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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Update: Decembering

I have it on (good?) authority that London is bitterly cold, Jeremy Clarkson is a complete idiot, and political correctness has, of course, gone barking mad – again (too tired to post link, just search for any comment site). And, of course, the kind of shocking stats that only come round once a year have returned, bringing with it some understandable cynicism as well as criticism of common ignorances that still persist.

I’ve not yet been gone two weeks, but stepping completely outside of your home environment, with little access to emails/phone etc can have the effect of making everything completely surreal. Or maybe it’s just me?
I’m travelling around, and currently in a not-so-small-anymore town in the Dom. Rep. where I once lived for a while. When I was last in the region, running water and electricity were limited, no one had broadband and horses were almost as common as 4x4s. It was a 2 hour journey to the airport through bumpy roads and the occasional (dodgy) police checkpoints. Now, whilst the power still goes out once in a while and water isn’t always forthcoming round these parts, the new toll road is as fast and as smooth as my Wi-Fi connection, there’s a massive baseball stadium round the corner, and I’ve just had a spin in my neighbour’s new wheels. Viva el progreso!
I’m also learning to appreciate the contradictions that life throws at you, and there are many here, because inequality seems to be exaggerated to the extreme. But I don’t want to talk about that now, especially as someone who is essentially an outsider, with only a week’s worth of observation under my belt. I came here to reconnect and relive, not to make socio-political commentary about the Caribbean.
My English is starting to get a bit confused, as is my Spanish, and I’m sure many of the bilingual people out there with similar experiences can testify to the complications that arise from adjusting to a second language. My dialect – or, better said, idiolect – is returning, along with several words and phrases I haven’t utilised for years, but it's not always coming out with the same fluency as it once did. It's a little frustrating not being at the same level, and just goes to show that language comes and goes, as does knowledge in general. You don't use it, you lose it! 
The poem, Search for my Tongue, by Siddartha Bhatt – which was on the GCSE syllabus when I was at school, and still is – resonated strongly with me the first time I returned to the UK after being here. Suddenly, in London, I was struggling to resurrect a native tongue I barely used here, and it felt easier to shout Cuida’o! than Watch Out! (which nearly got me involved in a traffic accident).
As this web page demonstrates, there are certain concepts that simply work better in one language over the other and some that can’t be translated. I, for one, would like to see an equivalent of the endearing diminutive –ito/-ita which, correct me if I’m mistaken, we only really have when it comes to names, in the form of –y. I think I’m way past being called Keithy, though.       
Christmas is approaching here, just as it is, incidentally, elsewhere around the world; however, the fact we’re in a tropical climate means nothing when it comes to fir tree decorations and depictions of snow-capped sleighs. In fact, whilst I was in the capital, I was amused to see Coca Cola’s annual Christmas tree, complete this year with a house with a chimney, right near Christopher Columbus’s old digs. Hmm. No further comment.
I’m not sure how much I’ll manage to blog up until Christmas, but I will do as and when I have the correct combination of time, energy and internet connection.
Hasta ahorita!



Which is nice and appropriate for what I've just posted below!

Postcard for the Album

These streets are made of domino slaps on wooden boards and diesel fuel
From irreverent motors wheezing up towards the old barrio they call Vietnam
And the same bachata song they’ve been playing till late all week
And the sleep of the dead
And the mangy old dog that hauls itself along and doesn’t chase the pickup trucks
Bearing gifts of freshly beheaded hens
But from the gutter barks its hoarse desire

A tyre on the ground marks the spot
And I’m learning again to make new friends
Out of the words I didn’t quite catch
Like the baseball OUT! I was supposed to deliver
And the tight-skin shiver of morning water from the rusty tap
And the sizzle of the outdoor pan
And the machete man and his sugarcane cart

Because these streets were constructed from all the spare parts
That make up the broke-down lives and histories I once knew
They were created by the stickiness of the self-same sun which hugs my shirtsleeves close
And slurs my tongue
And blurs the Polaroid perfections of all my recollections
Until you and me are here now dancing
Pega’ito outside some bodega or another where rum-soaked minds drink
The music of our dreams
And eat the tarmac of my silence.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


So quite a lot's happened in the past few days, and it looks like this could be my last post for a while. I'm off to the airport in a couple of hours and will have limited internet access over the next few weeks until Jan. I'm also leaving Camden for now as I've had to move out. So all that's left to do is find a random word to last me the next few days...

Logging off!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011



I like that. This could open doors to all sorts of ideas

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Postcards from Home, Part 4, I think...

Wish you were here.
Maybe we could drink in the irony
Of these soldiers of the night
Who wrestle not against flesh and blood
But against the dexterity of their own fingers
And infinite boredom

Maybe we could lay dexterous hands on each other
And I could wear the warmth of your skin around my neck
And hope some more

I need not now gulp a goodbye from my throat
Or wheeze another song

Through the overhangs of Monday's spine

I need not now succumb to the promise of soggy chips
Balanced on trembling digits

Because it is possible
That a warrior’s cry lies waiting
To be expelled from lungs
Long since sacrificed to the Smoke

And so, perhaps, I can hold these hands up
Against the Neon-lit streets
Against the tide of idle thoughts
Against the peculiar world
And answer your calls

Maybe you could say it is man’s duty
To tuck these thoughts in
And bite the tongue
And the bullets
And the bit pulling you back

And maybe I should stop wishing
To change the state of play

Me on way home the other day, photo is of a queue at midnight for Call of Duty 3 (the controversial modern warfare video game) ... Random idea in my head now which I've conflated with random idea in my head then... not sure if it works, but I'll play with it tomorrow)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Spanish (& English) Poetry Showcase!

So tonight is probably going to be one of the last - if not, the actual last - gig I do in London this year before I go off travelling.

For those of you who don't know - er, probably most people - the first time I ever went to a poetry event, it was a Spanish poetry night. I was kind of coaxed onto the stage and I remember reading out the poem "Walking Around" by Neruda (decent translation here, original here) which is probably still one of my favourite poems. So it's kind of fitting that I end the year poetically where it started several years ago.

I've also just heard Canadian poet Ian Keteku will be performing too, who I last met at the World Cup Slam in France (he won the title - and deserved it!), so there'll definitely be an international flavour to the night. If I have time to translate a more recent poem of mine into Spanish, I will. In any case, expect a mixture of English and Spanish, with a few poets translating both ways.

P.S. This should also be the last time that photo appears on a flyer. I mean, from all of my facebook pics, you'd think I was actually attached to a microphone... I'm not, honest!

Remember the 'Vember!

I wrote this last week and didn't post...

Well, it's only a few days - two weeks, actually - until I go travelling for a bit, returning in 2012. I've been trying to resist the urge to bundle 2011 up prematurely and start making all those promises to myself that I did last year (write more, finish the novel, become a better person...) but there's still, like, a tenth of it to go, so who knows what's coming next?

