Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

I usually hate New Year's Eve. When I've been in a room and people were leaving to go somewhere or other and I knew "Happy New Year" greetings and hugs and kisses were coming, I've always tensed up, hoping the people offering them wouldn't come for me, praying at the same time that they would. I've always found an excuse, at that moment, to get up and leave so I didn't have to deal with the unwanted physical contact, the absence of the much-needed physical contact, my horror at the meaninglessness of the conventions etc etc. Have you never thought that the words would turn to concrete in your mouth if you spouted some socially mandatory cliche like "Happy New Year"?

I have spent every new year I can remember on my own, imagining the fun that other people were having, hearing the fun in pubs along the street from the Lookout, watching the fun on television, reflecting self-laceratingly on all the horrible mistakes I've made in life right from the beginning that have left me so isolated, so frozen inside my own stiff and ageing shell. And boy have I made mistakes. I think if I lived another one hundred years I wouldn't have time to put them right, or exorcise the bad spirits from my mind and from my heart that cause me to repeat them. But I will try.

Oddly, this year, New Year's Eve has no really negative overtones for me at all, however. Perhaps it's because I had my first great Christmas for twenty years or so. I will be on my own tonight; but on Christmas Day I was at Serena's house eating a beautifully cooked dinner and drinking too much wine in intelligent, interesting, amusing company. Who would have thought it. So I must be travelling in the right direction in life in some ways, roughly, even if it has been a bad year in many ways, with blackouts, trouble at work, and still no romance on the horizon, a year and a half after I finally gave up on her.

I want to have another go, while I am still alive and kicking. Muster the courage to get my health in order, if I can. Start living like a grown-up at 44, eat vegetables, be worthy of someone's love instead of an arrogant solipsistic phoney manipulating my environment for the satisfaction of my ego. And then if I can do that--or while I'm doing that--really satisfy my soul (though I don't have one) by getting into performance with my poetry. That's the plan for '09, though my karma might have other things in the store.

In the meantime I'd like to say thanks to all the people who've made this year better, more entertaining, more instructive, more full of love or wine or great food, more inspiring for poetry, than its recent predecessors, even if it has been hard, and weird; and--hopefully without the words turning to concrete in my mouth--wish everybody a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

South Bank: A Cheap Fishing Expedition For A Publisher

Yesterday was my first day at home in several, after various Christmas adventures at work and elsewhere. I was exhausted after the Festive season, and so cold I might have snapped if somebody had nudged me.

For hours I did nothing except sleep, doze and listen to football on the radio. Then, in the evening, I put a Lee "Scratch" Perry album on, and instead of writing the thought I had down in my journal, I wrote it in a poem. I did a Kerouac and let the size of my notebook (A-6), dictate the length of the lines and ultimately, when I stopped.

It came out beautifully, and very easily. I wrote another, and then another, and before I knew it I had lots of them, all around one theme: my memories of South Bank, the care home where I worked, that mad season when, after a lifetime of being ignored by the fairer sex, I had two lovely women express an interest in me in the same month.

How and why that happened I still don't know. Ultimately, I lost both of them and since then I've had a dearth of interest like nobody would believe. But it did happen! and when I start to feel sorry for myself or jealous of other men's sexual attraction, I do occasionally think about it. It lifts my chin up from my chest.

The poems I wrote in that surge of inspiration--I finished the cycle in the dark this morning--tell the story of how I loved and lost. I'm calling the collection they constitute, brilliantly I think, "South Bank". If anybody knows a publisher out there who might be interested in giving it a look, please tell.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Scrooged, The 80s, Now

"Scrooged" was one of the tv delights yesterday. You know it, the Bill Murray version of a Christmas Carol from the 80s. I was thinking as I watched it how ridiculous the clothes were then, how unattractive the hair was, how soulless and empty the aspirations of the mainstream were, how stupid the movies were that people flocked to then, and loved.

