Sunday, 21 October 2012

A Year In Morse

(Sometimes you find yourself in the weird position where a poetry magazine says they're going to publish your work in their forthcoming issue... then there's a great long silence as you wait for the issue to emerge... Then it becomes apparent that what originally seemed to be abnormally long gap between publication dates was actually a literary journal's equivalent of a hospice stay rather than a pleasant holiday in southern Spain.

Er... the magazine died a death, ceased publication and never ran the poem, that's what I'm trying to say in plain English.  And by the time I became aware of the situation and had the opportunity to do something else with it, I felt that I'd moved on slightly and I couldn't be bothered anymore.  That's no reason for you all not to see it, though).

There were no barriers anymore.
I’d reached the point of
“no looking back”, and the
future was also unclear.
The beach was a
pebble-dashed wall
pushed on its side.
The sun caught the
wings of an aircraft,
full of oblivious,
invisible extras in our scene.
Flash.  Flash.  Flash.  Stop.

You stood there
with a strawberry and cream
sunburn, a barcode on a
trash youth novel with a
luminous pink jacket.
There was some
hiccupping laughter
over by an arcade
machine with a
spinning metallic
sphere inside.
Click, click, click.  Drone.

There wasn’t much to do.
We were there holding hands
for the sake of it,
staying at home
with the curtains drawn,
starting sentences with the
phrases “do you think”,
“what about” and “so what if”,
then saying goodbye without
grudges when we hit on “the solution”.
The tongue of the door
kissed the latch
delicately as I left,
tripping its way over the
top lip sensitively but
without passion.
Click.  Click.   Goodbye.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Richard Tyrone Jones Has A Big Heart

Wednesday night saw me head out to watch Richard Tyrone Jones's "Big Heart" show at the Deptford Albany.  This is a show which has had a long and unpleasant gestation period, with many horrible pokes and stabs taken by fate along the way.  Over two-and-a-half years ago now, Richard staged his own poetry funeral at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, resting in a coffin as various other poets paid tribute to his life and his work, and a posse of weeping widows stood around aimlessly.  It was a spectacularly well organised event which I covered in very slight detail here (on my old blog - a lot of time has passed, you see, and nobody uses Livejournal anymore) but for all the slickness, the poetry itself felt faintly crowbarred in and occasionally disjointed from the main theme.  As we left the venue, Paul Birtill turned to a friend and I and quipped that Jones had very dangerously tempted fate by staging a humorous funeral, and we all wandered off to the pub afterwards to drink some beers and laugh at the very notion.

Perhaps Birtill knows more about life and the way it works than anyone else does - and that's a scary thought in itself - for not long after this event Richard collapsed with heart failure, having unknowingly inherited a rare condition.  The show "Big Heart" takes in months of hospital stays, weakened health, the lingering possibility of death, and his eventual recovery.  In the hands of most poets, this would be a deeply depressing show which spent an hour wading through a swamp of torturous misery (Ted Hughes' poems about heart failure, for example, are strong pieces of work but wouldn't have enough charm to keep an audience occupied if stretched for sixty minutes). In fact, had the same chain of events happened to me, I doubt very much I could have squeezed a reasonable show out of it.  Fortunately, Richard has a finely tuned sense of the absurd, which has possibly been sharpened still more by being put through the mill in this way.  Encounters with coke fiends in the same hospital ward, nurses he was (quite literally) fatally attracted to, and the absurdities of being in somebody else's care are all explored.  Whilst some of the show is undoubtedly touching, thought provoking and bleak, he has still created an event with the required amount of peaks and troughs to make it a rewarding rather than hectoring experience. He is humorous about the situations his condition threw him into - even having to return to live with his parents in Dudley, which you end up suspecting was the worst deal of all from the portrayal he delivers - and charming enough to come across as a sympathetic and rounded person rather than self-indulgent human (a rare quality amongst spoken word artists).

A few technical problems paid an unwelcome visit to the live show that I saw, but the improvised jokes around these were actually sharp and funny and showed a performer who obviously now has total control of his environment.

As for the idea of a one-man poetry show being strung along one central theme, I still freely admit I have some issues with this, though have grown to accept that spoken word artists (and comedians) like producing them because it makes promoting their shows a lot simpler.  Often these events use the theme as a loose springboard and fail to stick to the concept enough, or the concept will take its toll on the writer, and some sub-standard poetry will start to slip in just because it's thematically relevant.  "Big Heart" is probably one of the better shows I've seen for managing to find an adequate balance, and Richard manages to put poems into the show which are not dull, singular narratives taking the poetry hack's predictable A-B route of semi-joking self-pity combined with Jongleurs level comedic quips.  Much of the set is strong, thoughtful poetry which is interesting and layered enough to stand up on the page (as all poetry should).

In short, this show did have some pointers for me as to how I'd like to see full-length poetry shows develop in future.  There is room for wit and humour as there is for the touching and personal, and there's no need for the performer to be afraid of big, poetic ideas while he's at it.  I'd probably still prefer to hear Richard Tyrone Jones do a set of mix-and-match material, but as I said all those years ago, I'm a tedious purist - and what his show did was prove that poetry does have a very valid place as a theatrical experience rather than being forever shunted into rowdy pub back-rooms.

Catch his show if you can.  A list of future dates is available here.  

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Idea

It's National Poetry Day today! Of course, this makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever as a poet - nobody has booked me for a gig this year, and as there's barely a day where I don't think about poetry or a poem I'm writing, a special occasion for the form does feel a bit like a Busman's Holiday.  

Still, it's a chance for people who wouldn't normally consider delving into poetry to spend a few moments considering its many merits, and given that it remains a very fringe art form there's nothing wrong with that.  If anything, I wish a slightly bigger deal was made of it, with more broadcasting outlets than Radio Four involved. Was there really no room for BBC4 to do something tonight, for example?  (It's the least we should expect.  Even a poetry programme way outside prime time would have been a start.)  

Annoyance with the BBC aside... whilst I could, if I wanted, allow the day to pass without a blog update, I'd probably end up feeling a bit left out.  So please find "The Idea" below.  This was a common feature of live performances about four or five years ago but has fallen out of the set for now - it's unpublished and there's no reason why it shouldn't be in the public domain.  Enjoy.

The Idea

It sleeps in the desk drawer,
but only for a year; you can’t
keep mediocrity down.
Fate has decreed your
clumsy hand will
chance upon it in the dust,
in the dead skin from the
wrought-out hand-wringing
sessions of blocked days.

It never seems like much at first,
but always has the air of “something”,
so you walk outside with it, and
watch as hungry for attention it
grabs the faces of passers-by,
pulls at their lips, seems to
force them to say
“What a fantastic idea!” and
“How did you come to it?” and
“Who’d have thought!” and you
smile, nod, accept praise
at this stage, pretend
you’d thought of it yesterday.

Word gets around.
This something is more than something.
Journalists are most excited.
Sponsors ring you on the phone.
Dictators quote you in speeches.
Before you know where you are,
London Underground have signs
reading “This station is
closed at X hour, for that is
when the man with the novel
idea walks past, and we
cannot cope with the
congestion of people
clamouring for his attention.”

Your photo in the paper
reveals a grin as false
as a school photo snap smile, a
protractor forced down
between your lips.
You have touched the hearts and
souls of many with a
dusty, half-formed reject of an
idea, and this is the
price you pay – to be
known for it, to
talk about it
until the day you die,
knowing it will surely
outlive you.