Saturday, 24 December 2011
I enjoyed watching the movie "Nativity" last night too (we'd seen it before but it was funnier than I remembered). Yo ho ho, indeed.
See you after the break.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Yesterday cousin and I headed south (well, to Forfar) for lunch and an art exhibition. Forfar is the Angus "county town"... it's also pretty grey and landlocked (unlike coastal Montrose and Arbroath - the Angus towns I know better). In Forfar you can see the hills... and get a very good lunch at a place called Springers (best chocolate cake I've had in a long time). We hit the charity shops, the gallery, looked up at the lights.
Road to Forfar:
Forfar Xmas lights:
I do like a Xmas tree:
Something with bells on:
Well, some of the lights came on:
Santa really does fly over Forfar:
No snow here yet but some over on the Angus hills (road back towards Brechin):
And then today the schools broke up at lunchtime. In the afternoon I walked the dog on an old railway embankment nearby and watched the sun go low (this photo taken at 15.03... sun set not long after):
And tomorrow our visitors arrive and then it's cook, cook, cook and non-stop games playing till Hogmanay. Happy holidays everybody.
Thursday, 15 December 2011
Anyway, night off last night for our girl's last primary school Xmas show. Her class did some Beatles songs (and I really can't comment on that for many reasons...) but the class below hers did a brilliant job with three Queen songs. They did possibly the most enjoyable version ever of "We will rock you" (not a favourite song of mine in normal circumstances), a good "Another one bites the dust" and then a version of "Don't stop me now" which actually brought a tear to my eye in a Freddie-was-my-childhood's-Jesus (hilarious!) kind of a way. "DSMN" is a song that gets played/sung/covered so much these days (it was in the panto here last week too - the baddie sang it...) but there was something about a group of 10 year olds singing it with gusto and abandon (and style - well, done that teacher!) that really moved me. I was about their age when the song came out (in 1978) and I remember absolutely loving it (though I was never what you would call a Queen fan). One of my older brothers had the 7 inch single (like the devil he had a lot of the best tunes...) and I remember listening to it over and over in his room (when he was out - I don't think I was allowed in otherwise). I sang along a lot too no doubt - it really is the best song for that time of life (and I'm pretty sure I never even noticed the "sex machine" section of the lyrics until recently...). Here is one of the best front men ever at work:
Another favourite from brother's record collection around then was also from 1978, this one by George Clinton's Funkadelic:
But I think that one involved more dancing around the room... and in those days I actually believed that one nation under a groove was a possibility (I know better now of course...).
So who needs Santa songs and "Jesus, it's your birthday" or whatever. Not me, baby, not me. Let the good times roll... on the jukebox/record player/mp3 player at least.
Saturday, 10 December 2011
Smells like corporate machine spirit
Who wants to smell like famous folk?
The pong of Katie Price?
Sex and the City's flashy brew
The whiff of Old Posh Spice?
I'd rather smell like just washed hair
Or even just washed dog
Who needs Tulisa's X appeal
Or Britney's boxed-up fog?
Thursday, 1 December 2011
So, pamphlet one... into the ring!
Title – Vintage Sea
Author – Marion McCready (formerly known as the blogger Sorlil... now blogging under her own name here)
Publisher – Calder Wood Press
Price – ￡5
Number of poems – 29
Cover – artwork by possibly the internet's finest purveyor of images Roxana Ghita
Recommendations – on the back James Owens, morgan downie and Hugh McMillan say nice things about MM's poetry. I like morgan's offering – “it is not magical realism but a realism that becomes magical”.
Phase in career – first collection
First poem power (*see introduction) – “Razor Shell” is probably my favourite poem in “Vintage Sea” thus far so yes, a good choice of opening poem. It is possibly the plainest poem in the collection but it is very effective. The title comes from it too.
Last poem power* – yes, definitely a powerful piece once again... though perhaps more so for a person of some religious leanings as one of the quotes is from the Bible (I only know because I asked...) and the poem references “the Eternal”. Still, I like it anyway especially “the sun-bell of your arms”.
Everything in between – there is a lot of beauty in this book, a lot of nature, colour and birdlife. There are also a fair few “I”s, a huge amount of water and quite a few mysterious female characters/spirits/mysteries. It is undeniable that Marion has the voice that some poets look for and never find or hear and her voice says things like “My hair rests on the waist/of the North Sea” (from “Castle Sands” – the book is full of sea and hair!). Marion writes often of her admiration for the poetry of Sylvia Plath but whereas I find Plath's poetry almost (heresy alert) comical at times I can enjoy Marion's poems without sniggering – especially the subtler ones. Plath was a little distracted by her own brilliance, I suspect, but sometimes the less glittering life can help the writing, I think (and Marion lives fairly quietly on the west coast of Scotland, has worked in a fish factory, went to uni but has a practical, regular life that keeps her grounded, at least most of the time...). Perhaps because of this (at least in part) Marion can write simple lines very well (and that is to be cherished, I think). Take “I am pushing this pram/uphill forever” from “Becoming Spring” or “I'm up to my knees in nothing” from “Child” – so easy-sounding but so right. And then on the other hand she has a kind of mystical side that stops the work being too mundane (so she has the lot in some senses – in terms of potential anyway).
Overview - if she keeps hard at it (perhaps with some kind of mean mentor) I can see Marion's writing career panning out nicely as Scotland looks for more strong, dedicated women poets to fill up the ranks. Onward, watery woman of the west, onward!
and our next contender...
