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Posts Tagged ‘Antipoet’

david-gates-jerniganIf I only had one word to describe David Gates‘s novel Jernigan (1992), that word would be sour.  With the amount of alcohol consumed Peter Jernigan has to be that literary beast the unreliable narrator, but at the end we find there’s even more to it than that.  Still makes for a compulsive read though, and I might just read it again (it’s relatively short, 238 pages) some time.  Naturally he’s an anti-hero, albeit with a nicely sardonic sense of humour and self-knowledge – “I had my usual thoughts about everything being debased” – when he’s not being a complete arsehole; not so much a bad man as one circumstances and life choices have made less than good most of the time.  At least he isn’t physically violent.

Jernigan is a tale of the American suburbs.  It tells of a massive bender, its pre-history and its consequences.  After a family tragedy, and engineered by his somewhat problem teenage son and his even more damaged girlfriend, Peter Jernigan moves in with her mum, Martha.  Who has a secret that blows up in her – in all their – faces one nightmare Christmas Eve, which sends him off on a desperate lone drunken drive to a remote cabin in a snow storm, said adventure proving near fatal.  Before he sets out, Martha has offered:

‘You believed exactly what you wanted to believe, Peter,’ she said. ‘Did you actually think there were all these nice wholesome families just ready and waiting for you to come along?  You’re a drunk whose drunk wife killed herself.  And you want to know something really pathetic?  You looked good to me.’

Cheerful, eh?  Somewhere in it all there had been some good intentions – and actions – on both sides, a dab of compassion here and there.  A previous argument, after he’s lost his job:

‘Peter, my only vision was that whatever you did you might get some enjoyment out of your life for a change.  I should’ve – I mean, everything I knew was literally screaming that you were incapable of any sort of joy whatever.’
Should I say figuratively?  Better not.  ‘A trenchant analysis,’ I said.
‘Fuck you too.’
‘Trenchanter and trenchanter,’ I said.  ‘Repartee City around here this morning.’

Ah, that job.  Taken as a short-term measure after graduation and an interesting student existence all those years ago, and challenged about it by his father, an artist, the last time he saw him before his death, to:

… tell me what the hell you’re doing as an assistant vice shoeshine boy at some outfit that’s doing its bit to help squeeze the working man out of New York City.  Not to mention the painting man.’
‘The money is fine … it beats junior professor money.’

OK, his father, who is interesting:

I mean, he was Francis Jernigan and everything, but the real money got made off of stuff he’d let go for a couple of thousand dollars in like 1952.  My mother split in 1956, he boozed from then until ’64 or ’65 … You know, what can I say?  By then it was all Andy Warhol or something …

Peter makes a sort of pilgrimage with his son to the deeply rural location where his father had lived (and died in a fire).  His alcoholic lack of self-worth is relentless:

It amounted to a moral failing not to have learned the names of trees.  It amounted to a moral failing, too, that this landscape looked dead and tattered to me, instead of sternly beautiful.

At a certain point he puts a bullet through the webbing between his own thumb and index finger.  He tells us:

That’s Jernigan all over: first you swallow a bunch of drugstore anodynes and then you want to feel something and then you bitch and moan because it hurts.

Jernigan is – for all its pain and misery – a sustained, unrelenting and compulsively readable literary tour de force.  I have barely scratched the surface of its characters or hinted at the intriguing cultural breadth of references.  It is only in the last couple of pages that the occasion of its composition – of how and why Jernigan is writing it – is revealed, involving a small act of rebellion that one cannot help but acknowledge and semi-reluctantly cheer; I’m not giving anything away.  But so absorbing was Jernigan to me that that ending was an inducement to start all over again.

Where Richard YatesRevolutionary Road documented the sterility of the ’50s American suburbs and signalled the necessity, the inevitability, of the social changes of the ’60s, David GatesJernigan inhabits the toxicity of the same locales in the decades following on after, as Neil Young so eloquently put it, the goldrush.

I may or may not thank David Gates for bringing Wallace Stevens’ long and at first glance difficult though intriguingly titled poem The comedian as the letter C to my attention, and I’ll willingly admit to never having heard of the country singer Webb Peirce, mention of whose music crops up every now and them.  Don’t let this put you off:

Words and music
closer to home

aortas-sept-2016scribal-sept-2016poetical-vaultage-sept-16Conjunctions of the planets in the night sky excite astronomers almost as much as astrologists (or vice versa), but the vagaries of the calendar meant the three premier Stony open mics all happened within the space of 5 days.  Warning: may contain in-jokes.

And now a diversionary dip into cultural archaeology.  I was going to say I was going to do a Friends on this one, you know, the way they gave each episode a title that started either ‘The one where …’ or ‘The one when …’ or ‘The one with …’ but I remembered that maybe that wasn’t necessarily the provenance.  It was a device that Bobbie Ann Mason had used in her memorable In country novel of 1985, about a Vietnam vet travelling across the US to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, when they were talking about episodes of (was it?) M.A.S.H.  (There are always some books you live to regret including in the charity shop cull, aren’t there?).  And it had occurred to me then, when I’d first noticed what they were doing with the Friends episode titles, whether someone involved in Friends had read In country and nearly a decade later thought Yea, let’s go with that.  (Did I mention it’s a powerful novel?)  I’d like to think so, rather than the more mundane explanation that that’s just the way people talk about show episodes anyway; though kudos for adopting it anyway.  It’s just that I like to see the connections.

So, AORTAS – collage ©Dan Plews – mostly the usual suspects (no bad thing), but distinguished by being (at greater length than the classic form): the one when the dog disgraced itself; the one when we had fun at the back injecting the word ‘chainsaw’ into song titles (“For the times, they are a chainsaw”); the one where Stephen Hobbs performed a story about a parsnip (and people listened).

