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Showing posts from 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Suffolk Punch Person of the Year 2018


It's been hard to feel hopeful about American politics for a long time. Well, two years at least. But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with a handful of others who emerged during the mid-term elections, makes hope possible again.
Who is she? I didn't have a clue until just after her Democratic primary victory in June. Then I saw this engaging young woman on Stephen Colbert's show, I think it was, who according to the interview had caused the biggest electoral upset in decades. She was 29, or actually 28 then, and she called herself a socialist.
I knew that two years of septuagenarian Republican misrule in the White House had got America in the mood for a change. I also knew that Bernie Sanders had almost won the 2016 nomination, and stirred young American voters into a genuine semi-radical fervour, while campaigning under the socialist banner. But I wasn't expecting anybody else to get away with it.
Ocasio-Cortez was the real social…

54

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Uncomfortable birthdays...Little Harrowden Primary School...the tin-legged farmer and the willy incident 




Tomorrow I will be 54 years old. Sixty in six years, if I make it that far. Fuck, where did it go? I can still remember the school playground at Little Harrowden Primary, and most of the kids running around in it. I remember how we used to be able to see the flame burning in one of the high silver towers of Corby steelworks tiny in the distance if we stood in the right place. Ten years later steel in Corby would be dead because of Margaret Thatcher's march of progress.

I remember standing with the rest of the school in the playground watching an eclipse of the sun. The admonition of the teacher that looking directly at the sun would blind us never left me; I am still, even today, awestruck by the terrible power of a star that can blind you from 93 million miles away. And when I picture that playground I still see the farmer who owned the adjoining fields, Mr. Belgrove, chasing …

Blaze

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This week I've been learning about Blaze Foley. There's a movie about him directed by Ethan Hawke, a name I usually take to be a fair indicator of quality when it's attached to a product; it's out in America now, I think, the film, but when and if it will get to the UK I couldn't tell you. Maybe we'll see it on Netflix. They have a lot of Ethan's stuff.

But back to Blaze. I'd never heard of him until I read about the movie, and I've been listening to country music for forty years. In fact, one of the first albums I ever bought was Guy Clark's 'Old No. 1'. I also realized, early, mainly thru cover versions of his songs by other artists, that Townes Van Zandt was a genius, and a better poet than any of the boring versifiers they foisted on us at school, except maybe Shakespeare, although then I didn't realize how great Shakey was.

Townes' albums, for some reason, were hard to get in Wellingborough, where I grew up. He didn't g…

Poem: For Harry

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FOR HARRY


The old woman who lived in the corner house
on my route to school used to frighten me.
Her legs bowed out at angles from each other
when I saw her go to get the morning paper.
The gap was big. You'd kick a football through it.
Her spine curved forwards, and her clothes hung off her;
they were dark clothes, the fabrics worn with age.
Her skin, when I dared to look, was yellow,
and stretched across her hollow cheeks like paper;
it might tear if you didn't touch it gently.
She was creepy to a young boy, spider-creepy.
Those legs, with their knees bent wide--I'd seen
old people walk, but none had walked like that.
Mum told me poverty had wrecked her bones,
but that rickets, in the Seventies, had gone for good.
I think that she was giving comfort only
to a scared, small boy. Mum voted Tory then,
but she joined the Wellingborough Communists,
and talked of class war, just a few years later.

The Library Wants Me After All. Well, Sort Of.

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I just got an email from Northampton Central Library inviting me to interview for a volunteer post.

I applied to be a volunteer at the Library before I saw the permanent vacancy. I then applied for that, and, as my regular reader will know, I didn't get it. The cynic in me says my offer to work for them for nothing probably didn't advance my cause terrifically well.

The email about the volunteer post says I might not get that either. I have to discuss with them my interest in the post, and they have to decide whether they can match me to a particular role.

It feels like I'm applying for the secret service. The Library is about book-lending, IT, education, and arts events primarily. I'm a published poet and erstwhile tutor and arts event curator writing my arts blog on a Lenovo laptop. How much more suitable for a job could a person be?

But it doesn't matter, because I'm not going to the volunteer interview anyway. I am too proud to run the risk of being turned…

Signing On

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It's signing on day again. This afternoon I have to go to the Job Centre and have something called a work booklet inspected by a Job Centre employee, who sits on the other side of a desk in an open-plan office where everyone nearby can hear what you say. As usual on signing on day, I woke up this morning with a dark mood hanging over me like those personal thunder clouds in the old cartoons. I hate signing on. I don't know anyone who likes it.

