Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A decade ago… which seems the agreed vista-point for personal overview at this cusp of the new year, I was a real Bah-humbug about Christmas. Wouldn’t even name it. The solstice season, I said, and went gathering kindling for midwinter bonfires muttering incantations against the big C – commercialism – and mourning the days when my children made potato-cut cards and marzipan petit-fours and sticky-glitter tree decorations.

And now the wheel is come full circle. Actually, I still don’t send cards, make mincepies, or mull wine, and I buy shockingly few presents, but I do love Christmas again. Tree lights, street lights, Pogues, parties, crap cracker jokes, TV spinoff merchandise…
I relish it all.

So in lieu of a sensible blog update with sensitive comments about the state of the world, I’ll lick the bowl of the old year with a personal list. Here, in no particular order, are my festive Best Bits:

Writers evening, the official start of Christmas ~ candlelit gingerbread house & festive lights everywhere ~ amazing movies (Cohen Brothers & Jane Austen) on big & little screens ~ pamper day with hot tub & champagne ~ parties & dancing ~ wonderful meals peaking with Michelin-starrable Christmas dinner ~ wintry walks & yoga ~ quizzes & scrabble ~ phone calls & emails with distant friends ~ real-time contact with friends & family.

Actually, that last one is best. Can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed & appreciated it, so like Jim Croce (nearly) said: I’ll have to say I love you in this blog.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kim Noble wishes he was dead. His career's washed up and he's a depressive waste-of-space. His mother says so too, or at least some bloke with a bucket on his head, speaking as his mother, does. He has a convincing powerpoint-style CV to itemise and illustrate his futility and depravity. It's cutting-edge comedy - literally: there's a lot of blood as well as spunk in evidence - but is it theatre? And is it true?
After watching Kim Noble Will Die at Soho Theatre, I'd say Yes to the first. And I'm horribly afraid the second answer might be a Yes too.

So now with only 5 sleeps till Christmas, and party season in Frome seriously underway, I'll sign off wishing you all a wonderful week with an excess of everything you most enjoy, and Rage Against the Machine at Number One twinkling in the background of all our festivities.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Panto night at Poetry Café on Wednesday saw the Garden Café crammed for Paula Hammond's adjudication of the poetry and prose performances at the annual Merlin Pantomime Poetry Café night. Eighteen contestants for prizes - theatre tickets and panto merchandise – delighted the packed room with an amazing diversity of moods and memorable moments. “That’s not my name” was the theme, since this year’s Merlin show features Rumpelstiltskin, and stories and verses all celebrated identity. Everyone had their own personal favourites, but Paula’s final pick was popular: Phyllis Higgins and Linda Perry, both with a witty take on the theme, took runner-up prizes, with Dianne Penny and Gordon Graft joint First. Both these talented performance poets brought a personal angle to the seasonal spangle, thought-provoking as well as moving.

Over in Shepton Mallet, another pantomime night as the students of Musical Theatre School gave us a preview of the future with a zany but very sweet version of Cinderella. Nicholas Morrison, totally charismatic as the king, is the one to watch out for. Kookiest moment: ensemble rendition of 'That's why the Lady a Tramp' around Cinders' mother's grave...

Bath was abuzz on Saturday, pedestrianised streets as slow-moving as an easyjet check-in, though with more entertainment, stalls selling woolly hats & world's smallest kites, and a lovely girl giving "Free hugs - because it's Christmas!" I have an urban shopping policy: never buy more than 4 things, the first of which must be a large coffee. It works fine, allowing time for trying on unsuitable glamorous garb and general browsing, and today to watch Where The Wild Things Are.
Sendak's story was a family favourite in my bedtime-reading days so I couldn't resist seeing how even the genius of Spike Jonze would stretch a slim picture book to a 100 minute feature film. The answer is: surprisingly well as long as you don't expect a children's movie. It's all about a child - the beautiful, naughty, constantly endearing Max Records as Max - but that child, you quickly find, morphs into your deepest self and probably everyone you've ever known and loved. This is not cosy viewing. We're shown in painful detail why Max made mischief in his wolfsuit. His journey through the dark night of the soul lands him in a place he can understand because it's full of rage, rejection, and loneliness - each of these furry monsters is angst-filled as an RD Laing textbook. And Max, to avoid being eaten, has promised to be their king. All is well for about as long as it takes for a chronically insecure bunch of dysfunctionals to realise that a wild rumpus isn't much cop as a regal policy, and Max discovers all over again the hostility of strangers is nothing like as bad as upsetting those you love. He admits he's not a king, only a Max. "That's not much" scoffs his fiercest, darkest, alter ego - the one he most needs to reconcile with. And reconcile he finally does, with a long wordless howl across the sunset sea. As you'll all know Max gets safely home for his supper in the end, no spoilers here - just a warning: take tissues, not tots.
Emerging from an afternoon show in winter is eerie: people-packed streets have emptied and street-lights have inherited the kingdom of dark Bath, a solitary busker on the corner strumming a song of his own devising:
Shoppers are gone
It's too late, girl, too late...