Scribal Gathering: the one when Jonathan was stuck on the M25 and Mark had to kick things off totally acoustically; the one when both members of the Straw Horses managed to be in the house at the same time (exquisite and immaculate harmonies); the one when Ian Freemantle returned to fight the good fight of the working men of England, rhythmically and righteously in his own distinctive way; the one when Stephen Hobbs explained why for him August is the cruellest month and moaned about not getting a mention lately here on Lillabullero (but I’m not falling for that one, oh no) (though the temptation to spell his name wrong is great); the one that finished with the accomplished James Hollingsworth delivered a mesmerising and rousing paen to Thomas More’s Utopia (another 400th anniversary of 2016) aided by a tape delay (or was it just a big echo) on his guitar.  And that wasn’t all; yes, it was a good one.

The Antipoet at Vaultage was always going to be interesting.  Fully costumed bassman Ian striding down the High Street double bass in hand in his high-heeled platforms evoked a cheer from some builders on tour before he’d even reached the Vaults. “We’ve done these all better,” said a ‘slightly tipsy’ Paul Eccentric (I’m quoting the Antipoet management here) through the giggles at one stage.  Not exactly entirely their usual crowd  but they had a good time – “an audience you want to take home with you” (ibid) as did we.  Raucous, anarchic, with a skillful element of crowd control on display.  Ian in full gimp mask for the start of Sign of the times, which must have been hot.  Stony Bard Vanessa Horton stood in for the ailing Fay Roberts (archivists please note – get well soon, ma’am), with her own salty set, then adding a fresh contribution and slant to the annals of the Antipoet’s I like girls.  Hot and knackered I’m afraid I left early – apologies to those performing after the Lads.

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I’ve had worse earworms but this one threatens to invoke the law of unintended consequences.  Next time I’m in a coffee shop my fear is I’ll place an order saying, “Can I get a coffee? / Can I, Can I get a coffee? / Can I, can I get a coffee?”  This is, of course, the wrong question, as is fully explained in The wrong question, the eighth track gracing The Antipoet‘s latest CD, which is a plea – nay a protest – of Gallic intensity against the further Americanisation of everyday English discourse.  Because, as any fule kno, “We don’t say ‘To go’ / We say ‘To take-a-fucking-way’.

Bards of Bugger AllWednesday March 16, Stony Stratford’s Scribal Gathering hosted the launch of Bards of Bugger All, the fifth CD collection of “beatrantin’ rhythm and views” from those two gentlemen of distinction trading under the name of The Antipoet.  It was a grand night of furious fun and celebration in the packed Marquee Room of the Cock Hotel.  And there was cake.  Oh, and even a little table card magic.

New readers start here: The essential Antipoet, the basic Antipoet, are Paul Eccentric (words – lots of words – and vocals, occasional triangle and cowbell, of punk heritage) and the taller, more hirsute Ian Newman (full-size double bass-man and interjectionist, also contributing harmony).  Prolific propagators and propagandists for poetry and the spoken word, they are artists of a sensitive disposition (to quote from one of their signature pieces); they are also Men of a muchness (a notion I’d riff on further here if I could recall a single line of one of their most songiest of pieces) and have been known to wear leather skirts (indeed, I think they might have done this night).  Anyway, you can find a lot more about them here, at http://www.theantipoet.co.uk/#!info/c161y; and more about them their wider interests here at http://rrrants.org/home.  I have seen them performing in pubs and function rooms, in the library and on the street, and I’ve never seen them give less than 100% There’s plenty to discover on YouTube.  If you get a chance, do go see; you won’t regret it.

The evening commenced with MC for the night Poeterry telling the tale, broadened later, of how it all goes back to an open mic night in ‘the stabbing pub’ in High Wycombe towards the end of the last decade, and many of those involved then were here to join in the celebrations.  As was Paul’s dad.  So, given too the lads’ involvement with local Bard selection procedures – most of whom, indeed, were in attendance – it was, all in all, a bit of a family affair.

There’s a track on the new CD called We are the warm up, and first up to perform was – oh! welcome return to performing – Stony’s very first Bard, Ian Freemantle, who, forget the warm-up, set the place alight from the off, opening with the steady stomp of his staff on the floor as he made his way from the back of the hall to the stage declaiming a committed people’s history of England – from the Peasant’s Revolt (is that where he started?) to the near present – in a rhythmic lilting chant.  Was great to see and hear Ian in full flow again.

And so the Antipoet performed to great acclaim the entirety (without the bonus tracks) of Bards of Bugger all, augmented by Mark Gordon, who produced the album, also hitting things sitting at the back with a modest drum kit, unobtrusively adding value, as per the album.  Of which I shall speak later.  Which is not, I hasten to add, in any way to suggest that the “We’d like to give you some new songs” haiatus that bedevils many an old favourite’s performance applies here.  Because it doesn’t.

And then Philfy Phil Alexander, guitar in hand, another veteran of the stabbing pub days, lived up to his name with a couple of his own songs, finishing with a wholesale reworking of Paul Simon’s The boxer, wherein the singalong ‘Lie-la-lie’ chorus received a mortuary revision; so in one verse he reflected on the life and death of the surrealist artist with the chorus ‘Dali died‘ etc.; I’ll disregard the rest so as not to spoil it for those who might get a chance to hear it in full.  And  …  interval.

Our attention is re-engaged by an enactment: the Antipoets, quills in hand, approach one another from opposite ends of the room, enacting Two gentleman duellers, an ancient tale (here’s a take from the archives) of how a breach of etiquette led to a duel “to the death, but through the medium of rhyming verse“; the Two Ronnies never stood a chance.  Then it’s straight into what I’ll call a Greatest Hits session, giving an outing or two for the back-up bassist with one of those anorexic science fiction electric basses, and allowing plenty of space for occasional partners in crime Fay Roberts and Richard Frost – good to see him in the saddle again too – to contribute variously parodies, piss-takes, sequels, appendices and tributes to the work.  All great fun.  For example, Little old lady is a ditty concerning the narrator regularly visiting an old woman – “She was a little old lady” – whose political conclusions after a long life (“served with Pankhurst for the cause“) are somewhat disappointing  (“coming over here, taking our jobs” etc.).  Frost’s Little old lady’s reply starts “He was a punk performance poet …”

At a certain stage Faeries, two young women, further members of the loose creative collective in the same part of the universe as the Antipoet, took the stage, laid their magic carpet on the floor and, seated cross-legged, delivered a charming acoustic folked-up version of Gimp night down at the Fighting Cocks, the standout track on the Bards of Bugger All.  (“Definitive,” I think I heard Donna, the Antipoet’s manager, or at least someone at their table, say).  It all climaxed with a gangs-all-here workout – guitars, drums, bass, back-up girl vocal trio – on Tights not stockings and Random words in a random order (a meditation on the perils of open mic poetry), which were none the worse for the application of a latin tinged shuffle.  A splendid time was had.

