Archive for the ‘poetry’ Tag

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).

siouxsie and the banshees join hands vinyl record album LP cover design

Siouxsie_and_the_banshees_Join_Hands_war guards memorial

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.

siouxsie and the banshees paris 1980

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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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

jack kerouac allen ginsberg neal cassady beat poets writers

Dream of Life

patti-smith-dream-of-life

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.

rimbaud

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.

patti-smith-summer-in-the-city

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).

ginsberg

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.

 

Quel Coincidence!

 

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I’ve been noticing coincidences a lot recently, and noting some of them down. Mainly of the type where you hear a word for the first time in decades and it comes up again the same day.

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But today I had a cracker. I went to Church Hill near Letterkenny to visit Glebe House and Gallery. As luck (or the tourist season) would have it was closed so I contented myself with hanging out in the gardens by the lake, which I had entirely to myself in strong spring sunshine. I laid on the damp lawn and took out my two books. The first one I opened was ‘Human Chain’ by Seamus Heaney, a book of poetry my Other Half gave me for Christmas 2010. I’ve only ever read a couple of the poems so I brought in with me for this Derry-Donegal trip. I read a bit of it last night so it was parked up randomly in the middle wherever I happened to get to.

seamus-heaney

As I opened it and started reading today stretched out on the grass like a dying naturalist I wrote a note at the top of the page in pencil as a souvenir of where I was:

16.3.16 Church Hill – Derek Hill’s

Derek Hill was the artist who used to live in Glebe House and bequeathed it.

The poem I had got to last night was entitled ‘The Baler’, about a mechanical hay baler. When I got to line 19 who, of all the people in the world, is mentioned?

Derek Hill. I’m not sure if it’s the same one but it probably is.

But what I also remembered

Was Derek Hill’s saying,
The last time he sat at our table,
He could bear no longer to watch
The sun going down

What are the chances?

I finish the night before at that particular poem
I decide to go to Glebe House this particular day
I write Derek’s name
The name is printed on the very page

Doesn’t that mean there must be a God? 😉

Yeats Mates

irish harp on euro coin

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.

blues_harp harmonica mouth organ

yeats walk with niall mcdevitt

Where the harps fell

WB's bachelor pad, Wolburn Buildings

WB’s bachelor pad, Wolburn Buildings

A bastardized haiku for men of imperial Japan

Face Slap ape

Right hand to left cheek

Left hand to right cheek

Binta hints of

Nothing

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The skinny on Skinny-dipping

Rupert Brooke in Granchester (with soft collar)

Rupert Brooke in Granchester (with soft collar)

On Thursday evening I joined Channel 4 colleagues at The Courthouse Hotel [formerly the Marylebone Magistrates Court, was glad to see cells have been imaginatively retained] opposite Carnaby Street (a resonant area for me as just round the corner from my very first workplace, Solus in Marshall Street, Soho, whose attic contained hidden gems like footage of Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight and James Baldwin in Paris) to view as it was broadcast a programme I had (deliberately) only seen as raw footage – Alone in the Wild. Since the beginning of July we have been publishing online the rushes of the show as they came out of the wilderness of the Yukon, where cameraman/film-maker Ed Wardle was living and recording his experiences himself, completely alone in the wild. My part of the cross-platform commission also involved publishing daily out-going only short messages from the wild via Twitter, which were subsequently used to punctuate the three films in the series. [Next one is this Thursday at 9pm on C4]

One scene in Episode 1 saw Ed delighting in a skinny-dip in the lake where he had made camp, frolicking like a child, immersing himself with joy in the place he shared with a stately moose and grayling destined for his frying pan.

I’ve been equally struck recently by accounts of poet Rupert Brooke’s skinny-dipping activities in Granchester, a place made magical for me after a lone moonlit cycle-ride to there in the middle of one Romantic night. In particular, accounts of ‘The Midnight Swim’ when this proto-hippy young poet shared the waters of Byron’s Pool with the unstable, radical woman of letters Virginia Stephens, later Woolf, who finished her life alone in the underwater wild of a Sussex river.

It was 1911. They were both single. Rupert was 24, Virginia was 29. It was the year Poems 1911 was published (clue in the title), Brooke’s one and only volume of poems to appear during his actual lifetime. (Woolf’s first novel appeared four years later.)

Christopher Hassall describes the incident in his biography of Brooke (Rupert Brooke: a Biography 1964):

“It was the end of August. Virginia Stephen arrived at the Old Vicarage and occupied Ka’s bed on the other side of the house. The garden room was strewn with scraps of Strindberg, pages of Bland Vassen and fragments of verse. Probably the guest had brought with her an early chapter of The Voyage Out to revise while Brooke was reading or writing stretched out on the grass. One warm night there was a clear sky and a moon and they walked out to the shadowy waters of Byron’s Pool. “Let’s go swimming, quite naked,” Brooke said, and they did.”

Brooke mentions in his well known poem The Old Vicarage, Granchester this pool where his poetic forebear Byron swam when no-one was about:

Still in the dawn waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool

The painter Augustus John, who lived nearby with a caravan load of hot women and brown children, was also a naked frequenter of the pool, as was the philosopher Wittgenstein.

The Midnight Swim is also fictionalised and extrapolated upon in Jill Dawson’s recent novel The Great Lover which I read on holiday this August (exactly 98 years after the skinny-dip in question), kindly given to me by Aysha Rafaele (a fellow C4 Commissioning Editor from Documentaries) who spotted it in the Richard & Judy Book Club pile.

