Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Join Hands 11.11.1918-11.11.2018

In 1979 I went to see Siouxsie & The Banshees playing at Hammersmith Odeon – it remains one of the best gigs of my life. Just before the tour half the band had gone AWOL so new musicians had to be drafted in including Budgie on drums (formerly the token man in The Slits, one of my favourite drummers – Stewart Copeland considers him one of the most interesting drummers for his “very economical and offbeat” playing, that offbeat being what I most like about him) and John McGeoch on guitar (formerly of Magazine). That tour marked the release of the LP ‘Join Hands’. The hands joining are those of four bronze WW1 Tommies on the war memorial between Horseguards Parade and St James’s Park (the Guards Memorial) – I passed it regularly when I was working at Channel 4 and it always brought me back to that music and excitement. The LP opens with the tolling bells of a 2-minute track called Poppy Day.

In the same way that Punk (especially The Clash) introduced me to reggae, through this track it introduced me to the First World War poetry of John McCrae, a typical example of the less known poets who emerged in the Great War, the one-hit wonders and offbeats. McCrae was a high-ranking Canadian army doctor serving on the Western front. In Poppy Day the resonant bells give way to the distinctive driving guitar wailing of The Banshees and then just a few short lines, delivered in a distorted Siouxsie voice:

In Flanders fields
The poppies grow
Between the crosses
Row on row
That mark our place
We are the dead…

I don’t think McCrae is credited for the lyrics which are very close to the opening of his In Flanders Fields, in fact every word is derived from the poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Siouxsie & The Banshees filtered out the patriotic and the warmongering/cheerleading to open their record with the zombie or heroic or haunting dead, we don’t know which. What we do know, two years after the Silver Jubilee and the Pistols’ God Save the Queen (the Fascist regime), with rubbish piling up in the streets of strike-bound London, is that these dead were neither glorious nor patriotic in the establishment way.

The band were inspired not only by the chaos and crapitude of the late 70s Home Front but also by conflict witnessed on their suburban Kent TVs, particularly in Iran. (Plus ça change).

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The LP cover was extracted from this shot – L to R Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitar), Siouxsie Sioux (vocals), Kenny Morris (drums) – before McKay and Morris went AWOL

Banshee stalwart, bassist Steven Severin in the wake of watching the two minutes of silence in memory of the war dead on TV on Sunday 12th November 1978 explained about Poppy Day: “We wanted to write a song that would fittingly fill that gap”. On the inner sleeve of the record (which sits still in the room just below me, alongside its vinyl sisters The Scream, Kaleidoscope, Juju and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse) beside the lyrics of the song is specified (with echoes of John Cage): “2 minutes of silence”.

So here we are on Sunday 11th November 2018, 40 years after Severin watched that broadcast, 100 years after the world watched that bloodbath, that futile wiping out of a generation, and we are still all struggling to join hands. The irony of The Banshees brooding in the studio while recording this masterpiece of an LP and splitting up in its aftermath is as nothing to the irony that we mark this centenary at a time when the world’s international institutions are being deliberately dismantled, Europe re-fracturing and the zombie voices of patriotism, nationalism and fascism wailing more discordantly than John McKay’s guitar. We are the Dead. We are turning in our graves row on row between the poppies.

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Reinforcements arrive: L to R John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums), Siouxsie & Steve – Paris (1980) where 70 world leaders are arriving this morning to mark the centenary of the Armistice including Macron (accordion), Merkel (tuba), Trump (mouth organ) and Putin (triangle)

 

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Something Is Happening

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Highway 61 Revisited photo session (New York 1965)

Just listened to a music podcast called ‘Is It Rolling, Bob? (talking Dylan)’ in which two actor blokes (Kerry Shale and Lucas Hare) talk to a journo bloke (David Hepworth) about a song & dance man, Bob Dylan.

It is a lot better than ‘Stalking Time for the Moon Boys’ in which two TV blokes (David Baddiel and Tim Hincks) talk to various other blokes and each other about a song & dance man, David Bowie. But it’s still not great. Entertaining enough if you’re keen on your Dylan.

