Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Geoffrey Bellamy

(This journal entry from this morning was very difficult to write. But it felt good once I'd finished it, as if I'd brought something out into the open I'd been trampling down for too long. I reproduce it here not as a work of literature or some kind of failed attempt at prose poetry. It's just writing, free writing, first meant for what Ginsberg called my "soul's ear", now offered to my friends as some sort of partial explanation of my eccentricity, my anger, my anything that needs explaining. "This is the creature I am!" -- or at least some of him. I hope anyone bored enough to read it will forgive its imperfections and at least commend its honesty.)

While I progress slowly--and it must be slowly--through Blake I'm also reading the diaries of Harold Nicolson. He was the husband of Vita Sackville-West, you may remember. Nicolson's language is beautifully clear and precise. You'd never know he was a civil servant in those years of World War One and immediately afterwards, rather than a professional writer.

But his photograph on the cover of the book reminds me of Geoffrey Bellamy, my English teacher at Westfield, for some reason, despite the fact that they look nothing like each other. Mr Bellamy must have been in his late forties or his fifties when he sat in front of us. But that would have made him the survivor of another world, Nicolson's world, a long-gone world whose habits and customs he was trying to hold onto. His last great writer would have been Kingsley Amis, probably, who they called "angry" but whose writing now is redolent of an educated ruling class which has all but disappeared. No wonder old Geoffrey seemed so exasperated by tousle-haired, sloppily-dressed, irreverent scum like Hodder in the third row (who, funnily enough, fell in love with poetry when old men stopped trying to persuade him of its beauty and nobility, and now--occasionally--even gets a poem published here and there).

Mr. Bellamy once made me get down on my knees in front of him and the whole English class so he could demonstrate the correct way to tie a tie. Even then I thought that was abusive--deliberate humiliation--but what could I do once he had set himself on that course of action? I had no balls anyway thanks to all the bullying I was put through in the corridors (every day of every year for the five years I was there). And if I'd defied old Geoff he only would have misrepresented my behaviour, and his behaviour, and got me caned by somebody above him.

My career as a political outsider and a malcontent was probably decided the moment I got down on my knees in front of Mr Bellamy. And yet, he may not have meant to sour me forever to a vile system where power is abused by those who've stolen it, and all their friends will link arms with them and collude in any lie they tell so that the abused and dispossessed can never have a portion of that power.

Nicolson's diaries refer to the common custom of shooting deserters from the British Army in World War One. The England that Mr Bellamy had lived to see the passing of was a much tougher England than the one we live in now. The Establishment back then never doubted its divine right to sit on top of everybody else and smack down anyone whose conduct deviated from the norm. It was done for them. For England and for God.

Mr Bellamy might well have assumed, looking back as I am now, aged 44, that humiliating me a little would be morally improving. Help build a strength of character, or a proper sense of obedience to the rightful ways, that I wasn't getting from my parents (one of whom he knew, and must have considered a thoroughly bad example).

So thank you, Geoffrey, if you wanted to improve me by making me feel hot, embarrassed and ashamed in front of children who delighted in doing exactly the same to me every time your back was turned (and how often it was turned). They do say, after all, that it's the thought that counts.

But writing this thirty-odd years later, I still feel my heart pound and my head ache when I remember what you did. I wish you were around still so we could sit down and discuss it man to man, Old England; but to you that might be less appealing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Give Life A Chance

A friend of mine has been depressed again recently. Very depressed. To the extent that she has had the old thoughts about suicide returning for the first time in a while. And when I talked to her about it the other day I found myself in the uncharacteristic position of being the one defending life. Arguing for its virtues. Protesting that some good will come if she can only wait. I felt like Michael Landon in "Highway to Heaven".

But I have come to believe it, after all my battles with depression, all my loneliness, all those things that went wrong, all the mistakes I have made. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I believe it presently. Who knows where I am going to be or what condition I'll be in six months down the road?

The last year has been hard. I was living somewhere I didn't want to be, without even a tv or a telephone to connect me to the outside world, I was getting more ill by the month (or so it seemed), and depression had begun to consume me so thoroughly I was finding it harder and harder to talk even to strangers, much less develop tentative friendships into real ones.

