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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Determining Tracks to Sync...

A friend of mine has today just announced his departure from [takes deep breath] Facebook, as of the end of this year. He's a prolific poster and uses it not only to keep in touch with people globally, but also as a gallery for his artistic photos and a platform to highlight the human rights issues he campaigns for. I imagine his "unplugging" from this particular social network could feel like a retirement to him - as many of my friends spend at least the equivalent of an extra working day on network sites. It could feel like a bereavement to others - i.e. those who have no real contact with him - a concept not lost on the programmes that claim to assist users in committing "social network suicide". I hope however, that it will have the desired effect of enabling him to spend more time offline.

There isn't much use commenting on the value of real human contact over the virtual world. We all know the benefits and pitfalls of both and I have particularly strong versions on the latter: I simply believe that technology has advanced quicker than we're able to handle effectively and it's starting to show (a simple look at the news in the past year or so and we can see how it has affected access to information, libel, incitement, racism, bullying, suicide, civil unrest and more - and although many of these changes are, in fact, positive, the new virtual contexts we now find ourselves in needs much more in-depth consideration and debate, from the classrooms to the courthouse and beyond).

Meanwhile, I'm constantly debating how much time I devote to feeding my virtual Keith. Virtual Keith has a Facebook (two accounts, one for family, the other more public) which needs a photo change every once in a while - and a Twitter feed, which goes through binge cycles (maximum of about 15 a day, I think to a minimum of 1 in a month). Oh yeah, I forgot, he also has a blog (HELLO!). Virtual Keith wants to be cool, and wants to be seen in some cool places, although you'd probably think all he does is go to poetry gigs. Sometimes I don't like him and I starve him; sometimes I wish he'd just die. I have other things to do but I also recognise the value of having the virtual me around. Staying plugged in means interacting with other virtual people out there, talking about what I'm doing offline, finding out what's happening with people and issues I care about and feeling "connected" with the world. It is this need for connection that keeps me online, and I imagine keeps most of us networking on the Internet.

Moving away from social networking, I love the idea of being "unplugged". I went through last week boycotting the news - more out of practical, time-management reasons than anything else - and I realised no-one was missing my opinions. I also spend so much of my week commuting between places that I rely on my headphones for moral support. In the past few days I've left them at home a couple of times and I've also tried to cut down on listening time in order to "tune out". We'll see if/how that works in the next few days. (Having said that, a lot of the time they're keeping my neck warm or, when on my head, keeping my ears warm, so I think of my bass-boomers as an expensive multicoloured scarf - I'll paste a pic later)

 What to Do With Your Poppy after Remembrance

Ooooh, oooh, ooh, how I've held my tongue! I decided not to comment on Remembrance Day because I wasn't sure I had anything of value to say, nor did I want to get on a conveniently-timed high horse about it. War is a horrific reality for millions of people worldwide and I feel largely outside of it because it's nicely packed away here. British soldiers are fighting in different corners of the Earth and, simply by virtue of being a British citizen, I'm associated with what they do, despite how I feel - and protest - about it, whilst reaping the benefits of a relatively peaceful society.

I chose this year, for the first time, to wear a poppy as a personal statement. I do want to remember all those who have died - not just soldiers - in the pursuit of peace and I believe "peace" to be a more powerful, life-affirming statement to wear for a few days on my lapel, so I chose the white poppy rather than the standard red. Also, finding a red poppy would have been easy and would require little thought. I went in search for the white poppy, in pretty much the same way I go about seeking peace (yep, you've guessed - I found it in a quiet, old-smelling bookshop a mile away from home).

A couple of weeks on and it's now standing upright on my bookshelf, amongst some of my books (top shelf - read and loved, second shelf - unfinished). Whatever I think of the poppy thing, every time I look at it I hope that peace will become less of a symbol and more of a reality for everyone. I hope that I can promote peace, on a basic level (by not picking useless arguments on poppy-wearing, for example) and perhaps even on a more profound level (by mediating conflicts and changing minds).


In due course, I should be able to post a video of my performance of "War! Hmmph" at Jazz Verse Jukebox, Ronnie Scotts on Remembrance Day. The house musicians (Simon Wallace, Winston Clifford, Oli Hayhurst) are excellent and I got my wish (to perform a jazz poem which riffs off and plays with the "War!(What is it Good For?)" refrain. Here's a severely-truncated extract:

[...]War is a song conducted by a chorus of camouflaged percussionists
Arms orchestrated to hold collateral damages
War is a song they composed
Based on an overture they call freedom:
Freedom before peace, Freedom before love
Freedom to bear arms and fuel the instruments of fear
We’re tearing up the studio here! We’re cranking up the notches with war
Bullet-sized bodies dancing on the floor. And it’s a hit!  
The roof is on (friendly) fire! The roof is on (friendly) fire! War is tearing the roof off
Turning truths into terrors and echoing its tenor through history
Scattering the enemy with earth-splitting frequency

War is in the key of a minor now left motherless in a discordant town
Neighbours are killing neighbours and houses are burning to the ground
Here are your strings of no-fly zones, here are sanctions and transactions
Here are bones making bone-shattering sounds
Hear the word of the war! Hear the word of the war!