One interesting fact I picked up was that Dylan named himself not after Welsh poet D. Thomas (which I’d believed) but after Marshall Dillon in some TV cowboy show (‘Gunsmoke’). Dylan as lifelong cowboy makes a lot of sense.

A question they asked David was how did you first come across Dylan. Got me thinking.

As a six year-old, just allowed to go by myself across one road to the newsagent (Eric & Mavis’s or perhaps it was the previous incarnation), I bought myself a fold-out poster magazine. I got it home expecting it to fold out to reveal a hippy rabbit (Dylan of ‘Magic Roundabout’ fame). Instead it was an unprepossessing bearded bloke with a guitar. A disappointing first encounter.

When I first fell under Dylan’s spell was having one of those Moments listening to ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’. I’d heard bits & pieces of Dylan during my childhood, listened to him a bit at uni through friends who were advocates (but I still had my Punk head on). But it was listening to this track on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ when the light went on. It was the Surrealism of the lyrics that really grabbed me – I’m not really a lyrics man but the words made their impact, above all the non-rational, dream-like nature of them. I was in.

This moment lead directly to my ending up with a son called Dylan (who looks at times a little like the Big Man of this vintage).

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highway 61 revisited bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard but you don’t understand
Just what you will say when you get home
Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
You raise up your head and you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says, “It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?” and somebody else says, “Well, what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
But something is happening and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Sometimes it’s really good not to know what it is – just let it sink in and brew up.

Sluice my Daisy

Sluice my daisy poem illustration

Sluice my daisy
Water the bush
Playing a game for three
Three in one
One for all
Moist as moist can be

Jack it in
Voices of shades
Woah, hold your horses!
Allen keys
Sees the day
Through weather vanes courses

Wind wild
Lizard child
Stop my halo bleeding
Hallowed ground
Round & round
What the heck is feeding

Daisy words
Thresh my heart
Angels on patrol
Type my heart
Adore my light
Lick away control

Ball the sub
Slice the eye
Cast your faith to the wind
Wind the window
Whiplash aerial
Dig the bind and binned

Not too shoddy
Knot Two
Three in one baby
Douse the holy
Heal the louses
Take it as a maybe

Sluice my cock
The road is hit
Homesick with the blues
Happy this way
Happy daze
Beat my writing ruse

Unexpected turbulence
Blow the fuse
Spark the fuck out of it
Kiss my hole
Sluice my soul
Serve the affidavit

Strip off skinny
Strike a pose
Call my worm to sup
The end is nigh
Higher than the world
Raise my daisy up
A beautiful fool
The gap between fingers
Turn it this way up

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Principles of Adult Behavior

John Perry Barlow, Internet rights pioneer & visionary, went virtual on Wednesday this week, aged 70 after a long illness. Barlow was co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

John Perry Barlow, Internet rights pioneer & visionary

Bob Weir, one of the founding members of The Grateful Dead, said of him: “John had a way of taking life’s most difficult things and framing them as challenges, therefore adventures.” John wrote some lyrics for the Dead. He also wrote ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace‘ in 1996 (on February 8th as it happens, so its anniversary lies between his passing and the publishing of this post). It opens:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

so something of the Ginsberg/Howl thing about it. It concludes:

We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.

John drafted a set of ‘Principles of Adult Behavior’.

1. Be patient. No matter what.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
20. Understand humility.
21. Remember that love forgives everything.
22. Foster dignity.
23. Live memorably.
24. Love yourself.
25. Endure.

Pretty wise and a number really resonated for me.

5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change. – particularly useful in the age of Trump & Brexit

7. Tolerate ambiguity. – I’ve become increasingly conscious in recent times of the polarised tendencies of the ways humans think, drawn constantly to black and white rather than grey

16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun. – I’ve become particularly conscious of this in the realm of politics – listen out for those “I”s and you’ll be struck by how common it is and how much it makes you doubt the speaker

17. Praise at least as often as you disparage. – a little praise goes a long way from my experience

19. Become less suspicious of joy. – I’ve become fascinated by the word Joy in recent years. My daily motto is: I will enJoy my day. Many things that would benefit from a bit of Joy often are devoid of it for no good reason.

