Saturday, 26 January 2008

Poetry Performance and the Tale of the Green Cock

I have just returned to the hacienda from a Performance Poetry Workshop, with Luke Wright which was really enjoyable. I sat gob smacked and awed at the sheer speed and memory of Luke as he performed some of his work at the start of the workshop The workshop gave me a chance to loosen up and get down with the performance artists. I've watched John Cooper Clark live a few times in the past and came out reeling, slightly as if I had been punched in the head maybe, but in a cool sort of way......See, note the use of getting down and cool, I am already trying to sound like a rapper from a minor public school with no idea of what I am talking about but hoping frantically that throwing in a few words of street lingo ( sadly at least two decades out of date) will get me some street cred( there I go again). However I did realise that I am best doing what I do but using the method/plan we were shown was remarkably similar to how one could approach writing any poem ; if you put enough thought, energy, images and good words into one end of the machine something interesting and useable can pop out the other. Watch the rhythm. the narrative arc of it, the voice and point of view and have a sense of where you are going even if you allow yourself to be surprised by what comes out of the flow and energy of the first draft.

I am always awed by people who perform their poems without the paper in front of them. I need my paper, I don't trust my menopausal memory despite the extra ginko bilboa and ginseng I now take. I wrote it and probably do know it but there's that risk, that jump from the aeroplane and free fall that actors and performance artists are willing to take every time they go up on stage. Of course they work hard on technique, they check and re-check, pack their own parachutes but essentially they are willing to jump and trust in their synaptic pathways to conjure up the words, in the right place and in the right order whilst the adrenalin of being in front of an audience pumps through their body at something resembling the speed of gravity and they believe in their ability to avoid crashing into the dust of dry-up. Perhaps I am too old, probably too fearful, too controlling to risk not being totally in control, just a big wuss about sums it up.

Afterwards I went to Nandos for a coffee with another workshopee or should I really say, fellow workshopper. The former sounds too passive and victimised ,the latter too aggressively retail. This restaurant and bar is in the souless square of the pleasure dome ( without the dome) where the workshop took place.

There was a poor underpaid, harassed foreign man working at the counter, "You have your cock?"
"We have to have your cock to serve you."
"We get your number from your cock."
"Your cock, it is green and on your table."
'Sorry no green cock on our table'
"Someone should have given you cock when you come in."
'I want a tea, a large cappuccino and two custard tarts please.'
"You no understand not without cock."

I had a very Sid James, 'Carry On up the Double Entendre' moment but, strangely, a split second after the whole conversation. At the time the absence of the green cock was simply that. I wondered in fact whether this was a game the waiters in the restaurant played with customers to liven up their day. 'Who can get cock into the conversation with a customer the most' wins a free dinner. Looking at the waiter I do think he and I had a genuine conversation about the cock. I am now wondering whether if I put this word in the Label and title of the blog my hit rate will rise as a result of what people may choose to Google on a bleak wet Saturday night !

Friday, 18 January 2008

Real floods, real money and real trouble coming

Sarah Hall's dystopian novel The Carhullan Army has just won the John Rhys Llewellyn Prize and its plot is starting to unfold. The waters are starting to rise. The heavens have opened yet again and the flood meadows around my small fen town have become a peaceful lake, punctuated by the odd tree and swan. I have had to take detours as roads are flooded, Ely is denied me, except by a roundabout route. The ditch gouged out of the meadows to help the eels is submerged and no doubt the eels are busy swimming across the fields. The winter world is fast becoming not one of snow and ice but rain and floods. I have looked into the face of global warming and seen the fens returning to marshland, the dykes becoming an old archaeology to be explored by divers in the future. My resolution about water did not mean this.

