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Thursday, 28 March 2013


Happy to be reading this evening at Courttia Newland's book launch! And looking forward to reading a copy of The Gospel According to Cane. Details on the links and will post more later!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

And Today's Random Word Is...


(...hmm, maybe a little too late)

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Marching Forward? and several asteRisks

Mid-March already! Spring Equinox is here - with temperatures set to dip below freezing tonight - shops have swapped Mother's Day flowers for Easter eggs, people (on TV) are talking about the Budget and the new Pope is old news. Exam season's about to begin and I'm getting ready for the end of term. I've had a couple of big ups and a couple of big downs over the past month, so it's been a delicate balancing act, but I'm still walking the tightrope.

Habemus Papam (or popeing around)
can't remember where I took this one now!

Soho - Berwick Street

There are plenty of people I consider good friends - and family - that I hardly ever get to see, all living in the same city, no more than say a twenty mile radius from where I live. Next month's resolution will be to do something about it. I've already had a good suggestion about how to see more friends/family in a meaningful way without making it a full-time job.

One such friend I haven't seen in over a year*. It's last Tuesday, I'm just coming out of an evening seminar at uni and I get a message on my phone. It goes something like "Praise be the Lord - the black smoke has escaped and habemus Papam!" I'm confused at who would send this. Then I check the number - and it's from said friend. It's odd - he's not Catholic, neither am I (although, when I was 15, I once walked into a confessional in Barcelona so I could practice my Spanish - but that's another digression I'm going to avoid) but I see it for what it is; reaching out. I text back that we ought to meet up on Monday, if he's around, but we can play it by ear.

The week goes quickly. No reply.

On Weds, I give a talk to a group of clued-up students who ask me the one question that always stumps me whenever I get asked, despite the fact that I've thought/discussed this often: 'So, you've just performed your poem, "Tell Me (What You Believe)"... So, erm, what do you believe? What would you fight for?**

On Thursday, I shout at someone for daring to stand on the left side of the escalator. I'm in a hurry. I teach a group of 10 and 11 year-olds about riddles and get them to write about space explorers.

On Friday, I end up performing a poem in the back of a taxi*** while I'm trying to text another friend to explain why I'm late. Later, I do a dodgy Google translate of a poem into Spanish, then spend longer than it took me to write it in English trying to get across the exact same feeling I had when I wrote it.

On Saturday, I have 5 unplayed voicemails and 65 unread emails.

On Sunday, I go off to see a film about Jamaica which is, hmm, ok. I'm still trying to work out what I think, so until I do, I'll keep silent.

But, just as I'm getting up to leave, I see the friend who texted me on Tues. He's been sitting in the same cinema next to another guy I know quite well who I didn't know he knew. And before I have time to wonder what a bizarre coincidence it is, and how much of a small world it is, we all end up having a bite to eat at a bar. It's so good to see him, I spend most of our talking time wondering why we left it so long to meet up. Having only had 3 hours sleep the night before, I leave just after one drink, with the inevitable promise: "We really have to catch up soon! U still free on Mondays? Why don't we link up then?"

Hearing my own words echoing in my eardrums, I laugh to myself all the way back to the bus stop. I've got to do better.

* Lost Friends

He's been travelling and working hard. I've been studying, then doing a few gigs, then working, then watching YouTube clips when I should be working hard. We've got into a habit of saying we should meet "one Monday" and the Monday never comes and we don't text again until 2 months later. It's because we're both so easy-going and flexible why we never seem to get a meet sorted. I can think of at least ten other people like this.

Moral #1: Make definite plans and stick to them where possible. Failing that, go out more and you'll inevitably bump into some of your friends at some point in the next five years.

**Tell Me What??

Ok, so if I don't explain the poem properly by saying that I wrote it as a series of questions to myself, it can come across as a little high-minded and accusatory. I think I answered the question (what do you believe?) by saying something along the lines of: "I believe in personal relationships rather than ideals; ideals are fickle".

What I think I meant was that "justice" in the Western world 400 years ago could mean compensation for merchants if their slaves died in transit; "equality" here now might mean equal marriage for gay people - or not; "freedom of expression" in 10 years could mean something else entirely from what it does now (e.g. something unthinkable even 5 years ago - you can go to jail for tweeting offensive comments). So what matters to me more isn't the ideals and terminologies but how I feel in the way I relate to people and the places I live. And I feel I want to be in a society where those I love are healthy and happy and protected.

But that still feels like a cop out. I still haven't explained what I'd die for, fight for, or block a tank for.

I explained how I feel over a year ago in this post. There's no injustice that screams out hugely at me in my immediate world - and mostly because I'm not out there looking for it. There's enough bad stuff out there to keep me fighting and sacrificing my life for another thousand lifetimes if I want to. But I tend to pick the smaller fights, not the "throw yourself under a horse" kind of fights.

On an aside (can you have an aside to an aside?), I was brought up reading stories of early Christians being fed to lions and jailed for their beliefs. I was taught that not only could this happen to me at some point, but that it would, and that I should revel in it - blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil things against you, falsely, for my sake. Rejoice! And be exceedingly glad... I was taught to believe that things will only get worse and that I may even die for what I believe one day. Whilst I try not to think about it too much, this fatalism is an ingrained part of my psyche... something to explore.