Title – Grave with Lights
Author – JoAnne McKay (blogs as a dog – here, damned clever canine...)
Publisher – self-published, handmade by the poet indeed, available at blog (link above)
Price – ￡10
Number of poems – 13
Cover – Like fancy wallpaper and the whole thing comes in a little fabric bag/slipcase, images inside the pamphlet are by Victor Henderson
See JoAnne holding a copy of the book at this blog post
Recommendations – as with JoAnne's previous two pamphlets this one is introduced/endorsed by Hugh McMillan. No matter how flattering the intro I'd have to say that if you keep this up guys people will talk... maybe someone else next time?
Phase in career – third self-published pamphlet (and I self-published... we are the true hardcore!)
First poem power* – (not counting the poem on the dedication page) “The Countess of Bathory of Romford” is a poem of JoAnne's that I have come across online once or twice and somehow I do like it more on a proper page (maybe I'm just getting old...). It is a kind of Essex anthem and I love the cheek of “for we all hate grass”. It sings pretty loud and clear.
Last poem power* – “Grave with Lights” is my favourite in the book, for sure. A tiny little slip of a thing it will even fit in here:
Grave with Lights
When the sky is great,
such night as this, and not sky
but heavens to ask
why do I feel
this thing, that thing
is child's why.
Because I said so.
Because why not.
Because you are so
So yes, a good end.
Everything in between – I much enjoyed JoAnne's first pamphlet “The Fat Plant” (and wrote about it here) but her second one “Venti” (near prize-winner and very beautiful item, as it was) didn't do so much for me, I'm afraid. Maybe I'm just allergic to prize-winners (near or otherwise) or maybe it was the balance within the book (there was more of JoAnne's erudite content in “Venti” than the “Plant” and I have my allergies to that too I think, though I'm not proud of it...). Maybe it was also that some of the “Venti” poems felt more consciously poem-y, if you know what I mean, than those in “The Fat Plant” and I like a poem that isn't too excited about itself being a poem on the whole. Whatever... I never judge prizes (and we all know prizes are the way to proceed) so JoAnne should probably ignore everything I say! Bad news for her is that I enjoyed the work in “Grave with Lights” (as well as the first and last poems I liked “On Looking”, “Edge”, “Romford Handfasting”, “I Shall Give You”) so I hope that doesn't jinx its progress...
Overview – despite being of English origin (if married to a Scot) JoAnne is still managing to make her way as a poet in Scotland (ours is the last voice Scots ever want to hear really but sometimes they just can't ignore it...). JoAnne does have a strong voice too (like Marion) though the McKay version does splinter off in many directions thanks to the many strands of her personal history (Essex abbattoir survivor, horrific experience survivor, ex-copper, mystical mother, at times ferociously academic expert type person, at others weary working wifey). One thing you can never say about JoAnne McKay, however, is that she is boring. I hear she never sleeps.
Title – The Heavy Bag
Author – Ross Wilson
Publisher – Calder Wood Press (them again... they have published several of my favourites now...)
Price – ￡5
Number of poems – 24
Cover – Sepia family photo, nice and fuzzy... and I'm no whizz at typefaces but that doesn't look like one of the approved "poetry" ones (good).
Recommendations – first a cringe-moment... Colin Will did you really write “This collection marks the emergence of a refreshing new voice in poetry”? I feel like maybe I've read that line a few hundred times before (naughty Colin). Luckily the back cover also contains, in place of the usual recommendations, a charming quotation from one of Ross's school reports that kind of makes up for the first sin (I'm presuming the quote is genuine... and OMG was RW really at school – primary school – in 1989..?).
Phase in career – first collection/pamphlet
First poem power* – Yes, Ross (and Colin?) have done their first poem homework because “What's in our Hands” is an absolute cracker and I won't show it here because then you might not buy the pamphlet. To be honest it's so good that it sets quite a high standard for the rest of the book to live up to (like a really high-achieving first child...).
Last poem power* – “Milne's Bar” is yes, another really strong poem (linking with the title, linking with the opening poem...). Good work, very good work.
Everything in between – there is a lot of family content, a fair bit of Fife and a lot of boxing poems (unusual... but Ross was a national schoolboy boxing champion). These all ring good and true (though I suppose they could all be fiction – how the heck would I know?) and they all contain well-drawn characters and crunchy snippets of dialogue (“The Way John Went Out” is my favourite just now). There are also several crap-job-and-crap-training-course poems which I enjoyed too – “Stuck” perhaps most of all (“Because we were unemployed/we had to get up early every morning,/ sit in a portakabin in Kirkcaldy,/ and listen to a man speaking/ through a rolled-up cigarette/ as though it were a microphone.”). There are few women in the book (just a lassie here and there, a factory full in “The Old Patterns”) but that's fine – it balances out nicely with Marion's sea full of mysterious long-haired, seaweedy females and, heavens, poetry needs the male point of view too (especially the, if you like, ringside view that Ross works pretty well). My least favourite parts of “The Heavy Bag” are the end rhymes (for example in the sonnets “Friday Night” and “Saturday Morning”). I love end rhymes but on this evidence I don't think they're Ross's strong point (not as yet anyway). He gets away with the rhymes in “Milne's Bar" but they are more scattered and casual, somehow. Still, a lad doesn't have to be good at everything does he?
