Thursday, 31 July 2008

Whales, Plays, Jokari and Vincent Ferrini

Second Letter from America

So today I played ultimate tourist and got up at 4am to write for a couple of hours before walking the couple of miles into the town harbour to go on an early morning Whale Watching Tour. I chose mid-week as apparently the week-end tours are very busy. So a motley crew of about twenty of us turned up at the harbour to get aboard one of the four whale watching boats that ply their trade in Gloucester. We had the compulsory safety talk, where the inflatable life-boats were and life jackets etc. Six of the twenty people on the trip hailed from one enormous family, by enormous I don’t mean extended I mean ENORMOUS. ( This is no fat bashing comment as I am certainly less than sylph like myself).There were three generations of this family present and they provided living proof that obesity is a genetic issue, or that poor eating habits are passed on from one generation to another. All of them must have been well over twenty-five stone, including the teenagers. They tipped out of one of those big RV’s they have here that are like camper vans on steroids. There was a tiny Japanese couple who seemed to be more fascinated by this family than the whales and I noticed they kept taking surreptitious pictures of them when they thought they weren’t looking.

The crew member giving the talk had a strange look on his face when he talked about six people fitting into each small dinghy. He could probably see the rest of us mentally calculating how many of us could fit into the remaining life rafts if each of the ‘super-size me’ family occupied one life rafts each, or chose to gather on one side of the boat. The family were from Pittsburgh, if I read their T-Shirts correctly. They stayed in the little cabin on board that had a tiny cafĂ© during the whole trip and consumed several hot dogs and cup cakes. When we did get to see actual whales they took photographs through the windows of the cabin and never ventured on deck. This may have been wiser for the stability of the boat as it was situated in the centre of the boat.

The whale watch itself was really interesting but it did feel like we were the paparazzi pursuing Posh and Becks for that one great picture. All four of the different whale watch tours set out at much the same time, all with people toting enough photographic equipment to pay off the trade deficit of a small African Country. They all seemed to have enormous telephoto lenses. One man on our boat had a special crutch thing just to support the weight of his, it was so long. I took my small digital and felt almost ashamed to get it out in such macro company. After a couple of photos I realised that it was much more enjoyable just to put it away and just really look at everything and simply enjoy the moment.
The snaps I did take were distinctly uninspiring.
• Whale at great distance looking like big grey turd on the surface of the water doing nothing much.
• Picture of sea as a breeching hump back whale has just jumped spectacularly out of shot.
• Picture of my wet foot as two whales do a deep dive and their massive flukes are raised in the air.
• Close up shot of railing
• Back of heads of lovely chatty lesbian couple from New York

Once I decided to give up the photography I did feel I could enjoy the whole experience and was saddened in a way that nearly all of the others on board just had their cameras and video recorders glued to their eyeballs and experienced it all filtered through a view finder. Have to say, in case you have any doubts hump-back whales in the flesh (or should I say blubber) are enormous and do elicit a feeling of watching something important and almost primeval. They seem to be unbothered by the boats following them and the whale watch boats do have very strict rules imposed on them about never crossing the path of a whale (apparently they don’t easily divert their course for any vessel, hence the fact that a number of them do get hit and killed by large ships or run straight into nets). However it has been discovered that they navigate by sight and have good vision (personally I presumed they were sort of myopic and Mr Magoos of the ocean). They swim from the feeding grounds here down to the Caribbean in the autumn to breed and are consistently accurate in their navigation and they do it on their own as the big hump backs are essentially lone creatures. I think its fascinating to think this huge creature, requiring 150 tons of fish each day to just survive, manages to get itself to the West Indies by remembering the contours of the ocean bed and reads them like a map after only one experience of that journey as a very young calf. Marine biologist on board explained that no-one is actually sure how they do that journey so precisely. There we are busily installing in–car Sat Nav to get us a few miles or consulting AA route finder on line and yet animals, birds and fish can travel hundreds of miles without a map, some by just a sense of where something feels it should be. Perhaps we have lost the ability to be in touch with our ‘inner navigator’.