As per another resolution I went to pay the paper bill yesterday and the Huckleberry Hound newsagent behind the counter was somewhat mystified. “You only paid last week.”. “Yes I know” I replied, “ but I’m trying to keep up”. “Keep up?”. “ “Keep up with the payments so I don’t get behind and then discover that The Guardian and the TLS cost a fortune if you let it slip.” “The Sun can mount up too, if you let it, debt is no respecter of readership.” He responded gloomily, circling my account in his big black book with a red biro. “The pensioners used to pay when they came into get their pensions on Thursday and the Mums paid when they got their Family Allowance but people are having it paid straight into their bank account these days. Stamps and parcels seem to be the only reason these days why people come in, that’s why they forget to pay their paper bills, it’s a special trip in for them." The newsagent's shop, I should point out, for those that haven’t yet twigged, is also a sub post office. He carried on circling my payment in the book for the third time , as if to ensure this momentous moment of promp payment should not be forgotten, "My wife misses the little chats she used to have with people when they came and got their money but it’s a no cash world these days.” I gave him a real fiver and he seemed almost pleased.

Money is becoming more and more virtual is seems, payment by credit card, direct debits, standing orders, switch cards, pay pal. I note that even PayPal is advertising that it is acceptable on Facebook now. The purchase of new friends by pay pal would be good, they don’t seem to sell friends on Ebay yet , although with my luck I will probably be outbid on a particularly good type of friend in excellent second hand condition ( the photo will show someone smiling and not too attractive as to be disheartening or intimidating in mixed company) , with excellent listening skills, super social contacts that I can piggy back on into great dinner invitations, parties and week-ends in the country and a holiday home to offer me in Provence. Luckily when I received their e mail invitation to use PayPal on Facebook I was aware that I had excellent friends already and did not require more, in fact I needed to spend more time with the ones I already have and not acquire more.

So this use of virtual money didn’t appeal but as with the newsagents sad wife I do rather miss the whole real money exchange. I do know someone who refuses to use cards of any kind relying solely on a cheque book and cash. He has had to accept that work deals in virtual money only and that the concept of the wage packet, with tenners and the odd coin in, is now out of the question in his line of work. However when he retires he tells me he intends to do little cash in hand jobs in which real money will be exchanged for his services which he will keep in a secret teapot in order to pay for small treats, the odd bill and carol singers.

I can see the allure and the common sense of real money. Would the build up of huge credit card debt occur if people had only cash to make purchases with? I sense that the whole economic world of Western Europe and America would crash should people return to having teapots full of cash instead of bank accounts. There would be a shortage of notes and coins. Tills in shops would groan under the weight of it, On-line stores would fold and people would be left with unsold second hand Beswick figures or Next dresses, the old pawn shop would become relevant to all strata of society again. Those in real poverty may not be the only ones counting out their change at the till in order to see if they can afford a loaf of bread and some beans, if the all powerful world of the credit card disappeared. It would be interesting if, just for a week a month, people committed themselves to cash only transactions. Virtual money perhaps leads to the concept of virtual debt; if you can’t see it, touch it, smell it, does it really exist? Taking a caseload of money to buy a new car, a new house or a holiday would at least make you think twice about handing the money over. Do I really need to give them this may be more of a real question to us if we physically beheld the cash or felt its weight?

I am becoming the grumpy old woman, the economic Luddite, the queen of the teapot misers? No, just a grumpy old hypocrite because I write all this knowing I have used my debit card four times today, that bills have been paid on line this week and that something I wanted but didn’t need has been put on the plastic. Put it on the plastic. I wonder whether we are busy putting the world on the plastic.

Live now pay later. My carbon footprints yesterday and today; tomorrow the floods at my door. Move over Mr Gore is there room up on your soap box for a woman with a teapot, my feet are starting to get a little damp?

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Resolutions of water, Burt Bacharach, cheese and letters

Six New Year Resolutions

• Drink more water when: anxious, when sad, when over excited, when desperate, when longing, when disturbed, when tired, when hyperactive, when curious, when turned in on myself and when opened to the world, when taken aback, when disappointed, when ecstatic, when discovering I have a secret evil twin, when recovering from spotting Elvis in the chippie, when suffering from writers block, when finding out there is no such thing as writers block, when suspecting energy saving light bulbs are giving me hallucinations that Che Guevara’s face has manifested itself in the grain of the airing cupboard door, when thirsty.

• Eat less cheese especially; Brie, Port Salut, Camembert melted in that box that has that flimsy red checked material that looks like it should be the curtains in The Waltons, Gorgonzola, that one that comes from Norway or is it Sweden that has the consistency of an insole but tastes rather like a flavoursome acorn with a back hint of old oak in an urban Leeds Park.