Bards of Bugger All backThe album

It’s interesting.  By which I mean it’s less in-your-face than the lads live, but with no diminution of the warmth, wit, invention and scorn, just more relaxed and conversational, a bit lounge even, with Ian’s bass given some space: mellow, rounded, there to be appreciated in its own right.  An unexpected (and strangely satisfying) recognition listening to In a poetocracy: it’s pure (minus the piano) Flanders and Swann (oh come, on, you know: “another g-nu“).  Gimp night is an instant classic.  Producer Mark Gordon is behind the drums for three tracks, which rumble or gently funk  along nicely.  A collection to be proud of.  What they say on Track 9:

We can help you
It’s what we do
There’s nothing like a poem
to get you through.

Oh, and lurking behind the second bonus track there is … another bonus track, a lengthy sketch, an outtake of hopefully a work in progress – which on its own is worth the price of entry (a fiver, ladies and gentlemen, and a princely bargain indeed).  It starts off as a night at The Fighting Cocks, with Paul (presumably) taking on the persona of Al Murray’s Pub Landlord to welcome punters in and introduce the Antipoet, now a changeling Lonnie Donegan Trio with a dash of Chas ‘n’ Dave thrown in, as well as reverting to their own mighty selves.  The Trannie Shuffle, ladies and gentlemen: trust me – chuffing hilarious.

The Badge: an appendix

They were selling badges; I just paid my money and grabbed one, little realising there was a variety to choose from (were they even one-offs?).  Delighted to have got ‘Random words, random order’, now in the museum (bottom centre):
Museum… the company you keep …

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DomeSunday, November 22:
In Tufnell Park
did the Official Kinks Fan Club a pleasure dome decree as the venue for this year’s Konvention.  (Stately? nah!).  In the Dome – still the Boston Arms but upstairs, entry gained from the edge of Betjeman country at the bottom of Dartmouth Park Hill – a more spacious venue than the more plebeian ground floor function room, entered from the more prosaic Junction Road, which had hosted the gig for a decade or so.  Biggest wrist stamp I’ve ever had, cloakroom £2.00 an item on a dry cleaner’s wire coat hanger and Guinness at £4.50 a pint, which I’m pretty sure was a lot cheaper downstairs last year.

A bit late, I’d foregone my annual mid-day pilgrimage – make that sentimental journey – to Waterlow Park, up on Highgate Hill, a place of succour, respite and inspiration (such trees!) when I first moved to London many moons ago (and lately a place Highgate resident Ray Davies often chooses to do print media interviews).  Turned out I could have made it, such was the amount of time it took for the queue to get in.  So it goes.  But once upstairs, of course, hey – always good to see the usual suspects; you know who you are.

OKFC KOK 1998Muswell hillbilliesThe Kast Off Kinks started off as Fan Club treat.  The first four London Konventions (there had been a couple further afield) were held at the Archway Tavern, where the fold-out cover photo of the KinksMuswell Hillbillies album – my favourite, for what it’s worth – was taken.  The set list was agreed by email and over the phone; no full rehearsals, cassettes were exchanged.  It worked, it was great fun for all.  This was basically the Muswell Hillbillies rhythm section of John ‘Nobby’ Dalton, to whose leukemia charity the profits went, original drummer Mick Avory, and John Gosling (aka The Baptist because Salome cut his head off – no hang on, because of his long hair and beard), with Dave Clarke, a mate of Dalton’s from the Hertfordshire rock’n’roll beat group scene and beyond – no, not that Dave Clarke, this one’s a musician – bravely taking on the roles of both Ray and Dave Davies.  Crucially, without attempting to take on either’s persona, he’s always excelled and has become a firm favourite with the, if you’ll excuse the spelling, the British Kinks fan Kommunity.

Geoff Lewis maintains a website for the band at http://kastoffkinks.co.uk/ with a whole bunch of live videos and some fascinating interviews – variously transcriptions and recordings – with the chaps.

2015: John Dalton taking it easy. (c) Julia Reinhart. www.juliareinhart.com www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

2015: John Dalton taking it easy. © Julia Reinhart.
http://www.juliareinhart.com
http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

The Konvention moved down Junction Road to the Boston Arms in 2002 and over the years more and more ex-Kinks have become involved, to the extent that whereas early on there were support slots, the Konvention Kast Offs became a moveable feast spanning all eras of the Kinks, filling the afternoon by themselves.  At the peak of all this re-gathering I think we had two back-up singers, (was it?) three bassists, two drummers and three keyboard players leap-frogging the performance area.  Ray Davies has been known to turn up and say a few words, sing the odd verse; Dave Davies has never had anything to do with them.  I won a signed photo of Ray in the raffle one year, put it proudly in a frame and the sun faded the autograph faded out of existence.

As things progressed the Kast Off Kinks started doing the odd gig elsewhere, and this has developed into the core members becoming a regularly gigging band up and down the land.  As The Baptist’s presence has diminished, Ian Gibbons, who continues to work with Ray Davies, has become the keyboards man in residence, with Mark Haley guesting.  John Dalton announced his retirement half a decade ago but no-one believed him, and so it has proved; Jim Rodford took up most of the gigging bass duties when available, though the recent resurgence of the Zombies‘ career may limit his appearances in future.  Jim and Ian’s fellow Kinks-as-stadium-rockers band era drummer, the amazingly well-preserved Bob Henrit, has been known to take a turn too; an interview covering his decades spanning career in the music business (including the introductory cowbells on Unit 4+2’s Concrete and Clay) is one of the highlights of The Kast Off’s website, and is well worth your time; he’s published an autobiography too, titled Banging on).