Still on a festive season theme: Carol Ann Duffy's poetic-laureate version of The 12 Days of Christmas (read it here) caused raised eyebrows for its dark imprecations against politicians, bankers, celebrities, racism and war. Fellow poet Roger McGough comments "She's using her new post in the best way." And so say all of us.
Over at Nunney, during a great afternoon of live music - with bar, Sunday papers and the spanky Frome Street Bandits- this familiar carol was also caustically reinvented by Douglas Hamilton, with an internet twist and a message that would not display... All together now!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

One of our charming, if slightly bonkers, national traits is the impulse to celebrate each calendar highlight out of doors. Perhaps there really was a time when maypole ribbons whirled gaily at the start of summer and hogs roasted undoused by autumn storms and all was idyllic in the bucolic daze of yore. Climate's changed, but optimistic exuberance lingers on. Frome's Christmas Spectacular last Sunday had a full programme from noon till nightfall. On Catherine Hill rain sluiced steadily down the cobbles as stall holders crouched under cover and the chocolate soup stand did steady trade. Over in the market yard two small reindeer stood resignedly as small hands emerged from umbrellas to pet them, and pools of water were being swept out from the Teenage Kicks tent.
And now silver snowflakes are glowing along the main street, M&S is plying shoppers with port and mincepies, the Pogues are back on the radio... it's definitely that time of year again.
Which is, in theatre world, panto time.
Most pantomimes, whatever the title, follow a simple storyline: a couple of men in frocks & wigs being silly, and a goody-goody girl who ends up with the prince. The first part is the bit everyone likes best, so why not have three men in frocks & wigs, and the girl a bit of a Violet Elizabeth Bott who eventually chooses the dwarf instead of lovely Prince of the Golden Halls despite the prince's white tights and habit of loping through the forest like a Monty Python knight on the quest of the Holy Grail?
But don't think Miracle Theatre's winter show The Revenge of Rumpelstiltskin is all just transvestites and tantrums, despite the prominence of a menopausal forest fairy: this tale, based apparently on the writings of Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy, is embedded within a tale of an 1830s troup of travelling players, and the pantomime set is embedded in a stage set, with the actions of the actors off-stage as part of the on-stage action, if you see what I mean. It's a clever device, not only enhancing the humour but also giving us an extra chance to enjoy the dressing ups and downs, and in the Merlin performance bringing a local edge to the show by allowing a mini subplot featuring an intruding scallywag chased by a peeler, and some very sweet little girls dancing. With or without the interruptions, this is as charming and entertaining a show as you're likely to see anywhere this panto season. A wonderfully spirited cast: Ben Dyson as the effeminate prince/aka Mr Carter, and Tom Adams's Mr Ffitch singing his way through the roles of Queen and fierce fairy, are particularly splendid.

