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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Temporary Pointless Signs and Other Musings...

London crowds are dry and it feels like home

So it's the weekend and the first music gig in London I've been to for a while. My brother dragged me along and he's a music buff so we get there early-ish to be close to the stage. The audience claps moderately for the warm-up act. A girl elbows her way through the crowd and parks herself next to the man standing in front of me, nearly knocking the beer glass of the woman to my left. The girl immediately starts doing an old-school Butterfly (et un... deux... trois... quatre... Don't watch this one at the office!), spilling some of her drink in the process, but she doesn't seem to notice. Meanwhile, as she thrusts back, she nearly knocks the glass of the woman to my side again... but the woman deftly moves her hand behind her, and stays squarely put; if she moves back, that space is going to be filled by wilder movements.

Butterfly-girl stops for a moment, looks around and then shouts loudly to the guy in front of me, "London crowds are dry!" He nods sagely. The warm-up act is singing a soulful number to a mid-paced backing track, halfway between a mid-nineties Mary J Blige and an early Ms Dynamite. Butterfly-girl attempts what looks like a Gully-creepa, drink still in hand, despite the confined space of a thickening crowd (Ik spreek geen Nederlands, but here are the Dutch instructions).

By the time the main act comes on, my legs are killing. It's a singer, an emcee and a DJ. We're made to repeat "We are one!" several times by the emcee and, just as I'm about to tire and comment on my brother's facebook wall (he's been texting furiously for the past hour), the singer floors me - and everyone else - with some captivating vocals. Her voice is... well... amazing, and even better than what I remember from the one or two tracks I have on my phone. I finally remember why my brother goes on about live music, why people stand for hours in stuffy rooms and risk getting their overpriced drinks knocked over. And even Gully-creepa stops for a second, adjusts her hat and settles into a subtler shoulder shake, although it's not long before she goes "Pon di river" all over the place, which makes the group of people next to her move their feet ever-so-slightly away, leaving a decent-sized space around her.

When the emcee takes to the mic again, our "We are one"s are much more enthusiastic. He spits a series of bars about the Earth, about war, about life. And I know where this is going. I know where this is going. I've been to too many hip-hop and poetry gigs... And yes, after a solid duet piece, almost their last of the evening, he takes out some time to school us on the rights and wrongs of Modern America. He tells us to google "chemtrails", and that every time he performs in the States and makes similar comments, his friends tell him to watch out. He talks more about war ("Why we fighting?"... Everybody say: "No more war!"). He tells us about the dangers of eating fruit without seeds ("And you wonder why our children are playing up!") and paying for bottled water. And some of the crowd begin to shuffle. And Gully-creepa has no music to slide to. And I can feel discomfort in the room...

I'll paraphase a section of his speech that catches my attention: "We're not here just to entertain. Because you can nod your head but if music doesn't change you, why we singing?"

And then I remember why I like going to poetry events, why I like being challenged, and sometimes feeling uncomfortable - and, on very rare occasions, disgusted - by a poet's performance (I'm rarely shockable, but anyone who was there at the event last night and heard the poem about necrophilia.... well, I kind of do have some limits). Sure, people go to be entertained, but also to share ideas and thoughts and to listen, if not to always agree with everything. Music-lovers, on the other hand, often need a beat to be kept sweet (am I right?).

A couple of people way off to my right walk out. He talks more about the Obama Nation and laments at how leaders are quick to take God and healthy eating off the agenda. And the shuffling crowd tenses up, and two more walk out as a voice from the back shouts out, "God don't exist, mate!"

There's a few claps behind me. The emcee dismisses him politely and continues; a few more people around me make a point of walking out and there's a huge gap around Gully-creepa, who takes the opportunity to push up close to the stage.

"Do you have the last track?" the singer asks.

The DJ shakes his head, and mouths something to the sound engineer at the back.

"We don't have it on our computer!" he shouts out into the crowd.

Computer says no. Silence.

"Well, thank you audience. See you again!" says the emcee.

They leave to the sound of our clapping and cheering, and it feels like some of the lost energy's come back into the room. With new, inflexible time slots for artists on stage, there's no more time for anything else, apparently. The DJ at the back hits it hard, playing some unrelated Nu-School R&B track with a heavy bassline and my brother mouths a "what was that about?" at me. And I think, there's something so London about the whole scenario, from the computer not working, to the light heckling and the uncomfortable silence. Yeah, this finally feels like home again.