I couldn't help but moan in frustration when I got an e-alert from a writing forum, entitled 'Silly Season approaching' - the silliness in question being the mustachioed men of Movember and the 'I've-always-had-a-book-inside-me' ambitions of NaNoWriMo. Predictably - I rarely see things in black-and-white these days - I have mixed feelings on the latter although, ultimately, if someone can write a decent novel in a month, who am I to judge, simply because I can't do it in a year! Some people need the discipline of a strict time-frame, and I should probably include myself in that category. Having said that, I understand why people react negatively to projects such as this: to the casual observer, it can make writing seem easy, like you can just pick up a pen and out comes this bestseller, as if writing is a hobby on a par with crossword-filling and stamp-collecting. A few hours set aside here and there, and a well-structured, grammatically immaculate 90,000 word gem comes out. Voila!

Anyway, since I last updated, we've had Halloween, Bonfire Night, the seven billionth person on the planet, a resignation from Berlusconi (if he really exists) in addition to signs Europe is on the brink of financial collapse... oh yeah, and more annual poppy controversy (including Royal intervention). With all this in mind, it does feel as if there is a certain silliness in the air, or at least a lot of trivialisation and crassness. And I don't really want to qualify that comment much further, except to say :P

I'm hoping the next week or so goes smoothly, catching up with old friends, wrapping up work projects etc, and I'll continue to update until I head off.

Embracing the "silliness" in the meantime!



(I think I would have preferred 'bus', but you can't pick and choose)

Thursday, 27 October 2011




Close Up


UPDATE... (if it don't feel right, don't write)

Ok, so I lied about the today/tomorrow thing. Sorry. Punctuality isn't my style.

There's always something fascinating about watching the tiny world from above, particularly when you're on an island. Only a few miles away from the English coast and the clouds scatter, and every text costs you a minimum of 12p, and things sloooww, right, down, because most of the stuff you have to do will just have to wait a few days unless you want to be stuck with a larger phone bill than the already large phone bill you have.

Last week, there I was in Jersey with John Paul O'Neill (cue link to a really old bio page) and Deanna Rodger (cue link to podcast poem/discussion), leading a few workshops and setting up an Interschool Slam. And it was a good week working with Year 9s (13/14 year olds) on the theme of "journeys". Working with teens is always bound to lead to surprises and contradictions. The loud kids somehow managed to focus for a ten-minute freewrite, the quiet kids wrote about rock 'n' roll and learned how to shout on stage, and others even suprised themselves by what they came up with. 

In between, we had time to head to the beach and pontificate on the finer points of life, religion and, of course, Gaddafi. I find the hypocrisy of "the West'"s position too unsettling to feel joyous. No doubt, if I were born in Libya, I may feel differently, and I may have been queuing up to see his body (which I had to dubious privilege of seeing anyway, while watching Channel 4 news). I guess it's true that, however much you value independence of thought, most of that thought originates from where you are born and where you live.

in "thinking mode"

Speaking of birth and independence of thought, today I've been reading some of the comments/letters to the unnamed 7 billionth child due to be born next Monday. I plan to use the 7bnth child for the theme of a poem I'm writing, and I'll comment on my progress when I do. 

Apparently, it was only 12 years ago when the Guardian Newspaper asked Salman Rushdie to write to the 6th billionth child. Understandably, for someone with a fatwa against him, simply for writing a book - a book! - he spent some time talking about how religion is "[w]rong, wrong, wrong", in a piece called Imagine No Heaven. The conclusion of the letter was to imagine that there is no heaven and, "at once the sky's the limit!" I can't share in that assertion, partly for the fact that the unwavering beliefs and ignorance he speaks of lay on both sides of the religous/non-religious divide but mostly because the sky is only the limit for those born with passports and easy-to-come-by visas. Discuss...

So I was roaming around West London the other day - I often am - and I spotted this. I'm used to pessimistic - and often dodgy, in all senses - scribbles on Camden walls ("Immigration enriches the prison population" and the like), but this made me stop for a second. A gravestone for Originality.

Since the scriptures recorded the phrase "There's nothing new under the sun", people have been reinventing it, and bemoaning all attempts at newness. In a poem I never quite could get a handle on, Reason(in)gs (Unfinished), I wanted to explore something a teacher of mine did actually say, which is that people are just clones of each other, and since he'd started teaching 20-odd years ago, he'd only met about a dozen original pupils (not the more generous 30 I gave him in the poem). With that in mind, I wonder how many other graffitti artists around the world have drawn something similar recently! And how many people have commented. And whether, if we subscribe to the fatalism of our "cloneliness", we should all just stop talking, writing, singing, exploring...

I was amused a few months back to see a perspex frame around some graffiti on the wall of a house near mine. Since then, I've seen the same in a couple of other places. Banksy did it, so it's valuable. And sellable. Unsuprisingly, a few days later,  I learnt in the Camden New Journal that the owners were trying to sell the art (but not the house!) for £4,000. Phew! And, I guess, for me it solidifies the fact that there truly is nothing new under the sun. Greed will always be with us. I mean, Banksy may be a good artist, but how to sell a drawing on a wall? I'm not sure it was theirs to sell, and it seems a bit ridiculous. Or am I just being judgemental again...? I'm prepared to be challenged on this. A challenge is as good as a rest, or something like that...

On the poetry front again, all is good, and I have a few things in the pipeline awaiting confirmation. I've also just completed a poem today, and I'll have to choose carefully where I perform it (yeah, I know)! Fiction is going to be interesting over the next few weeks - I've jotted down a plan for a series of stories I'm writing; I'm resurrecting a project I thought I'd put to bed over a year ago, and I guess it must be wake up time now. The novel is something I'm prepared to sit on for a while. My motto, for the time being, is if it don't feel right, don't write...

Went to Sage & Time yesterday and it was a good night! Abraham Gibson's poem about Margaret Thatcher's African lover hit the spot, as did Tim Wells on the riots, and Hackney shootings. (And how could I have forgotten Captain of the Rant! I'll never buy pre-sliced veg again, after his rant/poem on the subject...) It's great that poetry can be versatile enough to take the rough with the humorous, often simultaneously. Like the street graffiti I see around me, a lot of poetry seems to be taking on a political awareness that wasn't so common before. Things are getting serious. And I think it's a good thing.

On that note, I intend to stop by the Occupy London site later today or tomorrow. I think it showed some guts for the canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral to resign earlier. If you have no idea what I'm on about, it's all to do with the global protests that have been going on. More info on UK and world happenings can be found here and here and elsewhere (seem to be linking a lot today!) I'll write more once I do!

Monday, 24 October 2011



It's coming soon (today/tomorrow)



Hmm. This one leaves me with a bitter taste in the mouth

Monday, 17 October 2011

Tonight: On the Spot - Improvised Poetry Battle

Yep, yep, yep! After the last poetry battle that took place at Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Midnight Matinée, you wouldn't have thought they'd let us back! Expect shocking rhymes from a bunch of poets who - with the notable exception of Curious - have never really taken to the 'battle' scene. Forced to improvise, the results are hilarious.

This time round, there'll be a few more poets and a few more games to liven things up. Freestyling aside, we'll each get to do a mini-set and there's an open mic spot too so, all in all, it looks like it'll be a fun night.