Footnote of the week: Has it come to this? another futile salvo in the gender war as Lily Allen complains she's been tagged 'the female version of The Streets.'
Lily lovey, that's because Mike Skinner came first. If you'd had a breakthrough hit in 2001, followed up with groundmaking material every year since, and he'd been the one to emerge in 2006 - with Smile - maybe people would refer to his band as 'the male version of Lily Allen'... Or maybe he'd still be hailed as "the most original, lyrical British rap in memory".
If I was you I'd wear the badge with respect.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Inua Ellams comes from a long line of trouble-makers: from the moose-meat-thieving grandaddy who ran 'so fast the earth gasped and forgot to take footprints', this poet-performer has skittered, scatter-brained, he says, from Nigeria to London, to Dublin and back to England, learning about life all the way. The after-show talk is one of the best I've ever heard, feelingful and generous of experience. His work is totally truthful but only 80 percent true, since "there is no such thing as autobiography - there is art, and lies." The most difficult thing to write about, he says, is ourselves, and his main influence in creating The 14th Tale was hip-hop: "a voice that pumped beauty into my ears, with rhythm, and narration." A beautiful, inspirational, voice. It was a total privilege to share a stage with Inua. My 'curtain raiser' recounted my experience of the 4th Plinth this summer - a great chance to wear The Frock again. Thanks, Howard & Chris, for doing such a great job on the visuals. (The hour is still online, if you click this link.)

The abuse of power is a perpetually relevant theme, says Simon Godwin, director of The Winters Tale concluding its national tour at the Tobacco Factory. This production is set in pre-fascist Italy, but Sicilian king Leontes - powerfully portrayed by Vince Leigh - is a paranoid tyrant whose incandescent jealousy has little to do with politics. It's been dubbed 'the difficult play', allegedly for the contiguity of brutality and buffoonery, but the repetitions of cruelty are the biggest problem. Even the 'solution' seems to owe more to psychological abuse than miracle.
For me, the men, and male emotions, were the main strength in both tragic and comic scenes of this production. The 16-years-later second act is structurally challenging, with its combination of new characters and continuing griefs; Polixines (James Buller) had convincingly hardened, but the shepherdess had morphed into Catherine Tate's granny, and Perdita was a disappointment, clad in charity shop frock and fun-run plimmies, and disturbingly hyperactive. But I did cry, a lot, and a winter's tale should be sad, as the little prince said. Before he died.

Maybe it's down to over-hype but the new series of Gavin & Stacey didn't do it for me. Barry has always been a bit of a Craggy Island, and its inhabitants several celery sticks short of a crudités medley, but writers James Corden and Ruth Jones have been insisting, on wall-to-wall radio interviews, that they want this story to be 'real'. A pity. There was a moment, as Uncle Bryn's voice soared in "Something Inside So Strong" at little Neil's christening, when I really thought the entire congregation would lift off, bouncing and bounding like in The Blues Brothers, and maybe we would have a moment of superb surreal comedy. But no, it was back to Abigail's-Party parody and low-key sentimentality. I'd so hoped to go on loving this series but ended up wanting to flick through my cellphone contacts like bad-girl Rudi "Just seeing if I can find someone who gives a shit".

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Back from a weekend at Cotswold Conference Centre, where views were sumptuous peachy autumnal colours despite November dankness. Nine writers, combining an abundance of good humour, generosity, enthusiasm and talent, produced a delightful diversity of work: lively discussions were frank and frequent. With better weather - and less demanding course commitment - it would be pleasant to walk for hours in this exquisitely landscaped estate, but the inventive range of writings shared was simply wonderful. Thanks all, especially for Saturday night's stories and poems - including a rewriting of Shakespeare's 18th sonnet as a lipogram minus the vowel 'e'.
As the bard himself would surely say, how cool is that?