Overview – “The Heavy Bag” is a very strong first book – varied, rich, individual and a refined-kind-of-raw. Let's hope he keeps that edge (and in contact with interesting, vibrant content) as his writing career progresses. Scotland has a lot of successful male poets – it's some crowd to stand out in – but I think he could do it, given time. You could say that he's challenger material alright (and he will have to get used to bad boxing references from other people writing about his work...). It's lazy, isn't it, just lazy...
So that's my survey over. I hope you've seen something that interests you.
p.s. pic at top of post is this week's art class offering... my first try at a watercolour (messy but I enjoyed it... I like mess really).
Friday, 25 November 2011
This week I have thought a fair bit about comedy. As I mentioned in my last post comedy is one of my true loves, one of the staples of my life (that's true for many of us, I think... TV comedy in particular has a special place in our hearts) and certainly I have written about it plenty on the old blog. Many of us were raised on TV comedy – I know I was – so it can feel a bit like family almost (I've said before that Morecambe and Wise were like uncles to me in some ways and sometimes I even think Dave Allen was my Dad-substitute... remember I was fatherless from the age of 6). So what of the current crop...? Well, this family feeling does mean I take an interest in it all whether I like it or not. I watch the new Gervais/Merchant “Life is Short” (at least to start with), for example, and observe how disappointed many viewers are (I'm not particularly... I only thought “The Office” was OK, never brilliant or genius or any such... though brilliant at making money perhaps!).
But mainly, instead of the new stuff, I've been concentrating on catching up with shows that I've missed somehow. Take “Black Books”... for various reasons (mainly to do with giving up excess and having a baby in 2000) I never watched this one when it came out (and there are 3 series – 2000-2004). So recently I've been making up by watching it all... this month. It is very amusing too – quite “Fawlty Towers”, more than a hint of “Ab Fab” and “Young Ones”... but all in a good way – and of course the three principals are very, very good (Bill Bailey seems to be one of the very few comedians who doesn't have an army of haters online... unless I've just never come across them...). Over here you can see/hear the co-writer of "Black Books", Graham Linehan, talking about writing comedy (he also worked on “Father Ted” and “The IT Crowd” of course – quite some CV).
Oh, and while we're on the subject here's a nice bit from the“Black Books” centrepiece, comedian Dylan Moran... perhaps not for any of you who are very devout... or who can't bear the odd f-word though...
I quite liked this bit too... laughed out loud and everything...
Then on facebook I came across a comedy show I don't know at all yet – a bit of Louis CK's show “Louie”... via a post from poet Colm Keegan about the new Gervais/Merchant thing. The clip I watched is here but beware because (a) it is very explicit (lots of cock-talk) and (b) stick with it... it starts like just another tired bit of potty-mouthed misogyny but it does get to its, as it were, point eventually (then it goes a bit soft-focus, flag-moment “West Wing” at the end for me in fact... but you can't have everything now, can you..?).
So that was comedy... what else can I ramble about? Well, I've been walking a lot – clearing the head which has been a bit full of work stuff, family stuff... you know the kind of thing. I haven't made it to art class for a few weeks (because of the just-mentioned lots-going-on) but I've been taking heaps of photos – especially in the grounds of the (very) local mental hospital that's being closed down this month (one such photo at the top of the post – still working out what kind of tree that is...). And I even reworked an old poem the other day (I don't do that very often). The old version was here... but a snappier new version is below (it's still a bit doom-laden but it is snappier).
Bleak and winter
Suddenly the trees have less to say
The sun just blinks, then folds again
Barely a whimper of warmth for us
Huddled in our burrows for the snivelling season
Then we hark at the calendars 'Xmas is coming!
The goose, where's that fowl? We will eat till we burst!'
But even the feast has us cold these days
Nothing's right, all is humbug - no wood, fewer trees
And we don't even know why we want what we want
Our guiding lights have turned dim and dirty
Stars, twinkling smiles, any flash can switch us
We hunger for warmth - because apart it's all gone
Though it pains us, the forced plastic party of Xmas
Its bright crumpled hat and its family affairs
Without it what's left - the bitter midwinter
The coughing, the quiet, dark nights, darker days
So that's me... ramble, ramble, ramble...ha, ha, ha...boo, hoo, hoo. Crack open the December cheer early, why don't you?
Sunday, 20 November 2011
While we were away for the six months earlier this year we didn't get to see many movies... and the ones we did see were usually h's 11 year-old choices (she was with us pretty much all the time). Even in hotels and motels we had to watch junior-compatible fare as she was often awake till quite late (and even more so if we were trying to watch something - “what are you watching?”, “what are they doing?”, “who's in this?” - she's more the movie geek with every passing day). We managed “The Social Network” and the new “True Grit” whilst staying with relatives in Canada and found the former not too bad (if fiction, so they say) and the latter really very good. We also managed to sneak in series 2 of “Nurse Jackie” whilst with relatives elsewhere too but otherwise it was pretty much cartoons, tweens and Lindsay Lohan all the way (for 6 months...). Good job we had so much else to see and do...
Anyway, once back home (and needing to stay in a bit to save money...) we have been catching up on some serious grown-up movie-watching. Below are the good (and the average) of what I've watched since the beginning of August (all at home on TV because we are, once again, miles from a cinema now we're home). The only exception was our trip to Dundee to see the documentary "You've been Trumped" (but I wrote about that a few posts ago - here). So let's start with...