All 25 give food for thought. On the subject of which, a parting shot from JPB:

…in the years to come, most human exchange will be virtual rather than physical, consisting not of stuff but the stuff of which dreams are made. Our future business will be conducted in a world made more of verbs than nouns.

John Perry Barlow at the Bar Cross Ranch

JPB at the Bar Cross Ranch

 

 

Shards from the Boneyard

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In a word

a Man

God’s finger touched him

Oh for the touch of a vanished hand

Into thine hand I commit my spirit

Underneath are the everlasting arms

Only to us a short time lent

Until the end of our days

 

Our lights have gone out everywhere

No morning dawns no night returns

 

 

A place is vacant

 

Our family chain is

broken

 

A bitter grief, a shock severe

The shock was great, the blow severe

The cup was bitter, the shock severe

Tragically taken from us

 

Many a lonely heartache

When we are sad and lonely

This sad life of toil and care

Troubled in life

After great suffering patiently borne

Peace after pain

 

In the midst of life we are in death

Lay down thy head

I am not dead

but sleepeth here

I am not there

when sleeps in dust

A faithful friend lies sleeping here

who fell asleep

called to rest

entered into rest

for they rest from their labours

At rest

Good night, God bless

 

Beyond the sea of death

to shape the ships he loved

accidently drowned

lost his life while saving a dog from drowning

He gave his life for one and all

Every restless tossing passed

Fell like warm rain on the arid patches of my imagination

 

So much of hopeful promise centred there

One of earth’s loveliest buds

A sweet flower plucked from earth

A loving sweetheart my only chum

I have loved thee

I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need

He loved in youth

to walk with me throughout my life

 

In death ‪they were not divided

A short while apart,

together once more and never to part

together again forever

we’re together in dreams, in dreams

love always

love never ends

 

She was an angel

A warm smile

In her tongue was the law of kindness

A devoted mother

Widow of the above

Breathe on her

May the angels take you

 

He did his best

By his good deeds you shall know him

Kind to all

Upright and just to the end of his days

A fond father and a kind husband

His merry spirit is with me yet

Your spirit lies within us

Always content

 

Although dead

Lost to sight

Interred nearby

Passed away but not lost

Gone but not forgotten

Forever in our thoughts

Silent thoughts and tears unseen

Sacred to the memory

Always remembered

Lovingly remembered

Remembrance is the sweetest flower

Live on the memories of days that have been

 

I never wanted memories George

I only wanted you

 

The bosom of our lord

Where I have longed to be

But that we think of thee

I will fear no evil for thou art with me

 

I have fought a good fight

Life’s race well run

He was summoned

The lord gave and the lord hath taken away

Exchanged mortality for life

Wipe away all tears from their eyes

 

Hope

In my father’s house are many mansions

We would walk right up to heaven and bring you home again

I am the resurrection and the life

I am a thousand winds that blow

Until the day dawns

Joy cometh in the morning

Nothing could be more beautiful

Inwardly we are being renewed day by day

Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper

Peace be with you

Perfect peace

Ubique

Requiescant in pace

Love never ends

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This poem was constructed from fragments from gravestones in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley, London N2.

Profumo promenade

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17 Wimpole Mews, Marylebone, London W1

This weekend’s wander had the theme of Profumo, a pole to pole stroll from Stephen Ward’s house at which the Profumo Affair kicked off to Peter Rachman’s love nest for Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies where all the pieces of the puzzle assembled.

The signs weren’t good. I lost my favourite pale blue & grey scarf, given to me years ago by Una, on the tube from Hampstead (where Rachman lived) to Oxford Circus. I got shat on by a pigeon (supposedly lucky but I’ve never bought that). And then I got to Stephen Ward’s house at 17 Wimpole Mews, Marylebone and it had been killed by developers. Has no-one got any respect for history any more?

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1962 and 2012 {photo courtesy of Euronomad}

Above you can see the place on Friday 14th December 1962 after Johnny Edgecombe lost his shit with Christine Keeler and fired at the door in a vain attempt to get in to where Christine and Mandy were cowering. The bottom picture was taken on Friday 14th December 2012, exactly 50 years on, by Euronomad. Whilst it had been modernised by 2012, it’s now been ripped to pieces by barbarian property developers.

