Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category
Can you imagine the looks on the two teenage faces when their mother tells them that she is going to invite people round to the house every eight weeks to sing in the back room …and say poems …and read stuff? WTF?! And she wants you boys to join in. You can just listen but you’re to be there. WTFF?!! On Saturday night the second such session took place. Enfant Terrible No. 2 engineered a sleep-over. No. 1 actually showed his face at the end after a no-show eight weeks earlier.
Here’s what was on the menu…
Una opened with a Spring theme reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The next morning this Wordsworth quote arrived by serendipity in my InBox (7th April being his birthday, in 1770):
The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.
Later she read one of her own poems, Bodies, a moving and intimate Heaneyesque account of dressing her father’s body for his wake. Towards the end she read another of her pieces, Underground, inspired by a Northern Line encounter and written on the spot.
Here are two of my own recent Northern Line encounters:
For my contribution this time I read one of my favourite posts from this blog, Starless and Bible Black, and then the passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses to which it refers. It’s when the two protagonists have an outdoor piss together under the night sky, all done in the form of a catechism, and containing that very special line:
THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.
At the first session I read the opening of the first chapter of my book in progress, When Sparks Fly, about Allen Ginsberg. I concluded with a Ginsberg poem referencing the same incident mentioned in the first line of the book.
Joyce linked nicely to the next person up, an actress specialising in Beckett (who was Joyce’s secretary) - she read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot (whose masterpiece, The Wasteland, was published seven years later in 1922, the same year as Ulysses).
She also recited from memory a brilliant poem of her own about her days as a ballet dancer and how that went down in the Midlands of Ireland. And as if that wasn’t delight enough, she sang a powerful Sinead O’Connor song (from Universal Mother I think). And then a song in Irish about a boy from Loch Erne (Buachaill ón Eirne).
All the music and much of the rest of the singing came from our friend Patmo and his gee-tar. Highlight for me was a song about the potboy in the Dorset Arms in Stockwell where we used to go to watch Patmo and his band The Stone Rangers play. It’s called Put one in the tank for Frank and celebrates plying the late lamented Frank Murphy with beer to get access to the storeroom with all their gear in it. He also played Una’s favourite of his songs, A Little Bit of Lace (as immortalised on Adie Dunbar and the Jonahs’ Two Brothers), as well as some classic singalongs from Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon to John Denver’s Country Road (some painful, submerged teenage memories there from the height of the punk era but surprisingly enjoyable all these years later).
Our old friend Roddy read from a great early 60s first edition he has of Brendan Behan’s Island, a beautifully illustrated (by Paul Hogarth) travelogue around the old country. His other half, Alex, also by coincidence a former ballet dancer, read some Yeats love poetry (it was an evening of the Irish reading the English, and vice versa – perfect to herald the week which sees poet and president Michael D Higgins making a state visit to London, on the very day (8th April) Gladstone presented his first Home Rule Bill to Parliament in 1886). Alex closed proceedings with a parting shot of Dorothy Parker.
All in all, a pretty darn good evening (and that’s not counting the Connemara whiskey and fresh homemade soup).
Dorothy Parker, when asked what she’d like for breakfast…
Just something light and easy to fix. How about a dear little whiskey sour?
The spaces of love truly felt
The spaces of felt love truly
The spaces felt of love truly
Felt the spaces of love truly
Truly felt the spaces of love
Truly felt the love spaces of
Love truly felt the of spaces
Of love truly felt the spaces
Of love spaces truly felt the
Of spaces love truly felt the
Spaces of love truly the felt
Spaces of love the truly felt
Spaces of the love truly felt
The spaces of love truly felt
Well, it’s been a bit tough getting this routine to stick. I may need to adjust. It didn’t help I went out three nights on the trot last week.
Tuesday was Oh What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal Stratford East with Enfant Terrible No.2, the production to mark Joan Littlewood’s centenary. At least she’s a subject of a chapter so it adds to my understanding of her. I started her chapter on the stage of this her theatre.
