Monday, 19 December 2011

Bread Sauce, Guilty Pleasures and Money

It is the week before Christmas and all round the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. Well that is actually a lie because a week before there should be much stirring to ensure everything is done and ready for the holiday. Who am I trying to impress apart from vegetables from the farmers market ( brussel sprouts on the stem have always held tales of freshness for me) and some presents wrapped nothing is stirring much but not in the Christmas eve quiet way. I have had a poem accepted for a really good publication and have made myself sit down and send out some more to competitions and magazines.

There is something can happen to the brain between writing a poem and sending it out. I tend to keep mine after editing, let them compost under the bed for quite a while and sneak up on them and try and take myself and the poem by surprise. I do savour that feeling you can get when you read a poem, think it is someone else’s that you have downloaded decide it’s quite interesting and then recall it is actually one of your poems. This may sound like an exercise in madness and maybe it is but I do think distance rather than the white hot heat of the writing can allow you to re-read your work with fresh eyes. Sometimes you think, “Bloody hell I’m glad I didn’t send this one out..”. Sometimes you get the ‘rubbish’ self- feedback but know something is fixable or can be salvaged from the wreckage . Now and then you think, this one says something I think is worthwhile. There is always that tightrope of retaining the initial energy of the words and ensuring the words don’t pirouette for the reader and draw attention to themselves just for the hell of it.

Language can, of course and should always dance but like a good ballet the experience is in something transcendent that the human body can channel. Think I am sending a bit ‘Ommmm’ maybe and trailing my sixties roots like and old hippy but I do believe all the arts at their very best help the individual transcend the moment or maybe be so in the moment that you can touch something almost inexplicable in its power or beauty. Sometimes in poems the experience of engaging with that power or beauty is when the words are at their simplest and cleanest and without artifice.

So I shall be composting some new poems for a while whilst I make a mountain of bread sauce which my daughter and I think is one of the highlights of Christmas and a bread sauce sandwich on Boxing Day can’t be beaten. Yes I do know, dear reader, that a bread sauce sandwich amounts to a bread sandwich; but mushed bread between two slices of bread maybe with a bit of cranberry sauce thrown in and a little chicken is a guilty pleasure. Then why should I be guilty and what the hell is a guilty pleasure, one that you feel you shouldn’t indulge in? These days it seems to be used as a phrase to describe something that is not exactly ‘good taste’ but you can’t help but like. So who are the good taste police that might catch you pleasuring yourself by watching Extreme House Make Over and crying, listening to Carmina Burana because of that advert. Surely pleasure can only be guilty if it involves hurting or degrading others or if it involves the use of some unsuspecting animal life for sexual purposes?

Guilt can be attached to most things especially if adamant religion of any kind plays a part in your upbringing. Then there is the added twist of guilt becoming a pleasure in itself if you’re not careful. I have decided that maybe my New Years Resolution should be not to use the phrase guilty pleasures I will simply have pleasures and a bread sauce sandwich is fine, just fine….was that the sound of the good taste police knocking at the door?

While we are talking about guilt, now that John Kinsella and Alice Oswald have asked to be removed from the short list for the T S Eliot prize because of the financial support a Hedge Fund is giving it this year I wonder if any money or funding comes guilt free. An Art Council award is the life blood for the arts and its income comes from the tax payer. This is the price society, at this moment in time, deems the tax paying public feel able to allocate towards funding the Arts. Of course the highest tax payers may well be those engaged in businesses that may be less than squeaky clean, they could be engaged in activities that might be less than PC, should the tax derived from such businesses be deemed laundered of guilt because they have come via the public purse? I struggle with that because I am happy for a small portion of my taxes to go not only to social welfare, education the health service, transport infrastructure, national security, but also to the funding of the arts. I suspect a poll amongst tax payers would reveal many less than happy about funding the arts and poetry in particular.

I have had an Arts Council grant, two in fact, one as an individual and one as a group, I have been prepared to accept money from a government whose policy in invading Iraq I marched against, so am I a hypocrite? I don’t honestly know. I can tell myself the story that funds for the arts is untouched or unsullied by other government policies; it lives in the higher cultural planes of social organisation in a so called civilised democratic society. I will continue to struggle about the concept of good money, bad money, good sources of funding, bad sources of funding.

