Saturday, 27 June 2009

Cameron = Misogyny

As so often in life, I have found myself copying Stephen Fry by listening to audiobooks on the iPod while going for long walks around my realm . Currently I'm on 'God is not Great' by Christopher Hitchens . This morning I was listening to a section where C-Hitch talks about the pernicious role played in the Catholic church's campaign to stop the government of the Republic of Ireland liberalising its divorce laws by the late and, alas, far-too-lamented Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Hitchens characterises her position as being willing, because of her ideology, to support a state of affairs in which 'an Irishwoman married to a wife-beating, incestuous drunk would have no means of escape.'

Divorce is sometimes necessary. When people can't live together properly anymore, they need to move away from each other, for their own sake, and for that of any children involved. To think otherwise, purely because of an ill-thought-out ideology, is to support the imprisonment of men, women and children in circumstances that turn a home into a hell , and to connive in the emotional mutilation of thousands of people.

But guess which blue-sky-thinking Old Etonian thinks differently?

Friday, 26 June 2009

Who we've lost in the past 12 months:

John Updike

David Foster Wallace

JG Ballard

Isaac Hayes

David Carradine

David Eddings

James Kirkup

Dom Deluise

Farrah Fawcett

And now, of course, Michael Jackson ...

...and yet Thatcher still lives?

There is no justice.

(oh, and a note for all you wannabe Paedofinders out there: Margaret Thatcher is worse than Michael Jackson, even if all the allegations are true. Michael Jackson was acquited of fucking some kids; Margaret Thatcher is guilty of fucking an entire country. Swivel.)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Kafka at the Airbase

I try to avoid posting my poems on this blog, largely because I feel that they deserve to be seen or heard in other places, while this is more of a space for ancillary writing. But - in the hopes that it might send you to check out Kate Fox's 'Poetry as it Happens' blog , where much of the work is better than this, I present below my effort (tweaked slightly) for yesterday's 'Write a Poem About the News Day.'

Kafka at the Airbase

It's education they're engaging in at Bagram:
teaching Afghans it's not 'Kafkaesque' but 'Kafkan'
when they pull you in and strip you of your kaftan,

stress-position you and ask you what you have planned
in a language that you barely understand;
when the evidence from you that they demand

is never really properly explained;
when they never tell you why you've been detained,
and you never get the chance to be arraigned;

no jury, no defence, will be arranged,
even though the C-i-C's been changed:
the guards change, but the Castle stays the same.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Racist Scum

Here is a cartoon of a gypsy that the Daily Mail printed , in the same week that has seen a series of despicable attacks on Romanian gypsies in Northern Ireland.

Anyone who reads the Mail and claims it isn't a racist paper can, as of this point, suck an unpleasant part of my body.

Friday, 19 June 2009

So...that would make me...part-French?

In addition to the LRB links below, here's an interesting piece from the LRB blog about how an awful lot of British electricity users are subsidising (albeit to a very small degree) the government of France .

C'est tres interessant, non?

LRB Links

From The London Review of Books, two very fine links: Iain Sinclair takes a trip up the Thames, inspired by Peter Ackroyd and the late JG Ballard; and a book review so disturbing I think it can be considered an exercise in psychological horror. Which I do mean in a good way, of course.

Ticking Over

I'm currently reading Peter Hitchens' book, The Broken Compass , largely because of the incredibly amusing index. It's actually quite an interesting read, though comparable to the experience of getting involved in a discussion about politics with a drunken nut down the pub: every now and again he comes up with a point that seems reasonable, but then just as you try to seize on that to convince you that he's basically okay, he then embarks on an incredible riff on how the reasonable point he's made is evidence of a vast marxist conspiracy to destroy the family, the church, and the dear old Queen, and turn us all into a race of communoids. And you wince, put your head in your hands, and carry on wondering how you can extricate yourself from this conversation and get to another bar before closing time, all the while half-listening to the monologue until, almost by chance, another reasonable point slips in and...the whole process repeats again. It doesn't help, of course, that he keeps on throwing in barely-concealed pot-shots at his more successful brother . 'I regard Muslims as allies against the current fashion for millitant atheism, and the moral chaos which it is creating,' Pete? To what do you refer?