I feel a new age therapy coming on, have never seen so many adverts and plaques on walls for various kinds of therapies until I went into the snobby part of town here, apparently many such therapists wash up here to treat the affluent summer folk. In just one stretch of street I could visit a shaman using Native American Indian practices, a crystal therapist, a light healer, a hypnotherapist and past life regressor, and enough aroma-therapists to cause the New York stock exchange dealers to cause an international run on the lavender and rose petal crop. I’m sure if I advertised as being able to put people in touch with their inner navigator there would be a few customers up for it. Start off small, get them to find the library or an unknown address nearby by walking and becoming attuned to their environment then in no time at all they could be navigating their way through life in general. There may be a self help book in this or even a small cult, ‘The Church of the Inner Sat Nav’. I do, of course, concede that whales don’t have to deal with one way systems, no right turns and detours due to road works and life is full of dead ends, junctions and even Sat Navs can turn you into a field of swedes now and then.

The IH play was like watching a train crash happening in front of you and wondering whether anyone could be rescued from it, including the audience. He does have quite a decent track record as a dramatist but this play needs a serious amount of work to try and extract the decent play the may be lurking within the existing one. (NB This play did indeed transfer to the New York stage in Feb 2007 to less than rave reviews by the critics, nice to be intune with the New York Times Theatre critic now and then)I won the seat raffle and won a free ticket to the play again followed by a discussion with the artists involved on Sunday. Hurrah I thought ironically but actually will go back and see it again just to give it a fair chance and then put my ha’pth in at the discussion afterwards maybe.

The play was about the painter Bonnard and his love life. He had a long time model and lover and then had an affair with a younger model who eventually killed herself in the bath after she hears that Bonnard had married his long time lover when he had promised to marry her. It has as a theme, Bonnard’s paintings of his wife in the bath posed as his younger mistress must have be found. This is of course fertile with dramatic content and has a rich psychological landscape so not a bad idea for a play to use this incident. Good premise, all down hill from there though. It is set in France, all the characters are French and we were treated to a sort of ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made of’ prologue which invites the audience to suspend belief and go backwards and forwards in time (the long term relationship between two modern day French art students is inter-cut between the scenes with Bonnard and his women)and to go to France. Fine can do that without being told to and then all the poor actors are obviously directed to use phoney French accents throughout the whole play. I had an ‘Allo Allo’ reaction and kept expecting Officer Crabtree to enter speaking twisted franglais. The actors were actually quite good especially the man who played Bonnard so I felt for him when he had to say ‘ Zis art is how I make sumzing become eeee….ter….nalle, mon amie, Lauterec.’ to another actor (who played several other roles during the course of the play) who, at this point was wearing a false beard and had shoes on his knees. I presumed it was meant to be ironic as in a bad pastiche of that old film with Mel Ferrar in, who waddled through it on his knees with a monocle stuck in his eye. So I may go back on Sunday and share these thoughts but then again I should perhaps keep quiet and let the locals adulate Mr H. He seemed to have several elderly ladies in various amounts of gold jewellery, strewing themselves before him on Thursday night, so I think he may be a definite local artistic hero along with Vincent Ferrini. Ferrini a ninety something poet (Black Mountain friend of the poet Charles Olsen) is a prime example of a poet who worked long and hard to ensure poetry addressed the socio and economic issues he felt America was steeped. He was always innovative as can be seen here in his rendition of his poem Forge Plant. I have just read some of his work and probably need to work a bit harder to grasp it, it is very American viseral gut poetry I feel, that is not a criticism merely an observation on my first reactions to it. Am I getting crabby in my old age, perhaps that Crab and Country Night has had a personal effect on me? Should stick to the local clams, maybe they will keep my mouth shut.


I met a local dog-handler this morning on my daily constitutional. Do people have those anymore? My father always swore by a morning constitutional when he was on holiday. A stroll along the sea front to get the daily paper to clear the sinuses and get the ozone in your lungs to last the year round was a must for many men on holiday in the fifties. Plus a game of Jokari with the reluctant off-spring, what ever happened to Jokari, bashing the hell out of a very hard rubber ball attached by elastic to a wooden block with a paddle shaped wooden bat. The ball could whip back so hard it could take your front teeth out or had to be surgically removed from your throat if you didn’t keep your mouth shut and never, never turn your back on it. Sorry am wall talking again, I digress.

The dog-handler was with two spaniels who are trained to round up and scare geese off the local golf course. He also gets them to retrieve lost golf balls and sells them back to the club. They are also, what he termed, marine rescue dogs. Don’t ask me how they do that but they seemed to be strong swimmers as he was tossing a Frisbee off the harbour wall for them to dive in after. It was twelve feet down to the water and they hit the sea with a hell of a thump but seemed to bob up eventually looking a bit stunned then paddled out after the Frisbee and returned it to the man via a boat launch ramp a few yards further up. No doubt any mariners who look like neon yellow Frisbees will be in with a chance of being rescued by them.

