Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


I take what the world throws at me, and spin, twist, skim, fly, flip, throw it back –  Selima Hill

Making Maxine’s Baby is Caroline Hagood‘s second collection of poetry. It follows her impressive debut, Lunatic Speaks and exaggerates, plays with, crystallizes that book’s themes and styles.

I don’t want to give too much away, because Making Maxine’s Baby is a story, a ‘narrative poem’, an urban fairy tale that it is best you discover for yourself. Maxine, the central character, is a homeless woman in New York. She is also symbolic of the writer, both  the author of the book and the ‘Writer’ with a capital W.

‘Before they bludgeoned them

or left them to rot under a stack of TV dinners,

writers used to talk to muses,

but now she makes do shouting at manholes

and playing her harmonica

for the A train people’.

Hagood’s signature soup of vivid, surreal imagery, pop culture references and side-eyes to literary theory is served here with growing confidence and panache. In particular the author explores Horror as a way of representing simultaneously the harsher elements of Maxine’s experience, and her chosen form of imaginative escape route. In the poems entitled ‘Horror Theory’ She

‘dreams of standup comics

sliding dead down shower walls

making red capes on white tiles’.

As in Lunatic Speaks, the colour red recurs throughout the book as a motif.

‘Maxine is always wondering what colour

she is inside. Red probably…

not lipstick

but uncle’s bloodclot, not raspberry

but hooker’s nipple, gore on murder

weapon, color of his face when she said

he didn’t love him’.

The Horror genre is further evoked through descriptions of film scenes, quotes from famous directors and Maxine’s hobby of slipping, a little Travis Bickle like, into screenings of obscure horror flicks like ‘Onibaba, Ichi the Killer and Santa Sangre‘.

I tend to watch horror films through my hands, but Maxine stares them out.

‘All Maxine can think of is Sally’s tortured eyeball

in Texas Chainsaw Massacre when she puts her glasses on’.

The ‘theory’ in the ‘Horror Theory’ poems drags the reader out of the cinema and into the realms of psychoanalytic literary and cultural criticism. I particularly enjoyed Hagood’s down to earth yet poetic portrayal of the key concept by one of the more difficult-to-read scholars in the field:

‘After she read Julia Kristeva, she pictured abjection

as a man so lonely he makes a wife doll

out of household goods, with one ping-pong ball eye

to gaze at him, and a toilet paper hand’.

As well as Julia Kristeva, the wonderful work of Carol Clover was brought to my mind, particularly her treatise on gender in horror films, Men, Women and Chainsaws.

''Torture the women', Hitchcock said.'

”Torture the women’, Hitchcock said.’

So Making Maxine’s Baby does not lead the reader into a Wordsworthian, ‘tranquil’ contemplation. The landscape of the book is definitely urban, noisy, distracting. Sleeping as she does on the street, Maxine ‘can’t be sure of anything’ when she wakes – ‘whose soft bruised limbs are these? Whose morning saliva?’ But she seems to thrive on the uncertainty, the promise of the city. ‘While walking the Brooklyn Bridge today, /she choked on something sacred’.

Hagood, a (New York) city girl herself, revels, via the character of Maxine, in the psychogeography of everyday urban life.  An American Iain Sinclair perhaps, tracing the footsteps of an imaginary John Clare through underpasses, unlit streets and the grimy backs of restaurants, hoping to find freedom and inspiration in the dark.

‘Gertrude Stein understood the structure
of her writing when she saw her first Picasso.
Maxine pictures her psyche as a Lower East Side
tenement. Some days she wakes to find her body
become a suburb – how to navigate this town
so rich with bramble patches and Br’er Rabbits?’

I hear echoes as well from William Carlos Williams Paterson where ‘a man in himself is a city’. And a woman, too?

Intellectually rigorous and poetically deft it may be, but what I like most about Making Maxine’s Baby, and Hagood’s poetry overall, is its undercurrent of silliness and joy. I laughed out loud a few times, reading the manuscript, and inwardly a few times more, thinking about some of my favourite lines later. (I won’t try and relive those moments here, you’ll just have to read, and laugh for yourself). Hagood manages to celebrate, respect and poke fun at the practice of writing, reading and studying literature (and other art forms) all at once.  And the humour bounces off the seriousness of the work just right.

