Comment is Free but it’s Scary

Further to my story being published the other day, there are now some comments on the site.  I’ve been told some of them are critical, but I haven’t yet had the courage to look for myself.  I know people can be especially harsh on-line, and it does upset me when I get critical comments, whether or not I feel they are deserved.  The first post I ever put on the Mslexia blog generated a comment that the writing was awful and the piece trivialised a serious topic.  I got a lot of supportive comments following that, but the initial experience was like a blast of cold air.

And this is the problem for all artists.  Whenever you put your work out there, you are inviting comment – and whilst you hope comments will be appreciative and criticism constructive, it often ain’t.  There’s always someone who won’t like what you do, no matter how good you (and others) think it is.  How many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries slagged him off?  Quite a few, I should think, and not only because they were envious.  Of course, as C P Snow pointed out, you’ve asked for it – or some part of your nature has.  You want to be seen and read, you need readers; and in order to get them you have to run the gauntlet of the critics, both paid and unpaid.

Or, as Leonard Cohen puts it:

There’s torture and there’s killing

and there’s all my bad reviews

So if you liked the story please go to the site and post a nice review.  But only if you liked it.  If you didn’t tell me why – but be kind!

Kirk out

Moan the Lawn

I have never known anyone make so much fuss and do so little work, as Mark faced with the task of mowing the lawn.  I will admit that the new lawn-mower, being a freebie, doesn’t cut it like the old one did; but even so, it’s not that hard.  But he huffs and he puffs and he totally sucks at mowing the lawn!  He does a strip and can’t see where to line up the next one and he complains SO MUCH! that I eventually grab the mower from him and just do it myself.  Perhaps that was his strategy all along: if so, it’s working.

Still on the plus side he spent much of yesterday tidying, so that can’t be bad.

I had a good weekend, doing a very successful poetry workshop on Saturday called ‘How to Read a Poem’, which was followed by the launch of the People’s Arts Collective in town.  This was great, doing poetry and music in the streets; then on Sunday the Quaker Meeting where I broke my duck and spoke about the sculpture of Jesus on a bench (see previous post); then the children did a performance of The Gruffalo to raise money for Doctors without Borders.  I have now succumbed to a cold and spent much of the day sneezing and moaning, though STILL not as much as Mark moaned about the lawn…

I have now finished the memoir!  Leonard Cohen reckons that poems are not so much finished as abandoned, and I think he’s quite right.  There was a great interview with him on 6 Music (thanks Peter for the heads-up)

and I shall post a proper review of the album on here soon.

Now have to retire to the sofa to do some more moaning before I get in shape for my performance tomorrow.  Come along to the Crumblin Cookie at 8 pm for Women’s Words!

Kirk out

Popular Problems

There’s an old man whispering to himself in a corner.  Nobody pays him any attention, but he keeps on singing; and gradually he’s joined by other musicians: a soft-touch percussionist who shush-shushes a brush across a drumskin; a guitar that gently weeps, and then a couple of women who sing in ethereal voices like far-off angels.  And gradually, though you don’t want to listen, you are drawn in, you start to pay attention and you realise that this man knows something ; this man is a prophet; this man, who looks like an anorexic King Lear, is not mad but some kind of guru.  And now you know who it is: this man is Leonard Cohen, and he is singing his latest LP, ‘Popular Problems.’

I always look forward to a new Cohen album, and yet I feel no small measure of trepidation when I put it on to listen.  Will he be the same?  Or will he have lost it?  It would hardly be surprising if at nearly 80, Cohen had lost his voice: but the reason I keep listening is that he never does.  He follows it through desert and wilderness; he tracks it through trackless rocks and over impenetrable forests; through uncharted waters of bitter despair he follows still and he keeps following until he finds it.  So that a new Cohen LP is more than a collection of songs; it’s an encounter; a revelation.  Where is he at now?  What is he thinking, what is he feeling?  It’s constantly fascinating, and will continue to be so until he dies.

Which might be any day now – and yet he keeps on going.

Have a listen:

Kirk out

I Remember it Like it Was Today

I’ve been writing a memoir, as you will know if you’ve been following this blog, and today I sent off the first 5000 words of it.  Then I got stuck in to improving the rest of it: I’ve already written 50,000 words but they need a lot of polishing and organising.  I got really into it this afternoon and the time flew by.

Then I went out for a walk and picked some elderberries to make wine.

Daniel is getting a lot better: he is still thin but putting on weight (I think I’ve got all his weight: what with all the stress and not having time to make proper meals, I think I’ve put on a few kilos so maybe we should arrange a swap of some kind.  If only you could do that: if only you could have a fat transfusion and hook up with someone who needs all your excess fat, everyone would be a lot happier.)