I've taken the liberty of posterizing Kevin Kolovich's photograph

2015: I’ve taken the liberty of posterizing Kevin Kolovich’s photograph.

So, Sunday before last, and we’re upstairs in The Dome, which is certainly an upgrade from downstairs.  A two tier stage – “I’ve played in pubs smaller than that stage” says Geoff Lewis – and  improved sound from the PA.  Stage left upper tier were back-up singers Debi Doss and Shirley Roden, looking down on Ian Gibbons, who, as Nobby said at one stage, was “on fire”, and indeed he was, a real tour de force.  He also called him “the funky gibbon”, but I never liked The Goodies, so find that regrettable.  Centre, raised at the back, the redoubtable Mick Avory, in front of him Dave Clarke, and to his right, the aforesaid Dalton.  And on the raised dias behind him, it was good to see the excellent Oslo Horns (from Norway!) again, sporting trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone – always adding something to the sound, never intruding.  Even better to hear them properly this year.

Julia Reinhart 06

2015: Messrs Gibbons, Clarke and Dalton. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

Over the years, as the Kast Offs have turned into a working band, I’ve got a bit blasé about these performances, and – dare I say it – it had all got a bit routine.  Something today about the special emotions of an OKFC audience – international, spanning three generations – and the tightness that comes from constant gigging, along with the limited personnel which meant not so much chopping and changing, but this year I think it was the best I’ve seen them, really on top of their game and still enjoying it too.  With Nobby and Ian and the gals helping out on the vocals it was a storming show all round.  No-one’s put up a set list on social media yet so I’m running blind here; they probably played for at least 3 hours, doing most of the hits and more.  Almost at random, my highlights from memory: they do a slow and stately Village Green Preservation Society (outsider for new English national anthem, anybody?); Dave excels on the long intro take on a passionate Celluloid heroes; the band are really rocking with the fabulously obscure It’s too late; Debi fronts up for Stop your sobbing; they do a brilliant Better days.

DC & JD.

A delicate touch: DC & Doolin’ Dalton. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

John Dalton always makes a point of saying how much he rates Shangri-La and that wonderful Ray Davies song hidden away for years on the Percy soundtrack album, God’s children (atheist that I am, singing along gleefully), and they are never short-changed.  Alcohol always gets full measure too; how I’d love to see him and Ray doing that as a double act, but later for him.

The incandescent Mr Gibbons and pal. © Julia Reinhart. www.juliareinhart.com www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

The incandescent Mr Gibbons and pal. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

It’s one of those strange inversions that the passage of time brings about, but what could well be The Kinks‘ second worst recorded cover version (nothing can compare with their Dancing in the street) always turns out to be one of the rousing closing climaxes of a Kast Off Kinks show.  I speak of Louie Louie, which is swiftly followed by a Long Tall Sally, to which even I was goaded to dance (thanks … sorry, forgotten your name), and Elvis Presley’s One night, the first song, apparently, that Nobby and Dave Clarke ever played in public together.

Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise2Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise4Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise7Somewhere in the third set yer man Ray Davies came out and said a few words, and towards the end was cajoled into delivering, in fine form, a full reprise of – what else? – You really got me, with Dave Clarke getting the first few bars of Dave Davies’s original guitar solo – something he never normally tries – note perfect. [That’s Ronny Van Hofstraeten’s photo of Ray I’ve mucked about with here]

A fine way to spend a winter’s afternoon.  Thanks as ever to Bill and the Official Kinks Fan Club stalwarts for putting it all together.

Stony Lights Bard launchAnd the next weekend …

… another fine way (with added mulled wine) to spend a winter’s afternoon.

Last Saturday of November is the Stony Stratford Lantern Parade leading up to the ceremonial switch-on of the Xmas lights that brighten the High Street, church Street and Market Square for the season.  Weather was not great – only wet and windy, though, as opposed to the gales and heavy rain at one stage forecast – but that didn’t stop the crowds turning out as usual.  Impressive community dedication.

Gimp night

Gimp night: Photo from the phone of Ray Roberts.

Earlier, a select band gathered in the Library for what has now become an established part of the tradition.  Entertainment and enlightenment from bards past and present, near and wide, poetasters, storytellers and singers, not forgetting the Stony Mummers and local kids’ group Act Out doing a scene or two from their panto.  Excerpts from a new Fay Roberts epic about the child of a mermaid and dragon had us entranced, while, as is now – that word again – traditional, the mighty Antipoet – self-proclaimed Bards of Bugger All – brought proceedings to a splendid end, showcasing new and newish material.  In their quest to alienate as many sections of the community as possible we got another fine atheist piece and a spirited demolition of hipster beards, particularly of a ginger variety; Sam Upton, Bard of Northampton, didn’t seem to  mind.  Then there was Gimp night (was it at the Rose & Crown? – NO: it was, much better, the Fighting Cocks (thanks to my pseudonymous correspondent Pedantic Pete for the correction)), a report on the parlous economic plight of many of the nation’s public houses, necessitating their resort to the promotion of niche nights for all variety of minority interests and perversions, including … poetry.

Here’s a link to Stony’s Bardic Council: http://bardofstony.weebly.com/

 

 

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It’s happened again.  I’ve just finished reading a book about W.H.Auden and here he comes, walking through a New York hotel room door in the late 1930s, a character in the next Reading Group novel that’s up for discussion.  A novel chosen for us by the public library months in advance and about which none of us had an inkling.  Talk about intertextuality.  As Kurt Vonnegut once punctuated one of his novels, Hi ho.

AudenRichard Davenport-Hines‘s fascinating biography of the poet W.H.Auden – Auden (Heinemann, 1995) – throws up many areas of interest and speculation, some of which are dealt with detail while others are left tantalizingly untouched.  What follows are just a few things that occurred to me while reading rather than any sort of reasoned evaluation.

