Sunday, November 06, 2016

Of launches, sanctions, and masculinity

It's been a great week for book launches. In Frome, over a hundred people arrived at Merlin theatre hungry to hear poet and author Rosie Jackson reading from her newly published memoir The Glass Mother, with quite a few also hungry for the exquisite platters of tapas (thanks Jo Harrington) in the night-clubby ambience onstage. As 'Spoken Word coordinator' for the theatre I'd been involved in this event for a while, and as Rosie had shared her developing story at our writing group, I knew this was going to be a memorable evening, and it certainly was.
Rosie suggested at the start of her reading that memoir is a form more akin to poetry than to history, and her extracts all showed that quality of lyrical precision, as well as unflinching integrity to the poignant theme at the heart of her story.
Also there to celebrate their completed books were seven of her writing group, Des Harris, Dennis Costler, Maggie Pierce, Gillie Richardson, Steve Small, Tim Cutting, and Karine Butchart, who all read a short extract from their own memoirs. A fabulous evening and an unforgettable night ~ huge appreciation to the writers and thanks to the theatre crew for their superb support. As a happy footnote, Rosie's publisher Robin Jones reports after-show sales surpassing all his previous Unthank Books launches.

Now to Bath, where Carrie Etter, originally from Normal, Illinois now lives. Carrie and Frome's Claire Crowther are both powerful & compelling poets who are currently launching new chapbooks with Shearsman, and as they're also friends this was clearly a brilliant opportunity for a shared launch at Toppings, with a soiree at Circo afterwards. The diversity in subject and form in these two books made for fascinating readings: Carrie explores climate change in words scattered across the pages of Scar, vividly evoking the blizzards, tornadoes, floods, droughts & heatwaves that Illinois is suffering, while in Bare George Claire reports with esoteric precision on the history of coinage from her observations at the Royal Mint. Both extraordinary books that yield more meaning with every re-reading.
Claire's 'bare George' is the dragon-slayer, symbol of mastery and male dominance which segues usefully into my next report: Grayson Perry opened his Typical Man in a Dress tour in Bristol, entertaining a full house at Colston Hall with his thoughts on masculinity. As you'd expect, these were colourful and comical as well as thought-provoking, and after the interval some thoughts thus provoked were tweeted onto the back-screen. (I liked 'masculinity is having to fetch the interval drinks because the wife can't be arsed to get out of her seat.') Masculinity, according to Grayson Perry's six-point man-ifesto is: not innate but learned, it's power & dominance, it's performance, it's redundant, it's sexy, and it's a treatable mental health condition. Backdrop projections accompany the banter ~ a picture of Bear Grylls crouching in undergrowth, for example, to illustrate his point that skills a man needs have changed and nowadays it's more likely to be how to find a decent school in your area. His conclusion is that macho men are now skeuomorphs, a wonderful word derived from architecture meaning 'an object that used to be functional and is now merely decorative'.  Like those awesome tapestries, insightful detail creates an overall picture of our society, and his appraisal is compassionate as well as clever.

Also in Bristol: Watershed was showing I, Daniel Blake all week and I went to an afternoon screening. Director Ken Loach deserves every accolade for this searing case-study story of the iniquities of 'austerity' which professionals and users confirm as entirely accurate although Work & Pensions Secretary Damian Green, who hadn't seen the film, disagreed. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and has six nominations in the British Independent Film Awards, including best film and best director. Hang on there Ken, we need you.

On a lively firework night, bonfires were burning too in Silk Mill's yard as a Cider Festival raging within ~ not my personal tipple, but great to hear Al O'Kane and Andy Hill playing there, especially Al's wonderful Winter Bluesit's that time of year again... what will winter bring for us all. Indeed.
And there's always excellent live music at the monthly Frome Independent market, on the busking stage and in pubs and streets as well ~ here's The Wochynskis punking it up with London's Calling in Cheap Street.
And finally: here's the impossibly beautiful view at Stourhead on Monday at the start of a week that began with mild days and gorgeous autumn tones, and ended with a deep litter of fallen leaves as November winds bite..

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