The sad thing is I actually thought I'd be good last time! I'm used to freestyling at home, in the shower (like to scour, there for half an hour, thank God I switched to N Power... you know how I flow, innit though! That kind of thing...) Let's just say there were a few instances where we were all rolling on the floor laughing. No doubt this time there'll be even more belly laughs.



(Yep, that's it)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Thinking Harder

BHM '11

So it's October again! It's Black History Month again and, once more, people are discussing how relevant it is. These two facts are certainly more predictable than British weather.

Once more, my feelings are mixed - a bit like the BBC's mixed race season (see how I did that?) On the one hand, you have the Prime Minister, David Cameron - David Cameron for goodness sake! - writing a nice little address for the official BHM guide, which you can view here. In it, he talks of "shared values", a "spirit of togetherness", and he mentions our "broken economy" and "Big Society", all in one meaningless sweep - seriously, what does it all mean? It reads like any standard company letter, with keywords such as "delighted" and "opportunity" thrown into the mix, complete with his big brand ideas.

In this modern age, you have to be seen to be endorsing the right products, saying the right things, smiling at the right moments (and in the right way, unlike our last PM!) And whilst, sure, there is plenty of substance to ground BHM, it risks becoming yet another box-ticking exercise to "keep the natives happy".

Sometimes it feels as if it's being used as an opportunity to roll out a spate of programmes to fit the quota of "cultural" identity. And then we can all educate the kids about Mary Seacole and Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, then forget about the whole thing, right? A poet I have much love and respect for, Anna Le, sums up my sentiment in this poem, with this line: "Who eats enough in any one month that you need not eat again for the rest of the year?"

On the other hand, it's great to see things changing. When I was at school there was almost no reference to Black people in History outside the context of slavery and Empire. Outside of the classroom, there were few programmes with black or Asian actors on television, pop magazines - and especially lifestyle/fashion ones - deliberately avoided having black artists featured on the cover and 'black' was pretty much confined to cops-and-robbers shows, sports programmes and rap videos. So, while the present day could do with a few improvements on the race relations front, at least efforts are being made to make history more inclusive.
This month allows several previously-forgotten aspects of history to be made accessible to a wider audience. Who am I to do anything other than applaud that?

History deserves to be taught in all of its fullness; however, history will always be subjective, will always be written by the victors, and retold according to the whims of the zeitgeist (and endorsed or disregarded by the leaders of the day). So, right about now, I'm more concerned about the future.

(And not a single black model in the advertising pages, so I hear)

Jiizas:  Di Buk We Luuk Rait Bout Im

Lately, I've been listening to the Gospel of Luke in Jamaican Patois. I heard of the translation project a few months back, which aims to complete the whole New Testament next year, when Jamaica celebrates is 50th year of independance. The whole idea of a Patois Bible has come under a little criticism and derision from Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans alike, but, sifting through the snobbery and paranoia of forum threads, it has made me think harder about a few issues.

Now, I'm not looking at it as if I were some kind of linguistics scholar. What interests me more is the seemingly conscious shift from defining Caribbean language patterns as 'broken', non-standard, or simply 'dialects', to referring to them as patois, creoles and even separate languages. To me, it's part of the 'officialisation' of a language that's always felt organic and natural to speak and hear; this is bound to have some positive and negative effects.

One thing it brings up is the standardisation process. By commiting a lexicon to paper, you could say it stems its development; a lecturer of mine, quoting someone else, once referred to dictionaries as 'graveyards for words'; I do wonder how he would describe a bible, then? Purgatory? Because language is a living, evolving thing, and commiting it to paper - particularly a form of language that has a predominantly oral tradition - can, arguably, limit its evolution. So the argument goes.

The phonetics-based system the translators are using to write is also a complicated issue. Take the title: 'Jiizas: Di Buk We Luuk Rait Bout Im'. It isn't particularly easy on the eye, nor does it give any visual clues to readers of any form of English as to what it might mean. 'Jesus: De Book Whe Luke Write Bout Im' is simpler for some, but using this more common transcription would create other problems. Another writer, here, has highlighted the issue much more simply and eloquently than I just have...

Anyway, I'm not so hung up on that side of things. The most important argument, I think, is that of the 'officialisation process'. Let's face it, certain accents/dialects/languages are taken more seriously than others. Growing up in the UK, Jamaican Patois and, in fact, any sort of Caribbean inflection suggested informality; from comedy shows to Malibu ads, anyone on television speaking with a Caribbean accent of any kind needed a 'laid-back' reggae backing, some dreadlocks and possibly a little spliff nearby. Yeah man! And where popular culture has borrowed from Jamaican language in this country, only its cruder forms receive any attention. A five-year old precurser to that foolish man David Starkey's speech about the "whites becoming black" (I'm loathe to link him, actually) can be found in - of all the most politically correct papers - The Daily Mail (I'm loathe to link this too). The premise of the article is that so-called Jafaican - a melange of words, with a strong influence from Jamaican Patois - is 'wiping out' native slang.  

In the meantime, we've had Rastamouse, making a bad ting good, and the idea has apparently sold to several countries outside of the UK. At least for small children, Caribbean-derived dialects/patois have lost some of that air of threat around them!

If, outside of the Caribbean, people are beggining to respect the dialects and creoles that it produces, it only - to me at least - follows as a logical step that inside the Caribbean, this process should be occurring ever the more. Wherever you stand on religion, that isn't the point. The point is how we view language is changing and, as a writer, I think that's a good thing. Others may disagree. Discuss.

Failing Well and Failing Often

I've been searching for an article that was forwarded to me a few months ago. I simply can't remember who sent the email - though I've narrowed it down - and I can't remember who wrote the article. Simply the main premise, which is that in order to come up with a piece of work that is exceptional in both creativity and daring, you have to prepare to fail.

Of course, the idea of 'failing courageously' transcends writing and other art forms and is equally valid for almost any other endeavour. As I scoured the web, looking for this elusive article, I found this video by a Harvard lecturer, this article from The Economist and hundreds of other pieces of motivational 'material', mostly marketing and business-oriented with catchy little expressions, like 'how to fail often and fail well' etc. It's mind-blowing to see how many failures there are out there! But the premise is always the same - if you are doing something new or different, expect it not to work the first time... or the second. And maybe not even the third, if at all. There'll be a reason why most other people haven't chosen the path you have, so you can either try the road that's already been tried and tested, or you can experiment with something new, but don't expect it to work immediately - and don't expect it to be accepted or understood.

So, yeah, I get all of that, but it doesn't change the fact that failure is a difficult thing. When it comes to business, great, if you have the money, but in the creative sphere, reputation is key. I've mentioned before the times when I've been reluctant to perform new poems, simply because, on an emotional level, if you feel you've failed with something you've written - from your soul! - then it can be a real blow. And the reverse is true: I have one or two poems which some people know me by. To them I'm not Keith, but "the dude that did that poem". Which is great, until you realise you have to keep writing more!

