingers
down their throats in bar toilets
anymore?  I mean, I do it, all
my friends do it, it’s the
secret of having a great time,
pulling a man and
looking grrreat”.

6.
and the smell of money
produces a sensation of a
free fall through zeroes,
in large numbers
preceded by a positive digit
their hollow centre is
empty for endless possibilities.
Everybody has a price.

7.
a family home can be
yours for only #300,000

8.
are you gorgeous?
Do you live in London?
Are you busy, single and successful?
The gorgeous club is
looking for people,
#200, meal included, meet
other gorgeous people,
and the good news is if you’re seriously
thinking about replying
to this ad, psychological
statistics prove that
chances are you already qualify!

9.
he read that the only common
popular fantasy between men and
women was thinking about sex with
complete strangers they see on trains.
Carriages are full of people
dreaming of rocking in
another motion, but
fearful of talking to a soul,
hating unknown members of
their own sex who
block the way.

10.
and we said goodbye,
but we didn’t mean it.
It exists in mind
like a fog of episodes of a
Dudley Moore light romantic
comedy, shot in grainy
Eastmancolor rather than Technicolour.
We carried on rewinding and
playing back again
for another year, on and off.
We forgot the unexpected fight scenes.
We had poor memories
for the not-so-homely dialogue.
The picture got even worse.
The tape snapped.
The only copy I’ve got left
exists in my head.
I’ve wiped lots of it on purpose.
I never learn.
I wonder where you are now.

11.
and you said there was no
romantic poetry left.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Capitalism Kills Love - Saturday 8th June

















Hello. Firstly, I'd like to apologise for the complete lack of updates on this blog recently - it's not that I don't have work or ideas to share, it's more that I just completely lost track of time and didn't realise that May came and went without me uttering one single word. Sorry. I'd love to say it won't happen again, but it probably will at some point.

In lieu of a proper update as such, you should be aware that I'll be participating in the Morning Star/ Well Versed event "Capitalism Kills Love" as part of the Stoke Newington Literary Festival.  I'll be working in a DJ'ing capacity rather than a reading/ performing one along with Jody Porter (aka John the Revelator) but also on the bill will be Andy Meinke, Ian Parks, Influx Press, Tim Wells, Chip Grim, Joe Glenton, Kayo Chingonyi, Amy Acre, Abi Palmer, Matthew Hedley Stoppard, Emlyn Hugill, Rachael Allen, Chimene Suleyman and Sophia Blackwell.

The event will be taking place at the Mascara Bar in Stoke Newington at 72 Stamford Hill, London N16 6XS from 8:30pm on, but you should also be aware that audience members are also likely to be present to watch Phil Jupitus (Aka Porky The Poet) and Tim Wells do longer sets from 6pm at the very same venue.  This event has been organised in order to benefit Freedom Books following the recent arson attack on their store.

And that's not all... "Capitalism Kills Love" also offers a full line-up on Friday 7th June as well, so if you want you can make it along to both events.

Facebook information on the Morning Star event can be found here, whereas more info on the Freedom Books extravanganza can be found here.  If you can make both, rest assured I'll be hanging around somewhere in the audience or busy on the decks.  See you then.  

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

"Utter! Shite" - Saturday 27th April


















Hello there.  You might be interested in the fact that I'm DJ'ing until late playing nothing but one hit wonders and novelty records at a night called "Utter Shite!" (hosted by Richard Tyrone Jones - pictured) on 27th April.  This is the first (and probably the last) time that the darkest, dingiest corners of my vinyl collection have been aired in public, so it's sure to be an event of sorts.


But if listening to flop Eurovision Song Contest entries, ditties from the "That's Life!" team and French seventies electronica isn't your bag, there will also be a wide range of  spoken word performers delivering three minutes and 33 seconds of pure nonsense and rubbish, among them Tim Wells, Lee Nelson, Dildo Dando, James Ross, Dan Simpson, Leanne Moden, Alan Wolfson, Alain English, Dave Bryant (that's me), Mark Dean Quinn, Michael MacIntyre (apparently) & Christian Ward (apparently).

It's £3.33 entrance at the Star of Kings, 126 York Way, London N1 0AX (nearest tube Kings Cross).  There's also a special prize bingo session.  The Facebook invite page is here.