Ok back to my dark troll cave now. Only came up for sunlight and air, written 10,000 words since I arrived in States so think I can say that these missives are not displacement activities, just my way of talking to the wall.
Will let you know the latest on Joe, the bar-tender, trouble with his ex-wife and Crystal, the peroxide waitress who has to bring her three-year old into the bar some nights because she can’t afford the child-care because her husband won’t pay child support and he was earning thousands on a Miami game fishing boat until he got skewered by a sword fish and had to have a hundred and fifteen stitches in his left side (lack of full stops there used to try and emulate her rather breathless machine gun way of talking) Such a lot to learn huddled in my little booth and keeping quiet. Even got to read Thomas the Tank Engine to her little boy who told me ‘you don’t talk it right, you talk all funny!’ Has this boy not heard Ringo Star give his thespian rendition of Thomas?

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Country and Crab Night with Tom Waits and Frank Sinatra

So here is the first of my letters from America I wrote home a couple of years ago, back by popular demand, well three people really, who didn't get them by email the first time around (I think three constitutes popular when I count).

So I have arrived in my small bijoux apartment in a small town on the Massachusetts coast. I am in the cellar below a beautiful this little New England cottage shown above. I am surrounded by granite walls, even a granite wet room. I have two tiny windows that open out onto the front lawn at ground level. I am eye-ball to eye-ball with the ants and this morning two bonking squirrels. However if I climb up six granite steps I get to see across the harbour to the small town from the tiny garden. I have a bed that folds into the wall and in the day I put it away, set up a little table at the foot of the steps and can, when I look up from the lap top, see the roof tops and city hall of the town.

I am feeling somewhat like a troll emerging from my hole underground but it does have everything I need as my needs are few; bed, cooker, table, chair, chest of drawers, little cupboard to hang clothes in. There is a big refrigeration plant next door which hums away all the time but I have now become, even after a few days, used to it. It is a perfect place to write, down in my troll hole, as I have no distractions, although I am starting to see interesting patterns in the granite and no doubt at the end of three weeks alone here I shall be seeing small visions of the Virgin Mary or staged show tunes from the Broadway musicals in the contours of the rock. I have yet to do the wall speech from Educating Rita but it may yet be performed.

I hit Philadelphia in a heat wave that rather took the stuffing out of me, or rather sweated it out (98 degrees for two days running and the other days nearly that). I think I am calibrated for the English climate and found it difficult to function in anything but air-conditioned places. I have to say it was a body shock to walk through central Philadelphia in what felt like 100 degrees and then open a door into some store or museum that was air-conditioned to what felt like Arctic conditions such that you needed to carry a jacket or a cardigan to keep warm…rather a mad climatic body shock. I wondered how much energy Americans use up cooling things down in summer and heating things up in the winter. No wonder the Kyoto agreement is a bridge too far for them to cross if they need to maintain such extremes of artificial temperatures.

I went to a poetry open mike at a venue called Elsie’s in Philadelphia. It was a coffee shop on a railway platform. It was rather disconcerting to find the railway announcements were tannoyed into the venue at intervals, your delicate poem about life, love and the universe, interrupted by an announcement about the delay to the downtown train to Glenside. It was a strange tribe of regulars, some from a local facility for the blind who read their poems expertly from Braille machines. The MC a woman was very funny, and talked in between poets about her job for a hospital encouraging middle aged men to have colonoscopies to prevent bowel cancer. The scope for jokes surrounding this work was copious! They were somewhat suspicious about the stranger in their midst who was not only from a different area of Philly but from across the Atlantic. The MC after I read a couple of short poems said something along the lines of ‘Well, that’s shown our crap up.’ I wasn’t sure, looking round the room as the 8.42 to Carpenter Lane and all points south was announced, whether the locals wanted to hang me or drive me out of town tied backwards onto my horse at that point. However after listening to some good poems and some very very bad ones, including a list of what one man would do if he was President ( I think Point 37 was… Send every rapist and paedophile to the electric chair and have it televised for the benefit of the nation’s potential offenders ) my friend and I managed to escape with our lives and pondered on how such venues were a place people in a big, sometimes scary city like Philadelphia, can find acceptance and a kind of family.