Four Lions (2010, dir. Christopher Morris)
This is a really excellent film - a perhaps unlikely comedy about British jihadists from the Chris Morris house of he-didn't-he-did-he-really-did humour. It's funny (always good from a comedy) and then really not funny at all in places (as you might expect... considering the subject matter). There is top notch acting too (Riz Ahmed as the lead is very good, Kayvan Novak as the daftest terrorist is... terrifying) and it's a really effective movie all round. A must-see really... unless you have no sense of humour of course.
Waitress (2007, dir. Adrienne Shelly)
This is the one where the writer/director, Shelly, died before its release (murdered in her New York apartment). Reviews for this one were good and they weren't wrong as it really is a charming film about crap marriage, pregnancy and pie. It was beautifully made and well-acted too (Shelby acted in it as well as everything else – she was in several Hal Hartley movies in the late '80s/early '90s). Try to catch this one - that's my tip (sorry!).
Inside I'm dancing (2004, dir. Damien O'Donnell)
(Also released under the title “Rory O'Shea was here”).
In this one the central characters Michael and Rory are both in wheelchairs (Michael has cerebral palsy and Rory muscular dystrophy) but whereas Michael is quiet and well-behaved Rory is gobby and full of ideas and schemes. The story starts when Rory (James McAvoy, as good as you've ever seen him) moves into the residential home where Michael has lived for years and pretty much turns lives upside down (Steven Robertson does a great job as Michael too). I loved it, really loved it. Proper drama, proper moving - superb.
Goodfellas (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese)
Well, most of you will have seen this one by now. Daughter was away for the weekend though and this movie was on the free film club thing so we threw ourselves once again into the world of pasta sauce, mass murder and hiding cocaine all around the house. The best mob film ever made? Quite possibly. I find it almost too enjoyable in some ways.
Burn after Reading (2008, dir. Ethan & Joel Coen)
For me Coen brothers films are a bit hot and cold but this project, luckily, is one of the hotter ones. Clooney plays a blinder (a really weird blinder...), McDormand likewise and the whole thing is kind of a “Tinker, Tailor, Shagger, Spy”. We loved it.
Un Prophète (2009, dir. Jacques Audiard)
This one came via the postal dvd business. It's a French film that doesn't rely on pretty little brunettes and moody music and, that for me, was a plus point straightaway. Instead it's a fascinating story of life in a French prison – seen via a young Arab inmate, Malik (Tahar Rahim). It's quite a long film but hey, time takes time and I'd say it's really worth the hours. It features a great central performance, an unpredictable story/screenplay and it is really quite a “Goodfellas” in its way. Highly recommended.
A Mighty Heart (2007, dir. Michael Winterbottom)
I've yet to see a Winterbottom film I don't like in some way or other (2002's "In this World" is excellent, for example) and this is quite some movie too. Even though it's based on the true story of Daniel Pearl and his kidnap and murder in Pakistan it's hard to feel sympathy for the journalists in places (and I should think that's no accident). Still the film draws you into the Pearl story bit by bit... and from so many other angles. Angelina Jolie is pretty good as Mariane Pearl and some of the details (like music choice) are so well done - good work.
Mean Girls (2004, dir. Mark Waters)
OK, so we're still watching some Lohan... but this one is so well-written in places that it makes me want to weep with joy (screenplay by Tina Fey, based on the original book by Rosalind Wiseman). Its certificate is 12 but in places it's so brutally honest (and just plain brutal) that I wonder really how good it is for the younger end of its audience (or at least the portion of that audience that is sensitive and thinks about things at all). Still, it's a very good film and in fact we've liked a few of Mark Waters' movies (the Lohan/Lee Curtis “Freaky Friday” is excellent and we enjoyed the “Mr Popper's Penguins” this year too). I notice that Waters' brother Daniel wrote “Heathers” back in 1988 (surely a prequel of “Mean Girls”). Interesting.
Funny People (2009, dir. Judd Apatow)
Though I've heard of some of his titles, I haven't seen any of Apatow's films to date (“The 40 year old virgin” etc.). Then I read about this one in the papers a while back and it did sound like my kind of thing (I'm interested in almost anything to do with comedy – good comedy anyway - and this story concerns Adam Sandler as a successful stand-up/comic movie star who is facing death). Again this is another quite long movie but it is one I really enjoyed – lots of humour, a good story and the very likeable Seth Rogen as the real hero of the piece (a wannabe comedian). Other comedy stuff I've enjoyed recently includes this interview with English funny woman Sarah Millican (currently at the “in everything on TV” stage) and this piece on the edgiest of edgy comedians (and one of my current favourites) Stewart Lee.
Field of Dreams (1989, dir. Phil Alden Robinson)
Somehow I missed this movie in the '80s (and boy, is it an '80s number!) but it came up in a movie quiz game we were playing recently and I fancied giving it a try. I expected heaps of baseball (the reason I had “somehow missed it” no doubt) but I wasn't expecting all that interesting stuff with James Earl Jones as the radical writer in hiding. I was surprised to really enjoy it ('80s hair and all).
The Devil wears Prada (2006, dir. David Frankel)
Daughter wanted to watch this so I tried it with her recently (I avoid fashion movies on the whole – I don't get any of the references for a start...). However this one, of course, has Meryl Streep in stunning form so its appeal cannot be denied. We both loved it but I was pleased to note that I still hated all the clothes the characters were all drooling over. I've always been more Millets than Milan when it comes to clothing (and accessories).
So that was the good – the films I really rated. Now let's have a go at...