Always enjoyable to visit the Rondo, Bath's smallest theatre, where their own local theatre company this week performed Jim (Little Voice) Cartright's first play, Road. It's Under Milk Wood, but set in an unspecified Northern town in 1987 with scally Scullery to take us into the hearths, hearts, and minds of those who live there. A brave, as well as largely entertaining & occasionally moving, production, which the 15 cast members clearly hugely enjoyed too.
Much of the speech is monologue, a dramatic technique I find fascinating as the audience is no longer voyeur but directly engaged and by inference implicated. Top moments for me were Tim Thornton's Skin Lad, and the strange, sad, savage dance to Otis Reading by Rob Dawson and Marc Delangri (I think, it's hard to decipher from the inscrutible grey programme). Oh, and the interval, with outrageous DJ Bisto (Tim Thorton again) calling the audience up to dance... how could we resist?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Pitmen Painters is Lee Hall's second look at the Billy Elliot fairytale: talented lad finds his creative wings and flies from Northern working class background to fulfillment and fame. Except that Oliver asks for less not more, and stays, whether from fear or loyalty, with his colliery clan. In Lee Hall's version of the Ashington Art Group history, the untutored artistry of the men doesn't appear to thrive from their contact with acknowledged masters; their paintings become generic and like the tenets of socialism lose significance except as glimpses of a pre-war era.
The play has been much admired, and the comic culture-shock between the tutor and the miners ("A Titian." - "Bless you!") certainly went down well with the Bath Theatre Royal audience. I liked the way the broad strokes of farce paralleled the men's initial crudity in artistic self-representation, evolving as did their paintings gradually into more complex and feelingful presentation of the integrity of their lives. But just as Oliver's work is ultimately critiqued by Mrs Sutherland, whose patronage he refused, as sentimental and conformist, in the second act the play too seems to lose its strength. The characters represent a range of attitudes to art and politics which like her ex-protegee's later painting is "perfectly fine, but undeveloped. No sexuality, or desire, or elemental hunger, no sensuality or yearning for the other." Mrs Sutherland admits to losing interest in painting, but she could make some salient points about playwriting.
It's a National Theatre production, obviously very well acted and stylishly put together, but it made me nostalgic not only for pre-1995 Labour and debates on the meaning of art but also for plays like Chicken Soup with Barley and The Corn is Green where characters grew from their class roots rather than representing them.

What do you do when you can't decide on a cover for your new novel? My friend Christine Coleman has an ingenious solution: put it to the vote. Chris has posted 7 options - what's your view? This was my favourite - pick yours & you could win a copy of this fascinating self-discovery novel.

And while I'm on the injunctions, will everyone in striking distance of Frome please come to see Inua Ellam's award-winning one man show The 14th Tale at the Merlin next Friday. I'm doing a curtain raiser in me posh Plinth frock so don't be late...

Finally, thanks to all those who emailed me after hearing my story Mrs Somerville's Garden on the beeb last week - I didn't even know they were repeating it, so your appreciative messages were a nice surprise.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three Sisters, written in 1901 just 16 years before the Russian Revolution, was the ambitious production choice of Frome Drama Club – ambitious because Chekhov’s twin themes, of the decay of the privileged class and the search for meaning in the modern world, are easier to deconstruct than to witness. It’s about claustrophobia and ennui, the inability to find a meaningful work ethic when society is corrupt, the disappointments and casual brutality of relationships, and the loneliness of living with no way of understanding what life is about. ‘If only we knew...’ are the final words of the play, and the closest to comfort comes from the drunken doctor: ‘Nothing is real – it really doesn’t matter.’
Chekhov apparently took his initial inspiration from the life-story of the Bronte sisters - three creative woman whose life chances are betrayed by a weak brother. Here, Andrei represents the upper class submergence to cruder peasant energy, and his three sisters embody the main theme of the quest for life meaning: the woman who works, the wife, and the idealistic girl unlike her sisters not dragged down by duty. Yet…
Not a play to go head-to-head with Strictly in terms of easy entertainment, and with a cast of 15 some variability of performance is inevitable but there was a much to admire in this production. The set impressively created the Prozorovs affluent house and social standing, the costumes were immaculate, and director Robert O’Farrell brought out the sense of stifling tedium in this provincial town which only the glamour of military presence could ameliorate. The difficulty for a modern audience is not the subtext but the speeches, which are often not dialogue but monologue, addressed to the air or to the audience, with other characters simply moving away on some other business of card play or conversation. This struggle to find elusive connection works best when it allows characters to discover and disclose hidden feelings - Kulygin, (Paul Laville), the cuckolded husband of middle sister Masha, is particularly good at this. Jade Taylor’s Masha was exceptional too, as was Philip de Glanville's disillusioned doctor, but for me the star of the night was Naomi Parnell’s Irina, who not only looked duel-inspiringly beautiful but had mesmeric stage presence and inhabited her role emotionally throughout. Congratulations, FDC. Thanks, Harry, for the photo.