As far as the novel's concerned, I rarely talk about it. It's an ambitious project, and the more I write, the more I realise I need to refine it, add more complex structures, change the narrators, tighten certain chapters, and make the story clearer at the same time. On some level, by returning to the first chapter and beginning again half a dozen times, I've failed. And I'm actually ok with that failure. I understand it's natural. Etc. etc. Blah, blah. But it hurts every time.

Fiction is one of those weird things. There are a few rulebooks out there but, ultimately, there are no rules. The fact about fiction is you're making up a whole new world - or universe - from scratch, even if the story is based on reality. The only limit, perhaps, is you have to convey this all in words, and the words are confined to the language(s) you're writing in. So there are plenty of opportunities for failure. And the biggest failure comes about when when the story fails to convince. And the only failsafe measure of determining whether it's convincing or not is to show it to people, and to put your work about. And if you do that, and fail, and continue to write, you are undergoing a challenge only a madman would take up. Which probably corroborates my assertions that the act of writing itself is a form of madness...

Anyway, it's time I actually did some, so I'm logging off!  



(But don't think about it now)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

London Slam! Championships

Featuring on Thurs at Farrago's London Slam, and interested to see who takes the title this year! More details here.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


It's National Poetry Day today. This year's theme is "Games", no doubt inspired by the Olympics, set to hit us poor folks in London next year. I had taken it upon myself to write a poem using the games theme, but it's not happening right now.

Tuesday's gig at Hackney went well. I did a couple of new poems, and sat through an interesting Slam! Anyone who was there can testify to that... Next gig is a feature at next week's Farrago London Slam Championships. Details to follow later.

I'm about to continue writing another chapter and at the same avoiding reading the news for the rest of the day, which is difficult. Earlier this morning, I decided to dig up a few drafts of poetry I want to work on - among them is Existence (see below) which, in retrospect, feels a bit naïve to me. But it's been interesting linking a few phrases with the things that inspired the poem, like New Labour's 1997 election video (cheese alert!). Now, I was only a bebby back then, but I can't forget the absolute feeling of hope and confidence that a lot of people had.

Anyway, in absolute defiance of NPD, I best get on with writing some solid prose!   



Now that's cool...

Drafts Folder Day, 1: Existence

I'm not an optimist
I'm not a pessimist
I'm not a "realist"
I just exist

I exist as in just living
Scraping by on the scraps of promises we're fed
Like "Things can only get better"
Like "We're all in this together"
Like "Yes, we can!"
Believing in change
But still ending up short-changed
Every time
By the grey men
In grey suits
Who dictate our fate at a whim
But they're only skimming the surface
Of muddy waters
While the rest of us are treading through the sludge
No strength left in our legs to resist
So we just exist

I exist
Surrounded by noise
Like the noise of lips smacking
To make promises that aren't kept
The noise of targets unmet
And hopes dashed
The crinkling sound of the mysteriously absent
Bankers cash
The grumbles of the silent majority
The noise of TV applause
Coming from the flat behind
The noise of the mind
The deafening sound of too many opinions
Vying for room
In this vacuum we live in
The noise of lips pursing
While purses clip closed
The noise of minds slamming shut
Hearts sealing up
And arms, designed to embrace
That now only know how to explode

But, please, don't count this
My contribution to the weight of noise pollution
As the views of a bitter pessimist

Because I also exist
In unexpected smiles
And stolen glances on tube rides
I exist by believing that everyone has some good
On the inside
Whatever "good" is
I still exist for this

And at the risk of speaking for the nation
I believe that somewhere
In between the cracks, the shells, the shards
Of what they call "Broken Britain" we all exist
Between paycheques we exist
Between rounds we exist
While friends pretend to not notice
Whose turn it is to pay the tab
Between chips and pins we exist
And even at the end of clenched fists
We exist in the hope of kisses
And in between these kisses we exist
Coming up for air at intervals that we only hope will get narrower
Because deep inside we still believe
That things can only get better
And that we're all in this together
(no, sorry, let's face it, some of us are way more in it than others)
But we believe that yes, we can
We can change
We can improve
And we persist
See-sawing in between dreams and aspirations
And despite disappointments from the grey men
We still surprise ourselves with our innovations
And our ingenuity

So, no, I'm not a pessimist
Nor am I an optimist
Or even a "realist"
Because I value dreams more than truth
And hope more than cold fact
Every day
I exist for just that. 

Remember some of these slogans? A poem I found in my 'drafts' folder, which I must have written early this year... Ok, time for an edit

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Email forwards...

A friend sent me this in the e-post this morning. Think it chimes in nicely with the Word of the Day. Talk about turning writing into something vital! 



Ha! Got just the thing...

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


More details on facebooook. Promises to be a crazy night, if not only for Henry Bowers!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Mysterious Ways (or Typing in Tongues)

Some say she misheard
"In the beginning
Was Word..."

That she began
My Documents
Allowing the spell
Of her checker
To work in mysterious ways

Some say she is a Profit-
Trying to con-
A career
From finger spasms on a keyboard

Some say the Lord
Poured his Spirit
Into epileptic hands

The rest of us don't

Ok, sorry... Didn't mean to trivialise something that would otherwise make me angry but there is a funny side to the story. 



Here we go again...

OCTOBER... all over (and a few clichés thrown in for good measure)

Yep, in the old days, it would have been the end of hurricane season by now. There's a finality about October that makes me gulp a little. By the end of the month, clocks will have changed and the days will be noticeably shorter and TV adverts will have got that little bit more Christmassy.  But, for now, things are happening a little differently; I've been rocking a vest and shorts all weekend, and a lot of people in the street, even less. And, yes, things are going to change soon, but the season's going down fighting.

Writing has been pretty difficult as I'm never sure which philosophy to subscribe to. On the one hand, there's a good friend of mine who wakes up at 5am every day to write. She works a nine-to-fiver and uses her lunch break to write. She goes to the gym after work and, while she's running, she's listening to music which relates to the people and time she's writing about. She'll come home and read a book or watch a film that, again, isn't entirely irrelevant to what she's writing about. And when I see her, we'll talk about - you've guessed it - writing. And she'll probably use words like discipline or deadlines or dedication and I'll feel quite geed up by her passion, which makes me love her to bits (and if she doesn't have any success then we're all doomed!). For her, writing hurts. It's hard work. It's time-consuming. It isolates friends and relationships, and it's pretty much a second job. She writes whether she's in the mood or not, and solidly.

On the other hand, there are people I know who insist that writing should always flow easily, that you should only write when you're in "the zone", and if you don't put finger to keyboard, or pen to paper, for days - perhaps even weeks or months - on end, it doesn't stop you being a writer. For them, any attempts to impose order on the creative process is doomed to failure. In fact, one of these people writes the most amazing prose ever, but I don't think he's even written anything this year! And, yet still, there are some predictable authors you know are about to drop another book every couple of years, whereas other disappear for ages. Junot Diaz, for instance, is one of the most incredible writers I've read and it took him 11 years to write his last novel, so I doubt he was writing solidly all that time, military-fashion.