War is a song they never play until another hundred British musicians go down
And they sing a shrill rendition of Bring Back Our Boys! Bring back our Boys!
On the front of our tabloid hymnals.


And Today's Random Word Is...


(And clearing now) 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

October gone... and that Black History Poem. 2012 stylee

General Update...

So we're 8 days into November already. Last month passed pretty quickly for me and I kept busy for most of it. 

The Spoken Word Educator project is going well and I'm learning about teaching theory while practising it, learning about the education system while trying to break some of its restrictions and learning about poetry while still wanting to break some of its rules. I'm also learning that I have to manage my time more effectively if I'm going to cope over the next few months. Writing is much more than the physical act of putting words down on paper or on screen and to think creatively, I have to allow myself the space to do so. 

I generally write poetry as a reaction to stimulus - be it adverts, in the case of M&S, workshops in the case of my last poem posted here, or conversations in the case of most of poems. I need to have those conversations, go to those workshops or watch those adverts. And then I need to allow them to implant somewhere in the back of my brain so when I come to my writing time, something will spark up. 

So far, I've been lucky - there's always enough going on in the world to react to and it's great to flick through my notebook and see my different thought processes over time.

I'm also going back to a couple of short stories I drafted a year ago - it's weird coming back to it as my style seems to have changed without me being conscious of the process. I guess much of life involves these gradual changes and it's not till you look back you get the full picture.

As promised, I'm posting one of two Black History Month poems I completed last month for local libraries. It's had some unexpected reactions and, like most of the things I write, I wrote it for the questions and not the answers...

BHM 2012
When they tell you this is Black history
What do they mean?
Do they mean this is history without the whitewash?
Without the grey areas or red herrings – just one big old black hole
For school kids to sink their kissing teeth into?

When they tell you it’s a black history they gwine teach
Of what do they speak? And what do you seek?
Another Windrush square for brown rears to park
On its grey benches?
Another bronze Mandela statue for tourist cameras to capture
And tag on Facebook and Instagram?
Or maybe this history is not a man
But a Seacole, a Parks or a disputed Nefertiti
Unearthed from out of the long lines of long-necked African Queens
and tall pyramids
And crossings-out on buried textbooks
And complex theories put out of context
Until the history is no longer black but simply murky and unclear...

When they tell you a Black History dis
What is it you want to hear?
Is it carnival steel pan music?
Or the sound of slave ships treading Atlantic waters?
Or the slash of backra’s whip on the backs of his own daughters?
Or freshly-slaughtered flying fish
Dropped into fry pan?
Or plantain or ackee or yam
Or the thread that connects them with fufu
And jollof and egusi soup?

Is it the languages silenced
Or the violence from which they survived?
Is it the clans, the classes, the tribes that thrive?
Is it the many-hued skins that decorate walls come October?
Or the sobering lessons they teach...
Like King’s I have a dream speech?

When they tell you this is black history what should this inspire?
Beyond the several rounds of kum-by-yahs fired from the mouths
Of cross-legged children in damp halls?
Beyond the applause from parents proud to dress in newly dusted-off dashikis?
Or that dreadlock wrapped around that bald-patch?
Or that catch-all catechism
We roll out once a year so black is seen to be respected?

Tell me again, what do they mean when they say black history?
And what do you expect to learn?
Your name... in the Ghanaian way?
Kofi for Friday
Or Kwame for Saturday
And someday you might get to grips
With the way Nigerian vowels 
Hang on your lips 
And with the way it sounds

But for now, they have pronounced that this is black history
For now, what do they mean with this mystery of this name for this month?
Because black is infinite
And history is never over!
And this is something we must muse over come October
And while libraries are open and minds are too
I want to know what this month means to you...
I want to know what this month means to you.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Coming Up Next: Jazz Verse Jukebox @ Ronnie Scott's

Next Sunday, I'll be performing at Ronnie Scott's Upstairs and it'll be part of the London Jazz Festival, alongside Malika Booker, HKB Finn, Rachel Rose Reid and Nicola Emmanuelle. It's going to be a great evening so come along!