Probably the best bit is the first fifty pages or so, during which Hitch minor ably dissects the way in which particular political crazes grip the Westminster village - essentially as a result of collusion between pols and journos looking to advance their own careers, something which seems fairly plausible following the work of Nick Davies and Peter Oborne (seen here on the excellent Newswipe - about the 3:33 mark) - and examines the role of this process in the anointing of David Cameron as PM-in-waiting. After that, though, Hitch starts going on about how this is clearly the work of a cadre of ex-Marxists with a devious plan to undermine the church, the family etc etc. He talks candidly of how he himself used to be a committed Trotskyist, and it becomes gradually clear as you read that he still thinks most people are motivated by ideology rather than self-advancement. Which is touching, but leads inevitably to the assumption that it's all a gigantic conspiracy. He admits that the Tory party only really cares about getting elected - but he doesn't realise that, increasingly, this is all Labour are interested in too.

Do read the index, though, it's hilarious.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

And now and then we wonder who the real men are...

It's Father's Day soon. I hate Father's Day. Not for any oedipal-type reason: more because of the sort of crap you see marketed in stores as Father's Day approaches. Our store has a father's day table: guess what's on it? Top Gear bollocks, books about beer, 'hilarious' Vimrod cards about farting, books about football and cricket ad blah blah bloody blah...

Why this crap? Because it's what men are supposed to be interested in, of course. Cars and sport and army men and booze, shit jokes and farting.

I'm a man. I fart, I drink, and I tell shit jokes from time to time. There are some sports in which I take an interest, but football and cricket are not among them. Cars I can take or leave. I understand that some of them provide the inadequate with nice fantasy cock substitutes but, y'know, I'm basically a pedestrian.

But y'know what I do like? Art. Poetry. Music - and not just stereotypical manly music of the Springsteen/Meat Loaf variety either. I like sensitive female singer-songwriter stuff about finding your voice and going down on people in theatres. We had the Little Boots album on in the shop today, and I was as giddy as a gaggle of gay geese to find out that one of the songs on said album references Little Earthquakes . I like ballet.

Apparently, I shouldn't, though. You see - I hadn't been aware of this until tonight - but apparently knowing shit about ballet disqualifies you from being a man .

Bullshit. I've only ever met one male ballet dancer, but the thing is, he was the hardest man I've ever met. After knocking the ballet on the head, he joined the Paras , for God's sake. I'm guessing none of the blokes in the McCoys ad have done anything like that.

And it occurs to me that, the other day, I had to protect Alfie from some dickhead's overly-aggressive greyhound by literally roaring at both dog and owner until they scuttled off, tails between their legs. And I'm the kind of gaylord who gets drunk and sings the lyrics to Hey Jupiter when I'm feeling maudlin, for heaven's sake.

The point is: I'm not making an Iron John-style case about the hidden subtle mysteries of manhood. A lot of guys are dumb. A lot of guys probably go along with this stupid, yuk-yuk-yuk, we're all about football, farting and fighting bollocks. But the point is: those guys are idiots. They're not even really as 'manly' as they think they are: if they were, they wouldn't have to police their gender-rules so obsessively. But then I would say this, of course, because, after all, I'm a total ponce, apparently.

Links and Things

Not a great deal of time to post today - been running around after the Hellbeast for ages, it seems. Yesterday was actually quite a good day, as it goes - took Alfie down to South Shields for a good run on the beach, and had the chance to show Michelle Juan Munoz's sculpture Conversation Piece .

(It's amazing what you can learn from the internet almost passively. For instance, in trying to find a picture of the South Shields piece, I learned that Munoz has done other Conversation Pieces in other cities too. There's one in New York , for instance.)

