Thursday, 28 June 2007

Global folderisation, naming of parts and Henry Reed

I did a reading in Cambridge this week and released some very new poems into the wild. I always have ambivalent feelings on such occasions as the poems you have nurtured and sweated over take to the public hills instead of being at home, safe and warm in my computer, navigated to via the folder marked poems, a subsequent sub-folder marked Newer Poems and a sub–sub-folder entitled Poems 2007. In such a folder I am secure that these poems are at the heart of my cyber Russian Doll. Of course within this sub-sub folder and beyond I have other category folders…poems about, women, men, relationships, children, work, art works, political situations, physical landscape, transport, weather, religion, animals are just a few of the folders.

The nature of poetry is such that I need to copy a poem into two or three folders. If I start feeling that it needs to be in five or seven folders I take a tablet and a glass of wine and lie down in a darkened room until the filing voices in my head stop. Women, relationships, weather is fine. Men, women, art works, landscape, animals, transport, religion may be a poem about Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Caraveggio but the poem may be about something entirely different but then it is also about the painting as well. Subtle and not so subtle subtext and Microsoft make for strange bedfellows.

Mr Gates is allegedly (shhh he may have official scanners out there waiting to sue) more than a little challenged on the social interface front, maybe even slightly Asperger’s. This may have led to him producing his wonderful facilities for micro categorisation, storage and labelling developed in his software programmes. If you can fix something as this, label it, it becomes more manageable. It is something like the ancient magic and power associated with the naming of names, common in many cultures. If you are named you are an entity that can be managed and related to. If I am placed in a folder, low annual salary, and copied to sub folders of low occupational status, female, unmarried mother, lover of soaps, over fifty. You may have a rough idea who I am and how you could relate to me. Of course the joy of being human is that you don’t have a clue. I do belong in all of those folders but many more and none of them necessarily more important than the other.

Is the soul of this poet being sullied by the generation of endless folders, am I in danger of filing meltdown, will I be driven to making whole folders that contain only one poem, as each poem by its very nature is individual and unique to itself in content and subtext? Even if I file by date, what date should I file them under? Some poems have lain in wait for me for years or have started their life in one form and one year and metamorphed into something different several years on. Is there a compulsive-obsessional phobia for the naming and storage of virtual folders?

Why do I feel this need to folder a poem anyway? I am not, dear reader, an intrinsically tidy or anal person (although the Boo might regard my pleas for her to put her stuff away as a teenager was a strong indication of such tendencies). Am I just odd? Indeed I probably am but my answer to all of this is simple…. bad memory. If I place a poem in a number of folders I might be able to find the bloody thing more easily and quickly when I can’t remember the exact title for a search with that sniffy overly happy puppy thing that pops up in Microsoft. Example…I think I wrote a poem about a painting about the flight into Egypt but I know I didn’t call it that …there was a donkey in the picture I vaguely recall and an angel too; nip into the art folder,animal folder and religion folder find that one poem occurs in all three entitled Pit Stop (which is also copied by the way into the transport poem folder should my brain have gone the donkey as transport route). Thus poem is deftly located.

Do not flood me dear reader with better ways of keeping my poems in the computer, this way works for me. I am sure if you examine your own computer folders your own idiosyncratic methods will emerge that are as clear as consommé to you and a total mystery to others. Much like the art of navigating through a poem sometimes, we bring our own folders and our own power of being precise in our identification of what we feel are its attributes.

Judging Distances a poem by Henry Reed, more famous for his poem ‘Naming of Parts’ perhaps beautifully describes the difference between clinical and precise attribution and what is actually experienced by the observer and by the observed. I have always thought this a more interesting poem than his other more famous one.

I may love my virtual pigeon holes for poems but I am well aware that nothing really ever fits and long may it be so.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Avoiding horns with Baudelaire and Bernard Manning

On Thursday night I had a problem with ‘Mother F**king’. Do I say it or do I not in the presence of young children at a poetry reading. The poem (not mine) required it, I have read it before, the audience would also be warned of swearing. I suffered dark angst for a minute (time is no indicator of the depth dear reader). For heavens sake I used to be a Brown Owl, I like to think that I have the best interests of small young human beings at heart. The writer and poet Jackie Kay usually says something along the lines of ‘There is some swearing in this…enjoy children.’ Was I turning into a latter day Thomas Bowdler,gallantly attempting to censor modern poetry readings for the sake of making it family viewing?