To the Lighthouse in Poole on Saturday, for another play about a class-conflicted culture in turmoil and shadowed by war - England, 2006 and we’re still sending Our Lads out to Iraq to slay monsters. What turns an ordinary binge-drinking boy into a brutal war criminal? could be seen as the central question of Days Of Significance but actually this scalding play, commissioned by RSC from writer Roy Williams, was originally produced in 2008 and has been ‘recently reworked’ for its recent tour to respond to 'the shift in mood since the withdrawal of troops' and presumably the atrocities scandal. Roy Williams says his intent was to show that “war matters to all of us, no matter who you are.” In that sense, this play is as contemporary as tomorrow’s news from Afghanistan and as timeless as caveman conflict – and perhaps didn’t need the intellectual moral problem of the veterans’ trial at the end.
The writer’s other inspiration, he says, was the Beatrice and Benedict banter in Much Ado, cleverly and almost-plausibly updated in the street scene outside the club on a typical weekend night. Other Shakespearean elements were strong too: routine feuding a la Montagues and Capulets, the fairy-tale wedding in the final act when Steve and Clare (Simon Harrison, delightfully crude to the last, and Sandy Foster) like Theseus and Hippolyta draw the cast around them for the ending of the evening’s revels. This self-referentialism worked well, bringing deeper undercurrents to a story of chaotic lives needing focus and longing for heroism. But the jokes about ‘Beatrice’ and quips direct from Little Britain become borderline intrusive, and despite the physical realism (one of the actors has invalided himself out of this run with a wrenched fist) I was left with a feeling the actors were translating, rather than inhabiting, the culture of their roles – possibly conscious of an audience more comfortable with conflicts on the streets of Verona than those of their own home town.
In a successful ensemble piece it's unfair pick anyone out, but I will: Dan Ben and Trish (Luke Norris, Toby Wharton, and Sarah Ridgeway). An amazing set created clubland and Bazra equally effectively – aided by a delapidated Coca Cola poster – but the directional tendency to ‘use the space’ of the huge stage left some of the intimate interactions looking oddly theatrical and made the script seem awkward. But having said all that, a brilliant performance overall, and despite the blood puke piss and casual violence, I'd happily watch it all again.

And finally: BBC guidelines.. not just there to feed quips for HIGNFU and fuel the fury of Moyles in the morning - these innane and patronising new directives have a more sinister role too. "It's difficult enough writing drama without being given rules devised by Kafkaesque committees" writes TV dramatist Stephen Poliakoff, "and it's completely unnecessary. Audiences are quite capable of realising that when real events are compressed for drama, certain liberties have to be taken. It's very important that writers in television tackle unfamiliar stories - they can't do that if they're artificially restricted." Good point well made.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A shadow from Remembrance Day inevitably lay across this month's Poetry and a Pint session in Bath (but not in my resolutely flippant guest spot, though I did wear a peace poppy.) Most impressive, for me, was Sue Boyle's beautiful cameo of a virgin great aunt bereaved by the Great War, and Jeremy Gibson's acid satire on George Bush: his manic aspirationalism and word botching too.

I wouldn’t generally enthuse about an hour spent in the company of a man whose idea of a good time was to wrench the head off a swan and drink its blood, but I’m making an exception for the current production of Normal at the Brewery. It’s sensational – in a good as well as a lurid way. Anthony Neilson based his play on the real-life story of Peter Kurten, a German serial killer executed just before WW2, and there’s a dreadful foretaste of Nazi atrocities in this electrifying production. As well as the grim realities of history and psychological harm, this is a gripping horror story where crazed toys come to life, props become murder tools, and no-one seems sane or ‘normal’ despite the courtroom verdict. The uneasy feeling of entrapment in a gothic fairground is enhanced by fantastic set & lighting (Frazer Riches), by virtuoso acting (Oliver Millingham, Michael Mitcham, and Kate Kordel), and by the truly inspired direction of Chris Loveless. Top of my theatrical unforgettable moments of 2009: the manic dance sequence between Peter and the young lawyer he relentlessly entraps in his gruesome world. There's an unsettling crosscurrent of normalcy too in the love lives of these damaged people, and perhaps what is most chilling about Millingham's psychopath is his hypnotic charm. A play that questions innocence and guilt, and resonates long after plangent music has ebbed from the stage.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Every writer once in a while should stop wrestling with words and spend an hour watching Pangottic. I came to that conclusion after watching Full Twist at The Brewery, Bristol's newest theatre venue, where two extraordinarily talented youngsters told a love story full of pathos and hilarity, crammed with insight as well as dazzling circus skills, breathtaking timing and irresistible audience rapport. Two love stories, in fact, as in a quirky subplot the cleaning staff find romance over rubber gloves. And the young lovers manage to juggle the hopes and insecurities of relationship along with the high-flying wine bottles, flowers, and ultimately babies. Without a single word. Show-don't-tell doesn't get any less, or more more-ish.

