Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Whatever you dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it" ... Goethe must have sustained more people than Prozac and porridge oats. I think of that quote again as Annie Lionnet gives me a wonderful tarot reading. Annie's new in Frome and keen to contribute to the artistic community of the town, so on Tuesday I talk her into the Frome Creative Network, a project to attract future arts funding. In the meantime, once the steering committee has volunteered itself, we adjourn to the Crown to continue networking.

Emily and I visit Radstock on Wednesday, travelling rather perversely by bus to get the full flavour of community life. Only nine miles away yet such a different ambience: if Frome has ragamuffin glitz, Radstock seems dressed in serviceable grey. Maybe it's the predominance of Victorian municipal architecture upholding solid protestant values - the town centre is a giant Co-op - but there seemed to be a slight sense of Life-on-Mars (the TV series not the planet) about the streets and shops, styles and products. The museum provides fascinating insight, as well as cups of tea.
Radstock museum is a treasure trove of local history, especially the story of the coal mines - the last only closing in 1974 - and recreates the tough reality of the miners' daily life as well as the pit disasters and strikes. And the camaraderie that must have been the best part: men who worked together played together too, in quoit-throwing contests, pigeon races, choirs and bands, and supported each other in Friendly Societies.
It's the individual names and specific details - photographs, tally disks, certificates of 'conspicuous bravery', lists of the dead - which make this rummage through the past so powerful and poignant - realising that Amos Dando was 12 when he died in the Wellsway Pit Disaster on 8th November 1839.
In the exhibition of wildlife imagery by eco-poet Helen Moore upstairs, we find here too it's the detail, not the didactic, which illuminates. "Holcombe Woods 10th May 06. I just love the incredible softness of these new holly leaves..."

Friday night & I'm in London for the World Spirit poetry anthology launch, in Kentish Town to be exact, at the Torriano Meeting House which has a strong link with poetry readings since the 1960, when irascible poets were apparently banned from drinking locally for fear of fights. No squabbles tonight, just a chance to reconnect with good friends and meet some new ones, and to hear some fantastic poetry.
I loved Kate Newmann's tribute to her father's freezer with its ice-marble gooseberries and white silence, and the story of Oscar Wilde's trial, 'wit ebbing from his soliquy'... marvellous, and moving.
Much more to enjoy too - including the party afterwards, so thanks to Stewart & everyone who put on a show. And to Tamar, my sleep-over pal, great poet & tutor, and great company.

Long posting for a long week, which ended in Bath with the Rondo Theatre Company's production of "Mrs Warren's Profession" with friends followed by late supper (& animated debate as to whether better direction could have shown impact and warmth in Shaw's script rather than a laboured finger-wagging tract) and on Sunday Widcombe Studios open house with an amazing 10x10 Bid or Buy project - on till 9th December, check it out if you fancy acquiring great contemporary art & supporting the studios in one on-line bid.

PS Irony deficiency corner: In the week when BLIAR has decided to apologise for suffering caused not by himself but by other people (ie slave traders, in an earlier era with different values) can I take this opportunity to claim, through a similar process of irrational osmosis, some of the credit for achievements of the past? The visual lyricism of the Romantic poets, perhaps, & I’d like a bit of kudos for Wilde’s witty one-liners too.. surely more fun than an obsequious request for forgiveness - and less cynical if equally insincere.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Point to ponder: Why the decrease in professional theatre productions in small theatres over the last decade? The question was posed at the Merlin Theatre AGM, and the concensus of professional actors supported the Director’s frank answer: Because of the lack of high quality professional theatre companies. There are still the big productions - the usual suspects, marketed with TV star names - but “small scale theatre isn’t happening like it used to.” It’s a bit of a chicken&egg thing, from the sound of it: more good drama & comedy on the box means the best writers want to work for TV, while theatre is losing popularity with audiences who can watch better stuff at home. But which came first? Or is it a reciprocal cultural shift?
In the meantime the good news is that dance events are increasingly popular and Live Lit is making headway, while Am-Dram shows always fill the (local) house. Ray Cooney’s farce “It Runs In The Family” isn’t the kind of humour that would rock the Guardian, but the Frome production was immensely popular.
And here’s one of the reasons: Ben, playing a dysfunctional teenager. The real Ben right now is in Japan, having taken an early gap year to be a planetary emissary for all things sustainable, bringing eloquence and hope as well as humour to this self-set task. I hope the planet deserves him, though I sometimes doubt it.

Nights are coming so early now. Emily and I went to Stourhead for an afternoon stroll that turned into a night walk. Thick coppery leaves underfoot, bare trees twisting like Shiva dancers in the gloaming. Owls hooting as we neared the Six Wells Valley and the silhouette of St Peter’s Pump, the source of the natural spring that feeds the lake, loomed from the shadows. We've been inspired to retrace our walk at the next full moon - Long Night Moon, as it's aptly called.

