Thursday, March 29, 2007


Sometimes regular trawling through cheap and secondhand bookshops pays off. Yesterday I found John Mulligan's "Shopping Cart Soldiers", an autobiographical novel about Vietnam and the subsequent ordeal faced by the author on his return to America. The first 40 or so pages I have read are so harrowing, the word "harrowing" is inadequate to describe them. It's more like a fierce and unexpected punch in the gut followed by a hammerblow to the head. I sat in the benjo this morning reading his account of the moment where he kills his best friend to honour a pact they made to spare each other the horrors of dying slowly, and I actually almost wept--which is something I really don't make a habit of doing. The description is so vivid and so emotionally charged it reminded me of watching my own mother die, ten years ago, from cancer--probably a more tortured and undignified death than going with a bullet.

Any work of art that transforms your own emotions so dramatically is a great work, as far as I'm concerned. But don't look for this book if, as Dylan says, you "like (your) sugar sweet." This is bitter as a drink of warm poisoned water in Hell. Which is where John Mulligan was, and what he survived. An example to all of us who think we've got it tough.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

Heard a great one today: "May you be in Heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you're dead."

Monday, March 26, 2007

An Explanation

My recent travails have begun almost to amuse me. I've sorted out my internet access problem with regular visits to the library, but now, for some reason, I can't access my email. Which means I can't deal with submissions to "The Beatnik". I could go and ask one of the library staff for technical assistance, but the last time I did that, the person at the help desk knew even less about computers than I did.

So if you know me and you're waiting on a reply to an email, forgive me. It will be forthcoming. Eventually. In the meantime I'll just continue noodling here and on my MySpace page. They are the real pleasures of all this internet business anyway.

In The Mail

Les Merton's latest "POETRY CORNWALL" (number eighteen). The usual eclectic mix of poets, with standout big and little poems by George Wallace, Martha Street and Paul Tristram, among a large list of contributors. You may not like all of it because Les casts his editorial net so widely; but you will like it. You can get it for £3.50, which is a pretty reasonable price given the smartness of the magazine, from Palores Publications, 11a Penryn Street, Redruth, Cornwall, TR15 2SP.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Clive James

My recent conversion to writers identified with the Establishment continues to baffle me and assault my credibility as an underground hero. Currently I'm reading Clive James' "MAY WEEK WAS IN JUNE" and I'm loving it. He's such a great wit and prose stylist; and there are moments of surpassing beauty nestled among the jokes and plangent observations that any Beat hero would be proud of.

Am I growing up? Am I opening my mind? Am I just selling out? Or am I, as I suspect, just reading?

I dunno. But James, in particular, can't be dismissed as simply "Establishment", if anybody can (I suspect they can't, things being a lot deeper and more complex than we usually like to think, in the world of archetypes that rebellious souls inhabit). He's too much of an individualist. And he excites a very special memory for me, which links him--albeit somewhat tenuously--to my beginnings as a writer, back in the mists of time when everything was in black and white and dinosaurs walked the earth.

When I was at school, my English teacher Patrick Norman tried to connect with us, his bored and unruly pupils, by offering examples of literature and journalism that were crisp, funny, contemporary. He once read the first two chapters of "Catcher In The Rye", which wasn't on the syllabus, in a ridiculous American accent. The mild swear words and cynical humour, not to mention the grotesque and disrespectful portrait of Holden's ageing and sickly teacher, amazed a class full of kids who had been led to believe that literature was all stuffy Victorian noodling or incomprehensible Shakespearean verse.

The other writer Mr Norman liked to read was Clive James. He had an Observer tv column back then, and Norman--"Nutty" Norman as we amusingly called him--would read from it periodically, standing at the front of the class giggling girlishly, his face turning beetroot red as he progressed. I don't remember whether I got the jokes as I sat there listening, but I definitely enjoyed the fact that while my teacher was indulging himself we weren't having to read Charles Dickens.

The memory of those classroom Clive James sessions charms me now as I sit with his book next to the keyboard, writing. Especially since Mr. Norman is no longer with us, having died, I believe, of a heart attack several years ago.

James, in a sense--along with J.D. Salinger--was where I began. To dismiss him would be like declaring myself better than my hometown of Ipswich, and I would never do that.

Alan Moore

In Northampton, stories about Alan Moore abound. He's the one living legend in the area that everybody (or almost everybody) has heard about. The other day a taxi driver told me he had some original artwork by Moore. And then a woman I know told me Moore made a pass at her in the Fish Inn in town (about 500 yards from where I am now). She didn't know who he was, bless her, and reported to her boyfriend that she had just been propositioned by a hairy tramp. Moore, of course, is infamously hirsuite. Her boyfriend, who had seen the incomplete pass take place while on his way back from the toilet, told her that her failed suitor was the famous comics writer responsible for "From Hell" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". As a boy, of course, he'd know.

