Sunday, 29 June 2008

Dancing at Weddings with Cyd Charisse and Sir Philip Sydney


~ Sir Phillip Sydney ~

My true love hath my heart and I have his,
By just exchange one for another given
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven
My true love hath my heart and I have his.

His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his because in me it bides
My true love hath my heart and I have his.

I was asked to read this poem at a friend’s wedding yesterday. Well technically it was a blessing as they had already had a very romantic wedding in Trinidad, where the bride hails from. I am still recovering, not from the drink (I had to drive home) but from the dancing. I love dancing in a strange and uncontrollable manner, a bit like a giraffe on ecstasy. A long time ago, I started this blog by revealing that when I get an acceptance letter from a publisher or poetry magazine I do a ritual little dance round the kitchen. It is a private vice but very uplifting, tapping into the tribal unconscious. A wedding in almost all cultures, unless it's a very dreary uptight culture, involves a bit of dancing to mark the union of two people.

Dancing together, dancing alone, partners dancing, small children dancing with parents and grand parents, teenagers desperate to escape dancing with parents and grandparents; all human dance life can become available at a wedding. I am not talking ballroom, salsa, sophisticated move dancing here but the ‘doing your own thing’ dancing that allows you to imitate Tina Turner, Mick Jagger and John Travolta badly. Dancing that lets you act out all the words to ‘I will survive’. There is always a mix of very cool move dancers, uncoordinated dancers, abandoned dancers, self conscious dancers. As the bride was from Trinidad we had a great mix of reggae and soul music and the disco man dressed rather oddly in a black shirt and white bow tie even threw in some Hip-Hop now and then. People either flooded the dance floor or backed off according to their dancing comfort zone.

Me? Well I had a bad go at everything and am paying for it today. Was it the sixties twist that got my knees or the High Ho Silver Lining that ricked the shoulder or the Bob Marley that put my back slightly out of kilter. Nevertheless it was great to dance. The last time I danced in public was at another friend’s wedding nearly three years ago so I was just one big pent up dance move waiting to happen, bursting at the seams with flailing arms and uncontained hip action.

If you are going to celebrate how can you not include dancing? A nice meal, drinks, speeches, chat and then out the door is all very pleasant but add dancing into the mix and then you have a real celebration. When feeling a little gloomy try dancing to a little MoTown or whatever makes your feet itch to move. it taps into something deeply human, it makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself and it gets those happy endorphins licking in.
We danced to celebrate life, happiness, togetherness, plain joy so it’s worth every stiff muscle today, in fact I might limber up later with a little Aretha or maybe Abba. Now if I could have moved last night like the late Cyd Charisse I’d be a happy and probably less stiff woman but it may be that I was a Fred Astaire short of a dance floor spectacular.

Now go off and dance in the kitchen alone, with the hamster, the postman, the pot plant or if you are lucky with someone who has your heart.

PS The painting at the top is a Breughal entitled The Wedding Dance

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Hunkering round the Campfire with Sean O'Brien and Jen Hadfield

This week I went to the launch of a friend’s book of short stories in Cambridge.

It was well attended but not many chairs. It is difficult for me to really listen to anything for any length of time, no matter how good, standing up these days. A colleague at work went to the Globe Theatre on the South bank in London to see Macbeth and thought she would indulge in the full authentic Shakespearean experience by going in the Elizabethan equivalent of the Mosh Pit. She said by the time Lady Macbeth appeared examining her bloody hands she was suffering so much leg ache that she wanted to yell out and just tell her to get on with it and jump to speed things up. Gone are the days when I could stand for hours at a gig banging my head on fresh air or just swaying in appreciation and not tiredness. When you start taking a shooting stick to sit on at an outdoor gig you know it’s time to start muttering grumpily about the old days at the Isle of White Festival or the very first Glastonbury and putting your Tom Waits vinyl into alphabetical order.