In all the shameful history slave ships, the story of Liverpool ship Zong must be most dreadful. Half their cargo of stolen lives was jettisoned for insurance. One survived, to carry the tale which became the stimulus and background story of Crossings by Julie McNamara, who also takes one of the 4 roles. The anger is plangent, and this piece might have become a history lesson in other hands, but Julie's passion is more wide-reaching: the central story is of 15-year old Shelley, pregnant and on the run - a beautiful wild-child powerfully portrayed by Nadine Wild Palmer - but the theme is man's inhumanity to man, and more especially to woman. Julie's aim is to confront disablement in all its forms; the BSL interpreter is not sidelined but takes a central role and the piece was originally written for a blind actor. Ironically, and very sadly, she wasn't able to appear at the Tobacco Factory and it's to the credit of both the script and her replacement Naomi Cortes that the use of script-in-hand enhanced rather than detracting from this theme of challenging social attitudes and expectations.

Mustn't end the week without sending congratulations to Josh Tyas, one of the talented young writers on the Villiers Park writing group I co-tutored with Rosie Jackson last year, for winning the Farrago Fireworks Poetry Slam! Go forth and sparkle, Josh.

And finally: I haven't read Giles Brandreth's just-published diaries, enticingly titled Something Sensational to read on the train, but reviews are discouraging. "He lacks the qualities looked for in a diarist" declared the Spectator: "he is minimally bitchy, shows a discretion that the reader applauds but does not rejoice in, and doesn't shag about." Blogger beware....

Monday, November 02, 2009

Don Paterson apologised throughout his reading at Toppings in Bath: he's dying with a cold, he'll be coughing a lot, his poems are all about death and divorce - is there nothing on television tonight? His new collection Rain is certainly dark but not depressing; even the renku for My Last 35 Deaths has moments of dry humour:
Here's your book back, world.
Good story. I underlined
a few things. Sorry.

A brilliant reading - and then questions, for which despite his cold, his cough, and his rainfilled silent skies, the poet finds fascinating answers. Self-consciousness, he says, is death to poetry: simple language enables the poem, but it will always be 'a bit twisted, naughty, beyond language.' Hence the joy of rhyme, which 'makes it weirder. Because English is a rhyme-poor language, so you have to forget what you wanted to say and that's a good thing.'

UP has been acclaimed the funniest Pixar film ever. There's more than a curmugeonly nod to The Wizard of Oz in this fabulous fable of a septuagenarian dream-chaser flying off in a house weighed down with the pain of the past and equipped with a superflous random tracker cub, and finding in the end that home is where the heart is.. ahh.

And so Halloween arrives, filling the mild evening streets with its entourage of mummies, vampires, and ghouls. La Strada staff leapt zestfully into the spirit of the day - but would you buy a raspberry ripple from this man?
And anyone who heard my monologue for Stage Write at the Merlin last month will realise how spooky it was for me to glimpse this hooded scream behind me on the hill...