Wednesday was the screening of American Hustle with Christian Bale and David O Russell in attendance as just related.
Thursday was the wonderful John Newman at the Empire in Shepherd’s Bush.
All good ways to spend time but not conducive to writing. And the idea was to make up for a missed night by doubling up the next night, but three in a row pretty much put the spanner in the works. So I’m rethinking and came to this conclusion talking to my colleague Noorah this lunchtime. I’ll aim for Monday – Wednesday – Friday instead of all five weekdays which is unrealistic as I more than adequately proved in Phase 2: Week 2.
All that said, I did actually get back on the horse during this last week and got through some stuff. Revised the first third of Chapter 1 Draft 3 (Allen Ginsberg) to take on board the feedback I got from Una, Farrah and Marilyn and that involved some quite challenging reworking, mainly to put more of me into the case study rather than limiting that aspect largely to the inter-chapters. I also began processing the recorded interviews which I’ve been avoiding for some reason – it’s quite laborious in some respects but in practice it was enjoyable re-experiencing the conversations.
Last night I bumped into an elusive interviewee – the British Beat poet, Michael Horovitz. I was at the opening of the Richard Hamilton exhibition (another lover of Ulysses) at Tate Modern when I spotted him by a colourful picture of flowers in a vase with a turd neatly placed in front. I went up and said hallo, had a lovely chat and he sent me a link this morning to an excellent radio show (Private Passions) he featured in this past week on Radio 3 – you’ve only got 3 or 4 days left to listen to it, well worth an hour of your time, especially Michael’s performance at the very end with Damon Albarn and Paul Weller. (Creative connection: Damon’s mum designed sets for some Theatre Royal SE productions in the 60s.) Michael knew Allen Ginsberg and performed with him at the legendary First International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in June 1965. He has a lovely speaking voice, very old school, testimony to arriving as a young refugee from Nazi Germany around 1937/8 (exactly the same as my dad, though he from Frankfurt, my dad from Leipzig). As the youngest sibling he was guardian of the proper English accent, especially when it came to instructing father.
So that was another evening blown as far as the book is concerned, and now I’ve blown this one writing this post. However I did do Monday, under the new regime Tuesday was a legit night off, tonight I should have done an hour so I’ll make it up tomorrow and get back on track…
This morning did an interesting Allen Ginsberg-related interview with Kathelin Gray, a close associate of William Burroughs who crossed paths with Ginsberg on a regular basis, initially on the hippy scene in her home city of San Francisco and later in New York in the Lower East Side playground of Ginsberg’s circles. She has impeccable Beat credentials in that her mother was a close friend of Carolyn Cassady and she remembers being bounced on the knee of the elegant blonde. She works across a range of disciplines including producing, writing, directing and curating. She produced a documentary featuring Free Jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and indeed there’s an Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny track named after her. She consulted for ECM in the 80s (who have been on my radar for Music case studies) and was involved recently in Godfrey Reggio’s latest film, Visitors, with a soundtrack by Philip Glass (who collaborated with Reggio on the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy and of course collaborated with Ginsberg).
We met at BAFTA (good to be using my membership a bit more during this time) and talked first about Ginsberg and then about Kathelin’s broad-ranging work. We spoke about her involvement in Biosphere 2, a closed ecological system experiment in Arizona, and her current focus, a project based on the Research Vessel Heraclitus, a 25-metre Chinese junk. Since 1975 its multicultural crew of explorers and artists has sailed the vessel over 270,000 miles, in every sea except the Arctic. The current three year expedition is to study the changing port cultures of the Mediterranean. I could do with a bit of Med myself right now under these grey skies.
In the afternoon I wrestled a bit with the Tony Wilson chapter which has reached a treacly bit. I’ll just have to persist and keep writing til I get out the other side…
By way of consolation prize, I popped downstairs to Hatchards and bought myself a signed copy of Robert Harris’ latest novel about the Dreyfus Affair to read as my down-time book over the holidays.
Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle
[Baudelaire, Spleen - Les Fleurs du Mal]
The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night
dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,
Let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly.
Day 57 concluded at the Festival Hall where a full-house tribute to poet Seamus Heaney was celebrated. You’ve never seen so many lauded poets in one place at one time. The lines above from Station Island were on the back of the programme, a pretty good thought with which to start a day’s writing (even more so as it has its roots in Donegal). The evening opened with the Big Man himself recorded reading Digging, one of my favourites for its simplicity and rootsiness. Piper Liam O’Flynn played, who I saw perform with Seamus at the Barbican in 1999. His pupil and friend Paul Muldoon read very well, as did the amazing looking Edna O’Brien who is now 82. Seamus’ protegee Charlotte Higgins was the third of the trio of outstanding readers, saying Blackberry-Picking (also simple and earthy, also from Death of a Naturalist). Poet Michael Longley read another of our family’s favourites, Clearances: III (the bit about peeling spuds with the mammy). Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read as did Ireland’s Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan. Tom Paulin and Simon Armitage added to the rich mix. The Chieftains with Paddy Moloney, Matt Molloy and Sean Keane played. Channel 4 had a kind of presence in actress Ruth Negga of Misfits fame who performed from one of Seamus’ translations of Greek plays. The photographic portraits of Seamus from various times in his adult life projected behind the stage during the linking sections by Andrew O’Hagan were all wonderful, all by different photographers or friends. It’s quite something to make the kind of impact he made on the world by being a Poet in this modern era.
I came to South Bank in the wake of two meetings. The first was with entrepreneur James Laycock, who worked with Richard Branson early in his career and is now getting Central Working up&running as a place from which to grow businesses. I was asking him for advice on the Business chapter as I still haven’t found a subject I’m happy with – though I know they’re out there. As it happened I may have found the right person through the next meeting which was actually about something totally different, about democracy, politics and activism, with writer/marketeer Chris Ward (mentioned on an earlier Day), my friend Steve Moore (who knew Terri Hooley, one of the characters in the chapter I’m currently writing, back in Belfast in college days) and some people new to me who in their different ways are highly committed to trying to make UK politics (and beyond) work better.
In the morning I found the title for my Music chapter in a Joy Division song (albeit the live version which has slightly different words from the record): Take A Chance And Say You Tried – it’s largely about being true to yourself.
Since I’ve been working so hard on the Ginsberg chapter (my model chapter) it was a real pleasure to go find the Beat Hotel while I was in Paris visiting Arte and my old friend Marcelino Truong (whose current book, Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre, is named after Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War). The hotel, where Ginsberg stayed and nearly picked up a drug habit thanks to Burroughs and Corso, is a literal stone’s throw from the Seine by Notre Dame and two blocks from Shakespeare & Co. whose owner, Sylvia Beech, is still on my radar (though a long shot) as a potential case study.
Off to the Angel at the start of Day 48 to catch up with Nicole Yershon of Ogilvy Labs and interview her about creative networking. We caught up at The Breakfast Club (which I was originally introduced to in D’Arblay Street by Garret Keogh of Telegraph Hill) and did the interview at Kipferl for the quiet (and to pick up a bag of Mozartkugeln). While there we bumped into Neville Brody, whose studio is round the corner. Hooked him and Nicole up so she could arrange for him to visit the 3D Printing show she was working at over in the Business Design Centre opposite, the event a direct, concrete result of her own networking and talent nurturing activities with all kinds of benefits to her organisation (from commissioned creative executions to specialist organisational expertise).
Concluded the week by interviewing Hettie Jones, poet and publisher of the Beat generation, over the phone in New York. We had a good chat and she said she enjoyed the interview as it was different from most and didn’t fixate on parties and sex. She told me a great story of an early meeting with Allen Ginsberg (whose poems appeared in her magazine Yugen) where she helped him, for his major poem Kaddish, get under the skin of the titular prayer by singing it to him – he was from a non-practicing Jewish family and she had childhood ambitions to be a cantor (not technically possible til 1987). We had a good few things in common – from a mixed marriage (she married black writer/dramatist LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka], an early American interracial marriage) to a mother of exemplary charitableness – so there was a real connection.