Yesterday, then, was a good day, which is nice. Because in the past few days I've finally started setting to work organising what will (once All Haste is from the Devil is out of the way) eventually be the next themed collection of poems. Obviously I don't want to say too much about these while the second book slouches toward the Lit and Phil , but it's fair to say this new stuff is not as upbeat as my earlier material. It's darker, it's more violent and there's every chance that when I'm through presenting it, you may not even want to know me. The working title, the label on the folder I'm keeping the stuff in while I thrash it into shape (though I feel more like it's thrashing me, some days), is The Mechanics of the Scissorhold. It's about pain, it's about the inherent allure of evil, about sex as violence and violence as sex; it's about how it feels to be trapped like a frightened animal, wanting to get out of the world's way but unable to; it's the death of hope, basically. There aren't many jokes, and Meat Loaf doesn't get a mention.

When you're spending large amounts of your time with your head in that kind of space, it's nice to get out and run around a beach with a dog for a while. I can almost - almost - see how people can live with the damn things.

Anyway, enough of my morose ramblings. Check out this event, involving the more sunnily-dispositioned Kate Fox .

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Greene/Huxley Continuum

Two of the books that I routinely cite to people as personal faves are Graham Greene's Brighton Rock and Aldous Huxley's dystopian classic Brave New World . I actually think of these books as a diptych, in some ways, because to me they have the same theme. Underneath the superficial coating of genre, whether crime thriller or sci-fi, they deal on a fundamental level with the same concept: the conflict between high-minded ideals and human sentimentality.

The high-minded ideals in Brighton Rock actually emanate from the villain of the novel, Pinkie Brown , a sort of proto-hoodie leading a gang of other young villains on a razor-wielding equivalent of the knife-crime-wave which, if you believe certain hysterical tabloids, will see the lot of us stabbed up good and proper by next Thursday. But Pinkie is more complex than that. Having been brought up a devout Roman Catholic, he's obsessed with ideas of sin and redemption. He knows what he's doing is evil, and yearns to be redeemed - but he puts off his redemption for the time being, on the grounds that he can redeem himself through an act of faith at any point - I can't remember the exact line, but he muses on a phrase he's read somewhere about how a man falling to his death off a horse can be saved 'between the saddle and the ground' if he asks God's forgiveness in the moment of the fall. All the same, Pinkie's still not sure it's that cut-and-dry. Can it really be that simple? A large part of the drama of the novel derives from this internal struggle of Pinkie to reconcile his evil activities with his faith. Pinkie is not quite smart enough to jettison his Catholicism altogether and make a morality of his own in the manner of Nietzsche (and it occurs to me that a case could be made that both the novels I'm discussing, like much else in the twentieth century, can be seen as attempts to deal with the challenge of Nietzsche's ideas), but he's too smart to see the world as black and white.

One character who does see the world as black and white is local busybody Ida Arnold, Pinkie's nemesis. She pursues Pinkie's gang and exposes him to the police, eventually leading him to his death, in an attempt to make him pay for his murder, earlier in the novel, of a man called Hale, with whom she becomes acquainted. An unlikely avenging angel, Ida gives little thought to the contradictions that image embodies: to her, what she's up to isn't vengeance, and it isn't about good and evil. It's about right and wrong.

Greene dramatises the difference between these two characters in the way they think about Hale's murder. Pinkie wonders if it was evil to do it, and worries about whether he can be redeemed if it was. Ida simply tells herself that Pinkie 'shouldn't of done it.'

Summed up thus we have a nice, simplistic morality tale: simple goodness triumphs over evil sophistry. But it isn't that simple. Like Milton's Satan, Pinkie is so compelling in his evil that the reader follows him along for the ride. The reader is enthused by Pinkie's internal battle, and turned off by Ida's simplistic moralising. Narrative justice may be served, but it's Pinkie's ideas that will linger in the mind of the reader, and do their work upon him. Indeed, in a sense, Pinkie wins, because he's still able to wreak havoc on one character in the novel from beyond the grave, as the novel's incredible final sentence - probably one of the best in the history of literature - implies. But Pinkie also wins in the heart and mind of the reader because his seeking redemption is a powerful, dramatic theology - while Ida's black-and-white worldview comes across as mere sentimentality.

The key point is that Ida encounters Hale, and feels sorry for him, before he is killed. Pinkie and his gang have killed lots of people before this point, without impinging directly on Ida's world. Only when someone she knows and likes, even on a minor basis, is killed, does she take action. This is vengeance, not morality. Pinkie has robbed the lonely Ida of a man she felt something tender for, and now she's going to get him back - indeed, one of her (failed) stratagems to punish Pinkie is to try and get his fiancee to leave him. She can say 'he shouldn't of done it' all she wants, but this isn't a moral judgement: it's an emotional one, a sentimental one. The reader sees right through her.

