… though not necessarily in that order. On the other hand, it might as well be.
September Scribal Gathering was different. Trepidation from some regulars about the concept of a covers night but it worked really well, jollied along by the golden larynx of Peter Ball. Surprise at how few musicians turned up to perform but that just meant all the more poetry, which was wide-ranging and far from predictable. Frost did Hobbs and Hobbs did Frost – a score draw. The Zeroes – MK’s own accomplished latino punk band (Trade Description Act, anybody?) – saw out the evening in style. Exciting and loud but you could hear every word; they finished with a great Atomic. A fine night’s entertainment, and, like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (and duly acknowledging the hostage to fortune I’m setting up here) I rather hope a Scribal covers night can become an annual institution.
For my contribution I delved back into the first time I used to, as the mighty Antipoet put it, “hang with poets”, to late ’60s Sheffield. So here, entirely without their permission, never mind the defunct uni literary magazine Arrows in which they first appeared, and probably for the first time ever on the interweb, are some samples of their work. First off, a couple from Geoff Hill, who is not to be confused with the fuller-named prize-winning poet – Geoffrey Hill – who, to tell the truth, I’ve never really ‘got’. here’s Geoff:
went to a
saw some idiot
a pointed hat
for god’s sake
he said it was
for crying out loud
The second one from Geoff goes under a title that means nothing to me. Presumably he doesn’t mean the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Not that it matters much now, I suppose:
PRB – Careful now
I wish I’d been a plumber’s mate
said Einstein going green
It’s not so much the stars he said
as the in between.
The in between! I said
falling headlong from my bike -
Ignore what I said & just mind your head
said the sage & then do what you like.
I picked up my velocipede
for my wheels were fast getting blunt
and I pulled my third way of thinking
and fitted it on the front.
(I secretly suspected my saddlebag
but not liking to think it showed)
I got back on my bike & did what I like
existentially down the road.
Here’s one of John Brown‘s shorter pieces:
Yesterday the police penetrated my inner sanctum
They found traces of Thursday all over the room
One of them bought me a strawberry milk shake
I am not sure yet what the charges will be
in the meantime
Do nothing till you hear from me.
The quartet of Anti-poems from Pete Roche got a mixed reception, especially the fourth one, the one I consider the best, in as much as the mostly younger members of the audience didn’t seem to know much about the French Revolution. Anyway, here they are, in their entirety, again:
I. Now remember, men, cried Harold
rallying his forces,
keep an eye out for
II. On the other hand,
licking his lips,
It was an extremely tasty
mess of pottage
and a fairly crummy
III. So I said to Newton,
See here, Isaac, I said,
You don’t seem to appreciate
the gravity of the situation.
Just a minute, he said, let me
write that down.
IV. If I told Marat once,
I told him a hundred times
not to leave
his bathroom door
And finally, another short one, this time from Neil Spencer. The new library overlooked a lake if you sat in the right seat. Younger readers may like to know that in olden days ‘bread’ was a street synonym for money. If someone said, ‘I’m clean out of bread, man,’ it meant the sayer did not have the wherewithal to purchase a loaf. This poem displays one of William Empson’s Seven types of ambiguity:
On the lake there’s a duck
who doesn’t give a fuck.
I feel at least
I have some affinity with this beast.
My main concern is bread -
mine too. And my head
is beginning to feel like a beak.
I also did a couple of poems from a National Union of Railwaymen sponsored volume of poetry (oh yes!) by Joe Smythe – The people’s road – that I’ll be returning to in another post when the time comes.
Later that same week
And so to the twelfth Cock & Bull Beer Festival in York House. And another splendid selection of ales to imbibe in good company. Wasn’t expecting to come away singing the praises of two dark beers, but Banks & Taylor’s Plum Mild did indeed have a plum aroma and all sorts of flavours on the palate – like an interesting Mackeson, while Nethergate’s Umbel Magna – “a 1750’s porter containing coriander in the 20th century” it says here – was interesting and a lot stronger at 5%; I chickened out of the 6% Nelson’s Blood. At the hoppier end, where I usually linger, nothing threatened to challenge and old favourite, retained from previous fests, Great Oakley’s Tiffield Thunderbolt.
Some decent word- and tune-smithery too in the bill put together by The Hoodwink Elixir in the performance room. Headliner Ash Dickinson – introducing himself as “the Axl Rose of [something or other (I didn't catch the full version)]” – closed the night with a storming set. If you want a taste try this link (click on the underlining) for his 3-minute distillation of the original Star Wars movie (which I think I might have seen once on telly a few years ago, but you only need the vaguest of ideas to pick up on it). Great performance poetry from a very funny man who gives twisted motor-mouthery a good name. Nor can there be a more homely workout on the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ riff. Here’s a link to his website.
And on the Sunday
A good crowd and some fine music at the AORTAS open mic at The Old George, distinguished this time around by a rare outing for a diminished (in number, if not invention) Sucettes and an energetic solo set from Mark Owen as well as the usual excellences. (I know, how can I possibly take Naomi Rose for granted?). Heated discussion with Mr Hobbs as to how many Abba songs were worth a single Beatles one; not helped as far as Mark and I were concerned by his plucking Hey Jude out of the air as an example. Apples and oranges, but still, how can you deny the merits of Dancing queen or Fernando. Something I never dreamed I would be saying thirty years ago.
Not forgetting a book
If it wasn’t for the Book Group I would hardly have looked at Roma Tearne‘s Bone china (Harper, 2008) because it’s just not my kind of book. But I gave it a go because of the Group. I should have given it up when it is revealed jealous sister Myrtle used magic to do bad things to her sister’s family and no-one says it’s just a coincidence when bad things do indeed happen. Karma gets a few un-ironic mentions too. But I have to admit I was just about curious enough to see how things transpired and in the end I got so far I thought I might as well finish it. It was easy enough to read.
Bone china is the tale of the decline and dispersal of three generations of a once privileged Tamil family in the wake of Ceylon becoming independent Sri Lanka. As such I learnt something about that country’s history, but as a novel it’s all over the place. The title comes from a family heirloom that makes it over to Brixton when three brothers (generation 2 – a drudge, a wannabe poet who turns into a drudge, a communist) all make their ways to the UK in the ’60s (they drink Guinness), where Anna-Meeka (generation 3) eventually achieves something, makes some sort of sense of it all, by composing a piece of classical music. As a family chronicle of troubled times, of civil unrest, of emigration, it ticks all the thematic boxes – Romeo & Juliet episodes, betrayed optimism, being in the wrong place at the wrong time in a riot, all sorts of injustice, family tensions, the half-caste narrative card is played – it’s all a bit melodramatic, precious and, at times, creakingly laboured. That Meeka as teenage rebel appears to be untouched by the Beatles and popular culture at school, while adopting the local English patois that so pisses off her parents, seems unlikely. The author has some fun (at least I hope it’s fun) at middle son’s youthful poetic ambitions and younger son’s political engagement in the UK, while the women are the strongest characters – matriarch Grace, who stays in Sri Lanka, and Meeka’s mum in particular – but the grief of tragic concert pianist Alicia just seems to go pathologically on forever. It’s all very sad. As I said, it’s not my kind of book at the best of times, so I’ll leave it at that. Jasper – the talking mynah bird in Sri Lanka – is my favourite, though he too comes to a wretched end.
Liking Capaldi a lot, but that’s almost a side issue. I think I’m falling in love with Gemma Coleman.