Anyway, all this to say I've found it difficult. It's always tricky to answer questions like "how's your novel?" or "what's it all about then?" or "when you gonna finish the thing?" even when it's all going well. So, on the bad days, I end up wondering why I spend time doing something so ridiculous as creating another world in my head - complete with its own stories and characters - and writing it all down. Especially as it is such hard work that rarely gives out any tangible reward. Writing fiction and poetry is a kind of madness, and I won't be the first, or the last, to say this. And calling yourself a writer without being able to point to your latest besteller sometimes seems madder still. 

It's a real pain typing the word "cliché" on here because, unless you want to cut-and-paste you have to remember that you press ALT and 130 to make the "é" symbol, which seems a little extreme/long-winded for such an insignificant but overused word. And the reason why I wanted to type the word "cliché" is even more long-winded - and perhaps irrelevant. In fact, I've decided to delete the paragraph in which the aforementioned word appears altogether. The jist of it can be summarised thus: I was doing this small-talk thing with a friend-of-a-friend kind of person I met and got really awkward about answering where I'm from (in this case, a loaded question with an answer that didn't satisfy him) and what I do (which I'm never sure how to answer for several reasons). Thankfully, the conversation veered itself into "safe" territory and we ended up discussing language and "favourite words", but it bugged me that it bugged me. And the cliché of the conversation, and the cliché of it bugging me blah blah blah, yeah that bugs me even more.

If there's anything that unites writers across various disciplines, it's that you avoid cliché at all costs. Some people get so sensitive to it that they end up coughing and spluttering at the mere hint of cliché, in conversation, writing, advertising, wherever. Whilst I agree clichés often highlight a lack of imagination, I also find many "anti-clichéists" are simply snobs. There are people among them who insist authors like Dan Brown, and all his readers, should be hanged, drawn and quartered for butchery of the English language. In fact, I went to a lecture once where students applauded when this was suggested by the speaker. Anyway, I think I'm veering of topic, since this was meant to be a to-the-point update, as promised about 2 weeks ago. But, there you have it, sometimes when I write "later", I mean in a couple of hours but on the odd occasion, it means a couple of weeks.

In any case, it looks like an interesting week coming up, with one gig at Hammer & Tongue (details to follow) on Tuesday, and National Poetry Day on Thursday and, most of all, with my drive to write resurrected, mostly because I've solved an issue I had with the novel. But I better get the week off to a good start and prepare for tomorrow!

Thursday, 15 September 2011


...coming later!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Word Count Today....


and rising (I hope).

I've just begun part 2 of the novel, written in first-person. It's slightly frustrating because I have to go right back to the beginning again - that's how I've structured it - but it's good to be with a new voice, going over the same story from a different perspective.

I may spend some of the afternoon working on a short, and tweaking some more poetry I've written recently. Feels good to be in full flow for a change.


You want to know if I still go church
And if “those” rumours are true
You conceal these queries in a poke
And a few LOLs

We exchange smileys over lunchtime
Clicking in a way we never did before
And there are invitations to chat
Pop-up windows opening up to the soul

In vain we try to reconnect
Over vague reminiscences
Like that alleyway in Ilford
Littered with our secret pasts

I do not ask why now
I’ll leave these questions to the confessional
Of your inbox
While we make do with polite bitching
Over the status
Updates of a particularly mouthy friend
We both share

We play tag
Clicking on old photographic gems
From the albums of mutual friends
We 'like' this game
And we’re not shy of announcing it
Over... and over again

I do not ask why
And there are words I find
Too difficult to pronounce
On this particular keyboard:
You still have a way
Of making my fingers freeze

You are the one I forgot
To block
The one I cannot simply delete
From my mind
You make me feel
Like this network
Is closing in around my neck

Thursday, 1 September 2011



Hmmm. I'm just glad I didn't get "fronting". Although I could have had some good rhymes out of that one...

SEPTEMBER, remember! (and other sayings...)

Pinch, punch... another month! According to the "old time" hurricane poem (June, too soon, July, stand by, August, it must...), this is the month to remember.

So far, one day in, it looks more like the month to put on layers. Summer hasn't been all it's promised, and then, again, that reminds me of yet another poem I have hanging up on my wall, beginning: "To persevere in hope of summer/To adapt to its broken promise..." No one stays in the UK for the weather, right?

Well, in any case, this summer's gone by pretty quickly. Apart from taking pictures of the name "Keith", which seemed to be plastered all over Paris walls (and someone was kind enough to write "ass hall" underneath the first one I saw), I haven't actually achieved that much. But I've forgiven myself. It's summer! The living's easy, the cotton's high and the fish are jumping, whatever that means to you.  

The writing's also not been going as badly as it could be. The poetry seems to flow more these days, whereas the prose requires more dedicated effort. And the wording of that last sentence sends horrible shivers of memory down my spine (anyone whose school reports were littered with "potential" should be able to relate). It's getting there, it's getting easier, it's going to get done. It has to. Enough said!

Meanwhile, I'm really chuffed for a friend of mine, Olja Knezevic. She's just had her first book published - soon to be translated into English, I'm told - and it's already caused quite a storm in Montenegro. It's called Milena, and Other Social Reforms, and from snippets I've read, it's mind-blowing stuff.

Speaking of storms, have you heard the one about the latest big hurricane - with the deceptively innocuous name, Irene - being blamed on New York's lack of fiscal responsibility? Michele Bachmann, who wants to run for US presidency, has been running off her mouth again. She already looked an idiot by contradicting herself in her "I don't judge gays" interview, but what I find odd is that she's being given air time. I'm probably just as guilty for reprinting this but, surely... seriously.... say whaat? Once again, it feels like the time it takes for history to repeat itself is narrowing into microseconds. Remember this? The televangelist who blamed Haiti's pact with the devil (over 200 years ago, mind) on the earthquake that hit them recently? Or this? Feminists, abortionists and homosexualists blamed for September 11th? I have no problem with people voicing their beliefs - better out than in, as they say - but if you're in front of a TV camera, or expecting people to get behind you... really? The two previous people had to apologise, and now the latest has laughed it all off as a joke. Ha ha!

And this all makes me remember the simple rhyme we were taught as children:

"There was a wise owl who lived in an oak
The more he heard, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why aren't we like that wise old bird?"

I was recited this a few times as as kid, by way of telling me to shut up. That, and "children should be seen and not heard", although the latter was usually said with tongue in cheek. What I never got to ask was, what was out there that the owl needed to hear more of? Or, more importantly, did he really speak less because he was so shocked by what he heard? There seems to be a strange cause/effect thing going on here.... Or, actually, did he speak less because he was eavesdropping and would have been given a huge beating if he was discovered?

Never mind all that... What really bugs me most now is knowing that the less the owl speaks the less other birds get to listen to the owl... There is a reverse side to this whole business here! If he shuts up completely, the whole concept of dialogue disappears. And I think dialogue has its place, even if all you learn from it is that the person(s) you're conversing with has some ideas you find dodgy.