I have been writing in my work booklet for the last two weeks. The first section I wrote in is called 'I will'. In that, I recorded my plan of action re: 'jobseeking' for the fourteen days between appointments. The second section is called 'What I did and what was the result'. It's like primary school all over again, except I'm no longer a child.

If the details I have entered into both sections are approved, the Job Centre employee signs their name in an indecipherable squiggle at the bottom of the page a…

Is Decency Dead in Modern England?

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HOW THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY DECLARED WAR ON THE POOR



When I got off the bus beside the BBC building this morning, the first thing I saw was a group of young people wrapped up against the cold looking up at the Christmas decorations that have been erected over Abington Street. I presume that's what they were doing. Somebody might have been gesticulating at them from an upper floor of the Beeb.

It's too early in the year for me to feel in the festive mood. I was turned down for a job at Weston Favell Library yesterday as well, and the sense of rejection I have from that still smarts a bit. Obviously a First in English Lit, ten years experience of team leading, two years experience of tutoring and my famous charm weren't what they were looking for. Or perhaps they were looking for someone not in his fifties and without epilepsy.

Homelessness is my major festive buzz kill in Northampton, though. Abington Street's vacant shop doorways, abandoned by businesses that collapsed …

BOOKS: I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career

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In amongst the other activities that have kept me from this blog for a while, I've been reading 'I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg' (City Lights). This book was published in 2015, but I've been waiting for it to come down in price before I bought it.

I found Ginsberg's correspondence with Gary Snyder, published a few years earlier, curiously uninteresting given that I love both poets. But this book really sings. Ferlinghetti, after all, was the man whose head was on the block for putting out Howl and Other Poems. We get his first-hand account of the Howl trial in these pages, and it creates a palpable sense of how thrilling and frightening it must have been.

Unexpected, for me, was Ferlinghetti's insecurity about his own craft. I'd always taken him, no questions asked, to be a great, quirky, eccentric poet. I thought everybody felt the same. But the other writers in his o…

John Clare, Poets and the Booby Hatch

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Went last night with a group of poets, a playwright and some interested onlookers to a public reading of John Clare's poetry in the dim light of the Guildhall Courtyard in Northampton. We stood or sat around the Clare statue there, the group about ten strong, and most read poems either by Clare, or work in the spirit of the so-called Peasant Poet; someone who's appearing in a play about Clare at the Abington Park Museum on Sunday recited part of that. You could tell he was accustomed to the stage: his voice projected powerfully over the noise of the traffic and the group on the steps at the other end of the courtyard loudly chattering.
I mention no names because the only person I knew there was Jimtom Keith Thomas James, Northampton's best living poet (myself not included). Jimtom, in kilt and red Cymru jacket, shuffled next to Clare's statue to read, demonstrating rightful kinship maybe, then picked a poem at random and read it beautifully. I declined when the organise…

To The Bookcave!

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I was walking down Market Street in Kettering with Michelle this morning, remembering my friend Salvatore who worked in a long-gone clothes shop there in the early 80s, when I noticed a bookshop I'd never seen before. 'Bookshop!' I said to Michelle. I'd thought there were none this side of Leicester, Waterstone's branches excluded.

Bookcave Limited is situated inside a shopping district called the Yards, which looks like it would literally have housed, long ago, yards; it's an open space off Market Street with buildings on all sides. But the buildings have been redeveloped, adapted and beautifully painted, so that the space feels more like a haven than a commercial area.

The shop itself, near the entrance to the Yards, sells second-hand books, specialising in horror, science fiction and fantasy. But there are also comics (great covers from the 'Dracula' comic on the walls), graphic novels, children's books and classic literature. I bought this while …

Ex Libris Dan Davin

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This book is a 1962 Oxford University Press edition of Dostoyevsky's letters, edited by Jessie Coulson. Michelle found it in a charity shop yesterday; it was about to be sent to Africa but the manager, knowing my predilection for old literary books, sold it to Michelle instead.

I'm glad she did. When I checked inside I found a glued-in bookplate bearing the motto 'Fortiter et Fideliter' (Bravely and Faithfully) and Ex Libris D.M. Davin. (Ex Libris meaning 'from the books of..', signifying, therefore, ownership.)

As I always do when there's a name inside a book, I did a little research online; and I'm almost certain I found this book's owner. Let me, as a fan of the Inspector Morse books and programmes, explain the reasoning behind my near-certainty before I give you the big reveal you are undoubtedly waiting for with trembling anticipation.