Like Brighton Rock, Brave New World also deals with this issue of the bankruptcy of sentimentality. People who haven't read the book will tell you it's a depiction of hell on earth, like 1984 , but here's the dirty little secret: it isn't hell at all. It isn't really a dystopia , as that phrase is commonly understood. Because the world of Brave New World is one that works, and one that works perfectly. And how has that been achieved? Simple enough, really: an all-out attack on family values .

In this world, the means of reproduction have been nationalised by the state. People are cloned in factories, divided into classes by a process of genetic manipulation in vitro. The man who, in the hands of a lesser writer, might seem to be the villain - World Controller Mustapha Mond - delivers a powerful speech early in the novel about how natural reproduction, and the crude, animalistic sentimentality it engenders, is what buggered everything up before he and his Fordist brethren fixed things up real good. I can't find the full quotation online, and I can't rember it offhand, so, y'know, I guess you're going to have to buy the goddam book but, suffice to say, Mond's depiction of family life is terrifying. Terrifying. I read it in a pub in Keswick on a holiday with my family and I can date my own decision to never have kids to that precise moment.

In place of family life, the Controllers have created a world in which the state has become a kind of parent, directing its citizen-children to work and rewarding them with 'feelies' (a kind of virtual reality), bizarre games, all-in wrestling and the ubiquitous soma - a literary precursor of ecstasy . It works for most, but the novel's dystopian hero, Bernard Marx, ain't buying it. He rebels, finds a savage in an Indian reservation outside the industrialised world who turns out to originally be of it, and tries to overthrow society by bringing this noble savage back and showing people another way of life, but in the end, Mond makes room for this - Mond explains why their society really is the best of all possible worlds and sorts the discontented Bernard and his friend Helmholtz out with postings to remote islands where they will be free to live the life of the mind to their heart's content. In the end, everyone gets the ending that's best for them.

Everyone...except the savage and his mother, a former member of Marx and Mond's world who gets lost in the reservation after her helicopter crashes there. The 'savage', John, is her natural-born child, and Bernard hopes he can be an exemplar to the bottle-born people of his own world. But alas, Mond is proved right about family life. John grows up with the shame of having a mother who is an alcoholic (a poor, but tolerable, substitute for the soma to which she was once habituated) and who, on her return to civilisation with her son, now Bernard's cause celebre, goes on a permanent soma-holiday which ends in her death. This death destroys John leading to his eventual suicide at the end of the novel.

Mond is proved to be right about families. John suffers horribly because of the sentimental weakness of his mother, and this leads to both their deaths. All the 'unnatural' clones, however, end happily. As in Brighton Rock, the expected conclusion is subverted. We're meant to feel the world of Mond and Fordism and soma and centrifugal bumble-puppy is horrible and wrong and unnatural - but it's the 'natural' characters who wind up destroyed, and it's because of the toxic nature of the very familial relationship Mond identifies as poisonous in his speech early in the book.

In both of these novels, the simplistic, sentimental basis of much of everyday life is called into serious doubt. While we might like to believe that love is the answer, family values will save us and there's a clear line between right and wrong, these novels say different. We are left with the uneasy feeling that those nice, warm feelings we have when we tickle a baby, or feel part of a righteous crowd condemning some hate-figure for doing wrong, might be the real cause of evil in the world.

And the reason that idea is so disturbing is that it's true. Because I have, sitting in my lap as I type this, a victim of those cute warm feelings we so love: Alfie, the dog I'm looking after. Alfie's a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed bred to provide companionship for humans. And he's cute, and he's lovable, and most of the time I want to pat him on the head and feed him biscuits but -

- leave the room for a second and he goes mental. Because he needs to be around people. We've bred dogs like Alfie this way, because we like those cute warm feelings we get when we pat them on the head - but when they're separated from us they go through agony. An agony I could never describe.

