Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’


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.


Over at Brainpicker, a wonderful source of all sorts of literary and other titbits, I read this piece today about the poet Edna St Vincent Millay. Apparently, the 25 year old Edna was banned from her graduation at university. The reason: for staying out partying with her pals! Her friends rallied round and she was allowed to go to the ceremony in the end, where some of her poetry was used in the programme.

My favourite Millay poem, Pity Me Not, hadn’t been written yet when she graduated with her cherished ‘AB’ (like our BA degrees now). I like the last two lines particularly.

Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the year goes by;
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.

This love I have known always: love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales.
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.

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).

The illuminous Dan Holloway of eight cuts publishers recently enlisted some talented people to help him paint Oxford with poetry

I contributed one of my poems and didn’t think much more of it. Then after the event, where some intrepid writers went round the famous university city attaching poems to anything that would take them, I got a message from Dan. He told me that someone had read my poem, Mr Sunshine Man, and contacted him via the information on the sheet of paper that she found. The person in question said how much she liked my poem.

I was pretty amazed, as I am a VERY part-time poet, and really don’t have a huge amount of confidence in my work. As someone on twitter said not so long ago, ‘life is hard; poetry is harder’.  But I don’t turn down a compliment so here is my poem, and some photos of the amazing night time poetry raid on Oxford.

Mr Sunshine Man

You                                                                                                                                                            are                                                                                                                                                               the                                                                                                                                                                         bright                                                                                                                                                             rays                                                                                                                                                         of                                                                                                                                                                    sunlight                                                                                                                                                      crashing                                                                                                                                                 through                                                                                                                                                         the                                                                                                                                                                      bars                                                                                                                                                         of                                                                                                                                                                     your                                                                                                                                                                own                                                                                                                                                                   prison                                                                                                                                                     cell                                                                                                                                                           breaking                                                                                                                                                        their                                                                                                                                                                 way                                                                                                                                                                  out                                                                                                                                                           and                                                                                                                                                           into                                                                                                                                                                  the                                                                                                                                                                      free                                                                                                                                                                    world                                                                                                                                                                  finding                                                                                                                                                             me                                                                                                                                                                      so                                                                                                                                                                      in                                                                                                                                                                         need                                                                                                                                                                  of                                                                                                                                                                            illumination



OK It wasn’t supposed to come out like that but I am going to leave it. For poetry’s sake.

In Williamsburgh, surrounded by Hipster thighs,

Stuffed into breeches, and boots with loose laces,

(the tongues hanging out-like thirsty dogs)

I wonder what’s behind those vacant eyes.

Flat buttocks that seem too weak to hold them down

Skinny chicken legs that could not mount a pony,

(Let alone  my rearing stallion),  these spindly stick figures

Fill  every space with their lack.  Our shiny, sexless town

Is  asking me  where all the real men went?

Those lithe, muscular bodies, smelling of hay, I chased

On the prairies of memory.  The   wilderness of  youth

Has left  me stranded, a wild horse caught in an urban lament.

I was writing to someone about buggery. There is a certain genre of person who will never tire of talking about buggery. And who, in doing so, will sound as if they are talking about something much more poetic, like violence, or love, or the search for existential meaning in life. Some examples of this genre of person are, in fact, poets. I have never managed to write a decent poem about buggery. I wonder if it is in part as I have always been the ‘receiver’ in the act, so I have never had a perspective on the scene, an overlooking view, that the sodomiser would do. I have imagined it and seen it in pictures but never had that particular vantage point myself. Thankfully, the two poets I am featuring here, have made use of that particularly ‘queer’ perspective of he who is taking his lover from behind, to great and moving effect.

First I will show you an excerpt from Buggery by Don Paterson. It is unusual in that it deals with a man buggering a woman. Then you can read My Sad Captains by Thom Gunn, one of my favourite poets. I don’t know if he is talking about buggery here specifically, though  I am sure he must be alluding to it.

From Buggery by Don Paterson

and though I know it’s over with
and she is miles from me
I stay a while to mine the earth
for what was lost at sea

as if the faces of the drowned might turn up in the harrow:
hold me when I hold you down and plough the lonely furrow.

