Monday, 26 November 2007

Drama on the radio and an episode of 'Lost' in a small hotel.

I spent the week-end in Norwich on a radio writing course with Jonathan Myerson. Much was learnt about the nature of plots, dialogue, icebergs where the huge back story below the water supports the small but perfect play above the surface, nesting by actors (small nervous ticks that get them settled into dialogue….Ahhh…Well… Mmmm etc). In the end the listener craves a story and not just an experience but hopefully a good story can give you both.
I stayed in an old hotel in the city centre near the cathedral and kept getting lost. It had a Tardis element to it, being deceptively bigger than its exterior would suggest. As I followed the number signs looking for my room I seemed to go down to go up and left to go right. I felt I was gradually becoming a character in an Escher drawing wandering endlessly in a confined space; doomed to travel up and down staircases but never to arrive. Once I found my room I tried various routes to the outside world. One led me to a door marked Quiet Exam in Progress..did that mean “Do not come through” or did that mean “Come through but be quiet”. It had taken me several staircases and long corridors to find this door which seemed to offer the prospect of escape. Do I follow my trail of hotel shortbread biscuit crumbs back from whence I came or go through the door? I peeked through the small port-hole window in the door, several people had their heads bent over tables scribbling furiously.

I used to hate that feeling standing outside an exam room waiting to go in. Pens and pencils clutched to my fast beating heart. I still have the odd nightmare when I find myself outside an exam room having done no revision and having no idea what the exam is. Of course such anxiety dreams are common but are they particularly English or only amongst those exposed to a particular educational system? Exams serve as the metaphor for fear and anxiety. An exam dream is the subtext for falling short, failing, not being good enough what do those people dream of who have never taken an exam. Probably such people have far more pressing and real fears; death, famine, war and pestilence…exams don’t make the grade as a horseman of the personal apocalypse.

So to return to my Escher experience…. I peer through the window and a man looks up and catches my eye. He gives me a look as if he too feels he is trapped in an Escher drawing with no way out. I turn round and retrace my steps; up, down, round, back, left, right and haven’t I been here before?

I see a sign in the foyer that announces that the Institute of Marketing is holding exams in the Oak Room. Marketing, now there is a stairway not to heaven but to hell.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Jo Shapcott, fields of Higg Bosons and weightier matters

I was reading Pavlova’s Physics by Jo Shapcott on Friday night in bed. By a strange synchronicity there is an article in the Guardian this Saturday about the physicist Peter Higgs, the man who is responsible for the theory that initiated the search for the mysterious Higgs Boson or God’s Particle, as some have named it. I do want to assure you dear reader that I do not search for a poem to support the strange unravelling of my mind and thoughts in this blog, it actually happens the other way round. I read or hear a poem and somehow connections are built in my rather warped psyche. It is probably more of an organic dialogue, a chicken and egg puzzler, the big bang as cause and effect, life as past, present and future…chronology being less important than we may assume. We are of course obsessed by the question what came first but a linear universe and a linear life can be smoke and mirrors. Perhaps I am being effected by having watched the film Donnie Darko for the third time last night and still being satisfyingly mystified as to the finer points; the discussion of which I will leave to the geek and cult fans who proliferate out there in the temporal vortex.

However this article helped feed my penchant for physics in an understandable form. I did Pure Maths A Level back in the prime of my unbounded and untrammelled synaptic pathways' youth and purely ( excuse the weak pun) because I saw it as beautiful; a mathematical theory, co-ordinate geometry and an algebraic solution to a problem that just exists solely to be solved by such means, was somehow beautiful. Mathematical theories have a rhythm and a pulse to them; much like a brilliant poem in a form. If this then this, but this can unexpectedly open up that which leads to all these etc etc. There is also this response by physicist Simon Hands, who works at the Cern Accelerator, to explain what a Higgs Boson is and why proving its existence is important. It was written in response to a challenge to explain it all on one side of A4.It is a theroetical physics version of a haiku.

I defy any poet or creative writer not to be interested in the particular and the universal that this branch of particle physics looks at.

We only have mass because we move through an invisible field, how we move through that field determines our mass, some of us are more effected than others and therefore are weighed down more and move more slowly. Others can pass through it relatively unburdened and I use the word relatively in a theoretical sense. The proof of this field lies in destroying at great speed that which we know of already and looking for something we only surmise to be there. The grass has always been greener in another field but will we then know how we are as a mass? Can we change anything by knowing how we achieve mass or have mass thrust upon us? Is understanding this in itself its own importance, if how we move through an invisible field explains why we are something made to and of matter? When we broke open an atom we became at the same time Shiva Destroyer of worlds and the creator of light and heat in a kitchen or school. Does God's particle have a beckoning finger?*

Dear reader I think this theory may undoubtedly account for why I now have greater mass, and I am apparently getting heavier, I am merely moving too slowly through fields. This is a function of my greater inertia as it takes a greater time and effort to get me moving these days. Yes dear scientific readers out there, I do know that mass and weight are very different things, I needed to clarify that as I have a greater sense of gravity about me these days and also a greater love of chocolate.