Back to the friend’s launch. Eventually the elderly found the odd chair, some hard core uprights lent against book stacks but many like me sat down on the floor. Being of the long-legged species I have always found sitting cross legged problematic, even as a child. It posed a dilemma; it is like trying to fold up a stiff deckchair, an art as great as wooden origami or the Rubik’s cube, to me. It must be something to do with my lack of spatial awareness coupled with kinaesthetic failures and of course the capacity for logical thought.

Sitting cross-legged wouldn’t appear to be difficult but arranging 36” of inside leg, which I have possessed since a twelve year old (much longer than that vaunted by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman) into this complexity of under over, tucking in and knees akimbo has always eluded me and when I have achieved it, it is distinctly uncomfortable. Both legs tucked to one side is easy but involves a twisting of the spine that any Alexander teacher would weep over. Kneeling and sitting back on your heels is what children do naturally and is I am told by a physio actually quite a good postural position to adopt so long as the back isn’t rounded but then at my age and as a failed yoga student I have a tendency to start off with very good intentions of keeping myself upright but after a few minutes I start to subside and my spine takes on the appearance of a lengthy arc. I have always hankered after being able to hunker down like a cow poke round a campfire; pushing back my cowboy hat with one hand and wielding a mess tin plate of beans in the other whilst someone plays a lonesome tune badly on a harmonica and a coyote howls out in the brush. I think I have overdosed on Westerns in my childhood and have the celluloid image of lots of bonding hunkering down round camp fires imprinted on my low brow mind before Broke Back Mountain came along to make hunkering and bonding take on a whole new visual image.

Stiffness of the knees precludes hunkering, and I note that in the farting scene in Blazing Saddles they didn’t hunker either but had barrels to sit on but book shops are short on barrels.

I have just received a letter to go and have my Dupuytren’s Contraction looked at( nothing to do with pregnancy), it has other names, Coachman’s Hand, Claw hand, etc. It runs in the family, father, uncle, aunt, grandparent and on back into my Viking lineage, from which the condition may spring apparently although it is also very common in Australia. However those Vikings were intrepid sailors and may no doubt have navigated their way there despite any hand problems. Of course there are other causes for this grasping hand; heavy drinking being one of them but I hesitate to say that there was a long line of heavy drinkers in the family but it may be tied up with all those flagons of wine and ale ancestors pillaged in the old days.I like to think of it developing from honestly tilling the soil or pulling on ropes on long boats. Maggie Thatcher had this condition which may say something but something I would rather not be associated with. However, Sean O’Brien, the poet and recent winner of the TS Eliot prize suffers from it and has even written a poem about it, which I couldn’t find to link to. Instead I will show you one of his poems about his inheritance, the likes of which is much more in keeping with my sentiments and past.

I have also been reading the second poetry collection by Jen Hadfield, Nigh-No-Place. If you don’t know this poet, take time to read her work, it will reward you. She is a triumphal mix of nature poet(red in tooth and claw), young urban witty, lyric, and above all she is a player with language that pushes you along at a giddy rate. She lives on in the Shetland Isles but her latest collection also reflects her time spent in the wilds of Canada visiting relatives. Roddy Lumsden who is no mean judge of poets has written of her that she is the most exciting poet to come along, not only in Scotland but in Britain for a long time. Here is one of her poems but navigate back from this page and you can read others.This site by the way is well worth bookmarking, if you don't know it already, as it has some interesting work up there on a regular basis. I met Jen a few years back when she was still doing her undergraduate degree in English at Edinburgh and it has been wonderful watching her work develop and grow into something that excites the ear and the senses.

