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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!