(and see if I can diss/dismiss them all in one line each... though I may bend that rule here and there).
I am legend (2007, dir. Francis Lawrence)
Will Smith looks gorgeous, the dog is cute (and you know what that means...) and the zombie things are nasty.
Casino Royale (2006, dir. Martin Campbell)
James Bond is still pretty predictable – it just takes longer to find out (good freerunning scene near the beginning though).
The Road (2009, dir. John Hillcoat)
All I can say is... life is depressing enough (nice to see more of “the Wire”s Omar/Michael Kenneth Williams though).
Swimming with Sharks (1994, dir. George Huang)
The Spacey is great (as ever) as an evil movie boss in this cheapish “Player” meets “Misery” drama (in fact all the cast are good) but the script has some major holes for me (I hate watching a film that makes me shout “there's no way he wouldn't know that!” at the screen).
Shutter Island (2010, dir. Martin Scorsese)
Scorsese films are always watchable and/or striking but this one needed a script edit or two maybe.
Inception (2010, dir. Christopher Nolan)
Just because something is complicated and/or expensive that doesn't necessarily make it good.
Submarine (2010, dir. Richard Ayoade)
I so wanted to like this movie from the “The IT Crowd's” Ayoade but it just felt really unoriginal in the script department to me (I kept feeling like I'd heard it all before a bit... maybe a younger/less jaded viewer would get more from this film though... and it is about youth).
Twilight (2008, dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
We watched this to see when it would be suitable for daughter but really it's “Endless Love” with vampires (yawn)... saying that I adored “Endless Love” when I was about 13.
Salt (2010, dir. Phillip Noyce)
Featuring Angelina Jolie doing a “24”/Bond/Bourne type thing, this is preposterous (unless you like action movies... in which case it's all the usual stuff... leaping off buses, buildings etc.)
Music and Lyrics (2007, dir. Marc Lawrence)
OK, so this one was with the daughter (she likes a rom-com here and there). I expected to hate it but it was really quite funny in places (the com is ok, the rom is painful). The opening '80s video spoof (see here) is really quite amusing and Hugh Grant, perhaps unsurprisingly, does ham pretty well.
Now shoot me.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Anyway I'm too weary to write much today but here is a mini tour (some photos by me, some by him). First (above and below) the views from our lunch on West George Street:
And then some views from further up West George Street (I know these are similar - I can't decide which I like most):
One for a regular visitor:
And then just another view:
Here are a couple in Blythswood Square:
Here's one in the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) on Sauchiehall Street:
This one is outside the famous School of Art on Renfrew Street:
Then down on Buchanan Street the front of Princes Square is pretty fancy:
Next door looks like this:
More of Princes Square:
A bit of Xmas cheer on Argyle Street:
And then several cocktails and a good meal later here we are on our way back to the train station... first on George Street:
And then in George Square (full of protestors not so long back - just a Xmas tree there now... but that photo was a bit fuzzy...):
And now we're home again.
Thursday, 10 November 2011
- listening to this Guardian interview with king o'the north poet Simon Armitage. It's about 40 minutes long but not uninteresting (shorter video version available too). In the long interview I liked the part where he talked about studying geography instead of literature (I hadn't heard any of that before) and he's also pretty good on not living in a capital city. It was interesting to see what poems people on't street could remember in the voxpop thing at the start too (Larkin wins! Yeh, Larkin... well, in England anyway). Would anyone know any Armitage out on't street now, I wonder? And will they once he's gone and buried and taken that kind of 'endearing delivery thing' he does with him..? Just a question... not meant as a slur (I quite like him... even if his face does look like a cartoon moon... or maybe because of that...).
- reading the first part of Richard Holmes' Coleridge biography “Coleridge - Early Visions” (along with a "Selected Poetry" by STC). I have somehow missed Samuel Taylor Coleridge out of my life completely (see portrait above - by Pieter van Dyke, 1795) and I am trying to make up for this just now. In the biography I am just at the bit where he is writing “The Ancient Mariner” (hear it read by Orson Welles in five parts – here, here, here, here and here). The film that you can see with the Welles reading is by Larry Jordan (1977), using engravings by Gustave Doré. Here is the first part of the film embedded to give you a taste of it:
I have half a mind to write a long story poem packed with drama... but as yet it is only half a mind, sadly. I must get on and look for the other half...
And just in case you feared that my literary mind was filled with men... I have been reading Alice Walker's short stories too (as recommended by poet Judith Taylor in a comment some posts back). Each of the Walker stories in "The Complete Stories" (1994) is so huge (in terms of scope and content) that it feels like it almost needs its own book. As a collection it feels over-full somehow... but I suppose that is a compliment.
I've been recording some more audio poems lately too... and watching a whole heap of movies. I'll get to a movie post soon, I hope. Just for a change.
Monday, 7 November 2011
Photo taken just up the road here, whilst out dogwalking last week. This was the photo I used for the pastel pic that I put on facebook this weekend (for those of you who saw it). That was class number 6. This week watercolours!
Last week I did something I haven't done for ages - I read a poem of mine aloud at the local folk club. It was a new poem (very new) inspired by the documentary about Donald Trump and his Scottish golf project (that I wrote about at some length here). Obviously all the Occupy protests are probably rolling about in there somewhere too. And lots of other things.
Now I know Trump will be quaking in his... what would it be... overpriced loafers to hear that British poets are writing about him... but still, protest comes in many forms... and from tiny acorns and all that. (N.B. Some changes to this poem since first posting... minor ones).