For the sake of entertainment, and also in a possibly vain attempt to ensure that I still have some friends left at the end of the evening, I cannot guarantee that the contents of my DJ'ing will be 100% shite - there may be some actual beef in this particular value lasagne.  But I won't accept any requests for refunds.

And please don't ask me what poem I plan to read, but I suspect it may involve me digging back through some of my earliest notebooks.  This could be a complete non-treat.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Alter-egos

Way back on 23rd February (yes, I know, that was a long time ago now) I was invited to read a new poem inspired by the topic of alter-egos at a Broadcast event hosted by Roddy Lumsden and Sophia Blackwell.  I accepted the invitation despite actually having a deep-rooted fear of reading fresh, new poems in public.  Of course, I read "new" poems at open mics absolutely all the time, but these are almost always put through the mill first and are usually at least 3-4 months old by the time they're aired.  Not for me the reading aloud of the second draft written in biro on the back of a tatty old flyer - I'll usually hide the first draft in a drawer somewhere for a couple of months first, waiting until I can give what I've written an honest, non-emotional assessment, then begin the redrafting process.  I'm not a particularly spontaneous poet and most of what I do has to be hacked within an inch of its life before it works.

I penned three poems on alter-egos in the end.  One was so awful that all the editing and redrafting in the world wouldn't have given it legs.  Another, due to some horrible brainwrong, was almost a parody of a poem Roddy Lumsden had already written on the topic of alter-egos, and I only realised the glaring similarities the next day (clearly my subconscious was in full Christian Ward mode even if  my memory was acting up).  In the end, the third one had to do, which was somewhat unusually focused on the subject of summoning an alter-ego by chanting passages from the Myers-Briggs psychological co-ordinator into a bathroom mirror.  I'm aware that this was an unconventional subject and approach to the theme of the evening and it did cause me to do a jokey introduction on the night, as there was no other way around it.  It's not necessarily wholly original either - numerous avant-garde poets have had field-days with passages from psychological tests before now.  Despite this, it looked like it at least had a fighting chance, so I gave it another hasty redraft in the pub that afternoon and took it along to the Betsey Trotwood with me that evening to see what happened.

The night was actually one of the most enjoyable poetry evenings I've been to in awhile, incredibly laidback and relaxed in style and varied in tone.  The fact that each performer was only allowed to deliver one poem was occasionally frustrating as there were people I'd have liked to hear more from, but it was fascinating to hear the frequently unusual paths many readers took, and almost none of the work seemed that much below anyone's expected standards despite the restrictions of the chosen topic.  In the end, I found myself having to follow Raymond Antrobus which is always a bit of a bum deal as he's a mean live performer as well as a skilled writer (and has just been nominated for an award) but I held up well and the below was what the live audience heard.

I by no means think that this is an example of me writing my best work and I don't expect that I'll ever try to get it published - certainly not in this form, at least - but it's a rare example of me producing poetry to a tight deadline, which I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever be able to do again.  I've resisted the temptation to make further edits before posting it up here, as that would seem to be against the spirit of the whole venture.



[He is almost never late for appointments – YES/ NO]
[He gets pleasure from solitary walks – YES/ NO]

In moments of desperation
possession is preferable.
So I chanted as I wrote his
name in the bathroom
mirror, squeaking fingers
along spores of steam
before they were
sucked away to feed the
overgrown, feline playground of
East London gardens.

[He often prefers to read a book than go to a party – YES/ NO]
[Deadlines seem to be of relative, rather than absolute importance – YES/ NO]

And I write names of
other desirable entities
who would never play
knock down ginger on
doors of those who
promised too much,
everyday heroes with the
power to ignore the
irresolvable past.

[He knows how to put every minute of his time to good purpose – YES/ NO]
[He usually reacts first to a sudden event, such as the phone ringing, or an unexpected question – YES/ NO]

And I wipe in more
names, cocktail mix and
etch-a-sketch the wall
with Vamboo Rools,
clearing the condensation
until there are two mes,
siamesed by my index finger,
staring hollowly, blankly
back at my reloaded self.