I hope Caroline Hagood makes us some more poem-babies soon!


Making Maxine’s Baby  is published by Brooklyn publishers Hanging Loose Press. Read more about Caroline Hagood here.

I seem to have found myself on a break from twitter, again. We can argue later about whether or not logging in to send dms to friends, or to click on the occasional link, constitutes ‘cheating’. But officially, I’m not there.

I’m not temporarily unplugging though, and claiming some kind of ‘detox’ from the internet as a whole. I agree with Casey N Cep who wrote recently in the New Yorker:

‘Few who unplug really want to surrender their citizenship in the land of technology; they simply want to travel outside it on temporary visas. Those who truly leave the land of technology are rarely heard from again, partly because such a way of living is so incommensurable. The cloistered often surrender the ability to speak to those of us who rely so heavily on technology. I was mindful of this earlier this month when I reviewed a book about a community of Poor Claresin Rockford, Illinois. The nuns live largely without phones or the Internet; they rarely leave their monastery. Their oral histories are available only because a scholar spent six years interviewing them, organizing their testimonies so that outsiders might have access. The very terms of their leaving the plugged-in world mean that their lives and wisdom aren’t readily accessible to those of us outside their cloister. We cannot understand their presence, only their absence.’

I am not ‘absent’, technologically speaking, then, even if that sometimes seems an attractive prospect, and even if I don’t tweet for a while. I am still reachable via the usual means. I still need the internet to go about my daily business, such as it is.

This piece by Adrianne LaFrance is an interesting commentary on where twitter is at, in 2014, 5 years after it came into being. I don’t agree with everything she says. But I have my own reasons for finding twitter now a lot less fun than it seemed back in 2010 when I joined. One of the problems is that I do not feel free to speak my mind on twitter anymore. And I’m not really prepared to try and produce a sanitised, easy to swallow version of QRG.

Sometimes the ‘breaks’ in relationships expand and merge and turn into permanent splits. Maybe that will happen with me and twitter, maybe it won’t. But for now, I’m seeing other people. We’re on a break!!



I saw this George Orwell quote on twitter ( /via @MrDarrenGormley ) and found it quite resonant.

The PR-ification of journalism has been well-documented already.  But maybe what hasn’t been so well documented, is the lengths to which some journalists are prepared to go these days, to censor what they don’t want ‘printed’ – or in the internet age, spoken, tweeted, blogged, etc.

I know the hoi polloi have stormed the stage now, and that makes some ‘professional’ hacks uncomfortable. But if they don’t want to be just another PR, they should embrace the new world, and what it has to offer in the way of ‘citizen journalism’, ‘feedback’, ‘BTL comments’ and diversity of information and opinion.

And if you’re a journalist reading this and thinking: yes but she’s a troll, she has no right to claim her freedom of speech may be under threat. Her speech is beyond the bounds of decency, morality or some other …ity, then maybe you’re part of the problem I’m talking about.

Those who make a living by writing and speaking should value everyone’s freedom of expression. Even mine.



This week has been a worrying one for twitterphiles like me.  The social media site was blocked by the Government in Turkey, in a seemingly blatant attack on Turkish people’s rights to freedom of expression.  Today a court proposed that the ban should be lifted. As they wait for confirmation that it will be, Turks are using creative means to get round the ban, such as installing   Tor browsers and tweeting via sms on mobile phones.  Whilst representatives from twitter the company did speak out against the ban by Turkey’s authorities, they are not quite perfect ambassadors for freedom of speech. In 2012 put their new policy into practice, allowing them to block tweets in particular countries, when they censored output in Germany from neo-Nazis. I’m not a fan of racism in any form, but a social media company making political decisions to restrict access to content concerns me. This seems particularly ironic when we remind ourselves how heavily the actual Nazis relied on censorship  and repression of certain points of view in their regime.