The passage of time often has that effect on things that seemed, at the time, perfectly sensible. But I thought that about what was going on in the 80s when I was actually in the 80s. It seemed to me as if half the world had lost its mind -- which is why, despite being a child of that generation, more or less (I was 20 in 1984), I dropped out and resurrected the 60s, just for me.

I'm still sort of living it too, though with a rather angry anarchistic twist that is pure punk, and despite the fact that I meet plenty of people on the alternative side of things these days who have their heads screwed on aesthetically, intellectually and spiritually much tighter than I do. And even though I understand now that the only thing that really marks a person out as bright and alive is if they understand the value of the relationships they have. What a gift their own life is, stepping out of their front door in the morning, cold air on their face; looking into a pair of beautiful eyes, telling a joke that makes her laugh.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Movie Clip

A Christmas Prayer

Huntingdon Life Sciences have won a case against animal rights activists whom they claim were trying to intimidate and blackmail them using such tactics as sending used needles through the mail and smearing them as paedophiles. Leave aside that the scientists deal in what we, as members of the community of Earth, ought to consider the deliberate murder of our own, we will never win for our cause by becoming moral lepers ourselves. Think what sort of a karmic mess we would be creating for ourselves and the animals we wish to liberate.

May all the turkeys slaughtered,
all the chickens stunned, hung
upside down, their throats cut,
then their heads cut off,
the geese likewise disposed of

to fill our plates this Christmas
please forgive us.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Adrian Mitchell: To Whom It May Concern

I note with sadness the passing of Adrian Mitchell a day or two ago.

Not familiar? He's probably going to be known by posterity as the author of "To Whom It May Concern" (I think that's what it's called)--the "tell me lies about Vietnam" poem--which he famously, and beautifully, read at Wholly Communion in 1965. (Was it '65? I don't have a firm grasp on my facts this morning.)

He did a lot of other work, of course, but most of it was rather average in my humble reckoning, spoiled by his tendency towards a sentimental populism characteristic of all of the lesser poets of his generation. It was a brilliant generation, to be sure--Raworth, Torrance, Harry Fainlight, Hollo, Horowitz, among the many--but the great ones were largely overlooked and those of limited talent or achievement struck it BIG. McGough biggest of all in the Liverpudlian afterglow of some group called the Beatles, but Mitchell too, especially with the liberal-minded arts media, who followed his every middling move as if he were Bob Dylan, almost.

"Poetry is ignored by most people because most people ignore poetry," he said (or something like that. And proceeded to write lyrics rather than poems, mostly, with obvious rhythms and simple language because, I presume, that is what he thought "people" would respond to, "people" all being pretty much the same and liking the same things in the same way.

That's a patronising view of the world, I think, and when I have time and concentration I might argue it further. I don't think, personally, that any artist should go to his audience; he (or she, yeah yeah) should just write their poem or sing their song and do it with as much force and intelligence and originality as they can. Let the audience decide whether they want to engage with it or not.

And as a leftie I say don't make everybody stupid so all of us are equal. There was always considerable value in the life of the advanced mind with sophisticated tastes. The only problem with it was that too many people were excluded from sharing in it.

Adios, Adrian. I liked you in spite of what this post may seem to suggest; but I wish the Guardian had noted the recent passing of Dave Church, a poet of towering ability, with the same enthuisiasm. Or at all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Eyes On Mars

Blue Fred Press is not given to excessive self-promotion, but our favourite staffer has a poem at a site you should be giving the once-over anyway, so how about taking a peek at J.D. Nelson's "Eyes On Mars" page in the next few hours and enriching your day considerably?

J.D., by the way, has some poetry today at our sister page THE BEATNIK ( ).Coincidence? A case of what Charles Bukowski delightfully called "asshole clasping"? No to the former and possibly to the latter.

BEATNIK has been inactive for a couple of months now because of the personal problems your esteemed editor has had (those self-inflicted, and the ones coming from without). And we've been rudely sitting on a submission from JD for all that time. With his own patient but disciplined approach to dealing with our work, he has finally shamed us into action.

Thanks again for the space you've given our beloved staffer, J.D. It's a boost to us all in these difficult times.