Train journey up from Philadelphia to Boston was interesting, going through Concorde, Providence etc (all those names bequeathed by early settlers so fond of hopeful town naming). Manchester is even represented, a tiny white clapperboard town we went through, clinging to the Atlantic coast. The train went within a stones throw of the coast on one side and freshwater lakes on the other (don’t ask me what happens to the tracks when there is rain or the tides are very high!). The lakes are, apparently, a huge source of mosquitoes and have to be sprayed in the breeding season as they are afraid malaria could become endemic in Boston ( God forbid it should reach the hallowed ground of the countries Ivy league intelligentsia in Princeton and Harvard on the outskirts ). The local bugs seem fond of pale English flesh and I have regretted telling myself I would not need Jungle Insect Repellent when I packed for this trip. The mosquitoes, even by the sea keep up the American tradition of bigger and better. Some are built like Harrier Jump jets with the latest navigational equipment to locate and bite English flesh. Short of walking around in a bug proof jump suit or hopping along in a mosquito net as if I was in a parent’s sack race at a primary school fete, I have decided just to grin and bear it and carry anti-itch cream. The local pharmacist (who seemed to be about eighty and presumably the son in the Ruddenbach and Son Family Pharmacy…Serving the drug needs of the town for over a hundred years ) disappeared into the back of his little emporium and appeared with a tube of cream suitable for jock strap itch which he said was better than the after bug bite cream and a small bottle of white distilled vinegar…’Trust me they hate the smell’ So am now smelling like a pickled gherkin and a cricketers crutch which might get me a seat to myself on the bus I fancy.

I have discovered a little bar/roadhouse to eat in at night and people watch which is lively to say the least, being a few minutes walk down by the docks and the big plant where the truckers pick up the fish to haul them all over the States. Good homey food, especially sea-food though and a bar-tender built like a brick shit house who doesn’t seem to take any nonsense from customers. Kept thinking I am on the set of some old fashioned iconic American film. You can hear the cook perpetually arguing with someone in the kitchen and he emerged a couple of nights ago, yelling and cursing chewing on a stub of a cigar.
‘Whoever ordered the f**king lobster, it’s off, the f**ker climbed out the bucket and Kyle’s stepped on it by mistake, the f**king klutz!’

The bar tender and one of the waitresses who turns out to be his baby sister (her words) trying to work her way through college and is majoring in Creative Writing, seem to have taken a shine to me. I have been back a few nights running and as I don’t cause any trouble and the way I talk makes them ask me to say tomatoes again, I seem to have been granted permission to stay without the locals staring at me! The waitress told me she just loves watching Inspector Morse on the PBS channel and I spoke just like them! I seem to have learnt their life stories as I have the sort of face people tell things to. They actually don’t get a lot of English tourists round this neck of the woods, Joe the bar-tender says (yes I know it gets even more stereo typed, how could a man with a name like Joe become a bar-tender without a sense of irony, expect to find Frank Sinatra playing the piano in the corner one night with his hat tipped back singing ‘One for my baby and one more for the road’. The town is often full of rich Boston types with summer houses, Joe says in the sort of tone which you expect him to spit accurately into some brass spittoon behind the bar at that point.

The food is cheap, actually very good and the portions would sink a battleship.The fishermen and truckers who prop up the bar and watch the sports on the overhead TV don’t take kindly to being short changed on portions. They don’t seem to mind a lone English woman creeping into one of the booths and just listening, watching, eating and pretending to read her book whilst a slice of Americana life unfolds. The bar-tender told one man to mind his language in front of the English lady, last night. I told him I’d heard worse and he says, ‘Well ma’am these bums ought to have cause now and then to know how to behave in front of a lady, God knows no-one gets a polite word out of them the year round!’

I have chatted to the young waitress about Carver, Elizabeth Bishop and lent her my Ali Smith book the Accidental, although heaven know what she will make of that as she is a very ‘English’ read I feel. It’s Crab and Country Night down the bar tomorrow night, a Country and Western band is coming in from the next town to do a gig there apparently, so will keep the journal handy and make notes. There’s always at least one fight the waitress tells me, usually between a fisherman and a trucker from out of town ‘but my brother sort of mashes their heads together and they stop’. I think I should tell that girl she has a lifetime of material just waiting for her to write growing up round this bar.
On Thursday I am off on a whale watching trip and to a tiny theatre in the evening to see the premiere of an IH’s play about the painter Bonnard.

Next day Saturday.