[He tends to rely on experience rather than theoretical narratives – YES/ NO]
[He is more inclined to experiment than follow familiar approaches – YES/ NO]


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

On Not Giving Up Poetry

There are few things lazier than using somebody's else blog entry as a springboard for discussion, but in this case I can't resist.  Over here Alison Croggon talks in more depth about why she gave up writing poetry in favour of writing novels, and why she considers herself to be unlikely to return to the form.  It's a very honest and interesting read, and worth a click-through because she's candid in a way I doubt most practicing or aspiring poets would dare to be.  As a determined ex-poet she has nothing at all to lose by highlighting the traps, pitfalls and disadvantages of spending a lifetime engaging with the form, so her perspective is simultaneously refreshing and instantly recognisable.

At this point, I have to admit that her poetry is unfamiliar to me.  I could go away and attempt to read some, but I don't want to - if her work is of an extremely high quality I think I'd begin to feel exceptionally miserable and would probably try to begin a bullying campaign online to get her to reconsider.  For that reason alone, I'm going to ignore her literary work and focus on the main points her blog entry raises.

Firstly, I know precisely where she's coming from.  I consider stopping writing poetry several times a year, and have done so for quite some time now.  I don't know how common this is, but I would be extremely surprised if most poets, however successful they are, don't look around at the other opportunities available to them in life and feel cheated, banished to an outermost, Siberian art form.  Artists of all stripes are frequently loathe to talk about ambition, feeling it to be a vulgar irrelevance to their work, but the reality is that precious few intelligent human beings are capable of taking the higher road and living without it.  Most creative people are capable of living humble existences, but a humble existence without a great deal of praise, reassurance or acknowledgement is a hard task.  If you wave out to the world and hardly anyone waves back, the natural response is normally to assume that your attempts at communication and connection have proved of little consequence. Marginalised artforms make lonely artists lonelier still.  My wife (from a Catholic family in Canada) has referred to poets at some live events as being "like priests without a flock".

In terms of reaching an audience, poetry has come on in leaps and bounds since the mid-noughties when it hit an historical sales trough, but for all its attempts to connect with a wider public it remains a fringe art form.  No members of my family or any of my non-poetry reading friends are suddenly more curious about what I do just because the spoken word scene has enjoyed a few mentions in "The Metro".  To them, it still seems like a very odd thing to be preoccupied with.  The scene is thriving compared to what it was, but outside of cities even the biggest names are doomed to spend their evenings talking to small audiences in provincial libraries and bookshops.  Even where the audience is growing, there's a panic and desperation about the promotion, especially when the aim is to target the youth demographic.  Shouting in block capitals about the Nowness and Vitality of the circuit serves only to highlight how it still isn't really all that fashionable or popular - if it were, nobody would actually need telling that it's on the radar of everyone in the know.  People 'in the know' tend not to be secretive about their finds.  If poetry had truly arrived, there would at least be minor quarter page columns in the Sunday magazines talking about the latest exciting arrivals. As things stand, a special occasion like National Poetry Day barely warrants a mention in the media, and even BBC4 can never be bothered to broadcast anything for it.

So poetry can feel relatively thankless, and it's not an artform for people who crave fame or adulation. This in turn leads to the "knife fights in phone boxes" Croggon refers to - I've worked in many other spheres of the arts and media, and all suffer from incredibly vicious and petty rivalries, but few have felt so awkward and unfathomable to outsiders as the spats in the poetry world. If people aren't frothing at their mouths about a populist poet with big populist messages actually breaking through to a very small mainstream audience, then they're angry about poetry traitors.  These are usually people who are tied to certain sub-genres of poetry which either have their roots in areas which are too avant-garde or are too populist, or too academic or too middle class (delete depending on which side of the fence you sit on).  Each side remains convinced that the other is killing the artform or spreading false impressions and is therefore directly or indirectly depriving them of a living.  In a healthy artform, this kind of territorial dispute hardly ever emerges.  Heavy Metal bands and Reggae acts don't have knife-fights at dawn about who is bringing popular music to its knees.  Artists specialising in sculpture don't generally vandalise conceptual art installations.  But where there is little land to carve up, the battles will always be at their most fierce.

Sometimes being involved with poetry makes no sense.  Sometimes, when I think hard, I know that if I put as much effort into being a one-note novelty comedy act, or a novelty rock band, as I have the poetry, I'd be in with not necessarily a greater shot of success, but certainly more noticeable public displays of appreciation.  If, night in night out, I performed in a retro band doing nineties rave style cover versions of the "Bodyform" advert, I'd receive more pats on the back despite being a tool.  So whenever I do anything else at all, whether it's DJ'ing or writing short stories, people ask me if I'm giving poetry up.  I get incredulous and irritated and wonder why the subject is being brought up - I'm allowed to have more than one thing in my life, surely? - but, of course, it's obvious why they're asking.  People do leave poetry behind to write plays and novels.  The roll-call of poetry is littered with examples of people who eventually decided that they needed to move on (and some haven't done too badly as a result).  And I have to admit, I probably would leave if I had the choice.