And if that's mutual masturbation, well, who cares. The world's a dirty place and if we can help each other a little bit along the way, so much the better, I say.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Yes Man

Have you seen the advertisements for the new Jim Carrey film, "The Yes Man"? It's about a guy who decides to say yes to every proposition he is offered for one year, no matter how absurd, to see what effect it has on his life. And judging by the picture on the poster of Jim Carrey flying through the air with a big goofy smile on his face, the overall impact is a good one.

"One word that can change your whole life," the movie tag line says. And undoubtedly it would, if you mixed in the right circles and met with the right propositions. But as much as I have a reputation among those who know me in the flesh for being a bit of a hippie (it's actually a fairly inaccurate characterisation), these joymongers who believe in the essential goodness of the universe, such as becoming a Yes man is presumably supposed to open you up to, bring me out in a bit of a rash.

Passing the hoarding with that rather-too-California/ New Age sentiment blazing out from it this morning I thought of a few other words that could also change your whole life.


Stick that between your perfect California teeth and chew it, Jimbo. And Happy Christmas.

(By the way, I know the original progenitor of the story hails from these shores.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Broken Britain & The Conformity Cops

In some ways there may have been a decline in society in our lifetime. The SUN newspaper's "Broken Britain" analysis may even have some legitimacy, though I don't like to be in agreement with them even when they're right, and they have completely failed to understand why Britain might be broken, or how to fix it.

Britain started breaking after World War 2 when people started to feel guilty about social stratification and tried to dismantle all of the systems that had supported stratification beforehand. You gasp that I should make such a statement? Hang on.

The efforts to dismantle the social strata that had previously existed were motivated by people in my camp and embarked upon for the very best reasons. Nobody should be born with nothing more ahead of them than a life of poverty and servitude. Nobody should be born into a life of wealth and ease either. If you want something you should earn it, right?

So getting rid of the bottom stratum was a noble endeavour. And getting rid of those who automatically entered the top stratum was only justice. But the social engineering of subsequent decades didn't really do either. All it did, actually, was vastly expand the section of the population between those two poles.

Which in itself wouldn't have been a bad thing. But somehow in our furious guilt-ridden effort to democratise everything, we removed everything associated with the mechanics of elitism, such as education, intellectual activity, cultural activity, intelligent spiritual activity. People stopped reading books because reading was what snobs did. People stopped watching any sort of movie other than the mainstream drivel that came out of Hollywood because that was the hallmark of privilege, and privilege was not only bad, it was also somehow effete.

To prove we were One Of The Fellows and didn't aspire to be any more than we should be, all we could do was read tabloid papers, watch football and work. And if you made money through work and got to buy a big house, that was acceptable, because anybody could get rich in the new even-handed meritocracy of the post-war age, right? But in that big new house you better have a widescreen television and NOT a big library full of the classics of literature or philosophy.

Getting a greater understanding of yourself, or your world, or your God, just isn't important in this money-driven world where everybody is expected to look the same, dress the same, think the same, feel the same to prove to the Conformity Cops watching their every move that they don't think too highly of themselves.

An independent point of view is a positive disdavantage. What makes you think you have the right to an opinion on anything, you uppity little snot? Get back in your box. Shut up and eat your chips.

And shitalmighty don't let on that you can spell. That's tantamount to trying to crown yourself king.

If it's broken, Britain is broken because nobody in it is allowed to be anything other than an echo of the mouth-breathing halfwit standing next to him, and any intellectual or spiritual framework for dealing with his experience, or the problems he and everybody else face in this incredibly complex, frightening world, is treated like cancer.

THAT's why Britain is broken, as far as this author is concerned. Can I apologise in advance for having considered it in any depth and reassure those who disagree with me that I will try not to let it happen again? I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm getting above myself or anything.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Death of Fun

I was delighted this morning to learn that Russell Brand won the British Comedy Award for Best Live Act last night, and dedicated the award to Jonathan Ross. Ross was supposed to have been presenting the show but because of the absurd brouhaha in the British media about the silly calls Brand and Ross made to Andrew Sachs on Russell's now-defunct radio show, he's still not allowed in front of a camera (and when he comes back they'll be expecting him to show appropriate contrition, you can bet, like a drunk driver who accidently mowed down a family of cute blonde-haired infant picnickers).