Somewhere along the line Alfie's genotype was that of a wolf: a proud, beautiful, efficient predator. But we decided we didn't like the wolf. So gradually we bred as much of the wolf out of Alfie's genotype as we could until we wound up with something smaller and cuter and more lovable. And we bred in traits to make that dog love us and come to us and want cuddles.

And in the process we made it into a thing that feels abandoned if left alone even for a second. But we didn't care about that. Because it felt so good to cuddle, didn't it?

Bullshit. We should have left the wolf alone. The fact that we didn't speaks to our weakness as a species. And that weakness is sentimentality. And until we get beyond that, we will continue to do evil without measure, because we will choose to listen to those warm, misleading emotions which make us feel good, rather than the reason which tells us what's right.

We need a brave new world: and if bringing that world into being cuts like a razor, then so be it.

While we wait for the birth of that world, here's Jonathan Meades on why dog owners are as fucked-up as their unfortunate canine charges .In case you haven't guessed, I'm more of a cat man.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

David Lynch Directs

You change as you get older. That's a fact from which you can't escape, however hard you try. You get wrinkles 'round your eyes, and chins beneath your chin. Your pecs turn to moobs and your knees creak when you stand up too quickly. But the changes that happen to your body are as nothing compared to the changes in your mind, in your heart, in your soul.

You get old. You get boring. You know more and are, therefore, no longer as surprised. The world scares you less, but it thrills you less, too. You start eating healthy breakfasts at a decent hour of the morning, after a bracing walk, instead of coming round in strange rooms after a wild night, stumbling out the door, and dragging yourself half into consciousness by throwing a gallon of bad coffee down your throat. You forget what it's like to kneel on the floor of your room, going out of your mind, sobbing, awestruck at the pain and wonder of the world.

And then occassionally you see or hear something that brings it all back. A stimulus that breaks down all your defenses and changes you, like a sleeper agent hearing the activation code, back into the strange, mad-eyed, beautifully damaged creature you once were, even if only for a moment.

For me, that thing is Fire Walk With Me , David Lynch's prequel/sequel to the Twin Peaks TV series. I first saw it in 1997, and it burned itself into my brain like a thermonuclear branding iron. A lot of people couldn't stand this film: it got booed at Cannes, and there are even some fans of the TV show who don't like it (on the other hand, it's Mark Kermode's favourite Lynch film so swivel, bitches). But at the time there was, for me, some deep resonance, an objective correlative between the mood of this film and my own state of mind during those formative years.

Fire Walk with Me is a fairy tale not for adults, or for children, but for adolescents, trapped in that terrifying void between the two. When you're that age, you see, with 20/20 vision, the horror of the world. You see that to be a child is to be weak, to be defenceless, to be prey to exploitation by anyone older than you - and so you strive to be stronger, to be harder, to be more like one of the grown-ups - but you also see with absolute clarity that the vast majority of the adult world is corrupt in ways you can barely begin to comprehend. So you try - like Laura Palmer, the film's heroine and emotional centre, played to frightening perfection by Sheryl Lee in one of the screen's greatest portrayals of madness - to hold onto the innocence of your youth, all the while knowing that your struggle to do so is doomed.

Fire Walk with Me is David Lynch's teen horror movie, and, by sticking close to the rules of the teen horror canon, Lynch exposes that canon's inherent misogyny and hatefulness. All the girls in the film who die are 'guilty' of the 'crime' of being sexually active outside of conventional attachments - of being, in that brutish, woman-hating word so beloved of a certain kind of close-minded male, 'sluts' - but this isn't because they're evil, sinful strumpets. It's because the adult world has damaged them beyond any hope of ever being 'good' in the conventional sense of the word. And the psycho-killer responsible for their murders isn't some hockey-masked Nietzschean proxy for the director, but someone altogether weaker, altogether more pathetic, and terrifyingly close to home.

