Archive for November, 2012

You are my secret coat. You’re never dry.
You wear the weight and stink of black canals.

I don’t feel the cold. Marching through the park my padded jacket keeps out the world. My crimes are not visible, but hidden under layers of quilt. This is how I deal with guilt, wrap it up, keep it covered, just walk.

But you don’t talk, historical bespoke.
You must be worn, be intimate as skin,
And though I never lived what you invoke,
At birth I was already buttoned in.

Cousin coat can hold many secrets. I have mastered the art of picking up pain, putting it inside, zipping it up. It’s just that after a certain number of years, the weight of my sins my unspoken desires the things I wanted to say but didn’t my mother crippled in the residential home that place in the pit of my stomach where the earth opens up and I have to hold my breath to stop myself from falling in has grown unbearable. This coat drags me down into the dark water. It reeks of regret.

And what you are is what I tried to shed
In libraries with Donne and Henry James.
You’re here to bear a message from the dead
Whose history’s dishonoured with their names.

Whenever I enter the university library, to keep warm mainly, and hoping youth’s brazen face might rub against mine, I think of my stepfather. Our house of books that’s become his mausoleum. Raymond Williams, Walt Whitman, Jake Arnott, Paul Scott, Madhur Jaffrey, Elizabeth David, Alice Oswald, Stuart Hall. A year after he died my sister received a letter from his university library, requesting  his overdue books. The letter informed my dead stepfather that he would not be allowed on the premises, until he returned them.  Which made us laugh with hollow gallows humour. But now it’s just the sadness and the feeling of all the shelves of books that I grew up surrounded by, falling on my head, burying me alive.  

Be with me when they cauterise the facts.
Be with me to the bottom of the page,
Insisting on what history exacts.
Be memory, be conscience, will and rage,

I keep walking. The paths criss cross over each other and I sometimes abandon them and stride over the grass sinking into the mud into my past that keeps accosting me in the dark.  One of these days I will take off this coat and everything I collected in every crevice all the bits of tissue I shoved in my pockets with my grief and dust that accumulated the piles of lust and anger and the words that were always forming on the tip of my tongue but fell silently into the folds of the garment before they were uttered will escape.  This coat has not let me forget anything. I flinch at the thought of what will be unleashed when the stories are no longer kept in. I know it will happen soon. I don’t stop.

And keep me cold and honest, cousin coat,
So if I lie, I’ll know you’re at my throat.

Cousin coat by Sean O’brien:
Picture from this collection of vintage mug shots of women:

Remembered your name
Evidently, you’ve forgotten mine.
You know a lot of people
I know, a mind dulled by work and wine.

I got hired but I got tired of draining the pool for you.
I got tired but not so blue,
To see the cracks in you.
I got hired against my wish,
With better prospects, after this.

Your interest in freaks,
The side show, the low life holds nothing for me.
Because I have seen it
Almost been it, and it’s not my cup of thrills.

On swimming pools, hiring and tiring, and
anything after this.

Expect Less #fridayflash

Posted: November 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Buddhist philosophy has suggested 5 paths to happiness: Give more, worry less, live simply, learn to let go of hatred, expect less. It’s the final one that has thrown me up till now.

I’m thinking of these five paths, as I take my path home from work, in the November darkness. The wind is growling, snatching leaves from trees, invading the personal space of the people passing. ‘Worry less’ is the one I’ve been focusing on recently. My method for worrying less is to practice mindfulness, another aspect of Buddhist thought. Mindfulness is: ’paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. It is an excellent antidote to the stresses of modern times. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience’. This evening, though, as I stop, breathe, and try to connect with my inner experience, as I concentrate on the impact of the wind on my body, the point where my feet hit the floor, my breath reaching the top of my lungs, I sense a figure coming towards me. He is quite short, scruffy, Afro-Caribbean in origin I decide.  He starts to walk in step with me. He begins to speak with what might be a local accent, but I am a foreigner in this town, so I can’t tell for sure.