I fully accept these two poets made a personal statement of where their line in the sand was about this particular source of funding. I expect that from now on their sources of funding for future work or projects will be interrogated by some for signs of hypocrisy; if you refuse to sup with the devil once any cup you put to your lips from then on has to be seen as equally ‘clean’ from contamination. Hedge funds may be the spawn of the devil they may not be, they may be various shades of grey veering almost to lily white, I don’t profess to have the expertise to fathom the nuances of ethical financial dealings and of course we all come at such things with belief systems that are deeply rooted in who we are. Judging what is right in these circumstances probably comes down to what you feel to be right and the rest of the short list for the T S Eliot have, I am sure, had to go through the dark night of the soul to know where they stand on the matter. I wish them well, I am saddened for them as whoever wins is going to be seen as being the winner in the year Oswald and Kinsella pulled out because of the stand they were taking against a hedge fund backed prize.

Who wins in this maelstrom? I think free thinking, and a national poetry forum where hopefully it is shown that debate around such things can be pursued without personal rancour. And of course very few people care except those that care about poetry and arts funding and those, dear reader, are few and far between in the great scheme of things, who knows it may in be only you and me and a handful of others.

Friday, 2 December 2011

A Woman of Age

I now feel myself to be 'A Woman of Age'. Such a description holds a certain ring to it, suggests certain virtues as well as vices and hints at losses and strengths that only age may endow you with. I have had a big birthday since we last met dear reader, I can now get free prescriptions and eye tests and may have the ability to make younger people feel guilty on the bus for not surrendering their seat to me. Stop, stop, I don’t require congratulations , unless it is to extend your good wishes at having made it thus far up the slippery pole called life. One wonders how far you can shimmy up before you start slipping back into those years you thought you’d left behind.

I was told the other day by someone that a cure for stress and anger was to squeeze a lemon ( the real variety not the plastic kind as that might result in the top shooting off and hitting some unsuspecting passer-by, although that may in itself be stress reducing). However it is not just the squeezing that helps, afterwards you are meant to smell your hand and this smell then becomes linked with the reduction of stress so thereafter throughout the day ( barring a savage soap and water hand washing session) just sniffing your hand makes you feel a little less angry or stressed. Putting aside the image of people sniffing their hand as their blood pressure rises, which in itself could lead to some encountering a less than positive response, there was a rider added to the advice. One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s is the inability to smell common things such as lemons.

Of course I immediately rushed home and smelt the lemon I had lurking at the back of the fridge but its rather green moldiferous state made it less than fragrant. Then I decided that it would be better to just let the smell of lemons waft my way one day by acident and the smell would be the more fragrant simply for the notion that it may be a sign my noodle is still firing on most pistons.

Ageing is not a bad thing, the longer a writer and poet lives the more they have to write about and the more they can mess up which is usually the source of many a decent poem. A good friend sent me a book of poems by the poet Ruth Stone, who has recently died at the age of 96. Her last collection was published when she was 93. She was sharp, funny, irreverent and had the ability to write poems that touched on the 'big' things with a lightness of touch.


What my eye sees
Goes into the dark
And passes, packet by packet
Along the ledge over the abyss
Between the lobes.
It goes so far
I think I cannot get it back
And when I least expect
Some of it returns
Not simple
as it was
Or seemed
But now complex
And freighted with the universe.

What we may think we forget may return with something added; now that’s a motto to embrace when next I go upstairs then wonder what I went up for.

I note that the adverts on my Facebook Page seem to have reset themselves to the default position of second guessing what women of a certain age may need or want. Wrinkle creams, dating sites for the over 50s and randomly, coats for dogs, cheese and free coupons for meals at distant cafes. I suspect there is, somewhere, a woman of sixty eating cheese at the kitchen table, cutting out free coupons for dinner in Glasgow and dreaming of meeting someone on a dating site whilst staring at her Chihuahua dressed in a fetching Versace number.