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Then recently I got a CD in the mail – from fellow bloggers and some time Poetry Bus riders the Watercats. And with it my heart sings once more. Here's a song from it:
Vick and Ron (for the Watercats is these two somewhat playful individuals... see photo further down) insist that the CD they sent is a demo/not good enough/needs rerecording etc. but I have to say that for me it is pretty perfect as it is – with its lovely rambling guitars, handful of harmonica and, of course, Vick's warm but wistful voice ('wistful' gets a bit overused for voices but really it does seem right in this instance). I even like Ron's less... conventionally pleasing vocals as used on these songs (well come on, we all like Tom Waits, don't we?). And speaking of Waits, there's a good recent interview with him here and a song of his that was played on the radio this week here (it was on the Jarvis Cocker show on 6 Music... and chosen by his guest Lawrence as one of the saddest songs ever... it was an interesting show altogether).
But back to Ireland... and the Watercats... the mood of their songs takes me back to when I was about eleven or so and used to listen to the sounds of long, meandering '70s albums coming out of my older brother's room when he was back from uni (I didn't always know which album was which but I know it all sounded good... and I'd hazard a guess that maybe someone in the Watercats and my brother share a little musical history too... let's hope that's all they share...). And the best thing of all, for me, about this collection is that there are ten songs on the CD (“Week Long Day”, “Even Odds”, “Tip of Sorrow”, “Begging Time”, “Blinding”, “Wolves”, “Scriptures Said”, “Remus Jackson”, “Perfect Weather” and “Avoid the Crows”) and I really like all of them (and how often can you say that of a collection of ten original songs on a demo?). All round it's a winner for me and the sooner they have an album out that people can buy/own/hear the better.
In the meantime you can hear more of the marvellous Watercats on their blog (right hand side to hear tracks) or at soundcloud. And a little bird tells me there will be Watercats content with the next issue of the Poetry Bus magazine. Go Cats.
p.s. I've been reading more on the Trump affair from last post (it gets worse the more I read...). More on that soon. Open letter from "You've Been Trumped" filmmakers to Scottish First Minister while you wait.
Thursday, 27 October 2011
“You've Been Trumped” is very interesting and I urge all of you to try and see it when you can (all showing details at the film's website). It's a documentary but quite a gentle artistic one and it shows some great shots of the beautiful north-eastern coast of Scotland. What it tries to do above all, however, is to provide some balance to the whole story of the golf development up there by allowing the wider public to meet the locals whose lives have been most affected by the Trump project at Balmedie/Menie Estate and to see how that project has been carried out to date (no surprise perhaps considering Trump's reputation – the whole thing is an outrage). Trump and his entourage have done their best to paint the locals who opposed him (or you could say 'those who just refused to be bought by him') as the lowest of the low, as slum-dwellers, as people whose opinion means nothing but what the film does, very successfully, is to show these people for what they are - an ordinary mix of extraordinary folk, people who deserve the right to be protected and listened to, people who deserve more (much more!) from their national politicians and agencies.
Below is a photograph of two of the locals taken by Alicia Bruce. The photo is titled "Mike and Sheila Forbes: Mill of Menie" (copyright Alicia Bruce) and, along with others from Bruce's excellent collection "Menie: a portrait of a North East Community in Conflict", it is featured in the film. The full collection of photographs is currently on show at the Moray Art Centre (until 26 November).
- A few years back Donald Trump announces he wants to build “the best golf course in the world” (complete with hotel, luxury houses etc.).
- After some umming and ahing he chooses a site in Scotland, just north of Aberdeen. Some of the site is a particular type of dune system and therefore an SSSI (Site of Specific Scientific Interest).
- He buys up a lot of land at this site (2005/2006).
- Aberdeenshire Council deny permission to build the course/resort (2007).
- The Scottish Executive/Government override this decision and permission is granted (2008).
- Building commences, locals are treated badly, local police act terribly (even on one occasion locking up the filmmakers for what, looking at Trump's rep in a funny way..?). There is much talk of Compulsory Purchase Orders for people who live adjacent to the site but eventually these are not brought into use.
- Trump receives an honorary degree from Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University (autumn 2010). Former Principal of the same institution, Dr. David Kennedy, returns his honorary degree in protest.
- Trump announces that whilst the course is still being built the hotel and housing part of the project is on hold because of global recession/economic problems (June 2011).
- The film “You've Been Trumped” is released (2011). Trump says it's a “failure” but it starts to win prizes and get very positive reviews.
- Recently there is coverage of Trump's objections to a windfarm that is due to be built just offshore near the Balmedie site (it will ruin the view from the 18th hole, apparently). It appears the Scottish Executive may stand firm on the windfarm issue. So what will happen now..?
After watching the film I would really like the answers to some of the following questions:
- If some of the site is an SSSI how was the Trump golf course project allowed to be built on that area at all? I thought the whole point of an SSSI was to protect the area. I thought Scottish Natural Heritage (at the very least) had the job of protecting such areas. There is some detail here of how SNH were involved in the early stages (advising Aberdeenshire Council). But then what happened?
- How can the Scottish National Party's Scottish Executive explain their decision to override Aberdeenshire Council's original denial of permission?
- Do the SNP now realise they made a mistake and is this windfarm debacle a way of avoiding the bad publicity by easing Trump out by another door?
