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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... 

Monday, 13 June 2011

Gigs... Deets and so on

Last week
So, last week, I was one of five chosen slammers for International Alert's "Poets for Peace" fundraiser. Raymond Antrobus, Curious, Stephanie Dogfoot, and Michelle Madsen were my spars and - wow! - what poets to go up against! It turned out to be a low-key but very cool night. And, it was a close call but, eventually Curious freestyled his way through the final to be the winner.

To be honest, until I was asked to do the gig, I hadn't heard much about International Alert, but now I have, I'm taken by the steadfast way they have been promoting peace across the globe. For more info, you can always click here.

This week

Confused the dates for Hammer & Tongue, which I thought was tonight, at the Green Note Cafe on Parkway in Camden :(

Weds, however, I'll be at Touch Me I'm Sick! for the first time - and I'll be featuring!

And Fri, I'll be there for the final Bingo Master's Breakout to take place at St Aloysius Social Club. It's a Poetry-Bingo-Karaoke night and, seeing as I've never been to bingo, but I can hold my own in a karaoke fest anytime, I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Now I've looked over these again, basically, I'm not leaving the borough this week, except to go to work.


Will keep ya posted, but good things to come, including a feature set alongside The Bro's Grim at Bang Said the Gun! The night's lively and the tag says it all: "poetry for people who don't like poetry". Expect noise and laughter etc.

More things later, like "Lounge on the Farm"... but I'll be updating this sometime over the weekend!


If I tell you I love you
Will you please close your lips?
And if I silence them
With a kiss
Will you then let me breathe?
And if I say I'll never go
Will you please just leave
And let me be

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Rips (because you called me morbid)

If I flirted with you, Death
It wasn't because I wanted to be possessed
By your embrace
Not because I was taken in by the folds of your cloak,
The skeleton of your waist
Or the hollow of your face

If you thought I was ever impressed
By your other conquests
Or by the sharpness of your blade
Or the bones around your neck
Then you were wrong
Because your bling don't mean a thing

But don't get it all twisted:
I did lead you on
Teased you with my bravado
And drove you to cliffs
Where I stroked at your cheek
And leaned for the kiss

But I wasn't ready to taste your lips
I suppose I just wanted to sniff the high
Of your desire
Dance to the flames of your ego
Because sometimes I get by like that
And sometimes I get haunted by
Recollections of the people you've collected:
An eclectic mix
Of friends you've picked
And plucked away from my grasp
And sometimes, bwoy, I get jealous
And, just sometimes, I get furious
At your shameless tactics
Of throwing yourself at anyone that comes your way

And I know you got a thing for young men
And I know you love guns and you like wars
But then you always want more
And you can't settle with just the one
So you take the young with the old
And it's that undiscerning drive that's got me curious
That's got me wanting to peek inside that hood you've been wearing
Like it won't ever go out of fashion

Anyway, if you feel I was flirting with you, Death
There ain't no passion sparking up between us now
Try not mistake my sly glances for advances
And if you think I want to take you by the hand
Then don't hold your breath
Because you're not ready for me yet

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Saturday, 4 June 2011


Haven't posted on here for a while. Partly out of being busy, and partly because I've been revising some of my first draft poetry and feeling guilty about the slow progress with my novel. These things don't just write themselves, apparently! So it kind of ruins my enthusiasm to update a blog when I know I should be completing another chapter.... Grrr!

In the meantime, I've been to Stockholm and really enjoyed it (see above). I've also been to a few poetry gigs, as well as weddings and birthdays... and I've been stopped and searched (again!) while taking pictures of Obama's entourage, when they visited London. Apparently, I must just "have that kind of face", which the snipers on the roof picked up on. Yeah, charming!

I've been reading voraciously too but, as usual, buying more books than I can read. And one or two have blown my mind, especially Kei Miller's The Last Warner Woman. I've also been - what a cliche! - cursing the estate agents who are currently trying to sell the flat I rent. And looking for more part-time employment. And that just about sums up my life at the moment.

Then, of course was the sad news of Gil Scott Heron's passing, and the tributes that have begun pouring out. I can count myself among the many people who have written their own version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised when I was a teenager. Seriously, the amount of times I've rocked up at an open-mic night and heard rappers or poets performing their own twist on it - too many to count! The only other poem that I know has inspired so many imitators is Howl. Both have remained timeless.

Gil Scott Heron was revolutionary; he managed to help shape a culture during a time of great political unrest. The impact of his words still remain today and that's a great testament to the power of words themselves. So on days when I question my compulsion to write - even when I'm not actually doing much in the way of writing - it does inspire me to think that something as intangible as a poem, a book or a song can stir people up and make a difference.

Coming up later this weekend: Today's Random Word, Teen Angst part 2, Gig info, Novel update and maybe a poem or two... Phew!