Unusually worked on Day 49 (a Saturday – I’m on a 9 to 5, Mon to Fri regime) as I was in Brighton (with Enfant Terrible No. 2, no Mrs, and three Albanian teenagers, the pals of aforementioned Enfant Terrible) so not far away from Paul Arden’s West Sussex cottage, now home to his widow Toni. As I drove West and slightly North across the county the roads gradually narrowed until I was on a track through beautiful old woodland near the height of its autumn colour. Interviewed Toni, who is originally from Copenhagen (she gave me some tips of what to see of an arty nature for my trip next week), seated beside Paul’s art/photography book collection in elegant grey cabinets and across from his photograph collection, including the Richard Avedon African woman mentioned in It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be . After the interview Toni kindly showed me some highlights from the collection including a large format monochrome contact sheet of Michael Josephs’ shoot for the cover of The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet LP; work by Norman Parkinson, David Bailey and Robert Mapplethorpe; and an amazing black & white shot of a dying horse by Colin Barker where the beast is actually not touching the ground as it crumples after being put down with a bullet. She then gave me a tour of the beautiful 17C cottage behind the gallery/barn where we had been speaking. By the front door was a drawing by Paul’s father, a commercial artist/early advertising creative, drawn in his late 90s. Below the pink and pale green former charcoal burner’s dwelling was a pond Paul had created at the foot of a slope, so an impractical location used to fine aesthetic effect.
On my return to Brighton I was delighted to have a note in direct response to this very blog from a reader based in Dublin who had first-hand experience of one of my other protagonists and who kindly offered to give me an interview. That kind of loop of connection is what the Web – and When Sparks Fly – is all about.
Started the new week with a sunlit trip round the civilised (off-peak) North London line to Richmond where I interviewed Alexandra Taylor, one-time protegee of Paul Arden at Saatchi & Saatchi, a very accomplished Art Director, who, alongside Charles Saatchi, was one of the only two people Arden cited as having inspired him during his career (on receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award from Creative Circle in 2007). Alex is currently putting together a book of Arden’s photograph collection, making use of his diaries.
From Richmond High Street (well off my manor, little known to me other than as a transit point for getting to the rugby at Twickenham) I jumped on a bus to get to the river. Found myself a perfect spot below Richmond Bridge at which to work, a bench facing into the lowering autumn sun across the Thames just above a path which suddenly disappeared in the high tide, in just a matter of seconds. Boatmen, geese and other passers-by punctuated a mild afternoon of writing more of the Advertising/Arden chapter and reading Hettie Jones’ book How I Became Hettie Jones. Hettie is a magazine publisher and poet who knew Allen Ginsberg and was married to Leroi Jones, the writer/dramatist, author of Dutchman (which I came across and read in a teenage burst of play-reading). He became Amiri Baraka who plays an important role in one of my favourite movies, Bulworth.
I gradually made my way to the BBC in White City, via more Hettie Jones in a caff in Acton Central, for the process of dropping the live interactive insert into tonight’s Health Freaks.
I look down at my feet of red clay
The stone threshold is a vale
Worn by hundreds of residents
On thousands of journeys
Behind which lies the story of Nathan
And his married sister Else
In which seventy-two years later I stand
And cross my path with theirs.
What mathematics zigzagging
Across the great gentle curve
Along the angles of history
Brings their heirs to this square
Where I feel they were happy?