As a humanist and atheist I can quite happily live with other people’s religious beliefs so long as they’re not ramming them down my throat.  Hell, I’m even quite partial to Bob Dylan’s trilogy of openly Christian albums. And the poetry of Wystan Hugh (as all quiz teams will know him) holds no great problems for me.  The “correct notion of worship” for him was, “that it is first and foremost a community in action, a thing done together, and only secondarily a matter of individual feeling,” an extraordinary statement given the life he led, and I’ll return to that.

But staying with Dylan for a while, I think there’s a case for seeing the early political communist fellow-traveller Auden as the pre-electric Dylan of the ’30s.  As Davenport-Hines puts it:

Auden was a meeting ground for young people: enthusiasm for his work seemed a measure of intelligence as well as an indicator of literary or socio-political seriousness. […] The cult figure for literate young people was also a bugbear for his testy elders.

And just as Dylan’s acceptance speech to the American Civil Liberties Union in 1963 upset many followers with his, “I have to be honest, I just got to be, as I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy … I saw some of myself in him” – a very Audean statement in itself – so Auden’s stepping back from the cultural front line was a significant shift:

He disliked poets being solemn about themselves or precious about their art, and his aesthetic theory against poetic pretensions to change the world, as it had developed by the 1940s, annoyed or disappointed some of his early admirers.

By 1965 he was telling a BBC interviewer, “For God’s sake, don’t ask such bloody silly questions!” (about the same time Dylan was doing much the same, as it happens) and proclaiming, “Art is small beer.  the really serious things in life are earning one’s living so as not to be a parasite, and loving one’s neighbours.”  He had a lot to say about poets and poetry, about which he was deadly serious – “You don’t understand at all,” he told his tutor at Oxford, “I mean to be a great poet”; he got a ‘bad third’ – except when he wasn’t, like in 1948:

The ideal audience the poet imagines consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of state, and his fellow poets. The actual audience he gets consists of myopic schoolteachers, pimply young men who eat in cafeterias, and his fellow poets. This means that, in fact, he writes for his fellow poets.

He had little time for poets who were wallowing in their own misery, rather than using it stoically, as “exemplifying the human condition” (to quote RDH) – “a spineless narcissistic fascination with one’s own sin and weakness” he called it – and, RDH reports, “… agonised confessional poetry had always repelled him” to the extent that he actually heckled Anne Sexton at Ted Hughes’s first Poetry International in 1967.

Allen Ginsberg was at that one too, and one wonders what he thought about that.  Ginsberg, of course, had been the star at the International Poetry Incarnation of two years earlier, also held in the Albert Hall, that heralded the British cultural underground movement of the ’60s (and to which Hughes’s event was almost certainly a response), and you can be pretty sure Auden would not have been impressed.  The two poets had met on the idyllic Italian island of Ischia in 1957 and argued about Walt Whitman, and there – Alan Bennett or Tom Stoppard – is a play just asking to be written;  tis reported Ginsberg wept all afternoon when he told of Auden’s death in 1973.

It would be interesting to know how, living in New York, he reacted to the phenomenon of The Beats and beyond, given that in the ’40s he was bemoaning to a friend, “the unspeakable juke-boxes, the horrible Rockettes [a dance company] and the insane salads.”  He was certainly aware of the later counter-culture, and, we are told, took LSD at some point, but Davenport-Hines just leaves that one hanging there, giving us absolutely nothing about how that went, which given the non-revelatory nature of his religious commitment could have been interesting.

And here we have a fascinating … conundrum, not exactly contradiction, but something intriguing like that, in the life of arguably the most culturally significant homosexual of the twentieth century give or take an Alan Turing.  Auden died in 1973, Stonewall happened in 1969 and New York’s first Gay Pride march was in 1970, over which period Auden was still living in New York some of the year, and yet Richard Davenport-Hines’s Auden, published in 1995, makes no use of the ‘gay’ word at all and we given nothing as to how he reacted to these developments.  When his privately circulated 34 stanza erotic poem of 1948 The Platonic blow, celebrating in graphic detail male on male fellatio was published without authorisation, in Ed Sanders’ Fuck You magazine, with an Andy Warhol cover, he admitted to a friend, “in depressed moods I feel it is the only poem by me which the Hippies have read.”  The book, his life, is full of such wonderful juxtapositions.

The thing is, for all his later avowed Christianity, because of his avowed Christianity, he never stopped seeing homosexuality as a sin.  A trifling one compared with, say, avarice, but still a sin, and not one relished because it was a sin.  It’s hard not to argue that he got a lot of his poetic power from this and other denials.  For the poet, he maintained, unfulfilled wishes, unrequited love, were the best kind.  “Suffering has value,” he tells Delmore Schwartz (Lou Reed’s tutor, dedicatee of the Velvet Underground’s European son) in 1942, but only for what you can do with it.  Leavisite critics who ruled the English Department university roosts in the 1950s sidelined him as immature basically because they saw homosexuality as immature.  And yet he was lukewarm about homosexual law reform in England:

‘To begin with, they seem unaware that for over ninety-nine percent of us, it makes not the slightest difference, so far as our personal liberty is concerned, whether such a law be on the statute books or not.’ He judges that ‘the few who do get into trouble are either those with a taste for young boys – and I am surprised by how seldom they do – or those who cruise in public.’ The pragmatic strategy of Arran and his supporters was to stress the separateness and freakish otherness of homosexuality. Auden disagreed.