The Crab and Country night proved to be an interesting experience to say the least. The whole history of Detroit Motors was written in chrome in the car park outsidethe roadhouse and the smell of leather hit you before you rounded the bend. Lots of fish have to be caught in sub-zero temperatures and hauled along snow bound roads to keep these pride and joys on the road so they could be brought out and cruised ona Saturday night. It did seem like the Tom Waits song 'Heart of Saturday Night'

I thought it was only in the old Westerns that a man can get thrown out of a saloon door! Had a window seat in my quiet little booth which afforded a ringside seat for the action in the car-park after a couple of people were hurled off the premise by Joe. When I went up to pay the bill an old man at the bar, with a face like crumpled Shar-pei dog with a cigarette sticking out of it, told me Joe used to be a good college footballer but busted his knee up so never got to play pro, but he’s still got a great throwing arm! Think I am falling in love with a stereo-type, cardboard cut out American bar that’s a cross between Deadwood and Cheers. The lady that is renting me the cellar when she heard where I was going to eat at night was appalled; she is very sweet but rather posh. ‘No-one goes there, it’s got a terrible reputation! There’s a nice little Bistro a bit further into town.’

I’ve seen that, three times the price for a plate half the size and immaculate women with Gucci handbags and men in white deck shoes that have never seen a deck. I know which I prefer.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Fate as a Sat Nav and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as a Pub Quiz team

The Boo (Beloved Only Offspring) has been involved in a car accident. No one hurt badly but car apparently a write off. At such moments one thanks the gods that all are safe then you start to think about the sliver of time that separates each of us from one sort of life or another. I think I have a cross between Bergman’s chess playing death and Terry Pratchett’s character of Mort embedded deep in my sub conscious as I tend to see Death as a lugubrious character strolling about the earth and Time as another character much like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland rushing around looking at his watch and trying to get places. They should arrive together at a certain point in someone’s life but now and then they don’t quite make the rendezvous as they should and off goes someone onto another life instead of the one planned. Of course it may be like Sat Nav, if a wrong turning is made the system readjusts and compensates for the error and another course is plotted. Fate as Sat Nav, now there’s an image. No matter how much you try and ignore that voice saying, ‘Turn around at the next opportunity’ it still tries to get you to where you should be.

This is not to say I am a fatalist merely someone who tends to see life events in the form of cartoon or film characters whipping about the place. X didn’t happen because it never was going to happen or X didn’t happen because the cosmos was buggered for a nano second because Time tripped over a tree root or Death took a wrong turning at the lights. Of course in that case it could be said that your whole life could be as it is because of one, two or a continual series of cosmic cock-ups rather than some slick pre-ordained pattern. Philosophers with brains the size of a multi story car park have puzzled over this for centuries so I make no attempt to discuss this but what I find odd is my need to visualise life and all its twists and turns as an on going cartoon caper in which various characters representing small or huge influential factors operate around me.

Time, death, life, hope, despair, happiness; all are ‘characters’ in my head. I know that if I had lived in the time of the Ancient Greeks I would have tuned into the Mount Olympus soap opera assiduously and it would have explained a lot. It is so much more comforting to turn the vicissitudes of life into manageable human like forms. I have this image of the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse as four elderly curmudgeonly men, living in a crumbling damp Victorian house that has a clear view of Ferrybridge Power Station and whose foundations are slightly rocked by the heavy traffic on the A1. They are biding their time, playing scrabble and watching the Six O’Clock News (the BBC is a much more reliable source of information than CNN or Sky). The horses are on loan to a local riding school so horse mad teenagers can have the benefit of them until they are needed. They go down to their local pub once a week when the quiz night is on. They are unbeatable on history questions and popular culture. Mind you the locals are fed up with them always winning and throw in the odd bizarre question on Big Brother or Jordan's autobigraphy to try and trip them up.

Adrian Henri of course was drawn to Orpington as the epicentre of Armageddon.

Monday, 14 July 2008

A Pile of Dirty Laundry, Virginia Woolf's Writing Shed and the Use of Chaos Theory to Relate them both to Strange Events

The washing machine broke at the week-end at that precise point when you have exhausted nearly all your clean knickers and are settled in for a mammoth wash. It is far more eco friendly to save up for one big wash rather than throw in just a few items. I know some will happily turn the washing machine on with a tiny load on board. Now I am at last vindicated in my slovenly ways, I feel slightly better that I have offset the odd car journey with a massive load of knickers. Someone very eco official at an information stall on Cambridge market also told me that washing items by hand was less eco friendly in terms of water and energy than doing a load in the washing machine so long as I keep it on eco setting. Thus not only is vindication in my own strange world view achieved but official vindication too. Three cheers for the woman with the pile of pants in the wash-basket. Now attentive readers out there will be joining up the dots from my last post.