The theme of the memoir is, paradoxically, forgetting.  It’s called ‘I am the Anti-Proust’ and it’s an account of losing my memory and what happened next.  I hope they’ll like it.  I have to finish the rest by October so I’ll need to get cracking.

But!  The big news is, Leonard Cohen has a new LP out!  I get email updates from and he has an album coming out called ‘Popular Problems’.  You can hear a sample track here:

Blimey, that’s a long link!

Kirk out

I’m Just Payin’ My Rent Every Day in the Tower of Soup…

I’m all on fire with puns this morning; puns and rhymes and almost-rhymes and word-play and I don’t know what.  Sometimes I wake up and it’s just there: for egg*, this morning I woke up thinking ‘Robinson Crusoe, unpacking a trousseau.’  That set me wondering why Robinson Crusoe might be unpacking a trousseau, and who knows where I might have ended up had Mark not wandered in with the tea at that point.

Now, speaking of tea: I have a complaint to make.  Why is it that people who drink tea all day long and into the evening, have no trouble sleeping whereas I, with my healthy habits of only having caffeine in the mornings, only have to drink one cup of Earl Grey in the afternoon for it to disrupt my entire night.  It just isn’t fair!

And that brings me to my second word-play of the morning, which was:

‘living lives of diet desperation.’

I am fortunately not in the position of having to lose weight – or not much – but I remember how it feels when you do.

Then Mark happened to mention Manny’s tower of soup in ‘Black Books’, and I put it together with Leonard Cohen and what did I get?  The title for today’s blog post, that’s what!

Here’s Manny with his tower of soup:

Manny's soup tower

and here is Cohen’s Tower of Song:

Don’t say I never give you anything!

Kirk out

* that, as of course you twigged, is my way of saying ‘for example’.  Yesterday’s post was going to be about eggs, but is still languishing in the drafts folder

25 Years and Three Days

I’ve fiddled about rather today, thanks to a late night last night at Chris Conway’s 25 year anniversary gig.  This was quite well-attended, considering that some unmentionable sport was on; I particularly enjoyed the time-shifted updates Chris gave from time to time (England 0, Normandy 1; England 2, Germany 0 – and latterly, England v France entering the 900th year of extra time) updates which touched on the tribal nationalism of football.  The appeal of the game completely passes me by and always has; I’m not much of a team-sports person anyway as I prefer individual games such as – oo, wait! tennis!  Isn’t Wimbledon due to start next week?  Let me check – yes!!! It starts on Monday!  Deep joy.  Three days to go…  The question is, will I be able to break my live TV fast and only watch it on iplayer?  I should, but it’ll be a test of nerve.  I’ll have to avoid the news so that I don’t know the result – a bit like that episode of The Likely Lads where they spend twenty-nine minutes trying to avoid hearing the result only to be told it in the thirtieth minute.

It’s rather a beautiful day down here in Clarendon Park; I’ve just been for a bike ride and Kasabian are due to play some time soon on Vicky Park, so the whole area is fenced off like some kind of gulag.  Tomorrow I am going to a singing workshop so that should be fun.  Oo! and while I was at the Musician I discovered that the divine Webb Sisters are going to be there in July.  If you don’t know what they sound like, here’s a clip.  I’d love to go but the tickets are £12…

Have a good weekend,

Kirk out

I Should Have Listened to Al

I know I bang on about Leonard Cohen a lot, but in my youth this guy was almost as important to me: Al Stewart’s songs kept me company right through my teens and twenties.  From ‘Bedsitter Images’ his first album featuring the song ‘You Should Have Listened to Al’ to the bittersweet ‘Orange’, and culminating in what most people consider his apogee, ‘Past, Present and Future’, Stewart always has something to say, and his lyrics are at least as important as the music.  I guess that’s what I look for in a singer: the authenticity of personal experience.  My all-time favourite track of Al Stewart is the lament for lost love, ‘The News from Spain’ which always makes me cry:

It has some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking guitar-strings I’ve ever heard.  Al also has a keen interest in history and a lot of his songs feature historical figures:

I have to say, though, he’s not as good live as Cohen is.  Cohen always gives 11o%, but Al can sometimes seem lackadaisical, almost unbothered.  The last time I saw him he did a very short set, and the tickets were not cheap.

So there you are.  I’m trying to think of something witty to say to finish today’s post.  Meanwhile here is some light music:

Kirk out

The Ballad of the Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge

I find myself inclined to set some of my poetry to music at the moment.  Poetry and music are very close together and as many people have spotted, good lyrics can stand up by themselves.  Leonard Cohen started out as a poet and although it would be fair to say that he wasn’t a great poet, his lyrics certainly stand up to scrutiny: in fact they are very important.  Whenever I listen to songs it’s the lyrics that attract me, more than the music; and the songs I return to again and again are the songs that have well-written words (as I pointed out the other day when reviewing Chris Conway’s CD – see Friday’s post).

