Friday, 31 July 2009

On Cleaning and Writing

Today I simply must clean the house. The eucalyptus tree in the garden is shedding leaves at the rate of about a ton a day and at least a million of them have found their way inside, brought in by the tread of my flip-flops as I come in from sneaky peeks at my sweet-peas, obsessive deadheading of my geraniums, and picking the green-fly off my one tragic rose. I don't mind the odd mucky footprint, they make me feel like part of an active-outdoor family, but when getting to the bathroom involves wading it becomes apparent that the old vacuum cleaner hasn't been taken from its cupboard in too long.

But before I do I have to tell you about this It's one part of the result of (my writing mentor/tutor) Tom Pow's latest writing project. Called Dying Villages it is a response to his visits to villages throughout Europe that are fast losing their inhabitants. (There is also a book of poetry and a CD.) This website's worth looking at for the pictures alone if, like me, you find a bit of decay enthralling. There are also some very interesting statistics about the continuing exodus from rural areas of Europe, and an opportunity to join in the debate about what, if anything, can be done about it.

Also, I promised a sample of my handwriting to join in the meme I came across at Savannah's place. So here it is: it ain't pretty but I think it's mostly legible.

I still write with a pen on paper a lot. The computer hasn't quite taken me over, yet. I find writing my first drafts with a smooth pen on a large pad the best way to organise my thoughts. If I try and do it using a keyboard it comes out kind of stilted with most of the connections missing, and doesn't make enough sense to give me something to work on. This might be because I love the image of a person sitting at a table, head bowed over in deep concentration, pen scratching away, and this fuels my imagination making me feel like a real writer, following in the footsteps of real writers who have gone before. And, of course, there's the slow, rhythmic act itself which probably helps bring a vague notion into focus.

I also write letters, in the old fashioned way, to my best friend. I started this because I hadn't been able to resist some incredibly beautiful French note cards

when I visited the fantastic emporium RE, not too far from Newcastle. It sells the contents of my dream life; things like copper plant tags, glass cake stands with domes, Spanish cane-work deer heads, as well as the world's most desirable stationery. Once I had them home I had to use them so I wrote her a note and stuck it in the post. I've kept it up because she was so delighted to receive it. And it gives me an excuse to go back and buy more gorgeous writing paper.

There was something else that I wanted to tell you, but I've forgotten what it was, it will come back to me. I better get my duster out now.

Can you believe it, I forgot to hit 'publish post' earlier so now the house is basking in the soft glow of 'real' beeswax polish with not a leaf to be seen, but I still can't remember what else I want to tell you.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Desperately Seeking Vision

I can't seem to get myself motivated to do any proper work at the moment. This is bad: I have my final portfolio to complete by September, and I am supposed to be working on a project (mentioned, I think, a post or two ago) with my writing group. I don't know what's wrong with me because normally I love doing this stuff. Normally I love everything about writing, from the moment of inspiration to the frantic scribbling it down, to the endless redrafting and editing. But I seem to have come to a stop. I need to untangle some of the threads in my head. I need to settle my stomach and calm down. I need to get to the 'fuck it' stage.

Thinking of my work as work, is, I think, turning it into something scary. It's stopped being play. It's stopped being: 'ooh, this is interesting, how far can I push it?' and has become a means to an end instead of an end in itself. Yet I don't really know what the end it's supposed to be a means to is; more work probably. (Here I could so easily go off at a tangent about the evils of the capitalist system. It's not all evil, I know, but I can't help feeling that these days we feed it rather than the other way round.) I'm so bored with the sound of my own voice, slurred, as it is, with this ever present whine. So picking up a piece for redrafting, or even trying to write something new, is waring. It's like going on a long journey in a car with a squeaky wheel: your whole body is filled with its endless wail so you don't see the Angel of the North as you pass, or smell the grass as a man on a tractor with his dog on the back cuts it, or taste the chocolate you nevertheless keep cramming into your mouth.

Bugger, bugger, bugger... I need to get back on track. Especially for the project because a) I don't want to let the rest of the group down, b) I know it will be fun once I get over this, and c) if I can do it it will help me with the other stuff. So, Liz Waugh and her life and work: I need to focus. The project is called: Words and Bronze: A celebration of Elizabeth Waugh at 80.

This (I believe) is an early piece. It makes me think of the south of France, of Picasso and Brancusi, and that wonderful early 20th century artistic turn.