Lee's performance as Laura Palmer is stellar, but my favourite performance in the film is that of Moira Kelly as Laura's best friend, Donna. I say 'best friend', but it becomes clear in the course of the film that what Donna wants is something more than that, though what exactly isn't clear. It's too simplistic to say that Donna is in love with Laura, but even more simplistic to say her feelings for Laura are a mere infatuation. Maybe it's even the case that she wants to be Laura. If this sounds familiar, it should: an awul lot of teenage relationships are this kind of admixture of love, infatuation and role-modelling. But for whatever reason, Donna wants desperately to be closer to Laura, and in one of the most morally and emotionally charged scenes in the film, she crosses a line in her desperation to get there.

Donna follows Laura to a bar where Laura regularly picks up men who pay to have sex with her. As Laura sits down with two such men, Donna goes over to their table, downs a slug of whiskey, and makes it clear that, however much Laura tries to dissuade her, she wants to be part of the package. There follows a long, hallucinatory scene during which, under the influence of drugs and booze, Laura and Donna both find themselves having sex with these men, until Laura, in a moment of clarity, realises the degree to which Donna's innocence is at hazard and drags her from the bar. The next day, safe at Donna's house, Laura tells Donna that she loves her too, but that she doesn't want Donna to be like her.

It's a noble choice, a brave one, and a self-sacrificing one, and in another film, with a different director, it might be enough to ensure that Laura was redeemed in a conventional sense and got a well-deserved happy ending. But this isn't a different film. Lynch knows that sometimes the good, self-sacrificing act isn't rewarded. Sometimes children are abused by the adult world and the adults go unpunished. Sometimes hookers die alone, violently, in the dark, in the most horrible of places, even if they do have hearts of gold.

This is what is so great about Fire Walk with Me, and Lynch's ouevre in general: his films are so horrific because they're grounded in realism. The scene with the cowboy in Mulholland Drive is frightening because we've all, at one time or another, been on the end of intimidating conversations like that. Frank Booth in Blue Velvet is terrifying because we know, deep down, that despite all the Hollywood bullshit, he's what real gangsters are like: violent, perverted thugs willing to do anything to get revenge on people for even the most minor slights. And the supposedly 'surreal' stuff in Lynch frightens us because we've all lived through moments in which the weird breaks through violently into our supposedly ordered lives.

David Lynch isn't a great director because he's culty and creepy and self-consciously weird. He's a great director because he's a realist. And that's why a film like Fire Walk with Me hit me like a punch in the gut when I was 19 years old, and can still leave me reeling now, a whole twelve years later.

Welcome to Hell, gentlemen

I'd like to take this opportunity to bid a hearty welcome to the BNP's new representatives in the European Parliament, Nick 'The Fat Hatemonger' Griffin and Andrew 'Sorry, what did you say your name was, again?' Brons . In particular, I'd like to say how much I'm looking forward to watching their work in that august institution. No, really. I am genuinely looking forward to seeing how they do. I'm as giddy with excitement as a schoolgirl at a Jonas Brothers gig.

Because, you see, I know that now they're in, they're going to get absolutely monstered. They're going to make themselves look like idiots in the Parliament itself, and every single fuck-up and dumb, hate-filled remark they make will be aired absolutely everywhere within seconds. Richard Barnbrook , the knuckle-dragging BNP oaf who somehow managed to get himself elected to the London Assembly, has been hauled over the digital coals for telling a series of outrageous lies, marginalised by his own party, and completely pwned in debate by Boris Johnson, of all people.

And that's exactly what's waiting for Griffin and Brons. By the time these two jokers are finished their time in office, they'll have made themselves look like such idiots that even the whey-faced, shit-eating scum who voted them in this time - and it's worth keeping in mind that less people voted for them at these Euro elections than did at the last - even the vile, hate-filled cretins who have to rack their memories of their failed primary-school education to remember how to draw an 'X' in the box on the ballot paper next to the funny shapes with the flag in them, even those idiots will decide these two are too dumb to represent them.

This is a decisive turning point, but not in the way that Nick Griffin likes to think. This isn't the first step in the glorious march of Fascism across Europe: it's the BNP being given, at long last, enough rope with which to hang themselves.