The code is broken
By a facsimile map
On the back shelf
Of a dusty museum shop
Blown to high heaven
By a home-grown bomb
Ironically Angle or Saxon
Or written out of existence
By Soviet canonisation
Comes into alignment
In the palimpsest of charts
Etched back into history
As Käthe Kollwitz
As the lines and angles align
Our trajectory bounces off the city museum
Across the top of the central square
Towards Nat and Dora’s quarter
I fire off a text to a vestige of their family
And shoot off a volley
To the other half in the other Old Country
Then the rectangle is spotted
With invisible walls
And bronze chairs
For the invisible congregation
It’s Saturday morning, about eleven
Just the right time
And Nat’s three off-spring zag off onto the rectangle
Sit in the cold back row
Where I wonder what strange geometry
Brings us back here
And what the old man and his sister make of this
I’m sure he’s pleased we got him back home
They melted the angles
And Moorish curves and arches
In their chaotic flames
Then charged the Israelites
To demolish the remains
A hundred and forty haunted seats
Seventy-nine people per seat
Plus interest for 1933 to 1938
By the time the 69th arrived
The maths of dark bureaucracy
Calculated zero squared
We spun off to the first point of the triangle
Twenty-two twenty eighteen
A car park
Covered by a blue cloudless sky
Tranquil leaves swaying
Two years on plus two days
I zig back into town
To complete some symmetry
And get these last lines down
In the fatherland
Land of my fathers
May the old language endure
A car park
By the corner, the first corner
We piece together the crystal shards
Of our past
As eighteen so sixteen
Then translated to Carmel Court NW11
And rotated to that opening scene
Of burgerlich Krakow apartments abandoned
What fearful symmetry
A sweep round the circular by-pass
Brings us to the stone threshold
Number one on the Northern square
Is point two
The address on the birth certificate
With its eagle and perverted cross
What fearful geometry converted that cross
From auspicious object
Turning right and rotated
Night on blood in emptiness
To helpless subject with broken limbs
Nailed to the intersection
Father don’t forgive them
They knew what they were doing
They typed it all out
Signed and sealed it with the eagle
They had staplers and ink pads
That’s how mundane they were
The address after all these years
Turned out not to be home but hospital
The red pin dropped
On the point of birth
The last point of the triangle
Where the sons of the son of the son
Played on the black posts
Rising and falling
Lifting the feet of red clay
In the triumph of fearless play
A vestigial homeland triangle
Superimposed on the triangle of father . son . son .
Is a star
Burning across time
Leipzig, 27th October 2012
The night before last the New York jazz club of the 30s and 40s Cafe Society was recreated in London at the Purcell Room on the South Bank for one night only. The club was set up in 1938 as an alternative to the largely segregated, mob-run nightclubs then on offer. Behind it was Barney Josephson, the New Jersey-born son of Jewish immigrants from Latvia. His declared ambition was to create ”a club where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front”. His socialist tendencies are well captured in the club’s motto: The wrong place for the Right people.
Cafe Society was opened in 1938 by Billie Holiday and it was there within the year that she unleashed upon the world Strange Fruit, a song like no other. Picking up on my earlier post about great song lines, Shelter from the Storm, there is one line in this poem turned song that ranks among the all-time great song lines:
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
If you ever wanted to illustrate irony… that word “gallant” kills off a view of the Confederacy in one mighty blow. When Holiday first heard the lyrics her one question was: what does ‘pastoral’ mean? Which is ironic in itself in that her whole being understood what Strange Fruit meant which is why she made the song so much her own.
With the same irony that has Danny Boy being composed by an English lawyer, it was actually written by a white man, a Jewish school teacher called Abel Meeropol – pen name Lewis Allan, after two children he lost in their infancy. Meeropol’s motivation was simple: “I wrote Strange Fruit because I hate lynching and I hate injustice and I hate the people who perpetuate it.”
Here’s the poem he brought to Holiday and Josephson at Cafe Society, already set to music, already performed in obscure left-wing circles, ripe for the magic of a singer who could perform it from her soul and evolve it into something uniquely powerful.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
Holiday delivered this body blow to audiences throughout her career – here’s one later take on it (the instability of the picture seems to suit the song, as if it can’t fully be retained by the technology):
Barney Josephson didn’t seem to have his own Wikipedia entry so I’ve just made him one