My Sad Captains, by Thom Gunn 1961

One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and
a few with historical
names.  How late they start to shine!
but before they fade they stand
perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a
cloak of chaos.  They were men
who, I thought, lived only to
renew the wasteful force they
spent with each hot convulsion.
They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet,
but now they are indeed
apart, winnowed from failures,
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested
hard energy, like the stars.

I love the last three lines: ‘they withdraw to an orbit and turn with disinterested hard energy, like the stars’.

That’s what men do. It’s what I got accused of doing. In purely physical terms, it seems odd sometimes that the ‘bottom/woman’ is presented as being the more emotional and connected lover, when as a bottom/woman you can spend so much of the ‘lovemaking’ with your head turned away from your partner, or buried in a pillow  (especially if buggery is involved) and he can’t see your face or know your thoughts. You could be miles away. I was miles away, and lost at sea.

The ‘sadness’ in this poem is accentuated by the fact Gunn wrote alot in his later life about AIDS and the death of many of his friends and lovers. There is something inherently sad about buggery, and the AIDS crisis almost seemed to have been ‘predicted’ by the words of writers like Gunn who documented the ‘homosexual’ experience throughout history. I don’t know why this sadness comes out in the descriptions, both written and pictorial, of sodomy, and the object at the heart of it, the ass. We always come back to Bersani and his question ‘Is The Rectum A Grave?’ The answer to that question that screams out from these two poems at least, is ‘yes’.


Posted: October 5, 2010 in Uncategorized, Writing
Tags: , ,

Nothing is fundamental. That is what is so interesting in the analysis of society. That is why nothing irritates me as much as these inquiries – which are by definition meptaphysical – on the foundations of power in a society or the self-institution of a society, etc. These are not fundamental phenomena. There are only reciprocal relations, and the perpetual gaps between intentions in relation to one another.’

Michel Foucault. (1991). ‘Space, Knowledge and Power’. In Paul Rabinow, (ed.), The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, p. 247.

Foucault was right.

Nothing is fundamental.

No thing is.

Nothing irritates me as much

As these metaphysical inquiries

Into opposing phenomena:

Good versus evil.

Gay versus Straight

Atheism versus Idiocy.

What is so interesting

About the power of  binaries-

these institutions of the self?

Society has no foundations.

Knowledge is a cracked pavement

Hovering in space.

That is why

I am falling, falling

Through the perpetual gaps between intentions,

In reciprocal relation to




Fag End

Posted: September 6, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I would love to be cast in an old musical, as

One of Marlene Dietrich’s cigarettes

Shivering with pleasure as her slim, handsome fingers

Reached in slowly, pulling me from the packet.

I would linger languidly on that brief, exquisite moment

Of anticipation, before she put me to her glistening lips,

Picked up her lighter (shining, phallic, silver)

And breathed me in, setting fire to my tip.

I long to find myself inside that luscious mouth

Of hers,  while she sucked on my shaft-  the  perfect drag.

How special I would feel, the glowing appendage,

Forgetting for a while I was just a plain old fag.

But oh my ecstasy would be  deliciously short-lived-

My passion consumed by her need for a fix

I’d be sucked dry, burned down, stubbed out-

Extinguished by the glare of the dazzling Dietrich.

The next stick in line would be ready, and taught

Marlene inhaling, and blowing again

I’d watch from the ashtray as the smoke wafted by-

Back to my role as a used-up fag end.

One Thing

Posted: September 4, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

One thing was certain: he knew he did love her-

It made so much sense when he said it like that.

But there was the problem of loving his brother.


When he lay next to her under the covers,

Limb against limb, her body stretched flat

One thing was certain: he knew he did love her.


No-one would ever be placed above her

In the intricate hierarchy of his heart.

But there was the problem of loving his brother.


He wished he could speak of this love to his mother,

But she wouldn’t listen (she never had)

One thing was certain: he knew he did love her.


Still he was plagued by thoughts of another

Love that refused to remain in the past.

And there was the problem of loving his brother.


What can you do when you’ve more than one lover?

Except lose them all, and feel like a prat?

One thing was certain: he knew he did love her.

But there was the problem of loving his brother.