I usually detest any attempt to bowdlerise or censor, unless it involves what may be regarded as pornography, racism, sexism or any of the liberal isms that I whole heartedly espouse. I would never knowingly offend or am I unconsciously thinking of that John Lewis ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ slogan. Then of course I lie, I would knowingly offend and have done so happily when I thought the situation the poem was addressing demanded some take offence. I am overjoyed when someone I deem offensive takes offence. I have however never knowingly undersold a poem, if you are going to sell a poem you should give it your best shot or not bother reading it at all. Here was a minor dilemma, sharp pointy horns up nether regions causing discomfort. Not insoluble surely, possible maybe to dismount or leap out of the way whilst maintaining my dignity like an agile Finnish Heavy Metal Musician at the Pamplona Bull Run?No apologies I’m an old rock chic (note chic in the French sense not the newly post egg one)at heart.
I was listening to a radio programme about the late Bernard Manning the Manchester comedian (and millionaire) who took pains to offend universally he said and could therefore not be accused of targeting any particular group in society. The principle seemed to be if you take a machine gun and sweep it in the widest arc possible, the individual then can’t feel that aggrieved when he is shot. For him everything and everyone was open house for comedic material, he had been denied access to television he argued by the politically correct fascists that governed the media. He even took pains to write his own obituary (note to self…good scam if ever I think I need to vent my spleen against anyone who I feel has offended me on my demise, when I cannot be sued).

To Mother F**k or not to Mother F**k that is the question whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged parents or take arms against a sea of complaints and by opposing potentially end them or get a bad headache and a number of e mails from the organisers who has had mail about the incident.

From the depth of my angst I cried to the author and lo he delivered me his judgement, I scaled down to bleeding but I believe (as pre-warned) a f**k or two did appear elsewhere but it seemed best to leave out mothers, they are a powerful lobby.

Baudelaire famously battled against the French Government to have his collection Les Fleurs du Mal published in 1857. They charged him and his publisher of creating an offence against public morals. Five poems from the original collection were suppressed and it wasn’t published in its full original version until 1949. The trial made his collection a best seller (those that prosecuted Lady Chatterley’s Lover never quite saw the value of history or hindsight).
For a sample of Baudelaire I’ve chosen the more innocuous but still erotically charged The Giantess, simple because it makes a big woman feel good and it’s a fat day today. It’s still pouring with rain and its either poetry or chocolate and I fancy both might be on the cards.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Stealing purses, words, Coleridge and De Quincey

I had my purse stolen from my bag at a poetry reading this week. It was interesting to note the response of the policeman I spoke to when I reported it stolen and the subsequent comments of colleagues and others . The theft of my purse was nothing remarkable, the fact that it was stolen at a poetry reading seemed to verge on the astonishing to them.
“You would have thought you would be safe from that sort of thing happening at a poetry reading of all places.” Commented the policeman as he demanded my date of birth and ethnic group, where I was and what I was doing at the time of the theft for the purposes of Home office statistics he reassured me. Somewhere in some Whitehall back office a number cruncher will discover that it will be vital to the war on petty theft to know that 0.000001% of Caucasian woman over fifty-five years of age have been the victims of crime at a poetry reading. This statistic will of course prove invaluable in the policing of small poetry festivals and individual poetry readings. I wondered why they had this immediate presumption that poetry would always be crime free. I did point out that the man who stole it left as soon as the poetry reading began which went some way to testifying to the total honesty of all poetry lovers.
“Oh,” said the policeman, “that explains it."
Lovers of poetry are not seen as thieves by the constabulary.
“It’s different at music gigs,” he continued “ they can steal your teeth while you're chewing a toffee. That doesn't apply to classical concerts though,“ he added hastily.

Strangely, the following day I was driving through the fens listening to a radio play in which one of the characters was a Coleridge scholar. I recalled many moons ago being present at a lecture about the Romantic poets that touched on Thomas De Quincey’s accusations that Coleridge was a prime thief of words, a plagiarist. He wrote of Coleridge’s tendency
‘to filch a handful of gold from any man whose purse he fancied while possessing himself the intellectual equivalent of the riches of El Dorado.’