But all that has turned around. Well, not all of it. I'm still dealing with these seizures. But a new home was offered to me for less money than I was paying on the flat, part furnished and in town, and many people surprised me by coming forward and helping me to move at negligible cost. The kindness that I was showered with humbled me completely.

New friendships flowered. Old friendships returned. And before long I found I was waking up in the morning in a pretty good mood for the first time in months. Not exactly looking forward to my day, because I am not good in the mornings and until I have woken up properly nothing looks right, even joy. But I believed that something positive might conceivably happen in amongst all the usual bullshit.

I know it could all disappear once again. That I could find myself, someday soon, back in a hell like the one I've just left. But my point is that I got out at all. I escaped it. And I'm not even sure I did anything to make that happen. And if I am back in that hell one day I will be able to look back on the moments I'm living through now and have something it is worth my remembering.

So give life a chance, that's my message to my friend, and anybody else reading this who might be doubting whether it's worth getting up in the morning. Yes it can royally suck sometimes. But just when you are convinced that it has nothing left to give you it might pull a new lover or a new home or a beautiful sunrise out of its sleeve. And when life does that, it does it with a style nobody else can muster.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

BEATNIK resuming business--submissions welcome

It's about time I started doing some work on that damn magazine/ blog/ blogazine/ magablog--whatever the hell it is--now that I've moved house and only have a few boxes left for Sonia to burn before I can say I've really settled in (she likes setting fire to things). So why don't you send something to me at and we'll try to fit it in there.

We've already published some fantastic contemporary poets and writers--JD Nelson, Yvon Cormier, Gerald Nicosia--so your stuff doesn't have to be Beat-themed. Actually, it can be whatever you want, even opinion pieces or a great story about your weekend, as long as it's good writing, at least insofar as I'm able to judge what good writing is--which may or may not be that far. But that's the risk you take with any editor, bunch of tinpot little dictators that we are.

I'm going to shut up now. If you want to have a look at the page first it's at


Can I add under this post, which also appeared at another site, that if there are any people out there thinking I'm a rude bastard because I haven't answered their emails recently I plan to do so in the next week? What with my house move and all that involves, as well as struggles with illness just lately, I've let a lot of business slide that I should have kept on top of. But unless my relative alertness and energy at the moment is a precursor to the final curtain being drawn (recent events have made me profoundly superstitious), I should be able to climb to the top of the neglected business pile pretty soon...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

free writing: NEXT TIME

a blackbird lands on my garden fence
above where strings of prayer flags
are flapping in the morning wind.
it looks me in the eye a moment
through the gap between drawn curtains.
next time it might be a horse, a man,
and who knows what i'll be,
though something--i'm not ready yet
for the great launch into empty sky.
i blink. the blackbird disappears.
goodbye birdie, and fare well.
i hope those prayers the wind set free
help you find a longer, sweeter life.
now i'm off to the benjo
with a book about tibet.


It's no secret that I was against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. I'm not sure what the British and American governments think they're achieving in Afghanistan either. But abusing returning British soldiers as people did in Luton yesterday is ridiculous, and actually, it brings the anti-war cause into disrepute with the larger population.

The soldiers went to Iraq because they were TOLD to go to Iraq. They are in Afghanistan because that's where their orders have sent them. And although there is suffering and abuse and violation of international convention on both sides, they're having a pretty awful time while they're over there. And I would imagine a good many of them believe they're experiencing and inflicting the horrors of war in the name of a righteous cause. For Britain. For democracy.

In other words, for the continuation and health of pretty much the same ideals those of us in the anti-war movement go on marches and write crap nobody reads on Facebook. The British and American soldiers are not our enemies. They have been put into a situation we deplore BY our enemies--that is, obviously, politicians and the vested interests that motivate and manipulate them--and as a consequence their lives, if they get to keep them, will be changed forever.

Leave them alone, I say to Islamic activists and the dumber people on the fringes of the anti-war movement, and direct your ire against the people who really deserve it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

talking to l.s. drinking stella artois

work your magic,
my poor, green, giving,
temperamental beauty,
until the world has ceased to be.

and then i'll sleep
clean through, and
undisturbed by dreams;

and wake up in the morning
fresh, as all drinkers
at your long neck do,

sure for once
a cruel universe
is giving me a chance.