Have you got any spare change he asks. I’m starving to death he claims. But he doesn’t look on the brink of malnutrition to me. I revert to my typical white liberal do-gooder self and ask him isn’t there a centre in this city where they give you food and a bed for the night. No he says. He asks if I’m going home. Yes, I lie. I’m not ready for someone to spoil my night by following me to the pub with their destitution. Can I come back with you. Will you cook me a meal. Give me a cup of tea. His questions are more like attacks. Or maybe that’s just my middle class guilt. No. I’m not that guilty. And then he says, to me, or to the night in general:

Will you come down that back street and give me a cuddle.

What. No. Sorry. No. Now I am crossing the road away from this man and his desperation. I try not to run, as if that is rude. But I don’t think I manage it. I dive into Tescos to hide from the horror that begins to dawn on me. Even though I don’t need anything. Well. Nothing you can buy in Tescos.  Because the fact is I do want a cuddle. I’d actually consider paying for one, 3 for 2, 50% off. Or even full price. He asked me for what I never ask for. I start to feel sick at the resonance. I need a drink.

Safe in the warmth of the pub, surrounded by people who don’t have to ask strangers to go down back streets to cuddle them, who obviously have well-groomed boyfriends, and cheery wives and intense, elegant lovers, to hold them in their arms in well-lit living rooms and newly made beds, I am hit with disappointment. A white russian slips down my throat, reaching for the jagged edges, smoothing them over. But not quite enough.

My expectations, as unrealistic, pathetic and ugly as those of the little man on the street just then, haunt me afresh. These ghosts of what I thought might have been, hang round, dregs in my glass. They say that ‘with every broken heart we should become more adventurous’ but I am scared to leave my chair. As I drag myself up and over to the bar, for another white russian that might help me forget the events of the last few minutes, the last few years, I find myself glimpsing something that passes for light. I stop. And breathe. Maybe now is a good time to start to expect less.

So I do.

picture, tree in the wind by Bernard Re, Jr :

When Chris Floyd, photographer, agent provocateur and all round good egg (u ok, hun?) posted a link to this tumblr on twitter, my first reaction was ‘Oh God’. I am afraid I can’t add to that yet, as I am still sat here, mouth agape, going Oh. God.

But maybe in this world of total onslaught of ‘funny’, ‘shocking’, ‘interesting’, ‘thought provoking’, ‘kooky’ etc links, memes,  images, jokes, viral videos, ads, avatars, pornos, statements, ‘Oh God’ means something has cut through the fog and made an actually apt comment on contemporary society.

Once, before taking the more sensible, maybe less fun route of doing a sociology PhD, before twitter, facebook and tumblr even existed, I had the idea to write an MA dissertation about ‘therapy culture’. You know, the world of Oprah, Trisha, pilates, psychotherapy, helplines, and ‘u ok hun?’ concern. I think I was onto something. And I should probably write it up.

But maybe we’ve gone beyond ‘therapy culture’ into something else, something more cloying, more mediated, more instantaneous, more cyborg. I mean, a computer, a social media network, a website, can give the impression it cares ( think of those company emails: ‘we missed you!’). Which, if you think about it, is pretty disconcerting,

U ok hun? *hugs*

I am delighted to feature the work of Ed London Photography here again. His photos of the London Tattoo Convention grabbed my attention last year when he snapped our favourite heavily tattooed art historian, Matt Lodder, at the event.

This year I think his photos are even better, and it pleases MetroAuntie to see he features some beautiful inked metrosexy men aswell as women.




For more examples of his work visit Ed’s flickr:

I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next year!

There are lots of people sending out news and information about the attacks on #Gaza using  social media networks. I can’t add to what they are tweeting, facebooking and blogging. Except to say that most of what I am learning is in some way due to the work of Andy Carvin. You can follow Andy Carvin on Twitter if you think, as I do, that even when most of us are pretty helpless in a situation like this, ‘bearing witness’ is still a valuable thing to do.