Awen, I discovered this week, is a celtic word for poetic inspiration, and The Garden of Awen opening night featured a fascinating array of awenydds. Bath's Chapel Arts Centre was atmospherically transformed by rural backdrops, flower poems, candles and laser lights as Kevan Manwaring compered this 'showcase of Arcadian delights offering something different from the post-modern cul-de-sac.' Nikki Bennett launched her poetry collection Love Shines Beyond Grief, joined by poets from Stroud, a vampiric story teller, and several excellent musicians including 'guitar-shaman' James Hollingsworth. The theme tonight, in keeping with Samhein, was endings and new beginnings; the aim each month will be high quality diversity of spoken word and music. Great to see such an atmospheric venue join the local network of alternative entertainment.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn equinox. These are important days, astrologically, my friend Helen, who is a hearth-witch, told me when we met for our writing date: Halloween is the Celtic New Year: Samhein, Feast of the Dead, the time when Cailleach the Crone rules the earth. A full moon, too - owl moon, also called Hunter's moon or blood moon. Helen and I drank Emerald Sun tea and wrote from random fridge-magnate words and this is what happened for me:
Full moon, owl moon, Samhein moon:
Three reasons to celebrate the crone within –
No, to release the crone, to let her get on with her own
celebrations. What will she do?
She will dance, for sure. Will she dance wildly,
like the Bacchae? Will she drink deep, and laugh
too loud? Probably. Will she breathe deep and cry
for long gone loves, sigh silently those names
she once called out aloud? Why not.
This is her time of power and devastation.
Her wail is a wind to lift desert sand,
she shuffles ghosts like languid cards,
switches off the stars on a whim. She strides
regretless through forests of flux and lust,
paddles muddy water, finds surreal symmetry.
And is it easy? Yes, for a crone.
Look and learn, falterer, look and learn.

No-one knew what to expect from Poetry and Folk Retro Night at the Garden Cafe, but this random mix of guitarists and wordsmiths turned out to be a cracking evening.
My Irish/Californian friend Mo Robinson is over visiting our shared family, and as he set me up with a few gigs in San Francisco while I was staying with him in April, I thought it would be fun if the Poetry Cafe reciprocated with a 'happening'.
Mo gave us 3 spots, mingling his own powerful narrative ballads with political satire from Tom Russell, and 15 open-mic performers ensured a stonking eclectic medley of music and words. Several contributors seized the retro theme: Roger Wiltshire's witty rant inspired responses from both Lucy and Neil Howlett. Andy (Leonardo's Bicycle) Morten dropped by; Dianne Penny performed a moving personal tribute to Sharon Olds, and it was great to see how well the high-energy of music mixed with reflective poetry. Definitely a formula to repeat.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Does Metaphor Make You Better? was the somewhat ponderous tag that peeled away to reveal an inspirational talk by Victoria Field and Rose Flint at Frome Library this week.
Writing therapy, unlike art therapy, has no long-standing psychoanalytic pedigree, but research increasingly shows the healing power of creative writing for both acute and chronic disease and depression.
"I don’t work with the reasons" Rose says, "we’re not defined by our illnesses, our wellness is our best reality. I work from the place of wellness.” Victoria talked of our shared instinct to self-medicate through poems: "We're not concerned with literary merit but the sheer pleasure of putting words together." As well as being foremost practitioners in this work, Rose and Victoria are both amazing poets and the event ended with readings from their own 'therapeutic' poems, some dark but all glowing with compassion for the human experience.

My musical taste has ever been what can most charitably labelled 'eclectic' (Deep Purple to Dirty Vegas via Tom Waits & Arctic Monkeys) but I found a whole new genre to enjoy after a splendidly theatrical session at a Cotswold's jazz pub with Nick Gill's Oxford Classic Jazz Band swinging through songs of the last century.
Big sound for a quartet (percussion sax and tuba as well as piano & vocals) and amazing range of mood: glitz and glamour, urban blues, and sweet melodic moments on that stardusted lazy river of the days gone by... Fabulous.

I'll end a random week with fireworks over Frome again, this time inspired by a request to the One Show from Mandie Stone. The answer was Yes. "If it's good enough for Jenson Button, it's good enough for us, end of story." pronounced Christine Bleakley from the show's helicopter cockpit. Cue Pee Wee Ellis leading the parade through town - cue youth band, operatic society, firefighters and twirling majorettes - cue town cryer, and the ancient town of Frome is officially twinned with BBC One Show. And thanks Mandie, for including as one of your 20 reasons for the twinning ceremony:
The polished One Show performance is up on a pedestal; Frome’s own poet Crysse Morrison performed poetry on the plinth at Trafalgar Square. Mandie sponsored my outfit from her shop Love Arts, an Aladdin's cave of retro delights, so it was great to see her in the studio giggling and threatening to wet herself as the story unfurled.