So any action between the two of them, both swingers-both-ways? Rupert, I get the impression, was more inclined to the hetero. Virginia must be well documented but I’m not sure exactly how her bi was balanced. Lytton Strachey had proposed to her two years earlier but they both realised, in the cool light of day the next morning, it wouldn’t work out. I don’t think any one knows or ever said quite what occurred, which leaves it as a lovely little mystery…

The Midnight Swim wasn’t their first watery encounter. In April 1899 (Rupert was 11, Virginia was 17) the Brookes went to St. Ives on holiday, where Leslie Stephen was also vacationing with his family. The two of them played together by the sea.

Yeats called Brooke “the handsomest young man in England”. By the year of The Midnight Swim, Brooke was secretly engaged or attached in some fashion to Noel Olivier, a fascinating character in her own right (Rupert was 24, Noel was 19) here’s her Wikipedia entry.

I had a go recently at drafting a Wikipedia entry for her sister Brynhild who seemed a promising character, the most beautiful of the Olivier sisters, but there’s very little to go on. This is what I have so far:

”’Brynhild Olivier”’ (1886 – 13th January 1935) was a member of [[Rupert Brooke]]’s circle before the First World War and associated with the [[Bloomsbury Group]]. She was the fourth daughter of [[Sydney Haldane Olivier]], 1st Baron Olivier, and Margaret Cox; she was sister of Margery, Daphne and [[Noel Olivier|Noel]].

She married art historian [[A. E. Popham]] (Arthur Ewart Hugh Popham, known as Hugh) in 1912 (becoming Brynhild Popham). Hugh Popham was a friend of Rupert Brooke. They were divorced in 1924. She married [[F. R. N. Sherrard]] in 1924 (becoming Brynhild Sherrard).

She was the mother of [[Anne Olivier Popham]], who became the wife of art historian and writer [[Quentin Bell]]. She was also the mother of the poet, translator and theologian [[Philip Sherrard|Philip Owen Arnould Sherrard]] (born 23 September 1922, Oxford).

Brynhild was the first of the four Olivier sisters the poet Rupert Brooke met. Although she was reputedly the most beautiful, it was her sister Noel Olivier for whom Brooke fell.

She was first cousin of the actor [[Laurence Olivier]].

If there’s anyone out there in internetland who knows anything more about Brynhild (Bryn) Olivier, please do let me know via comments or however so I can get enough substance in the article to make it acceptable for Wikipedia – i.e. more information on what she achieved in her adult life.

Rupert and Noel met in 1908 when he was 20 and she a 15-year-old schoolgirl at the then fashionable, progressive Bedales in Petersfield. Noel’s father was Lord Sydney Olivier (uncle of dear, dear Larry), a prominent Fabian and high-ranking civil servant, serving in his time as Governor of Jamaica and Secretary of State for India.

Bedales was something of a centre for getting your kit off. Various members of Brooke’s circle had been there, the first co-ed public school, which encouraged a passion for the open air and healthy outdoor games. Nude swimming and sunbathing (segregated) made it on to the curriculum (hoorah!). The Sun Bathing Society’s Annual Summer Conference was held there in 1931 and naturists used the Bedales grounds out of term in the wake of their starting to organise in Britain during the previous decade.

Noel went on to have a long and interesting career as a doctor, politically active in a way reflecting her Fabian roots. Rupert had a short one as an early crash-and-burn teen hero, paving the way for everyone from James Dean to (fellow Cantabrian) Nick Drake to River (appropriately enough) Phoenix. He didn’t quite make 28. He cast himself as a Neo-Pagan (becoming a central figure of an eponymous group of writers and artists) and Virginia confirmed this: “He was consciously and definitely pagan.” They were the original Teddy Boys, the reckless youth of the Edwardian era, rebelling against the constraints of stiff-collared Victorian ways.

Embodying the Neo-Pagan ideals of youth, comradeship and the Simple Life, Brooke revelled in going barefoot and skinny-dipping: “Two miles from Cambridge up the river I wander about barefoot and almost naked. I live on honey, eggs and milk.” (letter to Noel Olivier, summer 1909). A bit of Romantic exaggeration of course, but Rupert certainly enjoyed casting off a few layers.

This summer I had the Simple Pleasure of bathing in Lough Hyne, just outside of Baltimore (the one in West Cork as opposed to The Wire one). It is pretty much unique as a salt-water lake, quite the place to go if you want to hang with a goby, shanny, blenny, three-spined stickleback or clingfish. Its salty water reminded me of another top bathing experience – the Blue Hole, East of Port Antonio, Jamaica (aka the Blue Lagoon since Brooke Shields skinny-dipped there in 1980, directed by Randal Kleiser, who I had a ridiculous phonecall with when I was working at Solus – for some unaccountable reason I turned momentarily into The Player, luckily old Randy couldn’t see the tenderfoot at the other end of the transatlantic line). The Blue Hole is a mixed salt and fresh water lagoon, fed by cold underground springs. When you swim you have the unique experience of one stroke warm, next stroke cool, warm, cool, warm, cool, warm, cool. Divers and scientists say it has a depth of about 180 feet. Local islanders say it is bottomless and a monsterous creature lives down below. The mixture of intense physical pleasure and underlying anxiety of the sheer extent and unknowableness of Nature is an experience common to skinny-dippers the world wide.

The-Blue-Lagoon

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