No, no there isn’t a connection between heated discussions on the state of poetry and the bursting state of my washing basket although there may be one of those strange causal links like the beat of a butterfly wing and the earthquake chaos theory old chestnut. It is the fly problem I elude to but happily that seems to have abated. As I said earlier the washing machine broke down and as the repair man pulled out the machine I held my breath as to what dreadful thing might be behind it. A dead rat, mouse, frog, hedgehog, badger some tiny corpse that may prove to have been the fly source. I don’t pull my washing machine out to clean behind it, I do not feel guilty about that, it’s too heavy for me to move. Repair man edged it out, he told me lurid tales of what he has found behind washing machines, . What was revealed? A picture frame and some dust , no dead bodies. ‘A picture frame’ repair man said, ‘That’s a first for me.’ I wondered whether he kept a book in which he noted strange finds, a bit like a train spotter or a twitcher. ‘I’ve had food of every description, jewellery, a wedding ring once, bills, magazines, combs, false teeth, a toupee and once a small mummified hamster. All the woman had said, at that call, was that she’d bought the kids a new one when the first had done a runner and she always wondered where he had gone.'

So nothing nasty behind the machine that may have harboured the fly swarm, I felt less judged then. I have got to the stage when I tend to trade off cleaning vigorously or even slightly energetically against writing time. If I am in a fertile phase or a busy phase the house is a tip if I am less driven the house is no where near pristine but it is slightly tidier and the hoover is brought out daily. There is a point though when the house feels so in need that its pitiful voice breaks through the creative mist like Heathcliffe calling across the moors for Kathy in a Kate Bush sort of way and I have to answer it.

Some I am sure have to be in pristine ordered surrounding before they can write or do anything creative. The writer settings I have seen both in photographs and in real life seem also to reflect how different people need different levels of physical order around them. Francis Bacon’s studio was an absolute tip; Jane Austin had a neat little round table in the parlour. In the Guardian series of photographs of writers work spaces there doesn’t seem to be any underlying thread to whether poets, fiction writers, men or women generate different creative spaces. Craig Raine seems a tad chaotic, whilst Andrew Motion and Seamus Heaney seem quite ordered. Virginia Woolf’s small writing shed also looks very neat but it was apparently quite untidy when she was alive, the tidiness owes more to curators than the reality of Virginia’s writing life. Rose Tremain’s is definitely not shed-like but also caters for staring out of the window into the garden. Facing the wall versus a view is also a matter of choice it seems. Barbara Trapido has a little bed which must be really handy for that ten minute power nap that eases itself into a n hour or two’s snooze mid afternoon on a Sunday.

I face my bedroom wall but a turn to my right and I have a stunning view of the side of my neighbours house, a grey wall but to my left I can look out of another window and up the cul de sac and see life wandering by, very diverting to watch children playing out in the street when the words seem a bit constipated. Sometimes I take the lap top to other locations, kitchen, other bedroom, living room but real thinking, real staring time that may result in a worthwhile thought or two is done at the computer desk up in my bedroom. I have been told it is very unhealthy to write in the same room you sleep in, someone even tried to convince me that the wireless router that sits next to my computer and at the foot of my bed will be sending out strange radio waves whilst I sleep, slowly frying my brain. Eventually my mercury fillings will be able to tune me into Classic FM or planet Zod. If I sit up here long enough I can almost forget that downstairs exists at all. I can almost forget that I need to take a bag of washing to the launderette because the washing machine man tells me I need a new heater that will take at least a week to get here. Sod's Law seems at work here however if I let the washing pile up even more the chaos theory may kick in again. Should there be strange happenings in the Bermuda Triangle or a new poetry collection suddenly starts selling as well as Harry Potter then you may have my dirty laundry to thank.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Juggling chainsaws, flies and thowing hats into the ring

Off to see a BBC Radio Producer yesterday to sell an idea for a radio play which went well. This is dangerous I realise as I am already trying to juggle work on a poetry collection and a novel whilst having a day job. Why am I trying to add yet another ball into the act? Actually they don’t feel like balls, more like chainsaws. There is that prime time TV show which tries to do for variety acts what Pop Idol did for pub singing. I noted in the last one Simon Cowell told a man juggling with fire whilst balancing a huge blazing barbeque brazier on his chin that it wasn’t dangerous or exciting enough. I think he wanted the possibility of death or at the least severed limbs. Obviously 3rd degree burns to 90% of the body was a little less engaging than the possibility of a hand rolling across the stage and into his lap.