There have also been observations by twitterers that sometimes suspension of individual users can be the result of pressure from groups who dislike them, rather than for any violations of’s terms and conditions. I am surprised I’ve never been suspended myself, actually, considering the various political and personal cliques who don’t like the cut of my jib on twitter! (I hope I’m not giving anyone ideas *stern look*). But whatever its faults, I am inclined to agree with Paul Bernal, an  academic who studies privacy, media law and Intellectual Property, that twitter provides great opportunities for freedom of speech:


I also agree with Dan Hannan, MEP, that whether it is at state or individual level, the calls for banning, censoring and punishing people are always made in relation to other people. A  ‘troll‘  is always someone else isn’t it?. But the kind of rhetoric that demands ‘tougher penalties’ for ‘cyber bullies’ and the values it espouses could have a negative, restrictive effect on us all.


I have considered leaving twitter a few times in the last couple of years. But there are too many reasons to stay. Apart from the excellent friends I have made, and apart from my ‘professional’ reasons (for that read: ego) for using twitter, illustrated by recent praise for my novella  and for my critique of feminism, Leaving The Sisterhood, I think it’s too important to abandon. I know that I am no different from the majority of twitter users, in that my ‘output’ is often frivolous, or boring, but its my self-expression. My chance to contribute to discussions and debates, to see the events of the world unfold in real time, to learn and expand my horizons.

A lot nearer to me than Turkey, we also learned this week that restrictions have been put on prisoners receiving books and other gifts. Their freedom of expression and freedom to learn is not just curtailed by their incarceration, but now by further, draconian regulations. Even in the comfort of my own home, it is all too clear to me, that my right to talk shit on the internet is not something to take for granted. And it’s certainly not something to give up. They’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming away from that little blue bird, I’m afraid.


Do You Trust Me?

Posted: November 6, 2013 in Identity, internet, Writing
Tags: ,


above clip from Hal Hartley’s film, Trust (1990)

Trust is a funny thing. Every morning as we are forced from sleep into consciousness, we trust that the world is not too different from how we left it the night before. We trust that we’re not going to fall downstairs before even our first cup of coffee, that there is milk in the fridge, that the electrics haven’t blown. Even in a simple morning routine we put our trust in strangers – the postman, gas companies, engineers, the people who made the kettle and the toaster, the rubbish collectors, farmers, supermarket staff, cows. Human life relies on trust.

But sometimes trust between people breaks down. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment it happens, the precise cause of the splitting of the seams. But the effects are clear enough. Someone says something and you pause, sceptical about their words and the motives behind them. Your lover mumbles in their sleep and you wonder if they’re dreaming of someone else. The sunny weather that started the day looks like it could let you down any minute and turn to rain. Buying a paper in the newsagents you check your change twice, expecting the worst. That person who smiled at you on the tube must not have meant it.

Maybe your heart has been broken more than once. Maybe someone who posed as a friend turned on you, fast. Perhaps your parents didn’t protect you well enough when you were a child. You might have good reason not to trust.

But living without trust must be scary. Monsters loom behind every corner. Those people and organisations you once relied on now look like thieves and fraudsters. A hand held out to you could just as easily slap you in the face.

Some might find me naive, but despite of all the evidence mounting up to justify wariness, I still think it’s worth it, to trust. I still believe someone, somewhere, will catch me when I fall.


Tomorrow – allegedly – Morrissey’s autobiography, all 480 pages of it, will be published by illustrious outfit Penguin Classics. In the Indy a few days ago a rather waspish Boyd Tonkin criticised this turn of events.  His main objection was that Morrissey was being given special privileges in the publishing world as the grande dame of Literary Pop. He wrote:

‘Penguin will next week publish the first edition of Morrissey’s Autobiography – which almost no one outside the company has yet read, let alone formed a fashion-proof judgment about – as a Penguin Classic in the familiar black livery. Well. “The Queen is dead,” sang the quixotic melancholiac of Davyhulme, so long ago. Penguin Classics, as a noble idea of affordable, accessible enlightenment, has certainly died this month. The verdict has to be suicide.’