Lost scarf, bird shit, desecrated history – the walk wasn’t going so well.

I headed westwards through Marylebone, across Baker Street, towards Montagu Square and Bryanston Square. In the corner of a mews by the latter is the small house where Peter Rachman installed first Christine and later Mandy.

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1 Bryanston Mews West, W1

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Rachman of course was dead before Edgecombe fired those fatal shots but that didn’t stop the press and establishment making him the second scapegoat of the Profumo Affair, alongside Ward who they would hound to his death soon enough.

Here’s where Rachman lived when life was a little rosier for him. He’d pop down the hill to Bryanston Mews for a shag or a chat.

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Rachman’s house in Winnington Road

To raise the tone of the walk I made a small diversion a couple of streets away from Mandy’s shag-pad to one of the London homes of T. S. Eliot. TSE died in January 1965, just after the Scandal. According to Frederick Tomlin (in T. S. Eliot: A Friendship) Eliot was disturbed by the serious corruption in public life indicated by the Profumo Affair. He strongly disapproved of the letter Kenneth Tynan and Angus Wilson had written defending Ward (although that might have been on account of the review Tynan had written of The Elder Statesman).

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Corner of Crawford Street & Homer Row – Eliot lived at 18 Crawford Mansions, 62-66 Crawford Street, W1 from 1916 until 1920

Eliot must have enjoyed living on Homer Row (not his official postal address but as much his street as Crawford Street, the entrance to his block being on that side). Eliot read Homer at Harvard and borrowed some of his characters throughout his career. Tireseus from The Odyssey, for example, makes an appearance in The Waste Land.

And there on poets’ corner my own mini-odyssey came to a more salubrious but less colourful conclusion. Personally I would have liked to see an intact 17 Wimpole Mews with its very own plaque, indicating respect for modern epics.

The Hope of Pattern

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259 Today: Blake’s grave on his birthday

 

 

I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern, then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.

Jonathan Ames

It turned out something of a literary day today. It started with a note on this humble blog from an actor interested in Jean Newlove, collaborator of Joan Littlewood and pioneer of movement as a discipline in theatre. The actor in question appeared as a young Alan Turing in ‘The Imitation Game’, growing up into Benedict Cumberbatch (patron of our very own Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley). I interviewed Jean Newlove, mother of the late Kirsty MacColl (who will be coming in to season shortly as the female half of the greatest of all Christmas songs, ‘Fairytale of New York’), for the Littlewood chapter of my not-yet-finished book ‘When Sparks Fly’.

I was keen to read the last couple of chapters of the excellent novel I’ve been reading the last couple of weeks, Amos Oz’s ‘Judas’, so I left a bit early for my first meeting in Old Street and repaired to nearby Bunhill Fields to read in the low yellow winter sunshine. I sat down by John Bunyan’s tomb, inhaling the roll-up smoke of two Eastern European workers on the adjacent bench, and by way of hors-d’oeuvres downloaded a copy of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ to my phone and read the opening. It’s a good complement to ‘Judas’. I then read some of the wizardry of Oz before heading off to my first meeting with a young scriptwriter of the Paul Abbott school. I’m producing a short film for him. On my way over to Silicon Roundabout I remembered there were other literary types in Bunhill Fields and sauntered past them – Daniel Defoe and beside him the great Londoner William Blake, born in Marshall Street, Soho where my very first job (for a film company) was located. I’d spotted on a Twitter post just after the note from the actor that today was Blake’s birthday. I hadn’t paid much attention but once in front of the grave it came back to me and the coincidence of showing up at his death place on the day of his birth delighted me as I have been much taken with coincidences in recent times.

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#OneLostGlove

I’ve had two other good ones in the last couple of days. On Saturday night I was on my way to see Michael Keegan-Dolan’s brilliant dance Swan Lake / Loch nEala when I came across One Lost Glove and photographed it as is my wont with a caption playing on a song title as is my wont: Whole Lotta gLove. I was having dinner first with some friends and as I took my seat in Miz En Bouche in St John Street, Islington over their sound system came a version of Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ covered by a relatively sedate female singer.