The book's owner had an interest in literature, whatever his or her feelings about popular fiction may ha…

Mac Flecknoe: My First Encounter with Poetry

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Michelle noticed John Dryden carved in stone on the front of Northampton Public Library a few days ago. Neither of us had ever noticed it before, but it turns out that Dryden was born in our fair county, in the miniscule village of Aldwincle. As far as I'm aware he's the only Northamptonshire poet to become Poet Laureate, not that that is an accolade most of us would seek.
Reading Dryden's history I remembered how I first came across him. It was in my English A Level class at Tresham College in Kettering. The year would have been 1981 or '82. Dryden's 'Absalom and Achitophel' was one of the set texts. I have learned, subsequently, that the poem is considered very important; I, however, couldn't follow it, and consequently I was tremendously bored by it.
'Mac Flecknoe', though, worked instantly for me, partly because it was easier to understand, but also because it was so joyously malicious:
All human things are subject to decay, And, when Fate summ…

My Latest First Anniversary

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The other day it occurred to me, with a smirk of satisfaction, that I haven't had a seizure for a year. Of course, these anniversaries are meaningless in a way. I could have one ten, twenty, thirty seconds from now and be right back where I started. I have gone for longer than a year without seizures too. Once I lasted eighteen months and thought I had beaten the condition, to whatever extent a permanent condition can be beaten. But last year, in the space of a few months, I had three very bad seizures; once I might even have died had my partner not been with me when it happened. So I will allow myself a small moment of celebration.

I have not gone without my brushes with the condition this year. I've had multiple warnings -- auditory and visual hallucinations that can precede a seizure. They often came when I was over-tired, or when I watched television in the dark, or looked at a computer screen for too long without a break. They came when I was feeling under pressure too. On…

Casting Out the Devil: Living with the Stigma of Epilepsy

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Recently I lost my job. I'd been working at House of Fraser's Wellingborough warehouse for four years. Last year we began hearing whispers about its financial problems. Then DHL lost the contract to deliver the service for House of Fraser; it was won by XPO, who, we all presumed, had promised to deliver the same service for less money. But whatever was happening in the offices over our heads didn't work. House of Fraser went into administration and was bought by Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct, where the abuse of workers was so infamous Ashley was called to explain himself in Parliament. (As far as I'm aware, not much changed.)Ashley, as the new boss at House of Fraser, immediately fell into a dispute with XPO, who wanted some assurance that he would make good on the millions of pounds they'd invested in automation to make the service more 'efficient'. He said he would pay them nothing; he was under no legal obligation to pay, so he wouldn't.It was …

Shipwrecked in Trumpland

There's a poetry page I've recently discovered that's doing something I think is really important. It's calledWinedrunk Sidewalk: Shipwrecked in Trumplandand as the name suggests, it publishes a lot of poems about Donald Trump. I don't know if it has ever published any poetry in praise of Trump; I'd be surprised if anyone had written any, at least any that were publishable. But the anti-Trump poetry is fierce. So are some of the other pieces, all of which the editor, John Grochalski, selects to build a picture of life in Trump's America. Don't like messages in your poetry? Think writers should stay out of politics? The quality of the work in Winedrunk Sidewalk makes those objections redundant anyway, but as I'm sure John would agree, there are times when intellectual detachment just isn't good enough. The leader of the most powerful nation in the world is a racist, a homophobe, a self-confessed sexual predator and an enemy of the free press. Onl…

What's Going On: Keeping It New in my Fifties

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Leah Song of Rising Appalachia
Poetry is my vocation but music is my love. Music even gave me poetry, in a sense. I'd read one poem I loved before, but only one: Dryden's 'MacFlecknoe', which succeeded where others failed because it had fart jokes and a reference to people chucking their poo into the Thames in the morning. But listening to the words of Bob Dylan, I woke up to poetry's incredible possibilities. I also first encountered Allen Ginsberg in Dylan's movie 'Renaldo and Clara'.

I don't listen to Dylan anymore. There seems no need, I exhausted my appetite for his take on the world a long time ago. Other musical heroes have faded (Neil Young, for example) while on certain days I still listen to some. When Willie Nelson has a new one out, I always try to hear it. Partly that's because of Willie's amused detachment from the business he's in. He doesn't need fame for personal completion.The other reason is that he doesn't do th…