So, a man very much of his time but also transcending it, and out of it.  This is a fascinating biography and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of his personal life (never mind the work).  He discarded one of the poems he remains most famous for – the formidable September 1, 1939 (here’s a link to the original version), the one written in the first days of World War 2, containing the line, “We must love one another or die” – from the last authorised edition of his Collected poems.  As early as 1944 he’d excised that stanza from a new collection because the line was a lie, “for we must die anyway, whether we love or not“.  And when President Lyndon Baines Johnson misquoted it in a speech on the Vietnam war – “One cannot let one’s name be associated with shits” – he decided it had to go altogether.  “I pray to God that I shall never be memorable like that again.”  He told novelist Naomi Mitchison it was “the most dishonest poem I have ever written,” and he further revised other work, particularly that from the 1930s.  Many find this depressing (I probably would if I had the studying time) but he at least did it with a twinkle in his eye:

‘I get more of the crotchety, ritualistic bachelor everyday,’ he reported … ‘God! How careless I used to be. I feel as if I am only just beginning to understand my craft. The revisions will be a gift to any anal-minded Ph.D. student.’

Music, music, music

Last week it was non-stop, went to something at least every other day, culminating with the mighty Yorkiefest (click on the images to get an enlargement).  Getting fit for StonyLive!

Beechey Room May 15 Aortas 100515 Scribal May 15 Vaultage 16 May 15The second of the Saturday Beechey Room Sessions in York House delivered another grand afternoon.  Blurred lines betwixt  performers and audience made for a relaxed community of music lovers freed from the hubbub of a pub setting, for which initiative take a bow Michèle.  The music ranged from a 1927 guitar rag to Iris Dement via Donovan and Strawberry Wine (the 17 one), sung not drunk.  Another reminder too of the extraordinary emotional power that Carole King song can have for women of a certain age (quite a span, actually, but definitely older than 17).

Aortas open mic at The Old George and, having remembered to bring the words with him, Dan Plews debuted the latest version of his evolving Northampton song, Boots and shoes, complete with cricket and John Clare’s  “vaulted sky” references.   Very good it is too.  The original songs of Fraser & amazing accordionist Liz (so many buttons!) made a nice addition to the usual talented mix.

The first post-election Scribal Gathering saw Polkabilly Circus, the latest aggregation of musicians involving the Antipoet’s Paul Eccentric, strut the stage, if by strut you can understand at least two of them sitting down most of the time.  Kicking off with Polkabilly Boy you could see where the billy in the name came from, and the last song – “this is my punk statement” – gave clue to the ‘p’, if only lyrically.  In between a rich mix of many things, including klezmer and gypsy violin.  What else?  The latest installment chronicling how rotten Stephen Hobbs’s month had been, including an apology for no matter how small a proportion of his contribution to the Labour Party went towards that fucking ‘Ed stone’.

Ralph Keats (no relation) gave some Advice to J.Arthur Prufrock from the Beatles, while Vanessa got away with dissing the whole male gender even though I’m pretty sure there were plenty present who have little interest in football.  Rob Bray said it was the first time he’d played keyboards in public and proceeded to play like Jamie Cullen.  Mark Owen was his usual excellent self; Breaking waves is such a good song – any documentary maker out there working on the Mediterranean migrant boats crisis looking for a suitable song, look no further.  Danni Antagonist wrapped up another fine evening with a poetical warning – written that evening on the spot – for the electoral victors to build a nice high fence.

Thursday’s Vaultage was a bit of a bear-pit, drinkers and talkers unremitting most of the time, though Breaking waves broke through – into my skull at least – again.  Was this the first Vaultage without a Dylan cover?  Pat Nicholson made the mistake of introducing his song Liberty as “This is my Brain in the jar” – another regular’s old chestnut – only for certain members of the audience to start singing that song’s chorus over the guitar intro to Pat’s song before he had a chance to get started.  Liberty hi-jacked – or is the phrase mashed up? – Pat happily sang along.  Great fun.

Yorkiefest 2015And so we come to the mighty YorkieFest and its glorious fourth annual incarnation.  Personal favourites only otherwise I’ll be here all day, but a splendid musical roster – great work from the aforementioned Pat Nicholson (not forgetting Derek Gibbons doing loads of other stuff).  The day kicked off with a refreshing change – Navaras (the name – it says here – signifies the 9 essences and colours of Indian music) playing songs from the Bollywood canon.  Keyboards man had a few jazz chops to bring to the party.  The never-failing AntiPoet brought new material: The bards of bugger all and We’re not worthy.  Oh yes they are.  Five Men Not Called Matt – usually six, actually – today 4 men and a woman, so still rousing but a little sweeter.

OmniVibes (aka Paul Jackson) was something else.  Just the one man, beatnik beard, pork pie hatted, and his sitar.  He started off with an immaculate raga, pausing only briefly to pick up a steel bottleneck slide and synch into a couple of equally spellbinding slow blues, only to finish with a foot-stomping Seven nation army, still making full use of the sitar’s sonic potentialities.  Then apologising because he was feeling a bit under the weather as he’s over-celebrated his birthday the previous night.  I just don’t understand how people can carry on boozing and bantering away while something like that is going down, but they do.  Second Hand Grenade played that funky music, and Palmerston finished everything off harmoniously, delivering quality original material – country rock as good a label as most – with elan, gusto, subtlety and wit.  Both bands had people who seldom dance up prancing, while a celebrated tea drinker was seen with a glass of red in her hand.  Splendid day’s music.  And Towcester Mill Brewery’s Rubio was a tasty tipple to accompany it all.  Bravo Pat, Derek & co.         

OmniVibe in full flow.  Photo (c) Pat Nicholson.

OmniVibes in full flow. Photo (c) Pat Nicholson.

 

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Scribal Dec 14At the December congregation of the Scribal Gathering, Mr Stephen (“that’s with a ph”) Hobbs delivered the Top of his Poetry Pops for 2014 oration, assisted nobly in this endeavour by Mr Philip “PowerPoint Presentation” Chippendale, Bard of this parish.  As the countdown proceeded in the manner of the BBC’s lamentable/late-lamented (delete as applicable) popular music charts rundown programme Top of the Pops, Mr Chippendale, on this occasion paper-free and unplugged, was required to provide acapella the catchy opening riff of popular beat combo Led Zeppelin’s early opus Whole lotta love, which Mr Hobbs had transcribed as “Da da da da dan, dan dan.”  As things developed, Mr Chippendale was joined in desultory fashion by some members of the audience.  Here, almost verbatim, is the text of the oration, though not, you may be pleased to see, in the Comic Sans font Mr Hobbs provided.  (Oh, and Close Encounters/Brief Encounter – anyone could do it.)  Lillabullero is honoured to be featured at No.13; other events of the evening will be mentioned in despatches at a later date.