Je suis une seigneurterrasse, I discover, from a review of 'Tingo' in the current Writing Magazine – an excellent issue by the way. 'Tingo' (which means 'to borrow objects of desire from a friend's house until nothing is left') is a collection of useful words from around the world, like 'mbuki-mvuki' which Indonesians use for those times when you take off your clothes in order to dance, and 'seigneurterrasse', the French term for someone who goes into cafes to spend plenty of time and very little money. My second novel included an a table in the local cafe among the acknowledgements. Off now to Green Park Brasserie in Bath, to meet a poet & talk about writing...

And the week ends with Alison's story writing workshop on Saturday (enjoyable and humbling, as participating in group writing always is) and Sunday supper with writer friends, including playwright Steve Hennessy. Steve spearheads Stepping Out Theatre Company and writes powerfully on themes which fascinate me: outsiders in society, and that blurry crossover point between carer and cared-for, especially in institutions. We haven't had a chance to meet up for a while so lots of catchup, and animated converse on all things writerly: work in progress (& how to fund it), literary heroes & inspirations, dramatists & poets... a really good night.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Sunday afternoon Blake Walk was Peter's idea. A tour of the Soho-ish area of London where the visionary artist lived and died sounded informative and intriguingly quirky, so at 3 o'clock on the corner of South Moulton Street we introduce ourselves to a man in a Serbian greatcoat holding aloft a biography of William Blake. This is Niall McDevitt, who brings charisma and passion to his talk as he leads us through the streets declaiming couplets and creating an extraordinarily vivid picture of the life and times of the struggling engraver and poet.
Most of the places are not as they were in Blake's day; his birthplace is now marked by a fairly hideous block of highrise flats and the place where he died is the staff entrance of the Savoy Hotel - even the institution where he learned engraving is a pavement intersection now - so we stand at doorways which exist only in another time dimension, all made hauntingly real by Niall's commentary.
The walk lasts over 3 hours but the time melts. It's all fascinating. Blake's fortitude in holding to his beliefs and his artistry even though he was dismissed as 'an unfortunate lunatic', the exquisite love story of his marriage, the dark comedy of his bizarre rants, rows, and aversions... he shunned all hierarchical institutions except Heaven, it seems. By the time of his death even his loyal patrons had given up on him though he still had Kate, ever his angel - to comfort him. He printed just 4 copies of his final work, Jerusalem, and coloured only one.
My entering knowledge of Blake was shamefully limited - little more than that familiar picture of a bearded nude emerging illuminated from what might be a can of tomato soup, the hymn now appropriated by the BNP, and his interrogation of a burning tyger: "Did He who made the lamb make thee?" As it transpires, Blake's obsession with extremes and opposites may have stemmed from his own - probable- bipolar condition. But at the end of this brilliant piece of interactive street theatre I'm feeling a real, and humbling, empathy with this unappreciated bard who genuinely did not cease from mental fight, in his life and art.
A great afternoon - 5 stars, definitely.

Another day, another pilgrimage: is this Rima, Epstein's homage to WH Hudson who wrote Green Mansions? The Hyde Park map locates it somewhere around the rose garden. Does this look Epsteinish? I'm not convinced... but we enjoy our walks through the parks (we were staying in Kensington) throughout a weekend that confounds the forecast by being mild, dry and gloriously sunny.
But the visit is not just for walks, and our Saturday night family gathering is really special... thank you so much Mart, Sarah, Sam, Sally, Ben, Jem, and Mikeyand Florrie too...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Just back from Bridport in Dorset: a performance with Dreadlockalien & Friends. Dreadlock has been working with youngsters all week & gave us a selection, as well as his own passionate & energetic words, of their lively style: Eminem's granny, for example, showing that whippersnapper how to do it: "Yo think yo're bad, yo think yo're naughty? I've been rapping since nineteen-forty!"
Some of the local young poets, like these two, & their beatboxing support, performed live & brilliantly. Final highlight was the set by Elvis McGonnegal.
If you haven't seen him yet, your life is lacking. Who else could create a concept like 'Harry Potter and the Kitchen of Nightmares, by Gordon Ramsey' or 'Taking Tea with the Talliban, by Noel Coward' and perform in the persona of every major politician on the world stage, finally bringing the house down with a tirade against God for inventing James Blunt? Wonderful stuff.

Earlier this week, a meeting of Emily's writing group - always a delightful evening. Debby Holt read us a witty, slightly saucy, story which has been taken by the Sunday Express, Emily shared from her exquisitely expressed journals & I brought a story too.
Cinema trip next day, with Annabelle, Ben & Sheila, to see "The History Boys". A difficult one, this. Huge reverence for Alan Bennett, of course, but... Is it me or was that script too long, too wordy, and too discursive to make a good film? My favourite bit was the discussion of Hardy's compound verbs - is that weird? On the subject of quotes, the school production of Fame at the Merlin later that night used some interesting thoughts from Stanislavsky: “What is important to me is not the truth outside myself, but the truth within myself.”
A point to ponder, for a writer as well as an actor.
And now up to London with Peter to celebrate our first anniversary...