I find Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet interesting for this (you know the book that became a hit among yuppie folk back when I was in nappies...) The subject of the book, the "Prophet", states that "you talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts" and that, "in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered". Here, like in many writings, both religious and secular, keeping silent is seen as virtuous.

That idea of silence as a virtue is one I've adopted by default, as I'm never short of opinions being offered, whereas the people who keep their thoughts hidden and eyes furrowed - like that "deep" person sitting quietly in the corner while everyone else is racing around fighting over some big idea - always catch my eye. They're the ones who seem to be above it all. The ones who seem to have it figured out. They shout with their expressions and it can be quite unnerving, or desirable, depending on the circumstance. 

Or maybe the real reason I like to stay quiet sometimes is I think I might be wrong, or sound stupid, or reveal too many secrets when I speak? Maybe a little of all of these... In any case, I don't rate the wise owl's wisdom as much as I used to. Sometimes, only listening to the sounds of other people is just as mad as ranting out loudly to yourself in the street.     

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Things have been a bit weird... Haven't updated here for a while and I might not be blogging regularly over the next few weeks until I resume my normal routine in September. But here's the basics:


Up until the last week or so, I've been writing fairly consistently. I've submitted a few poems to competitions and I plan to redraft some of the poems I've posted on here.  I'm also rediscovering what it is to enjoy reading poetry, as well as listening to it.

It was also touching to be a part of the memorial to Fran Landesman last Friday. I've quoted her on here before - she was a witty lyricist who was also a regular at a poetry night I've been involved with several times. Her song, "Scars", in particular will stay with me - and the following lines:

Don't be ashamed
If your covered with scars
On this planet of ours
That's the way we keep scores


In the past couple of weeks I've learnt that deleting words is harder and more time-consuming than writing them in the first place. I've been working on a couple of short stories but the novel is an "no-go" topic at the moment. The stories, on the other hand, are coming together nicely!


As I write, there's a lot of unrest over the Capital and, apparently, it's hit Camden High Street tonight. Being near a police station, I'm used to hearing sirens all the time and it doesn't sound much different to me. But I'm at home, mum, so don't worry! Some of it, I feel, is inevitable. [Sighs] And I think the repercussions will be painful. But I don't feel it's my place to comment too much right now, even though it seems that's all everyone else is doing.

Despite recently posting to say the same thing, I had almost forgotten how much weight is given to speculation and hearsay on the news these days. Although, I'm still waiting to hear the following: "The reason why these riots are happening is because our youths can no longer take out books from their local libraries. And sports shops were targeted because they need trainers so they can walk the extra couple of miles to their nearest libraries". If that were the case, I would applaud it, but the atmosphere of opportunism and anger is far more difficult to pin down to a political point. So instead, like everything else, I fear this episode will be used as just yet another rag doll for people to use to their own ends whilst the actual underlying problems will remain.


Looking forward to Wiersze W Metrze on Saturday, showcasing some of the best of Polish (and UK) poetry! I'll post full details on if I can in the morning.

Have a few things planned for the Autumn, but that's it for August...

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Sound of Alone

The drip of a tap
A flush from upstairs
The passing of years
Like the tick of the time

The sound of alarms
Microwave dings
And lukewarm water
Showering down
On a morning soul

The press of a remote control
Reluctant under the thumb
The silence of mute
The hum of the fridge
And all the other things you know
Pitch perfect

Like that creak of the door
And the groan of the floor
And that mattress
That knows you so well
It sighs under the weight
Of your dreams

Now, do you remember your dreams?
Like the chair remembers
Your bends
And dents accordingly

Recite them, please
Those whispers of verses
That itch for release
And the twitch of desires
That hide underneath

Will you simply turn the volume up
And drown them out
Like you drowned the floor in clothes
That your heart was too heavy to fill?

Empty their contents
Into greedy ears
And voice them!
Savour them on your tongue
And then spit them into life!

For it is night
And the cars outside are nearly still
And the streets are drunk
In revelling
And there is music
Oh, there is so much music
In the back of your throat

Can you taste each note?

Sing them out loud
But don't commit them to page
For the words won't stick down
They will float away

Like your memory
Of this feeling
When you awake
To the drip of the tap
And the warm of the shower
And the mind of the gap
And the rush of the hour

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Woo weee! It's all happening! (The wise old owl has landed!)

Sage & Time is celebrating its first birthday, and I'll be one of about 30 poets to bless the stage. Looks like it's going to be a very packed, fun-filled night!

It'll be at the Charterhouse Bar (near Smithfields Market), and doors open 7pm! More deets here (Facebook page).

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thoughts, July 26th

I think I'm turning into a cynic.

Yeah, I know. Roll your eyes, kiss your teeth. Whatevs. I don't actually want to be cynical about certain things but it's this part of my nature that keeps bursting out. Worse still, I look for a cure on Google by typing "Cure for...", and it tries to autofill the rest, like it knows me. First up, it thinks I'm looking for a cure for cancer. And then Aids. (Try typing in the results for either and you'll be in cynic heaven). So when I finally get cynicism down, the first results that come up are no help whatsoever. First, there's a site claiming an exceptional American Rabbi to be the ultimate cynic cure. But nothing about the practicalities, although I guess it would help if I were Jewish. And it would help if he were still alive (he died in 1994). And then there's the Cynic's Sanctuary, which lists 714 things to be cynical about, which can only exacerbate the problem. So before I get bored, I randomly select another page, which suggests Tokyo is the perfect cure to cynicism. But, apparently, I have to lose something there first and look for it the next day, or week, or whatever, because the Japanese - or, more specifically, the people of Tokyo - are very honest and like to return things. So, in 2005 (the article was written in 2006), 100,247 mobiles were reported missing and, of those, around 90,000 were handed in to the police.

Sorry, I don't mean to be cynical, but I'd hate to buy a ticket to Tokyo so I can lose my phone, just so I can end up being one of the 10,000 people who don't get theirs back...

The other thing on my mind that everyone's talking about is the News of the World/ Murdoch Empire story. For me, it's starting to wear thin. I know people who gladly read sensationalist stories and talk about celebrities as if they know them. I'm guilty too of flicking over to 24-hour news channels, as if there's a constant stream of stories out there (and I suppose there is, but most of the stories are deemed too uninteresting for public consumption). And I feel like I'm the only one who wasn't surprised there was a lot of illegal activity. How else do you feed public thirst for the latest scandals? Are people just going to volunteer to hand over their dirty laundry for public inspection? Methinks not.

So, whilst I'm glad to see such a hateful paper go, and some of the power behind it, I don't think it will end corruption, either in the media or the police. And I think there is greater political corruption to be uncovered. And, worse still, there are other papers out there making money out of it by playing the  "sanctimonious card" with really bad morals...

For instance, I was suprised when the Norwegian Massacre story broke out and no one knew any details about the killer. Yet, the following day, The Sun decided to run an article calling it "Norway's 9/11" and there were reports about how Al Qaieda has begun using "blue-eyed blond haired" allies to carry out its atrocities. I can't really state my point more eloquently than Will Sturgeon does on The Media Blog, but it really does seem that speculation has become the new news. So, whilst on the one hand, there are papers illegitimately sourcing information to fill their pages, there are others out there with nothing to go on, filling it with rubbish that may or may not be true.