I tend to agree with him:

I think Moz demanding to be a ‘Penguin Classic’ highlights some of the contradictions in the star: he likes to drop his trousers to the queen on some days, on others he is clamouring to be accepted by and honoured by the establishment. His fans just thought the hoo-ha was  a storm in a fine china tea cup and were amused to see the ‘literati’ were feeling Rick-rolled by their hero. But my favourite commentary so far on the forthcoming book, and on  Moz as just a tad self-important, is this suggestion for the front cover by a Guardian reader (click to enlarge the ego):

Morrissey autobiography design by TiberiusGracchus

Barbs aside, Moz showed his more cuddly, democratic side recently when he saved a brilliant  tumblr from the ‘copyright bullies’ at UniversalThis Charming Charlie mashes up Smiths/Moz lyrics with Peanuts cartoons to wonderful effect. But has the ‘tumblr generation’ overtaken the 50 something popster in creativity, wit and verve?


I am pretty sure I am not the only Moz fan worrying that could indeed be the case. For, Moz didn’t wait a while after the demise (or triumphant close? – we wish) of his musical career before pondering on life, love and of course hate in an autobiography . Instead he has careered straight from almost collapsing on stage and cancelling all his gigs, with no more  new material in sight, to producing  what he seems to be presenting as a stately, magesterial, definitive memoir. I think Gore Vidal played it a bit more stylishly.

Morrissey has deliberately caused some hype around his forthcoming book – or if not hype, then at least plenty of whispered, and shouted, catty gossip. I want it to live up to all expectations and be a Vauxhall and I of a tour de force. But I’m not holding my breath. (well I am, but don’t tell anyone!)


‘Boyfriends/And girlfriends/And enemies/Those upon which we rely’ – Low

When I was a child I treated friendship as sacred. If I were to attempt some clumsy psychoanalysis of myself, these many years later, I might begin to see why. My parents broke up when I was four years old, and my world collapsed. (Unconsciously then), I think I decided that in my own life people would not be so unstable, unreliable, so breakable as my parents. But of course they were.

I say ‘child’ but this dangerous belief has of course followed me round through adulthood, so that when friendships (and romantic relationships) have broken down, I have felt a loss, an inadequacy, an anger, a shame, akin to that first big break-up of my early life. It wasn’t my fault. But nobody told me that at the time. And, even today, in the complex world of adult relations, I tend to blame myself deep down, for most things that go wrong.

But there is in me, and it is getting stronger, (thanks in part to some recent and very helpful psychotherapy), an ability to step away from that ‘guilty’ child. To see life, and people (including me), as complex and unpredictable, and to accept that. Not all friendships (or romantic relationships) last forever. That doesn’t necessarily diminish them. I broke up with my ex partner over eight years ago now, but it is only very recently I have been able to feel happy and grateful that we knew each other, were very close, had some laughs, were best mates. A Buddhist might find my revelation amusing, for they know that if life itself is temporary, the things within it are hardly going to be permanent. I always was a slow learner.

I don’t think I am the only one afflicted with a perfectionist side when it comes to friendship. I can think of one or two people out there, who are probably even more ‘extremist’ (and less reflective?) than me. They hold onto this romantic notion that if someone is not utterly wonderful and nice and the kindest bestest friend in the world, they must be some kind of devil. Freud knew about this dichotomising amongst friends and even admitted to doing it himself:

‘An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable requirements for my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy coincided in the same person.’

I think if we want to keep our friends, and to make new ones, to keep open to life and love’s possibilities, we have to acknowledge that negative aspect in people and relationships. In hindsight, I think my ex understood it better than I. After a row, or an affair, or a terrible sorrow-filled night, when I thought nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage, he would always treat me exactly as he had before the crisis. He didn’t seem fased by our ability to be ‘enemies’ at times, as well as lovers and friends. Maybe he had a bit of Nietzsche in him, and thought:

‘The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.’

I’m not quite there yet. I still have a slightly rose-tinted view of friendship. And I still get crushed by messy imperfect reality on a regular basis. But I am learning to accept, much more than that heartbroken four year old could at least, that humans have frailties and that’s ok.