This story broke before my own little spot of trouble with my employer in re: a careless joke on Facebook, but even before I was suspended I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. We seem so keen in this country to find someone we can all bunch together and vilify (life hasn't been the same in Old Blighty since witches all married I.T. consultants and opened expensive trinket shops). And we are very easily led into these moral panics by the hypocritical self-serving scum of the tabloid press, too. Do you really think the editor of the SUN newspaper gives a shit about "Baby P"? Of course not. But he knows you'll buy his papers if he pretends to, and gives you names and photographs of left-wing (and preferably, be honest, black) social workers you can fulminate against.

I'm not a big fan of Jonathan Ross, but I think Russell Brand is a genius. The calls to Andrew Sachs may have been a bit peurile--I don't know, I've only heard one of them--but in order to create great work an artist has to take risks. Sometimes it's not going to work. Or it won't work quite as well. No artist who's done anything worth a damn has ever been consistently brilliant.

Oh, and you have to wonder, do all the people phoning in to radio stations this morning to complain about Brand's award not have anything better to worry about? How about all the people dying in Zimbabwe? How about all the political prisoners in China and Tibet? The arts are central to my life but next to those other issues the eccentric perorations of a louche English comedian don't really seem that important.

2009 will be the year Hunter Thompson's prediction of the Death of Fun came true, if we're not really bloody careful.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dave Church

The death of poet Dave Church last week was sobering news. Somehow it never seemed that any of us who were doing this would die. But die he did, in his taxi cab, apparently from a heart attack, and so the rest of us must die as well. There isn't always going to be next month, and then the month after that, to get your inspiration back--or your confidence back--and finally push on to write the poem or the book you always seemed to have in you.

Which is obvious, but it's amazing how easy it is to forget the obvious as we careen through our lives hung up on the importance of every little thing we do.

Hearing about Dave makes me realise I've got to stop messing around and get down to some good, hard work before it's too late. How foolish would it be if I dropped dead (not that I'm planning to), with eighty hours of overtime behind me that week and not even the ghost of a poem scratched down in one of my numerous notebooks?

Monday, December 01, 2008

When The Going Gets Weird

Ah, yes, and it has certainly done that just lately. I get suspended from work for putting a joke on my Facebook page, and then I fall over again in town--outside Waterstone's, ironically--am taken to hospital, have a load of tests run including blood and ECG, and they conclude I've probably had a seizure. NOW I have to go to something with the rather ignominious name of a "First Fit Clinic" to have the diagnosis confirmed or denied.

But I'm pretty sure that's what it is. I have worked with epileptics for most of my adult life; I know the signs. And last night I had another one, while I was lying in bed. Woke up on the floor again with a headache, and blisters and flayed skin on my arms. As I have joked to friends a couple of times, I'm just glad I haven't wet myself. So far. The way things have been going I wouldn't take anything for granted (my humour is dark, I know, but in some circumstances it has to be).

People (not experts) have blamed the stress I've been under this past week for what's happened. They may have a point, though I've been having weird experiences akin to absences for years, on and off, and I've just never done anything about them. I wish I had now, but I was scared. I prefer to pretend things aren't happening until they go away--which of course they never do.

Well, I can't pretend this isn't happening; and that may be a good thing. I hope I get to the clinic soon and they give me some tablets to bring these episodes under control. I am reminded, as I look at the blisters on my arms, of Ballasteros the golfer, who fainted unaccountably and then was found to have a brain tumour. It could, of course, be that. And if it is, I think, with dark humour again, that my problems'll be over. But epilepsy is more likely.

And if that turns out to be the problem, I just have to get used to a life of people treating me like I'm sick.What joy. The consideration people have given me over the last few days has made me really uncomfortable, in a funny sort of way.