- What on earth did Robert Gordon University think they were doing giving Trump an honorary degree? (To be honest I find the whole business of honorary degrees baffling – either you get a degree, by working for it, or you don't. The rest is just so much PR. )
- How much benefit will the Trump project bring to the area of Aberdeenshire? Not much according to some economists. And how much of a “billionaire” is he anyway?
And now some background material and links connected to the story.
Here is an interview with the film makers:
Here is a page from Scottish Natural Heritage on SSSIs. I also read an SNH document called the “North East Coastal Plain” online which refers to the need to “protect, restore and maintain coastal habitats” but I'm not sure how the Trump project fits in with that.
Here is an article from “the Guardian” published when the film came out.
A recent interview with Trump on TV's “Scotland Tonight” is here. In it he calls the windfarm development “ugly and depressing” - interesting for those of us who have seen the film and therefore some of what has been done to the local landscape in the last couple of years. “I've left the dunes largely alone”, he says in this interview. It didn't look like it from what we could see on the film.
Art featured in the film (and on the film's poster) is by Scottish artist David McCue. Bold and startling work it is too.
Music in the film is by Icelandic favourite jónsi.
Scottish singer/songwriter/folk favourite Karine Polwart has a new song (“Cover your Eyes”) that is available to people who donate $100 to the film's distribution costs. There are lots of other perks available to those who support the project for this or smaller/larger amounts (all details here).
And this is a trailer for “You've Been Trumped” (along with an appeal for funds for distribution at the beginning).
To finish this post I would say that watching “You've Been Trumped” made me in turns:
angry about how a “billionaire” can somehow avoid all the rules and regulations that the rest of us have to observe,
angry about how easily the Scottish government and local police force were ready to roll over and obey this same “billionaire”,
repulsed by some of the footage of Donald Trump... and I'm not talking about the infamous hair and gross facial gestures but about sections in the film where he was talking to the media and particularly when he was talking to women (e.g. to one young Miss Scotland). Ugh.
angry about the sand dunes area that has already been torn up to provide this new development,
angry and upset at how local people were treated by the Trump organisation, the Scottish executive and the local police,
pleased to see local people standing together against injustice.
As for what happens next.. apparently the first part of the golf course is due to open July 2012. In the meantime see the film, support the film, write to your politicians... I know I'm going to.
Friday, 21 October 2011
Anyway the pastels turned up two pictures this week. One was h on a beach (and I posted that on facebook yesterday). The other (above) is working from a photo of my Mum and little h taken in 2006 (one of my very favourite photos of them – a picture of total love and devotion and being relaxed with another person). This is very much a first stage picture I suppose and I'm sure I could do a lot more to it (apparently you spray with some kind of hairspray stuff and then keep adding the layers). The problem is I quite like it as it is... so what to do? It's not like with poetry where you can keep a copy of the first draft and go back to it if you want. I guess I'll just have to start from scratch if I want to keep this individual picture at all. And maybe no-one will like it much but me.
In some ways I had/have this problem a lot with poetry too. I quite like early drafts, rough edges, unfinished business and I'm not sure it helps with how my (writing) work is... received at times. I'm pretty sure that when I've sent poems to magazines and competitions in the past often the response from the readers/editors/committees must have been “why hasn't this person finished their work?” or “what are we supposed to do with this?” Other reactions may have been “did this person go to school?” or “what were they thinking?” It's a bit frustrating because obviously I did go to school and usually I've put quite a lot of thought into what may seem an unfinished piece. It feels to me like somehow I'm not really a big fan of perfection (at least when it comes to arts like these... obviously if I'm getting into any form of transport I'd quite like the designer and manufacturer to have quite high standards when it comes to perfection...). I don't necessarily want to produce something (in a poem or a picture) that has been tweaked and retweaked to within an inch of its life... but I am aware this is not necessarily a popular view. Certainly not amongst poets. I once read another poet talking about "instinctive" writing and I suppose I fall into that camp. Maybe. I'm not really keen on camps either.
Speaking of writing I am sure that many of you read the tips for writing fiction printed in the Guardian newspaper last weekend (here and here). They got a great range of writers to contribute and below are some of my favourites points from the list.
From Margaret Atwood (ever practical):
“Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.”
A smashing one from Elmore Leonard:
“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
From Roddy Doyle (though his whole list is great):
“Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven't written yet.”
A couple from Geoff Dyer:
“Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.”
“Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.”
I have to admit I had to look Dyer up (I'd never heard of him before). Can anyone recommend which of his books to try first?
From Anne Enright:
“The first 12 years are the worst.”
A timely one from David Hare (considering the whole Booker prize readability/quality business this year... again...):
“The two most depressing words in the English language are 'literary fiction'.”
“Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.”
A lovely one from Joyce Carol Oates:
“Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst.”
Someone had to say it – here's Philip Pullman:
“My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.”
A twist on the old feminist line from Ian Rankin:
“Don't give up.”
A few choice ones from the marvellous wordman that is Will Self:
“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”
“You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.”
“The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply.”
From one of my favourites Zadie Smith:
“Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won't make your writing any better than it is.”
And finally a corker from Colm Tóibín that we could probably all keep in mind:
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
OK. OK. Over and out.
Monday, 17 October 2011
Montrose bridges, yesterday, as we set off for walks and friend-visits mid-morning.
