Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Charade Project: Friday 28th April 2 - 5pm

Is this the end of the age of the book?

On Friday 28 April, between 2pm and 5pm, a group of people will congregate in Birmingham's Victoria Square to recite their chosen song, play or novel while wandering together, as a conscious re-creation of the final scenes of Truffaut's adaptation of Bradbury’s novel, 'Fahrenheit 451'.

Charade is a work by artist Simon Pope which mirrors the futuristic 1950s novel ‘Fahrenheit 451’ where Ray Bradbury writes of an age when books are illegal and screen based media dominates society. The role of the fire service is no longer to extinguish but to start fires and to burn the books it finds.

Since January 2006 Charade has recruited participants from the West Midlands to save their most cherished piece of media history. Through a series of open workshops and online communities the volunteers have been assisted through a process of memorising and internalising their chosen item, working towards a final event in Birmingham’s city centre.

It's not too late for you to join in. Register online at Charade or tell us on the day.

Charade has been jointly commissioned by BBC and ACE as part of ‘Private View’ a programme to demonstrate “outstanding innovation and vision from visual artists experimenting with live technologies in the public realm”.

You can visit Charade to follow new developments online.

I will be taking part this Friday afternoon in Birmingham's Victoria Square, having memorised some scenes from King Lear - rather imperfectly, I'm afraid, but perhaps that's part of the project, how each person must reinterpret memorised works of literature or art because of their different ways of remembering them.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Duck in the Catmint

In spite of an absence of water, this little duck has built her nest right under our noses, a few yards from the back door in our garden, in a dried old clump of last year's catmint. Her mate, we fear, was the drake last seen dead at the side of the road a week or so ago. So she's all alone in the world but ignoring our tentative efforts at help - apart from nibbling on some bread - with a quiet warning hiss whenever we get too close.

When I first put down a frying pan of water, in the hope that she might drink a little, she was scared enough to leap up from the nest and reveal eight or nine large blueish-white eggs keeping warm there. Beautiful. But our biggest fear is that a fox or wild cat may find her unprotected one night and devour the eggs, or the poor little ducklings when they eventually hatch out.

She might have done better nesting by the village pond about a mile down the road, next to water and clustered with good hiding places for young ducklings, but for some reason she chose our isolated house in the middle of rolling sheep fields to hatch this year's brood. Perhaps there are too many cats in the village now, or maybe this is a territory issue and some other more combative duck has taken the best nesting spot by the pond ...

Lovely, isn't she?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Woods etc., Rejection, and Elementals

I feel dreadful because I've been so busy posting on my POETS ON FIRE blog that I haven't been posting here on RAW LIGHT. This is not very good and accordingly I shall make amends by writing the following:

a.) Having finally got hold of a copy of Alice Oswald's Woods etc., I've been reading it with, at first, incredulity and, after a while, great interest. Although it seems at first glance like a collection containing all the usual suspects - stone, river, moon, stars, woods etc. - this book actually indicates a huge progression by Oswald as she swings even further along the line Hughes was beginning to take in his later 'nature' books, for want of a better description, such as Cave Birds and River, both of them marvellous books which slipped restlessly and ambitiously away from the mainstream wherever possible. It's a line I suppose could be described in places as working within the modernist or avant-garde traditions, but which in strong and rather eccentric hands like those of Hughes and Oswald becomes something uncategorisable. I wasn't sure of it, as I said before, at first, but then I think you get used to the voice and begin to trust it, allowing Oswald to lead you into darker and less obvious waters where you - or at least I - can see new possibilities for language and old possibilities given a new twist.

There are moments in Oswald's latest book when I want to kick her - a slavish homage to Hughes' Wodwo, for instance, which seems to add nothing new and should never really have got past the editor - but there are other moments, too numerous to mention, when I was fascinated enough to want to stop reading Oswald's poems and start writing something of my own. And when that happens, you know this has to be the real thing - poetry.

Perhaps that's the real test of poetry; not Astley's hairs rising on the back of his neck, or Schmidt cutting himself shaving, but a restless urge to write, to test yourself against that reaction, to go one better. That's certainly how Harold Bloom would see it ... if you believe in that sort of thing.

b.) After a silence of nearly five years, my work has at last appeared again in the pages of a poetry magazine - this quarter's issue of Poetry Review, in fact, just published this week. This five year absence from publication was due to a combination of writer's block - which seemed at the time more like writer's death than block - and an abrupt failure of nerve, which went hand in hand with the block and effectively prevented me from submitting even previously written work to poetry magazines. The poem that's just appeared in Poetry Review is a direct response poem to a magazine rejection - 'Deciphering the Rejection Letter' - which is sort of ironic, I know, but it does make me feel better to know I've finally broken the silence.

c.) And to finish off this blog entry, and make up for so many days of not bothering to post, here is a four poem sequence of mine, inspired by the elements and published in the excellent poetry magazine Acumen back in the late 90s:



West Kennett Long Barrow

Stone womb under an earth belly
too ancient for light.

Rain condenses its euphoric mass
to a single blessing

filtering through
the intestinal silence of rock.

Flies cling
to the mossed edge of a crevice.

She devours their small bodies like offerings.

Once, she could hold her face
up to the moon, watch it

screwing a thin silver bolt
through the deadeye.

Now she eats beetles
and hunts with the night-train

passing the lit windows of women
anxious for conception.


Almost Iceland

The house was a standing stone
on the edge of annihilation.

It sat there uncomplaining
while acres of wind

pummelled and rattled windows
and floorboards.

The sea birds shunned it. The bees
rarely came so far north.

The sheep called out to it to move
but it didn’t.

It just sat there.

Its single chimney grinned up at the sky
like a maniac.

For miles around, whole islands lay down
and withered. Stones

stunted themselves in its shadow.
And always the wind

hammering for the house
to be absent.

Finally, its inhabitants packed up
and left.

The house remained,
folding its arms and gritting black teeth.

It had no intention of surrender.

The wind blew on
battering its ram’s head repeatedly

against lintels and uprights

its high battle-cry
prising tiles from the roof

the senseless resistance of doorways.


Holy Island

after the genuflection of causeway

salt water puckers a scar
the width of her belly

creased abdomen
folding a damp cloth into sand dunes.

Whatever she gave birth to
dragged itself beyond these coarse grasses

then sloped into wind-blear

turning its back
irascibly on civilisation.

Yet the marks remain. Twice a day
they etch themselves out

along the chevroned gold
of a mackerel stomach.

The sea staggers across here on stilts

ridiculous headdress bouncing
and swaying

exhausted by cold
yet making the pilgrimage.

After it kneels and kisses the earth
sacred light flattens sand

to a blind haze
magnetised by the crawling bodies of cars.

Bare steel hulks
dredging the sun-dust

hump-hump-hump themselves

over her consecrated skein
of striations.


The Stone Henge

A perfect ice-rimmed crucible
tilts itself

against the first geometry of stars.

Vast scalded pockets of fire
empty themselves

through miraculous peepholes.

Obsidian heaven
volcanised light to this glittering sacrament

that drilled ancient fires
through the eye

suggesting bears and archers

the twin shafts
of a ceaseless plough.

Now a wind-blackened cauldron
pitches its song

through these wide openings
to weather

each isolated furnace

by the furious tweak
of identification

the hot craned neck of naming.