There's just one problem.  I keep on writing new poems.  Sorry.  When I have ideas, that's the form they usually take.  And I'm glad that not everyone is like Croggon and more people suffer from my affliction - because while it's not 'the most important artform' or even 'the pinnacle of literary achievement' (that kind of talk is nonsense and just alienates people from the form, poetry is as populist or as high-minded as any individual wants it to be, but ooh, listen to me being territorial) it still has a huge impact on my life when it's done well.  And I don't necessarily hope I'll still be interested in it for some time to come, but I think I probably will be, and that's all there is to it.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Stockists of "The Alarmist"






















Hello readers,

This is probably the last proper plug I'll do for this (I promise), but you should note that issue two of "The Alarmist" which features my 5,000 word short story "The Private Museum of Peter Gandalf" can be obtained from the following stockists in the UK at the moment:

A.F. & J Barret (Glasgow)
Aye-Aye Books (Glasgow) - available shortly
Analogue (Edinburgh)
Arnolfini Bookshop (Bristol)
Barbican News (Old Street/Barbican)
Bookartbookshop (Shoreditch)
Camden News (Camden, London)
Capital News (Marylebone)
Charlotte Street News (W1, London)
Colours May Vary (Leeds)
Chelsea Food Fayre (Chelsea)
Daily News (Bradford)
Foyles (Charing Cross Road, London)
Foyles (Southbank, London)
Fulham News (Fulham)
Good News (Berwick Street, Soho, London)
Good Press Gallery (Glasgow)
Holland Park News (W11, London)
International Newsagent (Edinburgh)
KK Outlet (Hoxton, London)
London Tap (Altrincham, Cheshire) - available shortly
M2 (Covent Garden, London)
Marshall News (W1, London)
News From Nowhere (Liverpool)
No Guts No Glory (Exeter)
Pages of Hackney (Hackney, London)
Rococo (W11, London)
Rough Trade East (Shoreditch, London) - issue one available and issue 2 available shortly
S. J News (Queen’s Park, London)
Shreeji (W1, London)
Tate Modern (London)
Thrive News (Westfield)
Ti Pi Tin (Stoke Newington)
Unique Magazines (Newcastle)
Walther Koenig Books (Serpenting Gallery, Hyde Park, London)
Wardour News (Soho, London)
WHSmiths (Selfridges)

Kirsty Logan of "The List" magazine said that the story "contains excellent and scathing points on the nature of art, idealism vs reality, and the problems of building a friendship" and added that it in places it was "hauntingly vivid". This is useful, as it saves me the job of having to think up words to promote my own work for once.


The Alarmist has generally been well-received so far, and contains other contributions from a wide variety of people, including the brilliant Fran Lock - go out and buy it and make me happy please.


There will be international stockists as well in the larger global cities, and in fact Papercup Books in Beirut has copies already. If you want to know more about those, drop me a comment, in the meantime if you're living somewhere which is Alarmist-free, you can buy copies from their website here.  I'm sure if you're interested in stocking the periodical yourself they'll be all ears as well.  

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Art Brutness






















One of the great things about keeping a highly self-indulgent, non-thematic and barely-read personal blog - as I used to - is that you can actually trace the seeds of various ideas if you care to dig deep enough.  Given that you'll tend to only comment on the things that have had the biggest impact on you in any given week, it's inevitable that some of those concerns will start to bubble up into the "creative work" (if you can forgive that expression).   So while I was digging back through my old entries, I found this one from 2008 about an Outsider Art Exhibition a friend and I went to at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.  Clearly whilst I had my moral issues with the exhibition, those questions planted seeds in my mind and later became the inspiration for the "Private Museum of Peter Gandalf" short story which appeared in "The Alarmist" a couple of weeks ago.