• Sing along in the car more, especially to the boxed set of Burt Bacharach’s hits of a life time. Discover my inner Dusty and Barbra but only in the privacy of my Clio and probably with the use of heavy eye make up and the six inch finger nail extensions of an ancient Chinese mandarin ( the high class offical not the small satsuma).Note in the Streisland video linked to, she seems to be staring so intently at Burt's face that I suspect she must have been fascinated by a huge bogey up his nose that the viewer cannot see due to the camera angle.

• Remember to pay the paper bill on time so that the man at the newsagents who looks remarkably like Huckleberry Hound with those down turned jowls will not have to resort to pushing reminders through the door on re-cycled Christmas cards with a plaintive note that seems to imply that a Guardian reader should embrace the concept of the labourer (or news paper boy) being worthy of his hire.

• Continue to strive to become a woman of letters, real handwritten in ink, letters. This may involve writing to myself as I have not received a long personal letter through the mail for over two years. Those to whom I have written long ,personal, handwritten, put in envelopes, stamped, walked down to the post box, type of letters have replied by e mail, albeit cheerily and informatively but tit did not achieve tat. Perhaps I could write to someone in jail in America and pick myself up a low maintenance husband when letters may be the sole requirement needed to keep the relationship going?

• Read good books and poems on those occasions when I should also drink more water ( see first point).

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Into the New Year with Bubba Ho-Tep and Kathleen Raine

Happy New Year reader, welcome to the first blog of the year; more specifically Happy 2008 as new years occur with frightening rapidity or so it seems. To at least label them firmly helps to create the illusion of the earth’s orbit slowing down a little, to the pace of a life well lived at least. Of course the happy well lived life tends to feel as if it is often fleeting but it is comforting to think that unhappy times turn at the same rate as happy ones so should be equally fleeting but personally I have to concentrate far harder to make the hands move on the clock during sadder times.

I read the collected works of Kathleen Raine over the holidays. She was a great scholar of Blake and Yates and her own poetry is shot through with a search for the transcendent and spiritual. She is a good poet to read at the turn of the year as she often manages to marry that sense of the momentousness of a moment with the everydayness of each second.
I note that she chose as one of her favourite quotes something by Yeats that echoes that.

"I know now that revelation is from the self, but from that age-long memoried self, that shapes the elaborate shell of the mollusc and the child in the womb, that teaches the birds to make their nest; and that genius is a crisis that joins that buried self for certain moments to our trivial daily mind. " - W B Yeats from Autobiographies

Her poem Into What Pattern seems to speak to me about all that breathless excitement and also slight trepidation that a new year can engender. It is a twelve line question; no full stops just that final question mark, which imbues it with that full pelt headiness of hope and fear. What next is a question we all ask ourselves, good fortune tellers make their living out of that question.

Today I am off to meet with an American based friend and her husband who have returned to clear her mother’s flat as she is now living in a residential home. My friend tells me that her mother, who is in her nineties, can no longer recall her old flat and therefore this transition is far from painful and she is ensconced in her delightful room being as awkward as she always was but with a greater audience to attend to her refusals. However, as we both remarked, in your nineties you are allowed to remain in your dressing gown all day if you so choose and not socialise with the other residents, regarding the racing on TV from Kempton and old videos as better company. I shall be equally awkward I’m sure, unwilling to change the habits of a life time at an advanced age just to fit in with others. I will try to keep just the pleasant side of difficult and see myself as mildly eccentric rather than a mad old bat. I shall insist on playing scrabble on line and losing to American High School Students, Indians and Koreans and octogenarian Mexicans. I will dance by myself to Tamla Motown and download old DVDs of obscure films like Bubba Ho-Tep, which if you haven’t seen it is a priceless, funny but mad B movie horror in which an elderly Elvis Presley and an elderly black John F Kennedy, now resident in a squalid old peoples home, fight against the evil mummy Bubba Ho-Tep who wants to suck their souls out of their anus….now that’s a movie to watch when you are old and grey and don’t want to sing Daisy Daisy round the piano with the other residents!