The best thing is that, even as they're swinging in the wind, the last drops of vitality seeping out of their bodies as their puny reptilian brains, stung into action by a vague sense-memory of normal human nervous reactions, nudge them towards something vaguely resembling the involuntary reflex orgasm of death by hanging, Brons and Griffin will still deny that the rope even exists, and will probably claim that the apparent lack of breath in their bodies is simply more evidence of a Jewish conspiracy to stir up hatred against indigenous white Britons by comparing them to corpses, and anyway if they aren't breathing properly it's because Islam has been scientifically proven to reduce the oxygen content of indigenous British air, and besides which darkies queers paedos Islams dammit I want Hitler in me akk akk akk akk aaaaaakkk...

And then, as the swinging corpses describe their ever-decreasing arc to stillness and the warped wood of the gallows creaks like a badly-oiled bicycle wheel and an unkindness of ravens makes ready to peck out their eyes, the idiots of Britain, surprised by the newsflash breaking in to the commercial between Britain's Got Loonies and Celebrity Hooker and John, will turn to each other, and ask 'Is that those two morons you voted for, when you were pissed on White Lightning that morning?'

And there will, of course, be much rejoicing.

Friday, 5 June 2009

From Hell it Came...

If I don't update this blog as often as I've been doing lately in the next two weeks, don't panic, I'm not having an episode. I'm probably just locked in an unending struggle with the beast which has descended on my household for the next fortnight:

Alfie, my brother-in-law's dog. We're looking after him while bro-in-law and his family are away in Cyprus on holiday. Yes, I know he looks cute to you. That's because you haven't spent fifteen minutes asserting dominance over the fucker while he tries to rape your arm.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

If there is a Hell, I'll see you there.

I was on the verge of titling this post 'fuck the Pope', and I say that as a Catholic. The only reason I didn't was because I don't want to be seen as supporting Protestant fundamentalists of the Ian Paisley school. But really, actually, you know, not just as a political slogan, fuck the Pope. Fuck him in his tired, slack, old ex-Hitler-Youth-member's arse. Fuck him and the Popemobile he rode in on.

Because if he can actually stand by and let his followers in Brazil get away with this shit (as reported and commented on by uponnothing ), then it doesn't matter how many masses he says, how many times he uses his PapalDickMagic to perform the incredible trick of turning a piece of unleavened bread into human flesh , or how many mafiosi he absolves, he's going to Hell. And so are all the idiots in Brazil who think the logical response to a nine-year-old girl becoming pregnant after being raped by her stepfather is to excommunicate her for having an abortion.
Choice quote? 'Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be an innocent, but an unborn child most definitely is an innocent. ' Well, guess where that sort of thinking leads?

Abortion is not murder. Shooting an unarmed man in cold blood while they're working as an usher in their local church is murder, of the most cowardly sort. And there is a place for people who murder other human beings in that kind of cowardly way, and it isn't called Heaven.

Your God is dead, you miserable, bigoted, misogynist fuckwits. Indeed, he never even existed at all, because your conception of what God is is so tiny and shrivelled and pathetic that it never actually could have existed. And you know what? No-one cares. No-one cares except you and your sad, stupid little acolytes, always looking around for someone else to hate to try and avoid the difficult work of saving the planet. Kill the abortionists, kill the homos, kill the people who believe in a slightly different version of God than you do, and ignore that fact that one day you are going to die, and actually, for all your faith, you have no idea of where you're going afterward, and your religious leaders trade on that fear to turn you into murderous, malicious little puppets. But deep down, deep down in your rotten little hearts - you know where you're going. And you know that when you look up towards heaven, in a rare break from being sodomised by gangs of ithyphallic incubi, you're going to see all the people you persecuted on Earth kicking back, drinking pina coladas with Jesus and laughing their tits off at your wretched state of affairs. And you know why?

Because it's all in your head, you dumb motherfucker, and until you realise that you have as much chance of getting to Heaven as I have of becoming Miss America. Free your mind, and your ass will follow. Continue to live in bondage to an outmoded, medieval theology and your ass will...well, you can see where I'm going with this.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Poetry Reviews - should they be nice or nasty?

Via Bill Herbert, a very interesting post on the Magma Poetry Blog about the question of whether poetry reviews are becoming too positive.