In line with this poem I linked to of hers I should point out that at present I am coveting my neighbour’s cat (not the killing machine one on the right but the one on the left) who spends time sunning himself on the roof of my ex rabbit hutch (well the rabbit hutch isn’t ex but the bunny is). He is a cat of immense ability to relax without any guilt that he isn’t out doing feline things like catching birds and hunting mice, this is a life skill I want to cultivate. Cats don’t do guilt at all of course whereas the dogs I have known and loved could always seem to summon up a look of guilt way beyond any expectation of punishment when they had chewed the rug, eaten my birthday cake or shat in the kitchen. Nor did they have the same degree of relaxation as cats, they twitched when they slept and were always on the edge of protecting the sheep in the fold from the wolves. Dogs would hunker with you round a campfire, cats on the other hand would be off killing small owlets, sleeping chipmunks and sinking their claws into the back of the harmonica player’s neck…

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Friend Reunited, a Hand of Pork and Alice Beer

The sun is shining, the bar-b-cues are being fired up down the cul-de-sac. I went into town and met friends, we discussed the price of a hand of pork which one amongst us was cradling like a small baby in her arms. It may seem mundane but amongst friends such small things are not boring, are not inconsequential. We can talk about other more cataclysmic things on both a global and personal level. We have shared much more personal things that touch each nerve around a table in a cafĂ© but everyone should be so lucky as to have someone with whom they can discuss the price of a hand of pork and know this will be of interest. Perhaps you dear reader do not think such things are important enough to discuss in a blog but the price of a hand of pork is just an example of the small things which can be brought to friends without fear of feeling shallow or just talking for the sake of talking. There are all those conversations overheard in bars between male friends about the best route to Mansfield or the effective use of a full back, who set fire to the science teacher’s lab coat twenty years before, whether The Who was the best live band ever. This may be boring, it may be talking for the sake of having something to say but it also gives you the sense of being with others who will give you the time of day.

Friendship is a valuable thing, a truism, but sometimes you forget how much it means. I have people out there in the world not tied to me by blood who are connected to me by ties far stronger than sometimes blood can bind. I am also aware that there are friends who fit certain periods in our lives, who came and went and we both moved on, things change. What I was thinking about this morning was whether that petering out of a friendship is just what happens or just easier to deal with in those terms. We can’t divorce friends, we just stop seeing them. Of course a big bust up punctuates something but most friendships just dribble away into Christmas cards.

All this is leading up to a decision about a University reunion I have been asked to attend. Do I go? I am not in contact with anyone from those days. I am a different person in many ways from then. There are those I thought a pain in the butt and others I got along with really well. That entire ‘Friends Reunited’ thing is mostly driven by curiosity or perhaps morbid curiosity or strange unresolved issues with that girl or boy you fancied.

Is the acne ridden girl who couldn’t string two words together without blushing now a stunningly beautiful and confident woman? Is that boy who thought he was god’s gift to girls now an overweight, balding Dyna-rod man? There is also some need to show others you have survived whatever trauma school and university presented. Showing how far you have come since last they saw you dressed like a jumble sale at a hippy commune and smoking Consulate could be good but showing how much weight you have gained and that you live in a council house and work for less money than they in fact pay a Dyna-rod man (or person to be PC) is maybe bad.

But then there are the people you called friends back then, those you laughed and drank in pubs with, who borrowed your best dress and got wine on it but you forgave, who sat up and mainlined on pro-plus with you so you could get through revision together, those who knew to save you the orange fruit gums and understood that it wasn’t the time of the month that made you bite their head off sometimes. There are those that have dribbled way beyond annual Christmas cards into that great vat called lost and gone. What do you say to those at such reunions should they appear? Is it wise to re-kindle something that is a pale imitation of past friendship based mainly on a small snippet of shared past history or is it best to just let it all go? I have no idea and am still pondering on my motives for going, plain old nosiness is of course allowable, pleasure at knowing past friends are well and happy would be good but what if past friends are not well and happy, how would I deal with that? I think too much sometimes but at the very least I hope all of my past friends have someone to discuss a hand of pork with.