***Poetry for Cabs

Another question I hesitate to answer is "So, what do you do?"

I do a lot of things and they all come with value judgements. If I say I write/perform poetry, people who've never heard of performance poetry will either tell me they've been wandering lonely as clouds, or they'll think I'm a rapper and ask if I do "that angry stuff". They'll either think I'm a waste of space or some super literary connoisseur on another plane.

I'm in the cab, balancing a faulty phone on one knee and a clear plastic folder with a stack of papers in the other. I'm trying to think how to respond creatively to the "where are you?" text, followed 2 mins later by a "?"

The driver's particularly chatty. The text can wait.

"You don't do that angry, shouting stuff do you?" he asks. I wince and hope he can see in the mirror. You should never have said I'm a poet. You should never have said I'm a poet. Anything but. You should only tell someone you're a poet if you think it'll impress them into a date.

He's being nice enough but he's a no-nonsense bloke. I can tell. And I've already lost points by not being interested in his football talk. (I mean, what team do I support? Make it up if you can't decide!)  He'll chuck me out - late - if he doesn't like something I'm saying, I'm sure. The taxi slows. Time is ticking (and so is the meter) and I need to get to Old Street in minus 3 minutes.

"A poet, eh?"

He asks me if I've heard of Desiderata... I say no. Sounds familiar but my mind's busy and my phone's ringing. Where am I? Not far... A few mins. Held up. There soon! 

He tells me I can't call myself an effing poet if I haven't read it. "Google it now", he says. "Right now". The engine stops.

The famous words come up. Go placidly... and I remember it. We were taught it at school perhaps. Or it's been on the TV. This is hardly the moment to talk about going anywhere placidly. Or maybe it is. "Oh that! Course I've heard it", I say, feeling a little more qualified to call myself a poet but no less uneasy about the situation.

"So's that the kind of thing you write? That's real good poetry that!"

"Erm, sort of -"

"Go'n then! G'is one of your poems!"

I hesitate. This is only the second time a cabbie's asked me for a poem and got one. I don't want to recall the first time.

Ok. I draw a sharp intake of breath, recite the poem and, by the time I've finished, we're there. I'm only ten minutes late.

I run out onto the pavement, go to pay and he tells me: "Here's your tip - keep writing. Really liked that"

The day's got a little bit better.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

And Today's Random Word Is...


(time to raise the tone?)

Thursday, 14 March 2013

UPCOMING GIG: Spanish & English Showcase

Hola, como estamos?

Mañana, Fri 15th I'll be at the Poetry Café for Farrago's Spanish & English Showcase

Bring on the bilingual brilliance of all the poets who'll either be reading in English or Spanish... or both!

I'm going to try and translate something in time for then so let's see how goes. Otherwise, I'll be performing something in English, something in Spanglish and reading something else by a favourite poet of mine.

Either way, it's going to be fun. See you there!

Split Ends

So here's an extract of a poem I wrote for a workshop recently... A few links to show some of my trains of thought. Hoping to work some more on it over the next couple of weeks:

I was manufactured far beyond
the Bow bells and past the crease
in the Thames where Eastenders credits
roll, past sausage roll sandwiches and saltfish fritters
foil-wrapped and wolfed down on the District
line like this mile ended way too soon.

I grew up in the Far East
in a place where we learnt to curse Hindi
at our teachers while threading earphones through
our Ill-afforded sleeves pulsing with dancehall CHOOONs!  

The markets raised me from the back of white vans
and crooked billets with dog tracks barking their last orders
and car plants shrinking its workers to size.

I grew up at the fold of the London A-Z
in a bus depot where aspiration terminates or
its route begins depending
on which Burberry hat
you cover your headaches with.
I rose up on the backs
of cream net-curtains and terraced dreams
and Jafaican lingo:
lay it on, lay it on, lay it on, baby.

But my ends are split like
V signs created in playgrounds
where Sahir and Shawn and Simeon
shuffle cards behind the desk
and we all support Arsenal or Tottenham
unless we like the sound of loser
pushing on our chests.

They are split like
the bifurcated sources of the Northern line like
the edge where my tongue trips lazily over vowels
and my throat skips Ts like they were swinging rope.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Right Way Up (freewrite)

Ok, so this came from a seminar I had tonight. It's short and I may work on it a bit and extend. 
We used a prompt which made me think about "moving" and it brought back a childhood memory about moving home, which I wrote down...

Right Way Up

The bin bag labelled “BILLOWS” goes between the knees
and Bevan lets me lift
the edge of our chipped coffee table
into the back of the new blue van.

The tyres budge a warning
that we will have to return  
to the scenery of our road
for a second trip.

Her-next-door will have to cry
a second time
and the box marked “FRAGILE”
will have to drop again

this time, the right way up. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

UPCOMING GIG... Rrrants tomorrow (Monday) @ Camden Head

Tomorrow, from 8pm I'll be back in my hometown (namely, Camden Town) for Rrrants. It's a special fundraiser for Bardaid, with The Antipoet - who promise to be irreverent as always - plus other guest poets and singers who'll be livening up The Camden Head. See you there, hopefully!

Friday, 1 March 2013