One of the last places you might expect to see a grotto is on Alan Moss Rd in Loughborough. I don’t know who Alan Moss is or was; I keep confusing him with Stirling Moss but Google says he’s a cricketer so let’s go with that. There was a sort of sporting ‘Excuse Me’ theme to the evening as England’s football progress was marked by cheers and shouts punctuating the poetry (punctuated poetry is generally not a healthy phenomenon) but those gathered at Bill Brookman’s house for An Evening of Poetry and Chai merely brushed it off with a smile. In another age Bill would probably have run a circus or established a theatre; he is a veritable impresario with a highly theatrical manner and a flamboyant style of dress. As it is he runs musical and poetic evenings, and last night I and a few other poets gathered in Bill’s neighbour’s garden where the audience was sprinkled around under trees, between bushes and beside solar lights, to read (or not read, in my case) our poems. I generally focussed on comedy, beginning with ‘What Larks’, a sort of grumpy Larkinesque whinge; then ‘The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge’ followed, as it often is, by ‘The Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge.’ In order to give people a flavour of the original William McGonagall piece on which this is based, Jan read a few verses of ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ (a piece of unintended comic genius) so that people could get the references. Then we were straight into ‘Is Vic There?’ for Victoria Wood, and to finish we visited ‘The Lady in the Van.’ Other poets did haikus, more meditative poems (mostly free verse) and a couple of comic pieces. There was also chai (after which I didn’t sleep) pakoras and some delicious strawberry tarts.
Here’s the William McGonagall:
This phrase came to me as I was walking back from town with a Primark bag swinging from my hot and sweaty hand. I don’t like shopping at Primark but I do it because a) I don’t like shopping on-line and b) I can’t afford anywhere else. So I went in for a couple of vests and came out with an utterly delicious garment that I can’t find a name for.
Whilst whistling through the park and thinking how odd it was that the grass is so dry when a mere six weeks ago it was under water and the paths were so flooded they were indistinguishable from the streams, the thought came to me. Negative Capability Brown. I have no idea what it means but I’m damned well going to find out.
OK let’s start with negative capability. Coined by Keats, it means in essence the ability to immerse yourself in someone or something to such an extent that you become it. I take this to be equivalent to ‘absorption’ in meditation; a forgetting of self and an immersion in the other; whether that is another person, a song, a flower or a book. So, putting that together with Capability Brown, what do we get?
I’m not sure. A landscape gardener who becomes the garden, perhaps? I’m not sure that it works because 18th century gardening was all about imposing order and vision on the landscape, whereas the Romantic idea was to immerse yourself in nature and become one with it. So Negative Capability Brown would seem to be a bit of an oxymoron.
Anyway, enough of this banter and on to yesterday’s event, a sort of ‘pop-up’ memorial to Gaz Carnell of Fingerprints. A dozen or so people met outside the cafe to remember him; I did a poem and Chris Conway did a song; both of which were called ‘Fingerprints.’ There are videos but I can’t upload them at the moment; in the meantime here’s a picture of the garment. Is it a dress? Is it culottes? It ain’t dungarees…
No, I can’t do that either because the laptop and the phone have had a hissy fit and are refusing to communicate with each other.
Now as you all know I like to have a grammar rant now and again about words and expressions that bug me; and the latest in a long line of these is ‘teary’. Why is this word ubiquitous these days (and please note that I did NOT say ‘so ubiquitous’ because ubiquitous means absolutely everywhere and cannot be qualified!!! Deep, calming breaths, deep calming breaths…) Why is it that when we have a perfectly good word ‘tearful’ which means exactly the same, does everyone suddenly start saying ‘teary’? I don’t like it: not only because it’s unnecessary but because it’s – well, a little bit wimpish somehow. It puts me in mind of Victorian ladies with the vapours. What’s wrong with tearful? I insist on using it and I will not be cowed into saying the other thing. And besides, it’s often ambiguous in print: what prompted this post was my reading the letters page in Mslexia magazine –
– and seeing this:
‘I often can’t make it to the end (of a poem) without tearing up a little.’ At this point I was wondering – what was she tearing up? The page? The book? Her hair? And then I realised that this was yet another example of this horrid and superfluous word. Just stop it!
Anyway, the reason I was reading the letters page was that my copy of the latest issue has just arrived and lo! they have printed my letter in full. I had written to them in response to an article on poetry; and in the letter I said that one of my bugbears (yes, another one) is poets who kill their own work when they read it aloud. I’m all for poets reading aloud; I think it’s an essential dimension of poetry – but for god’s sake! Why, when you’ve spent such a long time and so much dedication to crafting the perfect poem, why would you then stand up and kill it? As I’ve mentioned before
I went to see Ted Hughes in the 1980’s; indisputably one of the greatest poets of the 20th century – and he killed his own work when he read it. He uttered the words in a monotone, almost with a sigh as if to say well, if I must, I must – and I came away thoroughly disappointed. And Hughes is far from being the only offender in this regard – I have heard poets, novelists, short story writers read from their work as though it did not need any more than the sound of their voice to animate it. It feels like a bone thrown to a dog, and it offends me. It’s as if they’re saying that the oral tradition doesn’t matter, that it comes a very poor second to words on the page.