Pedantry. Reverse pendantry and word reclamations.

One dodgy habit of mine when I'm procrastinating is literally reading through pages of people's comments, which often repeat themselves after the first page, anyway (unless there's a decent slanging match taking place).

One of the argument goes like this: if you're going to comment on an ex-footballer's figurative use of the word "literally", then you must literally have nothing better to do, blah blah blah. Then the counter-argument that there isn't actually a decent substitute for the word literally, and if we don't claim it back from the grasp of the "plebs", the meaning will be lost forever. Then the counter-counter-argument, which is that words are forever changing and two nearly-opposite definitions can sit side by side: "sanction", "bi-annual" etc. I've read too many of these to care anymore. In any case, one side is always patronising, the other usually snobbish. And it's only a matter of time before I literally lose the will to live.

The Name Game

But sometimes I think (IMHO) we can be too literal. I caught myself sneering last night when I passed a poster for Man on a Ledge, as I remember doing when I first saw an advert for Snakes on a Plane. And I hate dislike myself for it. If I can't get excited about it, why can't I at least be happy for this man high up on the ledge of this skyscraper acting as a decoy for some nearby heist? And even if I don't care for the plot, why can't I at least commend them for choosing this no-nonsense name which says everything you need to know about the film? There's a man. There's a ledge. And, presumably, he's on it for a significant amount of time during the course of the film. Why complicate things with a more imaginative title?

(Anyway, I have other things to worry about. Like the prospect of Moira Stewart hiding under the stairs, although, thankfully, it's a ground floor flat. And Woman Under the Stairs really is a lame title for a film, just in case you were wondering.)

Friday, 27 January 2012

Farrago New Year Zoo Awards!!

Yay! So it's the annual Farrago Zoo Awards (a bit like the BRIT awards for performance poetry?) and it's time to put our democratic principles into practice. I've been nominated in 3 categories, and pretty chuffed! The show is tonight and voting should be closed by now (email just in case), but these are the nominees:

1) Best Overall Performance/ Reading:

1 Harry Baker
2 Abraham Gibson
3 Keith Jarrett
4 Fran Landesman
5 Rachel Pantechnicon
6 Deanna Rodger
7 Niall Spooner-Harvey
8 Dudley Sutton

2) Best SLAM! Performance:
1 Amy Acre
2 Harry Baker
3 Hamza Beg
4 Charlie Dupre
5 Eleanor Hough
6 Gina Pisapia
7 RedZworth
8 Jimmy Scribbles

3) Best Performance by a London Poet:
1 Jade Anouka
2 Suli Breaks
3 Catherine Brogan
4 Anna Chen
5 Abraham Gibson
6 Peter Hayhoe
7 Keith Jarrett
8 Sabrina Mahfouz
9 Richard Marsh
10 Deanna Rodger
11 Wizard of Skill
12 Niall Spooner-Harvey

4) Best Farrago Debut Feature Performance:
1 Nia Barge
2 Katie Bonna
3 Ollie Brown
4 Siam Hurlock
5 Caherine Labiran
6 Amy McAllister
7 Kemi Taiwo
8 Kathy Tytler

5) Best Performance by a UK poet:
1 Sam Cox (Portsmouth)
2 Martin Daws (Wales)
2 Mab Jones (Cardiff)
3 Cheri Gillings (Dudley)
4 AF Harrold (Reading)
5 Vanessa Kisuule (Bristol)
6 Kit Lambert (Wales)
7 Mark Niel (Milton Keynes)

6) Best Performance by a performer using spoken word, comedy or music.
1 Gwyneth Herbert
2 Miles Landesman & ensemble.
3 Sarah Moule & Simon Wallace
4 Rachel Pantechnicon
5 Rachel Rose Reid
6 Dudley Sutton

7) Best Performance by a performer working in English and another language(s):
1 MT Ali
2 Sofia Buchuck
3 Isabel del Rio
4 Keith Jarrett
5 Susana Medina
6 Yamilka Noa

8) Best Performance by an International poet:
1 Penny Ashton (New Zealand)
2 Stephanie Chan (Singapore)
3 Jon Goode (USA)
4 Ian Keteku (Canada)
5 Pierre Ringwald (Canada)
6 Heather Taylor (Canada)
7 Paula Varjack (Germany)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012



Hmm. I mean Aum.

Word Count today...