Photo from Jonathan JT Taylor

Photo from Jonathan JT Taylor

Hello Poetry Pop Pickers!

This is the Top of My Poetry Pops for 2014.  Da da da da dan dan da.
[This refrain will now be taken for granted for the duration].

In at Number 20!

The 4th Bardic Trials in January 2014! Despite being match fit with 6 gigs in two previous weeks Stephen Hobbs was knocked out in the semi-final with the Bardic Crown going to Phil “Pyrophoric” Chippendale. Pyrophoric – an ancient word meaning “How the fuck did he DO that?”. [Stare at Phil]

At Number 19!

At An Evening with the Bard in June Bard Chippendale demonstrates his Bardic credentials by imitating an agitated methane molecule followed by a four-apple juggle in the courtyard. The audience agrees that this transcends poetry.

At Number 18!

Richard Frost’s final Scribal Gathering before flouncing off, despite Stephen Hobbs’ heartfelt poem imploring him not to go:

And give a nod to the Scribalman’s trick
Of putting the dick into Bardic!
But much much more is owed
To the Scribalman who sowed
The poetry seed that fell on stony ground
But flourished all around.
And whilst this metaphor
May not make us feel better for
The frost that kills these plants
We’d rather take our chance
And keep his capability to help us grow.
Richard Frost – please don’t go!

But Richard went…..so much for the power of poetry.

At Number 17!

Naomi Zara Wilkinson’s breathtaking Naked Zoom at “Stony Live!” A powerful confessional narrative of poetry and drama which deserved its sell-out audience.

At Number 16!

Danni Antagonist’s debut poetry collection Empty Threats sells out its first printing! Hooray! Danni orders a second printing with “additional swear words”! A great stocking filler at only £7.

At Number 15!

The first two printings of Steve Allen’s debut poetry collection Forbidden Fruit are now sold out; but it remains the only poetry book to have been sold at The Stables! What a trooper and still no television!

At Number 14!

John Cooper Clark at The Stables. The man who invented performance poetry back in the 80s. Even then he looked like a walking cadaver. I expected a greatest hits dawdle and went to pay my respects to the Mick Jagger of performance poetry. What I got was fire and brimstone from a man clearly at the height of his indignation. Wonderful, and life-affirming.

At Number 13!

Dave Quayle’s blog Lillabullero – tintinnabulation in a humanist key from a Kinks fan which is always the first go-see after a Scribal night or indeed any happening in Stony Town. We all say we don’t care what Mr Tintin thinks about our performance, but we do still like to take a peak and get a tad miffed when we are not even mentioned. You will have to forgive all the train and Kinks stuff (we do not watch Brief Encounter for the trains) but you will find gold and inspiration in them thar hills. [Aw shucks – ed]

At Number 12!

Stephen Hobbs finally wins a poetry slam. Having first ascertained that both Mark Niel and Richard Frost (infamous slammers) were out of the country. He even “forgot” to tell his poetry chum Dick Skellington in case he should take it from him. Three times he denied his conscience! But £30 AND a 30 min headliner slot in November? Come on?

At Number 11!

The Echo Chamber BBC Radio Four Sunday afternoon at 4.30pm. At last a poetry programme that isn’t poetry easy listening aka Poetry Please. Shame on you Roger McGough! Paul Farley’s new programme is all muscle and sinew. This is what poetry is really about. Glorious!

Da da da da dan, dan dan: At Number 10!

Peter Ball’s spoken word programme The naked word on the radio on http://radiomk.co.uk/. It’s ostensibly an extended interview with local arts folks but there’s a hint of Kirsty Young and Desert island Discs about our Peter. This is in addition to his writing, his poetry, his music (fiddle, melodion, keyboards, vocals) and his painting! There’s a lovely two hour chat with the late Dick Skellington which is worthy of your attention. [Here’s the Mixcloud link for Dick’s appearance: http://www.mixcloud.com/radiomk/the-word-02-sep-2014/ ; other show featuring some Scribal regulars can be found at http://www.mixcloud.com/radiomk/]

At Number 9!

The 30 minute headliner slot in November at Pure and Good and Right in Royal Leamington Spa – Slam Winner Stephen Hobbs. Let me repeat that: The 30 minute headliner slot in November at Pure and Good and Right in Royal Leamington Spa – Slam Winner Stephen Hobbs. Yes, I know that Slams are trivial and demeaning poetry events: but just occasionally, once in a Blue Moon, just for a change, (nobody gets hurt) it’s so nice to be asked if everything is all right and knowing that no one has a stopwatch on you. Stephen Hobbs is working on his rider.

At Number 8!

Being the Value Added Poet at Coco Comedy (twice)! It’s a neat trick of the AntiPoet to stage comedy nights in Croxley Heath for a fiver where you also get a free Value Added Poet whether you wanted one or not. What poet could resist? To add insult to injury poets are then paid a tenner – half what the comedians get.

At Number 7!

Memories of Dick Skellington who died in September. He was also knocked out of the Bardic Trials in the semi-final along with Stephen Hobbs. He called us the Nearly Bards. He curated a performance of First World War poetry, which after his death had 4 performances of varying length throughout Milton Keynes. Back in the 1970’s Dick spent a night in prison for throwing a tomato at the Minister for Education, one Margaret Thatcher. He missed! Dick Skellington – a true friend of Scribal but a lousy tomato thrower.

At Number 6!

The people who somehow find their way to Scribal and then discover their inner poet. The scribbled scraps of paper, the moleskin notebooks, the printed sheets, the smartphones and the iPads. It may have been a dare, a bet, or even half-acknowledged therapy. It can’t have been for the lollipop! Long may this curious process continue.

At Number 5!