I'm still reading the book about writing that I mentioned a few posts back ("Writing down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg, publ. 1986). It is, I am sure, the kind of... hippy nonsense that would drive many poets (especially British ones...) to distraction but that's OK with me (I think I live in a different universe to many of them anyway - I've tried reading some of the books other poets recommend about writing and I never seem to get very far with them). Goldberg's book is mainly about making writing central in your life... about speaking from within... about digging really deep... whilst at the same time still noticing all that's around you. And whilst it's true that you could work that all out for yourself... and in a way many of us do... still, much of what she says is powerful and incisive. The book has sold many copies... and it is very readable (now, now... let's not get involved in the Booker prize readability debate) but mostly I am finding it pretty helpful and interesting at this odd stage of life (mother just gone, daughter on brink of adolescence, self a bit vague). I have also, in between reading the "Bones", read Goldberg's coming-to-zen book "Long Quiet Highway" (1993). A lot of it is her life story and that was interesting for many reasons - one of them being that she has spent a lot of time in Taos, New Mexico (and we were there too earlier this year - beautiful place). This book's subtitle is "Waking up in America" and I really enjoyed it. We can be calm. We can be good. It's nice to know.
Here's a quote from "Writing down the Bones":
"Suzuki Roshi says in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind that 'The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.' You need a large field in writing too. Don't pull in the reins too quickly. Give yourself tremendous space to wander in, to be utterly lost with no name, and then come back and speak."
See. Not bad. Now try this from earlier in the book:
"Every minute we change. It is a great opportunity. At any point, we can step out of our frozen selves and our ideas and begin fresh. That is how writing is. Instead of freezing us, it frees us."
And now another photo:
Another Montrose bridge we passed yesterday (this time on the way home again in the evening). This one is the train viaduct by the Basin.
Monday, 10 October 2011
Firstly... the photos above... a young seal we saw on the beach last week (a grey seal, we think). We kept our dog on the lead and at a distance... Apparently it's normal for the young seals to hang about on the beach like this at this time of year.
Secondly a slideshow of local sights from our trip to the same nearby beach yesterday (tide a bit further in this time). At the end of our North America trip someone, Dana, suggested we did a slideshow of our home town to complement all the travel slideshows (that were over there). So we got to it finally Dana - sorry about the delay! The skies here can be just amazing and this week there has been every kind of cloud on show (I wrote a wee poem about Montrose skies ages ago - back here). The skies still amaze me and whilst these photos might seem a bit repetitive... they're not really. Take a look.
And then a few links...
Want to find out more about how the "Occupy Wall Street" protest is spreading around the world? Try here. Day of protests coming up on 15th October, it seems.
Another radio show about a very good author and a regular protestor... Arundhati Roy on BBC Radio 4 is here.
So that was kind of a messy post but it was packed full of good things. And it's school holidays here too... no time for concentration! Look where the yoga mat ended up...
Thursday, 6 October 2011
This is the painting I managed in art class number four last week. I'm really just testing this to see how it looks online... and being a bit naughty by posting paint instead of poem on National Poetry Day... Still, someone else (Judith Taylor) posted a link to a humdinger of a poem (this one). And from it this:
"Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved."
Hard business, this creative lark. But fun. Sometimes.
Monday, 3 October 2011
Yesterday, for example, I spent a crazy amount of time sorting out one of the rooms upstairs (so many papers, so many boxes of stuff/old photos/birthday cards, so much dust!) but the best bit of it was listening to the radio all day (I don't seem to have done that for ages). It was great too - on BBC 6 Music they were doing specials for National Poetry Day/Week so we got an interview with the founder of said annual poetry celebration (William Sieghart) on the Cerys Matthews show in the morning (quite interesting - listen here). But then, even better, there was an absolute giant of a poetry segment on the Jarvis Cocker show at 4pm. Jarvis interviewed poet/former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, and though I've never been a Motion fan (or, to be honest a Cocker fan... I like him but not any of his music particularly to date... though I guess things can always change) it was a really interesting interview (listen here). It's more about poetry in general than Motion's own work and a lot of it concentrates on his involvement in the Poetry Archive (which is a fabulous resource).
So much culture content... and the room is tidy too (at last). Win win.
Thursday, 29 September 2011
Above - Edmonton, Alberta, back in July. How I love my crazy North American roadside signs...
So, I am back at the coalface of poetry-work of late (bang bang, scrape, scrape)... and it feels good, it must be said. I've been writing quite a bit... and reading heaps. I wrote a new poem this week that reminded me of an old one (one of the ones people have actually said was good - hah!) and I realised that I've never posted that old one on a blog (though it is in mah book, still available here). I did post it online ages ago but that was on myspace (and heavens, who could even find myspace these days!). So here it is (with audio here - from a while back... my voice sounds young!). Maybe the new poem next week.
Let me be your fridge magnet
Let me slip into your home
Like a leaflet for a loan
Hidden in a free newspaper
Or supermarket circular
I'm not proud
Oh how I'd love to be your Baby on Board
Suckered on to your smoothness
I'd feel every bump in your road
Know exactly how much air was in your tyres
If you let me
I could stick faster still
If you'd let me be your fridge magnet
I'd hang on to your cool place
So perky, so keen
I wouldn't let you down
I'd be superficial for you, gladly
Cling to any surface - as long as it was yours
Then I'd ask softly 'do you understand now?
Do you get the message?
Do you read me at all?'
And whilst some people reference Greek myths and what-not this one (as, of course, the erudite amongst you will already know) refers back to the great Baby D hit of the early 1990s "Let me be your fantasy". Happy days, dancing on the bar nights. Oh go on then, here it is (and look - you can even sing along):