Now I take strong exception to this. I feel a very strong connection to our oral traditions; to the bards and storytellers who existed before print was invented – and if I have an aim in poetry it’s to marry the oral and the printed. I want each of my poems to stand up on the page and on the stage. So here’s my plea to writers everywhere: if asked to read your work, practise reading until you can convey the spirit of the work orally as well as you have done on the page – and if you can’t, for god’s sake just get someone else to read it.
(And yes, I am available for a very reasonable fee…)
Here I am being mentioned in dispatches on the Sound Cafe website, only not by name as sadly they don’t put people’s names up. This is for perfectly sound reasons (ho ho) but is disappointing for me as I’m starting to apply for Poet-in-Residence jobs (paid ones) and need to get as much publicity as I can.
And here I am poeting on the Criterion stage:
There is a video as well, though I can’t share that here – but if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook you can find it on my wall.
Well first of all a quick catch-up. I’m always gratified to see that my readership doesn’t slide into the abyss when I’m absent for a few days, but as you will see I’ve been busy. First, the gigs. All poets are basically frustrated rock stars: we talk about ‘gigs’ and ‘touring’ as though we were Mick Jagger or Suzie Quattro (that dates me I expect although someone last night commented that they’d recently been to see the Stones and said they were brilliant.) So on Saturday four of us (three musicians et moi) took the stage for a fundraiser for Momentum at Leicester’s Criterion pub. Thirty or so people came along to listen and I did a 20-minute set featuring a poem about Corbyn (JC4PM), ‘Spike’ the homeless poem, a couple of poems about Blair and a couple about Jo Cox and her memorial picnic. These were very well-received and you could hear a pin drop even when the waitress came in to serve pizza. I like hearing pins drop.
Then last night I finally made it to TABAC which sounds like some underground wartime group but in fact stands for Thurnby and Billesden Acoustic Club, where a good crowd of musicians assembled. I’m always slightly dubious as to how poetry will be received at these events but I needn’t have worried; it was received with enthusiasm. It was a great evening with a terrific variety of instruments being aired including a whole caseful of harmonicas, a piano-accordion played by a retired headmistress; a concertina and several guitars and of course Jan with her recorder. I did three poems: ‘Is Vic There?’ for Victoria Wood; ‘The Lady in the Van’ and ‘Spike’ again. The evening ended quite late with a lengthy impromptu rendition of ‘Yellow is the Colour of my True Love’s Hair’ to which my contribution was ‘black is the colour of my true love’s feet’. And so to bed; except that first we had to drive back from Thurnby with missed turnings and diminishing petrol.
What I missed last night (but will catch up on, thanks to the miracle of iplayer) was the final episode of A Very English Scandal, a dramatisation of the Jeremy Thorpe affair in the ’70’s. Hugh Grant is a revelation in this! I had him down as this generation’s John le Mesurier, only good for one particular brand of romantic comedy – but I was wrong. In this miniseries, a drama with a touch of farce, he is utterly thrilling as the dark and menacing Thorpe; in fact he has the man (appropriately enough) to a T. Ben Wishaw is also brilliant as his victim-turned-blackmailer Norman Scott and Alex Jennings (Charles in ‘The Queen’) plays his Machiavellian sidekick.
I could also have been watching the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. So I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
I had a little notification in the corner of my page this morning. ‘That’s odd,’ I thought, as I’m usually told of comments and followers via email and I had just checked my inbox. I clicked on it and it informed me that it was TEN YEARS AGO TODAY!!! that I started this blog. I won’t bore you with the details as regular readers have heard it all many times before, suffice it to say that Hanif Kureishi was partly responsible for setting me off on this path. I suppose I really ought to do something deep and retrospective, like picking out my favourite posts or summarising my journey or selecting the best comments, but the very idea fills me with a reluctance so deep that I can barely move my fingers across the keyboard; so I shall just say Happy Anniversary to lizardyoga’s weblog and a particular shout-out to those readers who have been with me since the beginning.
Thinking about it, the last decade has seen my transition from teacher/part time writer to full-time author and performing poet, which is quite a big deal. I was updating my CV the other week and it was quite startling how many things I’ve done, from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to Leicester Riverside Festival to Left Unity’s national conference and Quaker Yearly Meeting to Sing for Water at Leicester Riverside Festival. Publications include poems in Mslexia, blogging for the same and short stories in Everyday Fiction.
Maybe soon I’ll get it together and find some retrospective links. But right now I’m getting ready to go to Wales which includes checking the car tyres (am I the only one who hates doing this? I think I have a subconscious fear of blowing up one of the tyres.)
So if you’ve been a reader of this blog since May 2008, please drop me a comment and let me know how the last ten years have been for you.
A golden shovel sounds like some kind of gravedigger’s award (‘and the nominees for best-dug hole are…’) but it isn’t. I came across it today when researching places to send my poetry and discovered that it is in fact a very new poetic form which began as a tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks’s poetry (no, I hadn’t heard of her either.) You take a line or two from a poem and make your own out of it like this: each word of the original line becomes the last word of each line in the new poem. For example, this is a poem taken from one of Brooks’:
The Golden Shovel
by Terrance Hayes, after Gwendolyn Brooks
When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real
men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we
drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school
I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk
of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we
watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight
Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing………..
here’s the rest:
and here’s the original:
The Pool Players, Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
So that got me inspired and I wrote one of my own called ‘Saving Planet Earth’ and based on Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’:
I also sent a limerick (previously written) and started a poem about the naming of the new Prince.
I am on a roll!