Today, after I’d finished the Oz book, I resumed Paul Beatty’s ‘The Sellout’, winner of this year’s Man Booker prize. In it I read this sentence: “Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised by p values in the .75 range.” I got that it was taking the piss out of a certain kind of academia and social science but I had no idea what p values are, never heard of them before. This evening I’m at a lecture by Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland (who I also interviewed for ‘When Sparks Fly’) on Behavioural Economics. He mentions p values of course.

A BIGGER SPLASH [BR 1974]

A BIGGER SPLASH (1974)

While I’m at it a Blake-related coincidence this time last year which proved very important for me. When BAFTA season is in full flow you get inundated with PR emails from film publicity companies. I normally don’t read them but I did read one entitled A Bigger Splash because that first job of mine in Soho, opposite Blake’s birthplace, was with a film company that made a movie in 1974 entitled ‘A Bigger Splash’, about David Hockney and his circle. So the subject line caught my eye and I scrolled through the email. It was for a new romantic comedy (?) featuring Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton. At the bottom of the email was the address of the publicity company – 35 Marshall Street, the very address of Buzzy Enterprises where I worked. So it was Buzzy’s address and Buzzy’s title united on a single email. What are the chances? Two items with no intrinsic connection. Unlike the hearing the same word for the first time twice on the same day type coincidence there can be no rational explanation for this baby. I ended up sending it to my former boss, director of the original ‘A Bigger Splash’, Jack Hazan, and that triggered a train of events which lead to us working together for the first time in decades, on a documentary based on something he shot three years before ‘A Bigger Splash’.

The first chapter of ‘When Sparks Fly’ is about poet Allen Ginsberg, who was hugely influenced by Blake. The road I crossed to get to Bunhill contains St Luke’s church where I once met Patti Smith, who is also a massive fan of Blake and wrote a song called ‘In My Blakean Year’ (but we talked about two other poets who resided in London, albeit briefly – Rimbaud & Verlaine).

The coincidences, both explicable and inexplicable, are the kind of thing that make life worth living. They suggest pattern, yes, but more importantly they suggest magic.

Fighting the Good Fight

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

— e e cummings

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Freebird

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Back in 2000 I chaired a task group for the Broadband Stakeholders Group (a body lobbying the Government for better broadband connectivity) looking at the probable impact of broadband on the UK workplace. One of the group’s conclusions was that it would have a positive impact on the environment and transport because it would enable workers to do more locally or at home, thereby reducing the need for the daily commute.

From 2000 to 2013 I spent much of my life on a tube train across the city, mostly for no good purpose. I stopped that on 9th July 2016 when I left Channel 4 after 13 glorious years.

I am now working in a peripatetic style and not only thoroughly enjoying it (and the summer) but actually finding creative inspiration from it. I knew this from the sabbatical I took in 2013-14 to write during which I wrote in all kinds of places from the National Library, Dublin to the kitchen garden of Kenwood – and chronicled it here on Simple Pleasures.

As my working week drew to an end yesterday in a steam room near Gray’s Inn followed by a last hour-long burst of writing in some barristers chambers (very productive and clear-minded) I reflected back on a classic week of working on the move which I feel like capturing here for posterity because the working locations were such an inspiration in themselves; reflect the rich mix I plan to make the defining characteristic of my work life going forward; and brought with them such uplifting experiences.