H/t @cathyby for tweeting this photo, copyright Dos Espiritos:

I won’t be taking part in #youngmumschat this evening on twitter which starts very soon! You can follow the hashtag and take part in discussion here:

This week the topic is ‘labels’ which I think is an excellent subject to talk about. Well, I would wouldn’t I? Since a lot of my preoccupations relate to language, and how we use words in ways that sometimes encourage and exaggerate negative perceptions of certain groups and individuals.

Young parents are a group who get more bad ‘labels’ thrown at them than many. @Prymface, the coordinator of #youngmumschat has taken one of those nasty names  -pramface, and rather cleverly turned it to her own advantage, and into her own style. Prymface has also pointed out that the very terms ‘teen mom’ or ‘teenage mums’, though maybe not intended to be put-downs, often get used in sensationalist media stories, and all the world’s problems can be loaded at the feet of this stigmatised group. ‘Teen mums a burden on the benefits system!’ ‘Teen mums leave school before getting any qualifications’! ‘Teen mums give up their babies for adoption!’ ‘Teen mums come from broken homes!” etc etc.

Whereas prymface and her colleagues/fellow young mums are trying to show that actually, many young women(and men) make considered decisions about having kids, just like everyone else. And they find ways to balance work, education and home life, just like everyone else.

There are other more generic labels for ‘loose women’ thrown at young mums such as ‘whore’, ‘slut’, ‘slapper’ etc. The suggestion being that they got pregnant due to promiscuity, which is no more likely to be the case than with any other pregnancy.

But you won’t be surprised to hear that once again, in relation to #youngmumschat I want to bring up young dads, and the worst label I know given to them. ‘Deadbeat Dad’ REALLY annoys me for a few reasons. One is very personal, and that is that my parents broke up when I was five, and although my Dad didn’t have (or ask for) full time custody of me, he made sure he saw me very frequently and regularly, he ALWAYS paid child support to my Mum, and has been a brilliant father right up to and during my adult life. So the implication that comes with ‘deadbeat dad’, that men who don’t stay with the mothers of their kids tend to be feckless, lazy, uncaring (see image above) is hurtful to me. But also, on a wider societal level, I think the term ‘deadbeat dad’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If men, especially young men, have a reputation for not being good fathers, they are more likely to live up to that reputation, than to fight to combat both the stigma of the ‘deadbeat dad’ label, and other barriers to being active fathers from the start, such as the lack of paternity leave, the bias of the law towards mothers’ rights, and social expectations that children’s main carers are mums.

SO I am keen to hear a lot more about labels given unfairly to young mums, and how young mums feel about them, but I’d like to hear something of labels that young dads are given too, and how they feel about them as well.

I hope everyone has a great #youngmumschat it really is one of my favourite twitter hashtags!

I am doing nanowrimo this year. Nanowrimo is a project where writers across the globe (or rather across the internet) commit to writing each day in November with the goal of having 50,000 words of a piece of (usually fiction) writing by the end of the month.

The last nanowrimo I took part in was a resounding success – for me anyway – because I wrote the bulk of what became my novella, Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls. I ‘m very proud of that book, and not least because it marks my first completed piece of full, or at least novella length fiction. I, like many of you I expect, have sat around in various bedrooms and living rooms through my life, imagining myself as a novelist. Of writing THAT book. Of being A WRITER. Like ‘Jonathan’ in Teddy Thompson’s song, I  have spent almost as much time in those same bedrooms and living rooms with nothing to show for my fantasy. For that is what it often is.

It’s not that now, having written my novella I am full of confidence, or of self-worth based on my secure identity as ‘writer’. I still sit around dreaming, chewing my proverbial pencil, and not making my ideas into tangible characters and stories. I still feel like a failure as a writer relatively often. But I have a kind of reference point, a starting block. I know what it feels like and looks like to write a book of fiction. I know I can do it again. But. Well. I am not sure I can do it this November. 50,000 words are stubbornly refusing to flow from my fingers and my mind. Ideas are falling flat on their faces. Metaphors are flying too near to the sun and coming crashing down in front of me. This time, nanowrimo is as hard as it was natural last time, as frustrating as it was enjoyable, as disappointing as it was satsifying.