Hoping to continue later tonight but have to do some other work.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Jazz Verse Jukebox

Okay, so forget I'm there - the other three poets are among my favourites, the jazz band is tight, and there'll be plenty of music. All in all, definitely looks like it's going to be a good night! More info here

And Today's Random Word Is...


Ehm... O..kay then!

Word Count Today...

...1,756, which isn't a bad number for an evening's work.

Still working on the novel, and redefining what it's all about. I'm back onto Part 1, narrated by a guy on a plane looking back to when he was thirteen and the fate of his family changed with the arrival of two mysterious women who have "a message" to deliver. And that's it in a nutshell. Part 2 is already part-written, although I've decided the narrator for that section should now be his mother, and the story needs to start earlier. I haven't decided yet what to do with part 3, but we'll see...

I've spent some of today looking at structure and time-shift, and the rest trying to do something about my internet connection. I mentioned before that I pretty much know what happens in the end, and I have the finer points of the beginning down to a t, but somwhere along the middle there's a muddle. And I feel I've finally come up with a solution in the shape of the mother's story.

After having to study Mario Vargas Llosa's Casa Verde when I was eighteen and being - to be frank - a bit confused at the time by his sudden time-leaps and changes in names of characters, I stumbled across his Letters to a Young Novelist, way before I even thought of writing a novel. And I remember being impacted by some of the mechanics behind it, even if I thought when I read it that time-shifting and character-bending were a bit manipulative. But that's the whole point, isn't it? Fiction is, by its very existence, one of the most manipulative forms of writing, whether the author has art for art's sake intentions or otherwise. The very best books I've read have dragged me all around the houses with meandering storylines and nebulous characters, but if you can trust the writer, and if the story's interesting enough and it's told convincingly enough... pah! you're willing to go there with them.

Since my first brush with creative writing technique nearly a decade ago, I've read my way through several books on form and style, including those that affirm it can't really be taught. And the most valuable lesson I've learnt is you have to write your way through some of it, and throw out a lot of work. To my detriment, I'll never be the type of person who storyboards my way through life. If I were, the thing would have been written by now, but it wouldn't be the story I want to write.

Anyways, that's enough from me for now...

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


...and, dare I say, a primitive one (smoothly does it!), as I have a lot of finer details to work out.

So my trip went well, despite having to make several changes along the way. I'll post more on that later, hopefully with more pics like these:

On the poetry front, the next month or so looks to be a good one. Next public gig is at the Farrago Zoo Awards next week, then I'll be doing a few open mics, then some more gigs which I'll also give more info on later.

On the writing front, you've guessed it, I'll be working on The Novel and a few more shorts, one of which I've just redrafted for an anthology coming out in the Spring. Everything else, I'm waiting to see how it fits. I've begun a non-fiction project which may or may not work, so we'll see. I'm also looking to do a few music collabos soon.

So, onwards! I'll update the rest of this blog later and I should be posting more regularly from here on in.

And Today's Random Word Is...


(Grumpy) New Year and ting...

So, we're nearly 3 weeks into 2012, and I'm glad I haven't made any concrete resolutions, otherwise I probably would have broken them by now, just in time to make new ones for the Chinese New Year, coming up this weekend.

A relative of mine, who will remain nameless, promptly vowed - on Facebook, no less - to stop reading online comment pages this year; that would probably have been one of things I would have resolved too, had it not been for him forwarding me a link about the whole Diane Abbott foot-in-mouth incident, and a funny comment piece which I've now lost somewhere to cyberspace. And so this is what I've come back to: with the way overdue conviction of Stephen Lawrence's killers, the absolute proof that we are still hotly sensitive to the nuances of race and racism, in all its forms, as demonstrated here and here. And that, no matter how many times I press refresh on all the news sites, it's pretty much the same stuff. I'm just...doing it... now! And, yep, Occupy London wins first place (as it did in November), with Eurozone bailouts and the IMF coming next down the line, followed by stats on youth unemployment and yeah, I get the message. Pretty much the only other "news" is the 100th anniversary of Scott of the Antartic's expedition. If you don't know who he was by now, try Wikepedia. Oh, hold on, if you're going to attempt that during the blackout, try following the advice here.

I feel like I'm on one of those soaps where you can watch an episode months later and still pretty much follow everything that's (not) happened.

So, in the spirit of not moving forward, Merry Christmas! And Bah Humbug, in equal measure. shimples!