Kent Johnson, an American writer, suggests that one thing restricting the publication of negative reviews is the fact that writing them 'constitutes a potential hazard to the position and advancement of the poet-reviewer.' Which sort of relates to what I said below in the Ruth Padel post : any poet wanting to promote their work may well have to do a range of distasteful things to advance their career, one of which may well be writing, in Johnson's words, 'fawning, toadyish criticism' of more established poets in order to get them to champion your work. Private Eye's cantankerous literary column, Books and Bookmen, is pretty good at spotting this when more well-known literary figures do it, and labels the practice logrolling .

Stephen Burt proposes a different reason for the dearth of negative reviews of poetry: 'it's not worth writing a negative review of a book which will sink without trace, as most poetry books do.' And he has a point. Most poetry books don't cause a huge ripple in the pond of literature. The only way for most of us to make even a modest impact is to act collectively - to network, to publicise each other, to advocate for poetry in general, to big each other up, etc etc. I don't consider this all that distasteful: questions of ethics tend to go out of the window when you and your colleagues are desperately hauling each other up onto a sinking raft, after all.

However, I think negative reviewing is justified in some circumstances, and once again Burt puts his finger on it perfectly:

'Negative reviews in poetry these days only seem worthwhile when they attack (a) examples of bad trends or (b) people who are very famous and don't deserve it.'

This is why negative reviews are sometimes necessary and justified, not just within poetry but beyond: we live in a world that is rapidly turning into a populist monoculture. Cultural product is more and more in the hands of massive, profit-seeking corporations ran by the kind of people who don't shiver when they yoke together the words 'cultural' and 'product'.

Publishers used to get by on profits of two or three per cent. To a corporate monolith like Bertelsmann, the company which owns Random House, that's not acceptable. Ten per cent profits and then, maybe we're in business. But once you have to make that kind of profit minimum, you can't spare the time or resources to service smaller niche markets like literary fiction, serious non-fiction, or poetry. So what do you do? You chase the lowest common denominator. That's why, in the last few years, we've witnessed an explosion of misery memoirs, celebrity chef books, TV tie-ins, and ghostwritten celebrity autobiographies and fiction.

Why is this important to poetry? After all, the major British poetry companies, Carcanet , Bloodaxe and Faber are independents, untainted by all this nonsense. Well, here's Adam's nightmare scenario. Those gigantic corporations I talked about are aggressive. They're always seeking out new markets. Sooner or later, they're going to start publishing poetry. But not the kind of poetry we've got used to. Not the kind of stuff that would pass muster at even the smallest of small presses. It'll be trite. It'll be sentimental. It will rhyme - obviously. It'll use simplistic language and structures without any of the linguistic and formal joie de vivre which more sophisticated poetry contains. It will actually be worse than Pam Ayres, and it will probably claim to have been written by Katie Price.

And it will sell bucketloads. You won't be able to get away from it. It'll be in supermarkets, it'll be advertised on television and massive posters on the underground, books of it with giant 'HALF PRICE!' stickers plastered over their covers will practically mug you as you come into your local chain bookstore. And I will sell it to you, because for all my pretension, when I'm at work I have the moral and aesthetic scruples of a ten-quid rentboy. But inside, I'll hate myself for it, and I'll have to watch as the big three indies and the smaller regional presses in the poetry section get forced out and it turns into just another colony of the empire of CelebLit (TM).

And I'd really rather not do that, thank you - which is where negative reviewing comes in. Because if we're going to resist the Mcdonaldisation of poetry, we're not just going to have to fight off the intrusion of the multinationals, we're also going to have to police ourselves. We're going to have to hold each other to the highest standards and ensure that we can justify any move we make artistically, rather than just on grounds of profit.

And yes, I know this means that I'm going to have to be held to the same kind of account. I accept that. And if you don't think I've made the right decision somewhere in my work? Fair enough. Say so. And if I think you've got a point, then I'll think about it and I'll try to change and hopefully I'll get better. And if I don't think you've got a point, I'll think about how I can prove it with my work and hopefully I'll get better. And if we all think about this, then maybe we'll all get better, and we can create a poetry scene strong enough and vibrant enough that it can either effectively see off the challenge of the multinationals, or at least create a good enough alternative space in which to survive when they do come.

Monday, 1 June 2009