* I think I have this phrase engraved on my psyche from Andre Mangeot's poem 'Forecast' about forthcoming ecological disaster due to global warming

Monday, 12 November 2007

Dark car parks and Little Miss Sunshine

So there I was sitting in a Tesco car park waiting for a friend to do her shopping. I knew that should I go in the display fairy and the retail wizard would weave their spell and I would come out having bought unnecessary stuff. Of course a great deal of stuff is unnecessary; Maslow’s hierarchy of need puts air freshener and quilted toilet paper very low in the heirarchy. Such consumer goods shouldn’t muscle their way into any hierarchy at all; if stuff were people, quilted toilet paper would be Victoria Beckham, Peter Stringfellow or Paris Hilton. Avoiding entering temples of shopping is my current mode of pursuing retail atheism.

So I sit in the car and adopt a vacant and blank expression as one does when waiting in a dark car park. A car parks opposite me, a man gets out and disappears into the store with a small child. In the back is another child about two years old strapped into a car seat. He waves at me, I wave back. Time passes after twenty minutes I start to think that a man who leaves a child alone in a locked car for that length of time is rather stupid, worryingly stupid. I inform the security guard on the door, who nods and says it is stupid but people do it all the time. Am I being stupid? I am not a knee jerk responder to the current paranoia about children left alone; I would have been worried a year, several years, many years ago at the same behaviour.

My mother forgot about me once when I was a few weeks old and left me outside the Co-op in my pram for over an hour whilst she went home, made a cup of tea and wondered what she had forgotten in the shop. I was still there when she returned. That was in the so called halcyon days of relaxed child care pre Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. Children could be let loose then with just a bottle of Vimto and a bag of crisps. they were allowed to roam the hills, canal banks, streets and bomb sites and no harm would befall them, not the sort of harm that happens at the hands of strangers. The statistics show clearly that 99% of physical and sexual harm to children happens within the home, within the family. The bogey man usually has his feet under the family table and is in the family photo album.

After thirty minutes I decide to ask the Customer services to page the owner of the car with registration number XYZ 123 and point out that he has left a toddler alone in it. I watch the man arrive back at the car, look through the window at the now sleeping child, turn and walk back into the store. Should I have said something to him personally, I am not afraid of confronting anyone, should I have even asked customer services to request he return to his car, the child was now sleeping after all and did not appear distressed? What has bothered me most is that the security guard said that it happened a lot and didn’t seem at all worried. In his favour no young child to my knowledge has choked to death or met with a serious accident unattended in a Tesco car park, no child has been abducted from one. Perhaps I am becoming a busy body, a sticky beak, a nosey parker, a ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’? His look seemed to convey that. So be it, if I can manage to avoid buying unnecessary consumer items perhaps I can also avoid not buying into the ‘best not to get involved’ culture of someone else will sort it. Leaving a minor unattended is a criminal offence, if I had told the security guard someone was trying to break into a car and steal it would he have reacted differently? Sadly I think he would; cars, property, stuff after all is far more important and in need of safe guarding

On a totally different note, I have sent off a fishing letter to a recommended literary agent re the novel. It is still the definite article, now the very definite article after feedback from writers whose opinions I value. So we shall see, feels a little like entering your child in a beauty pageant, it’s my Little Miss Sunshinestrutting her stuff but like the VW camper it may need a push

Monday, 5 November 2007

Aldeburgh and the story of the Irish man, the American and the Palestinian who walked into a hall

I came back from Aldeburgh Poetry Festival last night and immediately retreated into a darkened room to recover. It was a good week-end for many reasons. One reading in particular on the Saturday night was so good that I want to wrap it up in some soft tissue paper, put it in a beautifully crafted box and bring it our now and then to remind myself of what poetry is capable of.

Often at festivals there is a lots of comparing going on, poets listening to other poets often veer towards comparison. You know what I mean, the kind of comments whispered in dark alley ways by small huddles of audience members, teased out by wine in two am sea view rooms or argued about over pork scratchings in pubs

Poet A wasn’t as good as when I heard them read in 1989 in a small dungeon in Transylvania, Poet B’s new collection isn’t as good as their seventh, the one about wheat, I’m surprised Poet C is still alive, Poet D has changed publishers that would account for it, the old publisher would have never let the one about the verucca get into the collection, Poet F is wonderful on the page but their reading whilst hovering two feet off the floor was distracting, Poet G was wearing fuchsia lycra, it detracted somewhat from his work he is far better when wearing ecrue. How on earth did Poet H ever get that published, as Poet Z had their nude poems banned in certain American States?

The reading I treasured this week end was by the Irish poet John F Deane,the American prose poet Louis Jenkins and the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali( translated by Peter Cole for a new Bloodaxe collection of his work). Read in particular the poem Meeting at an Airport available on this link and you may understand why the line 'and I worship the middle hours of the morning' will stay with me for a long time.

The links will give you a flavour of their work. All I will say is that readings which make you cry not in a sentimental manipulative way but by the sheer joy of what words can conjure are few and far between. Such readings do not illicit the comparison virus they simply make you want to aspire to be the best you can be as a writer and to reflect on why the right words in the right order can be so very very right.