So this week I have worked…

  • in Borough, in the shadow of London Bridge – with Mark Stevenson, writer and futurist, on a project about the sustainable future of energy, feeding on his always refreshing optimism
  • at BAFTA, one of my two pied-à-terres in central London, where I had a key meeting with an always-inspiring former colleague about the film script I am currently writing (for an energetic British production company whose early successes are very promising)
  • in the garden of the Chelsea Arts Club where I met a film-maker whose father knew the protagonist of my movie and from whom I got a useful sense of the kind of person he was. This particular stop brought the highlight of the week as we were joined in the sun-bathed garden by the poet Brian Patten, a charming, witty and warm man from the evidence of this first encounter. In fact it was in a way my second encounter as I saw him perform live in Cambridge around 1984 with his fellow Liverpool poets Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. He gave wise advice concerning my younger son, who has severe dyslexia, and his literary studies. A young priest in exquisitely made robes entered the garden at one point and sat at the adjoining table. At which juncture Brian leaned over the table and recited a brilliant poem about a falling priest, without the faith or courage to fall freely. Brian had based the poem on an ancient Sufi text. It was a beautiful and unexpected gift of words that made my week.
  • in a restaurant in Victoria where an old Channel 4 colleague  of mine turned out to be pals with a director who would be perfect for the film
  • outside Kipferl, an Austrian cafe at The Angel, one of my favourites, where I caught up with Harry Cymbler, MD of Hot Cherry (where I am a Non-Exec)
  • in the Reading Room of Somerset House where I drafted an application for Creative England with my co-producer
  • in the newly opened Eneko Basque restaurant, scion of Eneko Atxa’s Michelin-starred place Azurmendi in Larrabetzu (in the Basque country in Northern Spain), where we finished drafting the application either side of a beautiful meal of Iberico pork and fruity wine punch
  • in my back garden where I carried on writing the treatment to the tranquil sounds of my newly resurrected water-rock (I can’t possibly use the term ‘water feature’, it’s so Home Front). I copied the water-rock from the courtyard of a hotel in Newry, County Down – it definitely irrigates creativity.
  • in Raymond Buildings, Gray’s Inn in a room with a photo of my lower sixth English class, a reminder of a very inspirational year with a very inspirational teacher (in the photo sporting a velvet jacket).

There’s a lot to be said for wandering freely. As I read in The Week earlier this very enjoyable week, Nietzsche was also much in favour of being on the move:

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.

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The Water-Rock

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Eneko on the Aldwych

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Eneko Basqueness

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Chelsea Arts Club

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Gray’s Inn

Dream of Life

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Patti Smith: Dream of Life

I met Patti Smith one time – it was in St Luke’s Church near Old Street roundabout after an intimate gig of hers. We talked briefly about Rimbaud and the time he spent in Camden Town with Verlaine. Rimbaud of course features in a scene of the ten-years-in-the-making poetic hotchpotch of a film that is Steve Sebring’s documentary ‘Patti Smith: Dream of Life’ which I saw on the big screen this afternoon at the Arthouse Cinema in Crouch End thanks to Doc n’ Roll.

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On Rimbaud’s toilet

I went with my old friend, film-maker and teacher Roddy Gibson. We went to see Patti in 2007 at The Roundhouse where she did a wonderful gig centred on her album ‘Twelve’. I’ve probably seen her play live around ten times, always in London, from the Union Chapel to St Giles-in-the-fields by Denmark Street – and even in one or two places that weren’t churches.

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Patti Smith & photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

The best moment of the film for me was when she, without warning, pours out from an exotic urn Robert Mapplethorpe’s ashes into her hand, explaining the texture, that it’s not like normal ashes or dust. Their connection is a fascinating one, not least as it overlapped with her intense marriage to Fred Sonic Smith.

Her smile which punctuates the film is another thing that stays with you.

I liked the moment when she meets Jesse Jackson at an anti-war demo, as it struck me that he bears the names of both her children – Jesse is the daughter (on piano), Jackson the son (on guitar).

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Patti Smith & Allen Ginsberg

The presence of Allen Ginsberg in the film really resonated for me. I have been writing about him in recent times – here’s an extract. His poetry, in my experience, has the marvellous effect of inspiring the reader to write poetry. Patti is clearly a descendent of his, and that they were friends is inevitable. Blake, Corso, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Burroughs are all present in the film as a constellation at the centre of a particular cultural universe – one that really sings to me.

The line that punched out for me was where Patti asserts that we all have a voice and a responsibility to use it. As I watch my 19 year old wrestle with the shape of his identity and life mission it’s a salutary reminder to tread softly as someone lays their dreams at your feet, to be careful not to crush nascent ambitions or visions, to enable them to use their singular voice and realise their dreams of life.

guitar

With 1930s guitar given her by playwright Sam Shepherd in the 70s

My mission is to communicate, to wake people up – it’s to give them my energy and accept theirs. We’re all in it together, and I respond emotionally as a worker, a mother, an artist, a human being …with a voice. We all have a voice. We have the responsibility to exercise it, to use it.

 

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