I am quite an ‘all or nothing’ person with creative writing. This contrasts with my approach to other aspects of life, such as work, and even non-fiction blogging, where I tend to plod along, keep doing it, until something valuable appears. But with fiction (and poetry) I am impatient, wild,  lazy, moody, dramatic, non-commital, insecure.  Maybe a bit like how I am in ‘romantic’ relationships. And you may guess I’m not exactly brilliant at them.

So rather than do what I have done before, and throw a strop, chuck my writing implements at the wall, and storm off into the sunset, I have come up with a couple of ways to keep at it, to plod along, when I am really not feeling it. The things I am doing instead of giving up nanowrimo are:

1) Keeping a journal. I started writing a journal this summer, when something happened to me that just had to be written down. And I realised the writing down helped me deal with what was happening. So I carried on writing things down, events, thoughts, feelings, tweets, conversations, the occasional idea, all in the privacy of my notebook. Now I am onto book three and this journal-writing lark has become a habit.

2) Practising Mindfulness I have been aware with some of the principles of meditation for a long time. I have done a little bit (before throwing one of my strops and giving up) and read round the philosophy it is part of. Mindfulness, a key aspect of meditation, is ‘paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. It is an excellent antidote to the stresses of modern times. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience’. So far I mainly practise it on my walk to and from work. I pass through a park and make a point of slowing down (my sister often complains I walk too fast) and noticing what is around me – the changing colours of the autumn leaves, a shock of cold air, a man placing a poppy wreath on a memorial. And I am already feeling some beneficial effects. I am beginning to notice I am less stressed, and more leaning towards feelings of contentment, sometimes even joy. I have a lot on my plate at the moment, some of which has the potential to bring me down. So mindfulness is one strategy I have found for staying, wherever possible, up.

3) Being social Another tendency I have as a writer, and a person (there is only one of me), is obsessiveness. I personally don’t think that is such a bad thing. Foucault’s Daughter wouldn’t exist without my obsession and my ability to spend long periods of time focused on one thing. But once I get into a project, a thought, a book, a PhD, I find I lose track of other people sometimes. My need for human contact, and my responsibilities to my friends and family. So, whilst I am not gripped with The Best Idea In The World, I am making sure I get out and see people. So if and when inspiration does strike, I hope I will have built in some kind of social life, in the new place I am living and working, and elsewhere.  And who knows? Maybe some of my social interactions will find their way into my stories. Don’t worry I won’t tape our conversations. But well, you know what writers are like. Everything is material to us.

So if you’re doing nanowrimo, but aren’t doing it, maybe these notes will help you get out and stay out of the rut. Or maybe you have some tips for me. I would love to hear how you deal with that lack of spark when it inevitably descends.

I first knew of Caroline Hagood as a journalist and blogger, who came up with some rather  intersting angles on metrosexuality. I enjoyed her non-fiction prose, and especially her blog, aptly entitled (but sadly no longer with us) ‘Culture Sandwich’. I featured her work on my blog and admired from afar her seemingly effortless mixing of styles, genres and forms (she is also an enthusiastic photographer).

But whatever she was creating, a poetic stream always ran through her work. Individual examples of  her poetry have been published in various places, but I am delighted that she has now brought out a whole collection of poems. Lunatic Speaks is a very confident, and vibrant debut, from what is obviously a talented poet.

The book begins with a kind of poem ‘foreword’ . ‘Rewriting Red’ is an incantation, a poet’s manifesto, that lays down Hagood’s ‘Lunatic’ gauntlet.

‘Red is that place beneath my skin that knows
What I really am, the anger I stuffed in a shoebox
Under my bed’

As all poets – and some wannabe poets like me – know, it is madness to reveal the inner workings of your mind and heart to strangers. But we do it anyway.  ‘Rewriting Red’ also reminds us of the crazy way poets treat language, as it runs through a list of things and words that have nothing in common but their colour, and the images they conjur up in our minds. The stop sign, bar room fights, ‘the rouged faces of alpha mandrills’, Chinese wedding dresses, raw hamburger meat, overcooked lobsters.

