Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category
So I’m sitting at breakfast as usual, late Saturday morning, a West Coast Irish sense of urgency (think mañana but less pressing), listening to Robert Elms on Radio London. After a bit of a dull gardening item an Irish poetry enthusiast with a Dublin accent pops up to talk about his guided walk to mark today’s [Saturday 13th] 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats. He says “it’s probably too late for your listeners” – red rag to a British bulldog, I was going to get to Wolburn Buildings for the start of the walk regardless of the sub-90 minute lead-time. Niall McDevitt was the name of the poetical Irish gent punting his walk on the wireless and it was the said poet who wandered up Woburn Walk, location of WB’s bachelor pad, at the appointed hour of one, in red trousers, perfect to lead a walk through a busy Saturday afternoon London, the biz in hi-viz.
As he started the walk-talk an Indian lady appeared at WB’s balcony – an artist who uses his old love-nest as a studio. She gamely waved a large photo of Yeats to the assembled motley crew. Niall explained that WB moved in as a 30-something virgin, determined to pop the ol’ cherry and in need of a bit of space from his artist father and painter brother Jack over in the family home in Chiswick or thereabouts in West London. His married mistress found the place, in a small, quiet passage opposite Euston and within walking distance of the Brain of London which was the British Museum Reading Room, the internet of its day. The affair only lasted a year but WB stayed there for 24 years (1895-1919) until he eventually married. For the Irish Shakespeare that was a long time in prime years to stay in a foreign metropolis. Perhaps we dare think of him as London-Irish in some small way?
The Euston location was convenient for his Monday evening At Homes where the likes of Ezra Pound and Maud Gonne pulled by for cultural and literary chat. It was also convenient for jumping on the train to Liverpool to catch the ferry round to the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.
From Wolburn Walk we headed across Bloomsbury to the bust of Tagore in Gordon Square to review Yeats’s Indian connections. (The Nobel-prize-winning Indian poet Tagore while in London lived in the Vale of Health just below where I was born).
Then along the greenery into UCL (founded by one of my distant forebears) and the building of Faber & Faber where TS Eliot was based. Niall put forward the proposition that Yeats’s Second Coming was the great poem of the 20th Century and not The Wasteland. I let it pass – he’s obviously wrong.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold
At Museum Street opposite that Brain of London we stopped for an interlude at the Occult Book Shop where the proprietor, a 2nd generation bookseller who has just inducted the 3rd generation, gave us a fascinating talk about Magic and the Golden Dawn, an occult order which Yeats joined in a serious way. On the wall were pictures of various key personages including the Hackney Jew who set up the shop and an oil portrait of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, one of the primary influences on Yeats life (alongside a Fenian whose name escapes me, Sean O’Something). Irish Nationalism and Magic – his Big Two Things.
From there into Covent Garden where we strangely enough went right past my hairdresser where I had a 3pm appointment – what’s the chances of the line from Woburn Walk happening to pass that spot? Near the Freemasons’ HQ in Great Queen Street we stopped to talk a bit of Blake. In the old Masonic children’s hospital opposite was the place where Blake did his engraving apprenticeship for 7 years. Niall’s core territory is bounded by Shakespeare (who spent a lot of time in London in Southwark) and Blake (who grew up in London in Marshall Street – opposite my first job at Solus Productions at No. 35) and Rimbaud (who spent a little time in London in Camden Town) and Yeats (who spent a lot of time in London in Euston, Primrose Hill and Chiswick).
I peeled off when we got to the other side of Lincoln’s Inn as hair cutting called. They were heading in the direction of temples where Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawners worshipped. That kind of shit freaks me out a bit any way so probably just as well. Rewind. As we were starting off in Wolburn Buildings Niall mentioned the fact that Yeats was big into the after-life and would appreciate our celebration, indeed might well be with us if his hopes for the after-life proved well founded. At that moment one of the walkers’ mobile rang, he fumbled it and dropped a small case he was carrying, from which spilled a number of harmonicas. As in mouth organs. Or blues harps. So harps, the symbol of Irish poetry, fall out on the streets of London. Nuff said.
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.