I've never seen Moore myself, and therefore doubt his existence.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Little Books

Since I moved into my new flat I have written about sixty pages of journal scribbles, subjects ranging from the merits of underground poetry to the decline of Western civilisation (trust me, it's happening!) But so far, not much actual publishable poetry.

I wonder if, someday, some fool publisher with too much money and no sense will publish the reams and reams of personal writing I've done in those little A5 books. I don't know whether it'd be a good thing or a bad one, given the rubbish I pour into them.

Ginsberg wrote his private journals with a public audience looking over his shoulder. You can tell he meant them for publication, especially the later ones. Me, I just sit with pen in hand (and bottle between knees), and let fly.

And even when I'm berating the follies of modern man the only person who ends up looking like an idiot is me. Sweet irony, ah!

When I move house I have to lug huge boxes of those little books along with me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Shorn Of The Head

I had a haircut yesterday. Short. All over. Grey tresses falling into my lap as a septuagenarian Italian barber with a head cold tried to hold his scissors steady. An interesting test of nerve. But what isn't nowadays, eh?

I have also recently been shaving every few days, though my resolve to have a clean chin doesn't last. The spring weather has made me curiously optimistic, despite all the evidence, that I might be able to change the pattern of things for the good with a little effort and a touch of good faith.

We will see. I am tired of viewing life as a personal war between me and the Forces of Evil...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Frustrations. Obstructions. Boring Complaints.

One hour to access the internet this weekend and MySpace won't even let me log in. Apparently "a technical error has occurred". A well-known phenomenon to anyone who uses MySpace. So, apologies to my friends over there. I'm not ignoring you. But Murdoch's Millions are getting in the way.

My life of late has become a series of obstructions, frustrations and boring complaints. Have you noticed? (Say no and I'll know your lying.)

After being away from my flat for two days I walked in at 11 pm yesterday, turned the light on, it blew, tripped the fuse and turned off every light in the house.

And where's the fusebox? In the adjoining building, which is owned by the landlord.

Ever get the feeling that the eternal feller with the Blakean beard who sits on the clouds directing things here down on Earth has got a bit of a problem with you?

Jobs. Books. Poets.

That doughty old Englishman Kingsley Amis says writers shouldn't complain about having jobs; the time to start complaining is when you don't have one.

He may be right. My work has been oddly pleasurable since I moved and had all these difficulties with my landlord. Work, now, seems rather sane and safe.

And you know what? Though I'd never admit it, I get a lot more reading done now I have no tv and no telephone line for my internet access. In the morning I sit with black coffee by my window and actually pick up books again, as they did in less sophisticated times.

But I do miss the daily conversations with my cyber friends. The poetry community has moved almost completely onto the internet now. If you're not part of that you feel totally disconnected from the hub of what's going on.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007



If only I could communicate what travails I've undergone since I last posted here! You think moving house is stressful? Trying moving where I've moved. Only an idiot like me would sign a 6 month contract and then find he has no phone line. At all. There's a phone extension cable lying on the living room floor that feeds under the carpet. So I naturally assumed I'd have access to a phone. I thought all I'd have to do is ring the phone company and connect it. Was I ever wrong. The extension cable actually goes nowhere. My landlady tells me that if I want a phone line I'm going to have to go halves with her on it.

I really thought about it for a moment. But only for a moment. Then I thought, BLOLCOKS. I've just paid £125 to the agent as a handling fee and £1000 in advance rent and deposit. And they haven't even put my kitchen door on yet. I'm not going to pay for the privelege of having something as fundamental to civilised modern life as a phone line, when such things should be covered as part of the inflated cost I'm paying to live there! Am I being unreasonable? Let me know if I am. But I've already politely told them to shove their phone line up their RASES, so any admonitions from you, dear readers, will be too late.

Obviously my refusal to chip in for a phone line means production on "SUFFOLK PUNCH" and other Blue Fred Press sites will slow down, because I'll only be able to post now when I have time and funds to rent a pc at the Library. Which is where I am now. But it's not expensive and I usually have a couple of days a week when I can come in. So keep checking back. And if you want more regular communication with yours truly (though I can't imagine why you would), drop me an email and I'll send you my home address. Though if I'm there for more than the six months of the contract I now bitterly regret signing I'll be really surprised.

My first loyalty is to Blue Fred business and limiting my access to my own sites pains me. But it is a point of principle. I won't be shafted by anybody, not anymore. I have too much of a history of letting people walk all over me and thanking them politely while their boot digs into my face.