Of course juggling day job and writing will never lead to a round of applause from the public whilst you place the tiger, small monkey, vulture and crocodile you have been juggling with back in their cages nor should it. It is all self imposed, there are those who have no choice but to juggle the most traumatic or shitty things. Then there is the psychological take on it all, is adding tasks a form of displacement, a masochistic imposition in order to be seen as a victim or a passive aggressive trait so I can turn round and say, look at all I’ve got to do and you want me to clean the house as well? Note as I live on my own there is already a slight schizoid tinge to my view on this, some part of my head is telling me to clean the house and another is saying you need to express your creative side by doing something more than writing the word faeces with the green liquid from the toilet duck on the inside of the bowl.

After much thought I have decided it is none of the above it is the fact that I am crap at time management and a bit of an unfocused human being. Here I am for instance writing a blog entry when I could be off chainsaw juggling. I could have edited two poems in the time I take to write this but this allows me a bit of a rant a bit of a sloppy kicking about of ideas and thoughts, a sort of mental warm up to get the brain muscles into writing mode.

I could spend blogging time tackling the recurrent swarm of horrible fat bodied flies that seem to be appearing in my kitchen at the moment. Coming back after a day out last night it was like walking into the set of a horror movie or one of those scenes where someone comes into a room where a dead body has been hatching unspeakable things for days in the torrid heat of the Deep South.

I found The Fly one of the most disturbing horror films I have seen in years, that and Don’t Look Now. Flies magnified look capable of malign thought, they can walk on the ceiling and hang above your head unnoticed, they can walk on something really nasty then skitter across the butter in that precise second when your back is turned. If there are any cleaning compulsives out there I apologise for bringing up images that may have you running for the disinfectant and J-clothes and scouring every surface for hours. Unfortunately, apart from a thorough clean up at 1am in the morning and a liberal dose of fly spray that was the full extent my inner cleaning voice drove me to. There were only four dead flies there when I wandered into the kitchen this morning so things are on the up and I can’t use the necessity for regular fly carnage as another thing on my list to juggle.I am already noting I have real things to juggle, fantasy things to juggle and displacement real things which could be real or could be created to appear urgent and real by me. I think I may need to see a juggling therapist soon if this keeps up.

I have also been distracted by the little flurry of exchange on some poetry blogs and not a little excited by a thorough interchange of frank views and ideas that passes for a decent punch up in the Keats Head public bar. Some of the most interesting and impassioned comments have since been deleted I noticed on one blog but fair enough blogging isn’t like a newspaper; you can pretend it has never been after the event so even the internet archaeologists at some random date in the far future will be unable to get the full sense of the moment from the entries and it is the bloggers right to have second thoughts or even second or third. The activity seems to be mostly generated by male bloggers/writers with an odd comment thrown into the mix by women. I make no comment on that.

Chris Hamilton Emery threw his hat into the ring via his website at Salt Publishing on the state of modern poetry. Nathan Hamilton from New Writing Partnership and Eggbox Publishing then chucked his hat in , followed by Todd Swift with his hat and after that a host of comments from poets such as George Szirtes hurled the odd thoughtful Trilby, Panama or beret in. The ring for a couple of days became cluttered with hats of different sizes and styles. What is my point? Nothing deep and meaningful just good to see that people still have things to say on poetry and care enough to get worked up by it. It may be a minority preoccupation in media terms but poetry has been around a long time, its longevity as a form suggests there is something about it that resonates now and then just enough to make it worth putting up the sideshow tent, building the ring and encouraging people to come and look at what is happening in there. Of course the poems are always the main attraction but every now and then we like to see people juggling dangerous hats with perhaps sharp edges or blazing brims.

In view of my pressing need to apply myself, my posts over the next few weeks may be short, perfunctory and merely postcards from the edge. I am intending to pretend I am back in that basement bed-sit on the Massachusetts coast, alone and unworried by flies (only squirrels and mosquitoes). I may even post up the odd letter from America I wrote home two years ago just so you can picture me doing something interesting other than staring at a screen.