It seemed a sort of back-handed complement, although De Quincey did seem to be regarded as an arch snitch amongst the Lakeland crowd. He was probably the sort of boy who would have dobbed in the other members of poetry/romantic boys gang for a smidgeon of attention. Also the words kettle and black comes to mind as he wasn’t averse to the odd intellectual homage himself. Of course that’s the point in literature where does plagiarism begin and end? Most of the greats including Shakespeare have reflected if not lifted words from others often without attribution. The literature world is not averse to a little theft, delving into others minds and making something out of others thoughts is what writers sometimes do. There is homage and parody a plenty in literature and one person’s allusion is perhaps another’s nicked. Coleridge may have lifted huge chunks from the German metaphysical philosophers for his ‘Biographia Literaria’ but the boy knew how to write a great poem and good poets are not always good people, in fact I think complexity of mind often calls for a little personal ethical confusion. I am always drawn to the more badly behaved, those that do a little internal battling with the dark side of the force are often more interesting but of course the bastard that stole my purse it of a different ilk.

The American poet Samuel Menashe does his own bit of allusion in this poem and refers to that internal battle.

By the way if you don't know which is Coleridge and which is De Quincey in the images at the start of the blog, go with your gut instinct. Which one looks more like a snitch but remember you shouldn't judge a poetry collection by its cover or a poet by his or her portrait.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

The Genetics of Kipple, Creativity and Louis MacNeice

I spent two days of last week removing the Boo (Beloved Only Child) and some of her accumulated stuff from her rather nice rented Norwich terrace. As is the way with offspring a certain amount of accumulated stuff has returned home whilst they do not. She is now enjoying the delights of more northerly climes whilst my loft has provided sanctuary for assorted clothes, ornaments, computer debris and various poles which I am reliable informed will re-assemble into something useful and absolutely necessary.

I watched the news the other day about the possibility of everyone someday receiving a genetic passport at birth containing information about possible diseases or conditions that the human entering the world might be heir to. I just know there is a gene for the gathering of stuff or kipple as the Boo refers to it, generalising from the term used in books by the amazing science fiction writer Philip K Dick in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ on which the film Bladerunner was loosely based

‘The First Law of Kipple is that Kipple drives out the nonkipple.’

Somewhere lurking in my DNA is a code for the creation of kipple. As I have mentioned in an earlier post this gene is evident by the state of my house and garden shed. This is not modelled behaviour I hasten to point out as the Boo was able to collect almost from birth. However genetics may have also played their part in creativity as even the Boo can not deny that the completion of an MA in creative writing has some connection with poetry and fiction, however tenuous.

Years hence will the baby be handed over with its passport stamped, ’Watch out for depression, possible bi-polar disorder, alcoholism, kipple and creativity.’ Will anxious parents see their child’s genetic future coming to pass when the child totters out of playschool clutching a finger-painting and utters the prophetic words, “I made this for you Mum, it’s a sunflower, don’t ever throw it away will you. I think I might make you some more to keep as well, it will cheer us up.”

Of course this may all be detected in the womb and only children with safe, predictably happy lives will be allowed to enter the restricted space called world. Perhaps people will be able to take out insurance against producing such children and will then be able to purchase the finest therapy at an early stage to eliminate any adverse personal and social effects that their errant genes may lead them towards. However we all know what happened when they tried to keep Sleeping Beauty away from needles or anything sharp and pointy for that matter.

Of course I am being far too paranoid as we will surely recognise that the ghost in the shell is composed of more than the sum of the genes. Planetary tidiness may suggest the elimination of all aberrant genetic material, especially if resources become scarce and the survival of the fittest mentality begins to kick in. People are like kipple, its use and existence may seem non-apparent but you never know when something will come in useful, possession or evolutionary wise.

See I am a clever liberal Guardian reader and can now leap from the condemnation of eugenics to justify the shed, the loft, the three boxes of garish plastic flowers from my dead mothers house. ..and in one bound the blogger was free of guilt about family crap. I have used much of my Wallace Stevens daily hour of just sitting and thinking on the issue of genetics, it has taken me thus far...more thinking may take me further. Of course Louis MacNeice said it all more beautifully in his poem Prayer Before Birthwritten during the Second World War and he wasn’t making an anti-abortion plea here in case anyone mistakes his intent.

By the way I took my newspaper house poem to my monthly poetry workshop and the other poets helped prod it with their own particular sticks and thus it is being chivvyed towards being a far better poem...don't you just love it when that happens.