I'm trying to untangle what I know, and how I feel, about her and her work – the artist is the work according to Nietzsche – synthesize it, and come up with something interesting to say. She lives in the Eskdale hills and works in bronze. She makes both animals (for animals sell) and nudes. She is currently trying to combine nudes and animals in the hope that she can both work on what interests her and sell it on. An artist needs to sell her work in order to be able to keep on working: feed the market so she can feed herself. She uses resin bronze, mostly, because foundry bronze is too expensive: people want bronze but they don't want to pay for it. This gives her sculptures added vulnerability: resin bronze is fragile, it might shatter if you drop it on a hard surface. She had an enforced break of 25 years because of marriage and all that entails – or, at least, entailed for her. She wonders, now, what her work would look like if she hadn't had to have that break, if she had been able to continue to manifest her ideas during that period.

A work in progress. I often like works in progress better than finished pieces, I love the colour and texture of the plaster and the lack of facial features on both creatures here.

Her nudes, to me, speak of the landscape in which she lives which is all green hills and valleys and little secret places. Fecund. All except one: a recent piece which is a one off – called One Off – this is a hollow shell of a creature clutching her knees, it reminds me of a dead pea-bug, one that has completely dried out, which is a tantalizing departure for me: the turn in the poem; the point of conflict that turns something lyrical into something interesting. But bugger me if I can make anything of it.

Empty lady

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Bat Pits

Last night we went to see Harry Potter. As we were getting ready to go I took a jacket from the overfull row of hooks in the hall and put it on. As I moved it made a noise as if one of it's many zips was flapping. I decided to have a quick pee before leaving and as I sat on the loo it made the noise again: odd. I sat stock still and the noise continued for a few seconds, then stopped. As I washed my hands it started up again. This irritated me somewhat, I hadn't noticed this jacket making noises before. In the hall the noise continued, it sounded like a factory full of zips being tortured by magnets. Deciding it wasn't right I began to take the jacket off examining it as I did so. With it off on my left side but still on on my right I looked at the pockets and cuffs and jiggled them slightly: 'what on earth are you doing?' Bob asked me. I told him about the noise: he listened as I gave the jacket a shake, 'it's just a zip,' he said.

I made to put the jacket back on and the noise started up wildly. Bob frowned, 'take it off,' he said. I took it off and handed it to him, he turned it around, examining the zips and fastenings. Stevie, who by now had joined us, pointed at the studs on the collar, 'it's those,' he said. Bob gave it a shake. Metal flapped and scraped against metal: 'it's the zips!'

'OK. It's just that... it doesn't usually make such a noise.'

He peered inside. 'It must be the... oh not it's not,' he said, 'it's a bat!'

I had been worrying a little brown bat that had taken up residence in the oxter of my jacket! Bob made for the garden and once outside gently laid the jacket, replete with bat, on a chair. The poor thing was quivering so I took a quick snap and we let it alone.

I had to wear a different jacket to the cinema.

When we got back the bat was gone. I hope he/she enjoyed feasting on the bugs that fill the air of an evening around here, and has now found somewhere to sleep where he/she won't be disturbed by my armpits again.

Friday, 24 July 2009

On Tribes and Pudding

Good day yesterday. First up I had a meeting with my writing group: there's something about being with like-minded people that is always über invigorating, but this was a particularly good meeting. We are readying ourselves for a performance of our work at the Wigtown Book Festival in September and it's getting exciting. We will be performing work written in response to the sculptor Elizabeth Waugh who turned 80 earlier this year and is still as prolific as ever. She is incredibly inspirational: strong as an ox, sharp as a scalpel, and highly skilled. You may remember (those of you who were around then) this picture of her garden wall that I did a post on some time ago. I love this wall.

So we discussed how best to present our work: just standing up and reading is a bit boring and rather short-lived, we want to give the public something more, something to engage with on another sensual level, like Liz does. Her work is all about the body, both human and animal, and is mostly bronze which she encourages people to touch: it's all smooth, cool, curves and hollows if you close your eyes and just feel.

I went into the meeting with a few ideas and came out with a bundle, bursting with enthusiasm, and starving. So I phoned Stevie and asked him to meet me in our favourite local café for a bite on my way home. He had a baked potato, but I had this:

after which I was ready to get on with some work.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Maggie Can

“Art is the expression of the voice of gifted individuals with a point of view.”*

I went to see Maggie Ayres’ exhibition on Sunday.