Poeterry guest comperes Scribal. Let me repeat that: Poeterry guest comperes Scribal. POETERRY GUEST COMPERES SCRIBAL. Whilst his poetry carers despair; Poeterry demonstrates that rules and conventions are for mere mortals, and that the true spirit of poetry will not be constrained. Terry, we love you! Me done!

At Number 4!

Richard Frost sneaks back to Scribal Gathering after his “hiatus”. It’s a partial open mic-er return in October, followed by the Full Monty compere thingy in November. It’s a dream evening. Frost gets his mojo back and all is well with the world.

At Number 3!

Not strictly poetry but any performance from Terrie Howey (aka Red Phoenix). Who can forget her bloody porridge, her Death scrumping pears, or her acorn up the anus actions. Her Crown of Feathers & Fins was the great under-rated event of “Stony Live!” And she directed and shaped Naomi’s Naked Zoom. A truly magical weaver of words and emotions. At last we have a true artist living in the Frost/Phoenix household. Terrie’s even got a Churchill medal; and surely due a second one for sharing a hearth and home with ex-Bard Frost!

At Number 2!

Any AntiPoet gig. The Chinese have a saying: Today is the best day for business. And so it is with the AntiPoet. It’s always “Yes” – worry about the actual gig later on. It’s always 100% and it’s always as if it’s the very first time or the very last time they’re doing that material. They never cruise or just go through the motions. Watching the AntiPoet has taught me that if you don’t love and cherish your own material, then why should anyone else? Faced with a poetry dilemma I do ask myself “What would the AntiPoet do?” This year it’ll be over 250 AntiPoet gigs and that’s in a rest-from-Edinburgh year! So to the Antipoet I say thank you Ian, Paul, and Donna. Mwwaa mwwaa.

Da da da da dun, dun dun
At Number 1! The Top of My Poetry Pops for 2014 is ……

Scribal Gathering! In February next year Scribal will celebrate its 5th anniversary and its 50th gig! It is a curious beast and for its continuing survival we must thank Richard Frost and Jonathan Taylor with, of course, special thanks to their respective carers Terrie and Jill. Scribal has come through that difficult fifth year; and I would like to acknowledge the quiet, unassuming, but vital contribution of Jonathan Taylor. Would Jonathan and Richard please step forward to receive “The Top of My Poetry Pops” award for 2014. [Present giant lollipops] Thank you.

H&C2

And step forward they did.  And those lollipops were enormous.  And so say all of us.  Normal service will be resumed shortly.

 

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But later for the November Scribal Gathering

If it weren’t for the Book Group I’d not have bothered with Tracy Chevalier‘s Remarkable creatures (2009).  It’s not that it’s not an interesting tale, based on events in Lyme Regis in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, just that the prose didn’t really move me.

Two narrative voices alternate.  There’s Mary Anning, working class fossil finder extraordinaire, whose discoveries prompt a paradigm shift in the way the world was to be understood, querying Old Testament accounts of the creation – animals of God’s making that had failed? – and the validity of Archbishop Ussher’s notorious canonical chronology (whereby the date of the world’s creation was calculated as to have been nightfall preceding October 23, 4004 BC).  And there’s Elizabeth Philpot, middle class and exiled from London, spinster of the parish, befriender of Mary, who is instrumental in seeing she ultimately got due recognition and respect from the academics whose work depended on her findings.  I say two voices, but the differences, class perceptions aside, are slight – Mary talks token rustically of being on beach rather than on the beach, while I guess Elizabeth has a whiff of the Jane Austens about her, and is one of the dullest chroniclers I can recall spending time with.  What is made abundantly clear without shouting from the rooftops is the oppressed social position of women – particularly middle-class women – at the time.  So Mary and Elizabeth are indeed almost as remarkable creatures as the dinosaur fossils they find.  They still fall out over a man, though, even if Liz doesn’t like him much.

I had a problem with the passage of time, had to keep being reminded years were passing rather than weeks though that hardly accounts for one surprising editorial slip, whereby Elizabeth admits about Mary’s brother, who helped fossil finding when young, “Already I was leaving Joseph out of the story, as would happen for generations” – how does she know?  I was annoyed by Elizabeth’s habit of describing people as ‘leading’ with various parts of their anatomy, so we end up with someone who “wore a fixed and pleasant expression, and was one of those rare people who lead with no feature whatever“, though I’ll grant her “I have never trusted a man who leads with his hair“.  Which leads us on to that sexual encounter – the only one in the book – in an orchard, the absurdity of which in the context of the rest of the book beggars belief.  The book opens with Mary as a babe in arms surviving a lightning strike; after her one coupling with the dashing military man (shades of Terence Stamp in Far from the madding crowd ?) she tells us, “There I found that lightning can come from deep inside the body“.  Yeah, right.

We were well and truly “Bardically ninja’d” at November’s Scribal Gathering by the “poetic subterfuge” of the mighty Antipoet in collaboration with MK Laureate Mark Niel, a hometown gig (or close enough) on their Rhythm Method Tour.  Which if it touches down anywhere near you, do not hesitate to attend.  The Antipoet – two men, a double bass, a couple of hunting horns and a triangle – never fail to deliver high energy populist intellect and good-natured laid back leariness (not necessarily always in that order).  Their (and Mark’s) commitment to the cause of poetry (“pottery for the dyslexic“) is a wonder to behold: two dark dandy highwaymen and Mark, who “looks like a bank manager“.  Revealed tonight a new one from the Antipoet that already threatens to become a fresh classic; I speak of Art not art house wank (or whatever it was called).  A great night, enhanced by The Screaming House Madrigals whose intriguing line up involved a ‘bassist’ on bowed cello and with an outstanding singer; as Steve said, “Janis Joplin without the ...” but I forget what he specifically said, though what he meant was without everything that makes Janis Joplin unlistenable – accomplished bluesy, jazzy soulful vocalese indeed.  Oh, and Lillabullero took advantage of the open mic to silence the audience with his new epic poem:

2012

Some years
gladioli
are just
not fit for purpose.

Yup, that’s it.

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