To highlight the point, when Amy Winehouse was reported dead, I knew it would be a matter of minutes before all the stories came out about her going on a drug binge etc etc. But, according to actual reports so far, no cause of death has been stated. And no drugs were found at her house. So, for now, it should be left simply as that. She's had a colourful enough time of it in the past few years without the need to embellish her departure with more tales of drugs cocktails before bed time.

She was almost certainly Camden's most famous resident. And despite the celeb status, she was only a few months older than me, and lived only a few minutes walk from my flat, so there was something shocking for me about someone so close in age/location etc. So I was really sad to hear the news. And I still am. Although, this week has been the first I've heard of the "27 club". Once again - and, perhaps insensitively - it's a way of labelling and classifying people, this time troubled musicians who die aged 27.

Anyway, on Sunday, I walked by the Square roughly where I thought she lived, and of course, I came across the shrines. Bearing in mind I do live in Camden, I've never seen so many cigarettes and bottles on the streets, in such a small area!

Malibu, yeah great, but why the Caffe Nero cups??

I'll leave it here for now and get on with some work...



Grr! Just when I'm off work, I get a word that makes me think of work emails! If I get Windows next time, then something's up with the generator I use. Having said that, it reminds me of sitting in a workshop in Jersey, back last September, and all the participants had to use the word Vista for this free-writing exercise. I think I was the only one who had computers on the mind, so it probably says more about me than anything else...


They call it tapping
Like the gentle pulse of two fingers
On a desk
Like the squeeze
Of water from a pipe
Like a broken rhythm
And shiny shoes
Going clickety clack on a stage

But this is no tap dance
Designed to entrance
You with its subtle footwork
There is no artistry
Or delicacy
Or elegance

This is the heavy hand of headlines
Stamping across the page
Stories sold
And money paid
To hush mouths
And open others

This is the tears of mothers on tape
This is tales that wag
And Wags that tell
And teeth that tut
Over front pages

This is the smell of rotting trees
Branching out into the spying game
This is the rootless world in which we live
Where we feed off murky sources

And they call it tapping
Like two shy fingers stroking on a door
Or like a gentle wake up call
From a lover

But this is life
This is the news
This is information

On tap

Teen Angst(?), Part IV

Ok, something else from the past... Again, written around 14.

I'm reluctant to post this, but I've just found this again and feel like sharing. I guess it's one of the most personal things I wrote at the time. There's enough of a gap between now and then but I still find it troubling to read:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011



How mysterious!


I'm remembering how to enjoy writing prose. Yesterday, I finished a short story which is, frankly, not an easy read - nor was it easy to write - but it was certainly a lot of fun.

They say you should start off with what you know, and I know what British rain is like, and I know what Pentecostal churches are like, and I married them together - with the help of some actual rain in the background and a text back from my brother, reminding me of a few ol' time choruses.

On the poetry front, I haven't written much this week, but I have been reading. Which is good, I suppose, as I like to think of myself as much more of a reader than a writer. And I seem to be buying more books than I can read at the moment. So at least I know how I'm going to be spending my summer...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Tavistock (168)

It's just another square, today
Trees, grass, a statue or two and traffic stuttering along
Me on the top deck
Sat next to a man in pinstripe
With bad taste in Lady Gaga songs

But his white leads aren't connected to any bombs
And soon this bus will pass
Until we reach another square
And then my stop
Where I get off
Limbs intact and late again
And damp with summer rain


At LOTF tomorrow and looking forward. Back Sunday, with any luck...

More deets at, and possibly a couple of tickets still going!

Teen Angst(?), part III

POST- COMMENT: Yeah, I didn't think about the significance of choosing this particular one until just now... Hence I've just written Tavistock (above).  

Something else I wrote around age 14... Handwriting's meant to improve with age, apparently, but mine's definitely got worse:



I like this one... a lot to work with

JULY, stand by...

So, since I last updated this blog, we've seen in a new month, and I've celebrated a new year of my life. I miss being excited about getting older! But it's just another year, and I wasn't all that enthused about the whole thing, so I didn't really celebrate that much - although, actually, thinking about it, I never have done.

According to the hurricane poem I remember from childhood, July is the month to "stand by". (June = too soon). And I do feel this is a bit of a standby month. I'm waiting for school to break up, so I'll have more time free to write and travel, and I also have my fingers crossed for a couple of projects, which I'm waiting to hear about.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend last night and, it's true, no matter what you do - even if it's meant to be enjoyable - it's very easy to be so busy that you don't give yourself the time to enjoy it all. Up to now, that's how I've felt about writing prose. If I'm working on the novel, I need to give myself enough time to clear my head and connect with the characters I'm writing about. If I'm too busy, it doesn't work - my head space is someplace else and, at best, all I can write is a mediocre poem or a paragraph that gets deleted the next day. So I'm making it my duty to spend enough time with my characters, and allow myself to get absorbed in them. It's pretty hard to do when I have my phone on and I'm sitting at a computer that's connected to the internet - I have an awkard love/hate relationship with Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and Gmail - but it seems impossible to be totally rid of them.

In any case, I've decided that this is a winding-down month for my social life - and perhaps for poetry too - and it's time I start completing this thing!! Further update on the novel to follow!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Postcards from Home, Part 2

A postcard can be a kept as a keepsake, something you keep for the sake of it. It can also serve as a memorial to holidays past, in which case you may call it a souvenir. Because "souvenir" is a French word, it makes the concept sound grand, but it really means the same thing as "memento" or "memory". Souvenir items are generally bought or stolen; a memento can be a more nebulous term, and is not always used to describe tangible items. A sexually transmitted disease, for example, can be a memento from a particularly enjoyable night out, whereas taking a souvenir from that same night out might involve borrowing an item of clothing.

A postcard is also used to convey a message; for this reason they are popular. There is a printed message on this postcard, in the form of a caption, which reads: "I greet from London". The caption is what makes the people in the photograph laugh, not to mention the situation of finding an outdoor postcard booth, in front of a museum, on the way to a pub. By the time the camera flashes, their laughs have settled into smiles. And by the time the postcards begin printing, the photographees are keen to get to said pub.

The six smiling figures all tell their own stories; that is what storytellers do. 

In a few weeks from when this is taken, a photograph of the postcard will appear in a Montenegrin newspaper. The article will only have a loose connection to the postcard; it will be written by one of the members of the group being photographed. Others may lose theirs or give them away.

In additon to being a souvenir, the postcard could be described as a kitch (not kitsch) article: kitch as in "kitchen", because, that is where you will leave it until it slips behind the fridge. And the day you find it again, a few weeks later, you will remember (je souviens - from where we get "souvenir") that particularly good night out when someone thought it would be a good idea to use the photocard booth outside the British Museum on the way to the pub.



And it's kind of an ideal word to get going with, really... Ideally, I'd like to write a manifesto filled with all my ideals. Or a talent show (Pop Ideal) or a game show (Ideal or I don't). But, instead it will help me with the next chapter of my novel... info to follow.