I'm not a visual artist so am not really equipped to pass judgment on visual art: I don't really know what I'm looking for, can't speak of brush strokes and execution, but I know what I like and can have a stab at saying why if I'm pushed. I tend to be drawn to work that, yes, is beautiful, but goes beyond that, and beyond itself: a perfect representation of a chicken, or anything else, will rarely get me excited. Maggie's work in this exhibition did (and does still), I will be going back soon.

There was one piece in particular that I loved. It’s a three dimensional shape, so I guess you’d call it sculpture, which is an interesting departure from her usual highly textured but backed by canvas work. It’s form, colours and textures seem to me to combine in a way that makes a coherent whole: it is a thing in itself.

I could bang on about all the various references I see in it: corsets, plaster casts, shipwrecks, blood and bone that take it beyond itself, but it’s probably best that I don't.

I also really liked this piece,

there’s something of the sea in it, as if the sea has been taken to hospital and wrapped in bandages and is now trying to break free. Or perhaps it has broken free and this is what remains of what we tried and failed to do. No? (I know I have a tendency to over analyse).

*Richard Eyre: I read this in The Guardian newspaper some months ago, can't remember the date.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Anarcho Librarianism

I have just had the best evening. I logged onto Facebook, saw I had a message in my inbox (almost unheard of!) found it was from the Poetry Society, clicked on the link they had sent me, and from there stumbled upon the Poetry International website where I spent some hours watching clips of poets from all nations talking about and reading their work. Then, exploring the site further, I came upon The Itinerant Poetry Library. This is what Sarah Reams writing for Poetry International says about it:

The Itinerant Poetry Library has no vehicle, no building, next to no budget. Instead, the collection travels around in the suitcase of the librarian, Sara Wingate-Gray, who since 2006 has been continuously roaming the world, relying on couch-surfing, soup kitchens and the generosity of strangers for food, accommodation and transport. So far, she has installed the library in over 150 locations – from parks to bookshops to cafés to people’s homes – in 11 countries and 21 cities worldwide.

Why? According to the library itself, it exists to “remind people of the importance of free public libraries; subvert mainstream channels of distribution; remind people that access to knowledge should be free and not dependent upon economic wealth hierarchies; show people that poetry/art can provide answers to questions we ask of life [and to] experiment in existing outside of ‘the market’ – thereby, instead, investing in social capital, social innovation and community”. And it succeeds in doing all of these things through a simple installation composed only of a table, a chair, a sign, one woman and some books

Tonight I will sleep with a smile on my face.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Mean Reds

I like the countryside: it looks pretty in the sunshine and smells nice when it rains, but I'm always delighted when driving along a road bordered by field and hill to happen upon a sign of human presence. So I was utterly thrilled the other day when, on the road to Melrose which is pretty remote, I spied a huge splash of red through the trees. It was as if a giant had dropped her Chanel Rouge no. 22 pour les levres.

At first I thought it was a painted corrugated iron house and wondered what sort of person would live there. This occupied me for about a fortnight until I was able to go back a have a closer look.

But it turned out to be the village hall of Yarrowford,which is still quite radical but no where near as romantic.

Also along that road, which is my latest favourite, I

came across this tepee. You can rent it for £60 per night plus £5 for each person. If I could play guitar I'd consider it.

Monday, 6 July 2009


What have this dress:

box topiary, and this poem:

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

by Louis MacNeice, got in common?

I don't know, myself, but I love them all.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bring Me Sunshine

Forgive me blogger for I have sunned, it has been three weeks since my last post. In that time I have been to a literary festival; the launch of a friend's latest collection of poems, and the party that followed; a reading by T. S. Eliot prize winner, Jen Hadfield, and – get this – delivered my first, ever, lecture. Mostly, though I've been 'making the most' of the good weather. In the last few days I've also been trying to prevent said good weather draining the life out of my garden. Which means endlessly tramping up and down the steps from garden to kitchen to fill, and then empty, my watering can. I don't have an outside tap because the sky usually acts as one. This is probably the one year I could have successfully grown tomatoes but it is actually the first year I've made an effort to grow things that like cold, dampness.

I must remember to do that again next year...

It's just got warmer and warmer over the course of about two weeks, today it is 27ºc, but apparently it is set to cool down and rain again over the weekend. My Angelica will be glad and so will my dissertation supervisor: I've done no real work for some time.

The Borders book Festival crowd enjoying the start of the sunshine.

The poshest portaloos I've ever had the pleasure of...

Ice-cream in Scotland?