So as we read through the four sections of the book, we can’t say we weren’t advised of their contents. And yet, I still found myself surprised by some of the poems. As I read them in a rather unpoetic PDF format on my laptop on the train home from work, I am sure the other passengers noticed a lunatic chuckling and smiling and gasping alone to herself in their carriage.

There are some broad themes which reappear throughout Hagood’s work. And her poetry is no exception. One reason I am drawn to her writing must be her interest in gender, and the impossibility of us ever living up to its laws. Her poem ‘Becoming A Woman’ echoes some of my experiences and feelings about growing up into one ‘gender role’ whilst always furtively looking over my shoulder to another. Hagood didn’t become a woman she says, when she got her first period, or kissed a boy for the first time, those expected rites of passage into femininity, no

It was when you saw yourself
In a steam-cleared mirror and knew
You had a bit of danger in you.

And the young Hagood didn’t just look to her mother for tips on being the woman she now is, of course she also watched her father, shaving and doing ‘man’ things:

It wasn’t only boys
Who wanted a little shaver all their own
To understand their fathers through the removal
Of stubborn pieces of themselves they didn’t yet have.

This poem reminds me of ‘The Boy’ by Marilyn Hacker, another beautiful gender bending treatise on childhood.

Other poems dealing with gender in an unusual and arresting way include ‘What Lolita Wishes She Could Say’, ‘On Duty and Motherhood’, ‘Gender Studies’ and ‘All About My Mother’.

As ‘Rewriting Red’ hints at from the start, one aspect of Hagood’s ‘lunacy’ is her attraction to the surreal and the ridiculous. Whether she is channelling ‘Andy Warhol With A Ukelele’ or writing her ‘Inner David Lynch Movie’ the poet is always playing with language, mining her subconscious and, whether it is deliberate or not, making the reader laugh. And yet even at her silliest she manages to make some quite profound philosophical points. Take ‘A Poem About Poop’ for example, where Hagood asks

Why do we always talk weather?
I want to talk bowel movements,
Walk straight up to the next well-bred woman I see,
Ask her if she’s been regular lately,
Whether she works very hard for  the lone pellet

Or tingles with the fear of what will come
Soaring out of her next.

This is what really unites us.

Could that be the human condition summed up? However I found some of the ‘straight’, serious poems about love, lust and relationships the most moving, and devoid of the cynicism that creeps into many poems on this thorny topic. But I will leave you to discover ‘Word Pornography’ and ‘The Truth About Marriage’ for yourselves.

An aspect of good poetry that I am always drawn to is ‘dissonance’. A sense of unease as you realise that things aren’t always what they seem, and that contradictions are what makes life interesting. A key element of ‘dissonance’ in Hagood’s poetry, I think, is her honest portrayal of a woman who on one hand seems pretty ‘together’ and stable, but who has another, more chaotic, disturbing side to her. She is married, but she thinks about poop, she does jury service like a good citizen, but is kept awake at night by the demons in her mind. She writes quite controlled, structured verse, but splices it with crazy metaphors and dadaist jokes. I probably identify with this dissonance myself.

In looking at the process of writing, though, Hagood reveals something that separates her from me, and possibly a ‘dissonance’ in most writers.  For she sees herself as a writer ‘Failing At Fiction’ : ‘my mind’s motor/runs only in miniature’. Whereas I am very much failing at poetry these days, but have managed to write and finish some works of fiction. This feeling of ‘failure’ and inability to express ourselves fully is probably what spurs many of us ‘lunatic’ writers on.

But ‘failure’ is not something that Hagood needs to worry about as a poet at least. Lunatic Speaks is a (warning?) sign of much more spectacular lunacy to come. Going back to ‘Rewriting Red’, that poem encapsulates the strongest message I took away from Hagood’s book:

Do not turn away

When the shucked mess gapes at you

Ask for its skin back. Speak.

You can buy Lunatic Speaks in paperback from Amazon. I am going to do that now! It is published by Futurecylce Press, Georgia USA (2012).