Monday, November 13, 2006

It's a wrap!
In subzero temperatures - well it felt pretty nippy despite struggling sunshine - Hazel & I spent this morning perched on planks, prowling alleys of terracotta tiles, leaning beside erotic statues, quaffing pseudo Pinot Grigiot at a wrought iron patio table set, & sitting in a porcelain bath, all in the name of poetry while Howard filmed us for the "Live & Lippy" DVD.
The track's called "Weird" so Frome Reclamation yard seemed an ideal location. Can't wait to see the final edit.

Another of my more tenuous links with writing: after a busy weekend, I spent Sunday walking with Hazel from Lyme Regis to Seaton.
This is French Lieutenant's Woman land, of course, that 'epic love story of two people of insight and imagination seeking escape from the cant and tyranny of their age, and also a brilliantly sustained allegory of the decline of the twentieth-century passion for freedom.'
Furthermore, Jane Austen's Persuasion is currently being filmed at Lyme: 'a story about rediscovering love when it might be too late, and the fragility of happiness, also an energetic narrative of snobbery and almost farcical missed opportunities.'
So there you are, a popourri of human emotions and social history, and a fantastic walk too.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's been a sombre week. Remembrance Sunday has become a personal memento mori, a time to recall November deaths including this week another friend who 'should have died hereafter'. But this time of year has become an anniversary of new beginnings, too, for me; celebrations and mourning overlapping like some strange mandorla. Researching that word I found a great website explaining the iconography of the symbol - the intersection of sacred circles - and the need for each opposing aspect to include its shadow side: "In this place, you are living on the threshold and this requires faith. All transformation takes place in liminal space."
So then I had to look up liminal, and found that in mythology, a liminal being combines two distinct states of simultaneous existence within one physical body - like the Green Man, Tiresias, and Pan. Duality apparently makes them good mentors, but dangerous. Like life, really.
And then I notice the mandorla-shape of this shot of Bristol marina I took on Sunday, from my son Sam's houseboat, and I like the picture even more.
On a lighter note, the Frome Writers Circle met again after a long summer sabbatical, hosted lavishly by Mike and with 80% attendance - just 2 of the group missing. We share fragments and stories with Alison, regularly successful with women's magazines, taking the role of arbiter of submissionability for that market. I can relax into participation without leading, and the range of voices is always enjoyable.

The week ends with a recording session at the Media Arts Centre, as Howard puts the final bits together for the 'Live & Lippy' DVD to show some of the stuff Hazel & I perform - great fun, and good practice too.

And here's gorjus Florrie May, visiting with Sarah, to give the week a final lift. I didn't intend to go all grannyish in these postings, but November needs all the uplift it can get.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The only way I can come to terms with the ending of summer warmth, it seems to me, is to throw myself at autumn like a slapper on spritzers. She's pretty much of a slapper herself, this season of mellow fruitfulness, with her lipstick reds and russet ringlets. Prepubescent maple all decked out like Aunty Acer, whatever are they thinking, that's what the watching pines seem to say anyway.
So it's been a week of walking more than writing. Wells on Monday, wandering the Bishops Palace Garden with Grace Gould, talking about the difficulty of writing 'nature' poems to order.
And on Wednesday in Longleat, where golden poplars line the drive like debutantes in rustling taffeta, waxing owl moon behind me hanging opalescent in a blue pearl sky, and ahead the woods seem on fire with the setting sun.
So to end this analogous & anthropomorphic revelling, here's an (old) ode that just-about sums up my feelings about

I’ve hated you too long, old chum.
I’m tired of stamping your derelict leaves
and dreading your dismal rain.
So put your weary arms around me
mutter under muffled breath.
I’ll take your chilly fingers one by one
and try to thaw them into sweetness.
Sigh for me. Your ragged breath
stinks of death, but I’m faltering too
my longing lips sticky on that cold window.
We should be ready to forgive each other now.

According to children's author Terence Blacker, the best way to face the terror of being a writer is to contemplate facing a class of 14-year-olds, so I wasn't looking forward to Friday in Cheltenham College leading (5!) creative writing workshops with adolescent groups. I needn't have worried. They were fantastic: lively, pleasant to each other, full of original ideas and confident self-expression - all the things teenagers aren't supposed to be. I could feel my half-century of school phobia beginning to melt at the edges... The college has a real commitment to writing, with a programme of regular visitors including, I note, the Speil slam duo next term. Fantastic.