So the most obvious candidate for music is ‘The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge’.  Now, I’m not terribly inventive musically so the chords are fairly basic, but I think it stands up as a traditional folk song.  I would sing more often – I probably should sing more often – but my voice is a little erratic.  Then again maybe if I practised more it might be better…

Anyway, here’s the Bowstring Bridge set to music and played by me:

I’m also working on a very atmospheric poem called ‘Rye Harbour’, and I’ve set another one to music: it’s called ‘My Soul is like a String Vest’.  It’s not so much comic as surreal…

‘My soul is like a string vest

full of mouth-like holes

and you can see my rib-cage

through the gaps that yawn.’

The last line of each verse rhymes with ‘yawn’ so I want to pick that up somehow in the song.

So today I shall be working on that as well as learning some other poems by heart, finishing a review of a short-story collection (I’ll let you have a look at that tomorrow) and sorting some things around the house.  Looks like another busy day.  Better get on with it then…

Oh, and the bag-searching etc at the Caribbean carnival seems, anecdotally, to have been motivated by a search for glass bottles.  This is thought to be either a Health and Safety issue or a commercial issue (getting people to purchase the overpriced beer on the park) or both.  I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse or just the same…

Kirk out

The Panda and the Snail

I am going to shock you now.  Forget ejaculations – Mark thinks that giant pandas should not be conserved.  He thinks they’re crap and ought to die out; and that we should preserve snails instead.  So, meanwhile, as Noah counts the animals – or while the zoos count theirs, since today is apparently the day when they do that – here’s a heartwarming story about a dog.

Our dog was called Bramber after the village in Sussex where our parents had their honeymoon * and he was a very intelligent animal.  He was generally well-trained, and though allowed in the lounge he was not permitted to lie on the rug in front of the fire, due to the impossibility of extricating his hairs from its weave  (or the woof from the weft, LOL).  However, being an intelligent animal, he knew when we weren’t paying attention and so chose those moments to creep silently, invisibly, closer and closer to the cosy red rug.  On a good evening he could get his nose and two front paws on there, and if we were watching, say, Dad’s Army, he could get his entire length ensconced in front of the fire before anyone noticed.  Someone eventually would, though, and would shout ‘Back!’,with quivering finger consigning him to the outer darkness of the grey carpet.   Perhaps, though, he was eventually heading for the window so he could feature in a song… for I learned today that the singer of ‘both ‘The Tennessee Waltz’ and ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?’ has died.

Now, whilst the former can be corny, in the right hands (or glands, ha ha) it can be very moving.  Leonard Cohen has done a version:

but the latter is pure crap, no matter who does it.  Hard to believe the same person did both, but there you are.

And finally…

Can Someone Please Direct Me to the Moral High Ground?

Nope, there is no moral high ground left now; not in the latest spat between us and Argentina over the Falkland Islands.  Thank god, there seems to be no appetite for another bloody war (sorry, conflict) over this, and whilst it appears that the islanders wish to remain a part of the UK (there’s a referendum later this year) the population would undoubtedly be very different had we not colonised the islands in Victorian times.  The significance of owning these few tufts of grass is clearly strategic rather than moral, though Prime Ministers (most notably, Thatcher) have pretended it was to do with the population, though this numbers less than 3000.  So let’s be honest here.  Is it the oil?  Or is it the harbour facilities for shipping?  Or is it – could it be? – the proximity to the Antarctic?  Whatever it is, it isn’t the islanders or the few tufts of grass that compose the islands.

There might still have been a moral argument in the Thatcher days, since we were then a democracy and Argentina a fascist dictatorship, but there is now a democratic government (however flawed) in Buenos Aires, so that flag won’t fly.  But please, please, God, let’s not have another bloody war about it.

Anyway, should you wish to check out the history of the Falkland Islands, there’s some here:

Kirk out

*I was thinking that nowadays people – including us – honeymoon in more exotic locations, but I’m sure theirs didn’t involve hitch-hiking 1000 miles with a whole roomful of furniture.

I’m starting a new campaign

I’ve started a book on Facebook and I’m starting a campaign to spread awareness that the menopause can play havoc with your memory.  Long-time readers of this blog will remember the Strangeness of Autumn 2008 when I went really weird and was convinced I was having some kind of communication with Leonard Cohen.  I have privatised * all the posts from that era becuase I am now embarrassed by them, but for 3 months I thought I was going crazy – until I realised that during that time I’d had no periods.  Since then my memory has gone haywire: places I’ve known for years disappear from my mind and I can’t remember how to get there or what I’ve done.  Result: I end up repeating things with my students – ironically, often because I panic about forgetting something!

* in the blog sense not in the Thatcherite sense!

Kirk out

So spread the word and tell everyone.  And join my group on Facebook.