I am putting a link to a poem by Alice Beer. I met Alice on a creative writing course four years ago. She is a phenomenon. She is way past ninety (although she keeps her exact age a secret) and full of life, subtle and wry humour and that real wisdom (not the phoney kind) that comes with having lived so long and through so much. She got out of Vienna just before the Anshluss and she and her children were separated from her husband for some time during the course of the war as he remained there. I always recall her saying that she came to writing quite late in life “but at 75 or so you need to start something new!” When discussing the subtext of a poem on this course which seemed to imply a lot of anger, she waved her hand around, sat back and said in her small quiet voice which still holds a tinge of an accent, “Ah anger, anger, best to just let it go, let it go.” Scroll down the page to her poem called How to Learn to Ride a Bicycle. This considers succinctly the issues I am thinking about old lost friends (if lost and friend is not a contradiction in terms). Of course it is, like all good poems, about other things as well.

I also have to bear in mind that friends may have lost touch with me for a reason too. They have moved on too and they may still have deep seated issues about that incident with the budgie, the dinner plate and the Melanie album.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Euro Cup Football, silence and tears in the rain

So the Euro Football Cup competition has commenced without us (us being, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Adverts on the TV encourage us to get in touch with our inner European and pick another team to support. I presume this is based on the fact that some personal emotional investment in the outcome of a match makes the whole process much more interesting. Watching a game just for the experience of seeing a good game of football between two groups of skilled professional athletes doesn’t appear to be an option. The TV Companies want bums on seats in front of the box and their best bet for achieving that aim seems to be to encourage engagement through a sense of ownership, a sense that this team gives you a momentary sense of belonging to something. The beautiful game is still basically tribal and if your tribe has disappeared what do you do? Find another tribe seems to be the thrust of the adverts, being without one leaves you vulnerable.

I used to go to a lot of football games in the distant past, when there were still terraces that smelled of urine and pies, creaking turnstiles and admission fees that didn’t cost a year's wages and your first born. I am not indulging in nostalgia here, standing up for ninety minutes in pouring rain was never wonderful and footballers were not as well styled or good looking. As a young girl they never seemed to be any pin up material on the field. My posters on the bedroom wall I recall didn’t seem to include half naked, waxed and muscular men staring sexily into the lens. Footballers were ordinary blokes who did their stuff on a cold wet muddy Saturday afternoon not in front of the camera.

The cult of personality in sport is well documented and acres of text has been written by people about ‘the good old days’ of football. All I recall about Nottingham Forest and Notts County matches as a child was that this was a place where working men congregated together and for me it was the first experience I had of a crowd being one animal, having a life of its own. The sum of the parts was practically demonstrated to be greater than the whole. The minute silences held for deceased ex players etc was not unusual and a crowd holding itself in, holding itself still was something exceptional to me as a child. That is why when I came across this Paul Farley poem the other day it resonated. Some poems you can admire for their craft and skill but it is those poems that also seem to call your name in a crowd that you turn your head to.

Silence is a powerful thing, the absence of something that you are attuned to is very unsettling. The use of a dramatic pause on stage can, in the hands of the right actor, carry a whole scene. A silence in a film, especially if not accompanied by huge visual changes and input can be a either brave and significant or ponderous and almost too ‘worthy’. There is a minutes silence (or should I say absence of dialogue) in this famous scene in Bladerunner. In filmic terms this is brave and I believe was edited down in the version first released and only reinstated in the Director’s cut. I think it adds something to just stay with that silence for a minute.

Silence in a poem at first seems counter intuitive but then I think Emily Dickinson’s famous hyphens may have been her graphic way of writing silence. Not a pause as in a fullstop, a comma but a dash to signify some regard for the power of small silences maybe. Small silences may be something we all need more of, a little hush now and then can make the auditory landscape a little more vivid.

Ps I shall be supporting a team that will do quite well, come close to going out in the quarter finals, struggle bravely in the semi's with moments of genius followed by defensive gaffs a primary school second team wouldn't make. They must also deal with defeat in a dignified manner and have a couple of players that you really want to feel better about missed penalties. Any suggestions, I was thinking of an Eastern European team such as Croatia?