The circle was pretty much completed when I eventually saw a young art student hopping on to a Northern Line train bouyantly, on a morning when I was heading off to my day job after about three hours sleep.  She seemed so self-confident, energetic and optimistic that if somebody had given me the power to swap places at that point, I actually might have done - despite having once been an energetic and optimistic BA student myself, and knowing that it almost never leads to an instant life in the limelight.  None of this makes me Peter Gandalf, obviously, and I'd hope that doesn't need to be emphasised, but if you throw enough images at your brain, eventually it starts to draw some peculiar conclusions.

So anyway, here's what I thought. (And yep, it's very self-indulgent to reproduce this, but then it's very self-indulgent to keep a blog about your poetry and writing too).  

My friend Jon visited from Wales this weekend, and in lieu of anything better to do in a rather somnambulant arts and entertainment scene in London at present, we decided to catch a train down to the present Outsider Art (or Art Brut) exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Outsider art fascinates me for one over-riding reason: Taken at its most raw meaning - the creation of art as some kind of primary instinct, ignorant of audiences or the possibility of getting any - it seems strangely comforting. That all over the globe men and women are creating sculptures in their sheds and huge, teetering structures of junk that only their visitors or family are ever likely to see, suggests that there's something much more primal about art (even modern art) than anyone usually acknowledges. It takes us back to the concept I mentioned some entries ago - art and literature are not primarily the activities of the wealthy, it's just those tend to be the people that take risks and therefore get ahead. A man from a miner's family in the Deep South is generally much less likely to jump from his day job to spend full time working on his sculpture of "found" motorway hubcaps in the hope that a major New York gallery will exhibit them. Economics has more bearing on what or who becomes known than anyone usually cares to admit.

Rather unfortunately, however, the exhibition I attended seemed to celebrate the more freakish exponents of the genre (if indeed it is a genre). Much of the art seemed scarily totemistic. Sharp jags, teeth, splinters and shard-like shapes dominated elaborate doodles on canvas. Ghostly faces peered out questioningly from collapsing mosaics. I turned to Jon and said: "If you found a derelict village and one of the houses had endless paintings like these stacked up in it, you'd run for dear life in case the person responsible came to get you as well". He could only agree. There was work in the gallery that genuinely gave me a jittery feeling. These seemed to be tribal markers rather than expressions of belief or intent (apart from the ones more geared around religious mania). Fear, true enough, is better than no response at all (which is what ninety per cent of all art manages to achieve for me) but the purpose behind it to me seemed occasionally lost.

Most interesting was the work of Henry Darger and his paintings of The Vivian Girls. Eight thousand of these paintings were found in his flat by his landlord after he died, and all seemed to chronicle the adventures of cherubic children in some underworld. One particularly vivid piece sees them escaping from a concentration camp (you can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Darger)

Darger was apparently deemed "frail minded" during his life, and regularly spoke to himself in several different voices and rummaged through dustbins. Nobody had any suspicions that he was creating art in his spare time during his lifetime, least of all in such a ridiculous quantity. I myself am divided as to whether there's any actual worth in what he created or it was essentially just a fantasy world he chose to create as a comfort. And of course, even the latter opinion brings up more complex arguments about self-indulgence and what art should do for the artist as well as the viewer.

My favourite piece in the gallery by far was a rather Alasdair Gray styled effort entitled "Londinium", essentially a futuristic psychological map of the city which was dizzying in its detail. Sadly, I've forgotten the name of the artist responsiblce - if anyone can shed any light, I'd be grateful.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Astronaut Fanzine Launch - Saturday 16 February


















(Cross posted with Left and to the Back) 

I'll be DJ'ing again on Saturday 16th February - this particular event marks the London launch of Astronaut fanzine, a Manchester-based publication for young poets. Besides having John The Revelator and I on the decks playing a mixture of mod rock, garage pop, soul, funk and whatever else seems appropriate or takes our fancy, you'll get to hear the following poets:

Tim Wells
Katie Seth
Jon Stone
Rowena Knight
Emlyn Hugill
Chip Grim
Anna Le

This will be taking place at the Mascara bar in Stoke Newington at 72 Stamford Hill, London N16 6XS  from 8:00pm until very late.  It's £4 to get in which, frankly, is probably the best cheap night out you're going to get in North London next Saturday.  The Facebook event invite is here.

Incidentally, the DJ'ing will be attempted on something a bit better than the Elizabethan Astronaut record changer pictured above, but it seemed an appropriate image given the fanzine's name.  And anyway, it's a picture of one of the actual record players I have at home, and any excuse to dig it out...