Dave from Romford (Transcripts, part 1: Listening to the Radio)

"Let's get this straight... or whatever
I ain't got time to be poe-litically correct
Most times I don't even know my right from my left
I'm colour blind and tone-deaf
See? I am proud to be politically incorrect

"And I'm not being funny, right
But at the end of the day
If you catch my drift
I like to call a spade a spade -

"I don't care what shade you are...
You could be red... purple... green
But I mean what I say
And so I like to say what I mean

"So, let's get this straight... or gay, bi,
Whatever your perversion
I ain't one for casting aspersions
You stick to your truth
I'll stick with my aversion
But that ref, he was an absolute twa-"

"-I'm afraid we've just lost Dave from Romford, please remember to keep it clean and keep it brief. You're listening to Talk Sport, do we have our next caller on the line?"

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Teen Angst(?), part II

I've had a toothache all day, and it's reminded me of something I wrote when I must have been about 14:

Even some fools
Have Wisdom

I hope
I don't


Yep. Short and to the point...

Nothing Left to Fight For...

Around a year ago, I began writing a poem, opening with the refrain:
"There's nothing left to fight for/ We've fought all the wars/ Settled all the scores/ Championed every cause... And there isn't such a thing as injustice anymore".
This was, of course, meant to be taken with some irony, as I don't actually believe this (let's get that clear first!) But I was unable to finish the poem, in the same way I couldn't give any definitive answer at the end of "Tell Me What You Believe", a poem I started writing around the same time. In that poem, it builds up by listing the huge sacrifices others have made for their rights. So when I ask, at the end, "Is there anything you give a fuck for?" the only appropriate conclusion I could think of was, "I thought so." As I wrote it, I was kind of overwhelmed by history and figures, and were I to answer that in any other way, I would have felt disingenuous (I must add, I also ended the poem like that for another reason which I won't go into here).

Whilst I can allow any resolution to remain ambiguous in "Tell Me What You Believe" - as it's a personal question - I don't feel I can do the same for the unfinished poem above. But it's all a question of relativity; for instance, as much as the recent government cuts to services will affect me - can I really put the closure of a library on a par with a Libyans left stranded at sea, after fleeing their homes which are being bombed to "liberate" them? What I might see as an unjust system when it comes to, say, police stop-and-search tactics in London, pales into insignificance when I pit my sense of "injustice" in my experience against those who really know the meaning of the word. And so, I simply stopped writing the poem because I couldn't develop it any further from the sarcastic "Forget your glass ceilings/There ain't no space/It's been replaced by an accessability ramp/Outside every front door". I mean, where can you go from there?

I recently picked up an anthology of New Caribbean Poetry. In the introduction, the editor claims dub poetry has 'sputtered into a dull silence', and has failed to 'produce anything remarkable' in recent years. The problem, he goes on to say, is the fact that the old oppressors, the colonialists, or "whitey", are no longer in charge, and so the strength of this genre - and the wider genre of protest poetry - is weakened; in other words, "nothing left to fight for", or rather, no easily identifiable antagonists to rally against. By contrast, he says, one slam poet, now living in North America, has the "advantage" of homosexuality, which she uses as a tool for her protest poetry. The 'unwelcoming door has lent her poetry urgency', he adds.

The potency of exclusion and/or suffering for creating "art" is not a new concept. There have been studies on the issue (Google them!) And when it comes to the storytelling tradition - and I count spoken poetry as part of this - there's a double whammy. The performance poetry scene - and most notably the slam scene - often prides itself on being relevant to the "people", lacking the pretentions of other art forms (here's a brief history of the development of slams). And since its recent beginnings, protest poems, anti-war poems and "angry" poems in all their forms have proved popular, more so than, say, nature poems, "happy" love poems or poetry about "all the nice things that happened today" (I'll exclude comedy from this for now). In the same way - and hence the comparison to other forms of storytelling - there are few successful novels I can think of in which the protagonist/hero does not have to face one major challenge or another. Adversity makes for a good story and, almost certainly, a good poem.

Coming back to the anthology and the comments on dub poetry, I agree, reluctantly, that a mighty wrath against injustice or hostility can offer up some of the most creative, cathartic experiences; however, I also believe it has the potential to perpetuate the "them and us" binary. Those who listen to, and read, protest poetry are the 'right on' and 'righteous', the others are the unenlightened, the overseer, or whatever negative epithet related to slavery or religion you can think of. A common enemy, or a common obstacle to happiness is fertile ground for some of the best writing; on the other hand, a series of petty grievances and/or faraway threats risk alienating the crowd, or patronising them. But at least, in both cases, there is some external barrier from achieving a goal. Some power from above, or below, has caused insult, or anguish, or hurt, or fear and the poem becomes a performance space in which to vent these concerns.

If I were ever to finish the poem I've started (actually, is a poem ever "finished"?) I'd like to somehow come round to the fact that there are endless causes to be angry about. For instance, why is money being wasted on pointless exercises like trying to ban a haircut from school? Or sending kids to jail in the US, over a blow-up doll prank (whatever the full story is, it just doesn't make for good publicity about the US legal system, does it)? And yeah, why were those Libyans left to die in the boat in the Mediterrean Sea, and why can we not stop the death toll rising, considering it's not that great a stretch of water? And, actually, why are so many people crossing over from the African continent into a potentially hostile Europe? Surely, if ever there was a source of injustice, we can find it in our waters.

The potential problem with poeticising these injustices is that it runs the risk of placing responsibility elsewhere. And whilst there is plenty of wrongdoing perpetrated by others, it risks being impersonal, accusatory, boring. During an argument many years ago, I remember hearing the expression - and being incensed by it - that "if you point your finger at someone, three more fingers are pointing right back at you". What makes for a more uncomfortable experience is working through the internal conflicts, and looking at places where I/you are part of it, creating a sort of internal "jihad", or struggle with oneself, to borrow from Islamic terminology. 

In the society I'm used to, where "democracy" is prided, "diversity" encouraged and freedom of expression tolerated, it's difficult to rail up against the system in its entirety. "Fight the Power" sounds a bit stale, because if you haven't fought it by now you probably voted for it, in one way or another, even if you subscribe to the Deanna Rodger school of politics (I love that poem).

One poet I've heard speak on occasion is Fran Landesman. In one poem, which begins "You can't tell the good guys from the bad guys...", she talks of being "buggered by ambivalence", because morally everything has become a shade of grey. There are no "goodies" and "baddies" like in the old days - things might have been much more unfair, but at least they were easier to put in their place.

I probably will never finish the poem. For one, I'm not sure the irony suits. Secondly, it's something I started too long ago. And fighting for a particular cause or a particular set of values... well, that's something that's become less clear over time for me. To borrow words from Deanna, justice, and the pursuit thereof, "is often mistaken for seeing light at the end of the tunnel". And, also, somehow I think it's not a case of fighting "for" or "against" causes, but fighting "with" and "alongside".

Anyway, I'm rambling on...