Thursday, 28 January 2010


This week has been one of a glowing in-box, lots of tasty job offers, good news and interesting opportunities. What a joy.

The most recent being a review of my luxury this-a-job-really residency in the south of France, with French House Party.

Oh, the heat.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Unhappiest Day of the Year

Obviously the day itself isn't unhappy, but apparently yesterday (the Monday closest to 23rd January) - Blue Monday is the day when we of the northern hemisphere feel most unhappy.
And here's an equation to prove it

\frac{[W + (D-d)] \times T^Q}{M \times N_a}

Created by an unnamed mental health charity, where W = weather, d= debt, T= time since christmas and Q = our failing new year resolutions. Not too sure what all the other letters signify. But if you were unhappy yesterdau, this may go part way to explaiing why ...

Although for me, yesterday was pretty good, and I do struggle with this new year greyness.

Why pretty good? Because yesterday (parp of trumpets) was the day I spotted the first snowdrops in my garden.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

I went to a talk by Charles Jencks yesterday, hosted by the Wordsworth Trust as part of their arts and books weekend. He's an architect, but I discovered him through his Garden of Cosmic Speculation, which is a garden inspired by mathematics, science, astronomy.

He was an absolutely wonderful speaker: funny, current, sharp and extremely stimulating.

When I say I discovered him through the garden, I should say I discovered the garden through a book. I haven't yet been to the garden. It's only open for half a day a year. I have the date in my diary for this year. And will make sure I spend as long as possible there.

It touches on so many themes that I'm finding myself increasingly interested in: macrocosms and microcosms, wave patterns, and man's ambigious relationship with nature: being both connected to and disconnected from it - in almost all we do. To experience those ideas in a consciously physical way, to walk through the manifestation of someone else's interpretation of the universe, is an opportunity to untangle some of my own thinking; to experience my half-baked ideas, and other theories in a visceral sense, absorb them through my pores. This is always my favourite way of experience, hence the sailing.

How much can poetry do this? I constantly aim for visceral language, but language by its essence forces a basic separation from physical to intellectual.

It's one of the reasons why I enjoy ee cummings - he presents emotional realities by bypassing the intellectual interpretation. He manages to set words down so they communicate emotionally and short-circuit analysis. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Work Play Conundrum

Having seemingly survived half a foot of snow and three inch thick ice (snow and ice remain resolutely imperial in my mind), the good yacht Sunshine was subject to human overwintering at the weekend.

Fortunately we had already filled the engine cooling system with anti-freeze a week before the snowfall, tucking it up with a duvet as an extra preventative.

But she's an old boat and the snowmelt had found all the routes inwards, down the mast and under the cockpit seats being two preferred pathways. We'd removed the cushions too so she was looking an unappealing and unlikely pleasurecraft on Sunday.

But owning a boat (even only as a third share) is a good lesson in taking the good with the bad, the rough with the smooth, and work with play. Although I'm not quite sure when the play begins when sailing - certainly not at the chart table, the sail changes, the weather forecasting, or skippering inexperienced crew.

It's a bit like being a poet. When are you not a poet? Certainly not when you're asleep (that's often when I'm busiest), or watching telly (although I've given up on most of the ideas that floated by as I was watching the British Museum's History of the World), or being with friends (too many of them have become sounding boards or inspirations).

And there was me, in my twenties, vowing not to follow in my father's footsteps of living and breathing work. The Protestant Work Ethic is not just an ethic, it is a gene.

But then it isn't really work in that sense of management, salary and pension. It's work in the sense of a romanticised freedom; as in I'm on a boat and can go anywhere (the wind and sea permit); as in I'm a writer I can do anything (I'm capable of expressing). What is real freedom?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

First Draft Drafted

Yey! I've drafted the first draft of the John Denver play. Draft being the operative word. It is very sketchy. And as usual I have a sheet of questions to consider when I read it through in a week or so's time.

I like this switch into editor. It really takes the pressure off me as a writer. I get to pose all sorts of dilemmas and theories to the text which I then (as writer) have to tackle - but not yet.

So the key dilemmas now (before reading) are: how fleshed or cliched are the characters? How obvious is their development? How interesting/illumintaing is what they say?

Pretty big, really. But not in my mind - in that I have the sketch. The next step is the oil and colour - the texture.

And, best of all, I'm ahead of schedule, so have time to cook the material. What I give to Suzy, the director, won't be a hastily written first draft, but hopefully one with a little more flesh she can then add her own layer and opinions to. There's no point passing work on in the state of flimsy two-dimensions for feedback when I can build it up and, hopefully, upping the ante for feedback. Suzy'll only respond to the material I give her, so the better the material, the better the response and there, with luck, the better the final script.

My ideal is that it becomes a play that people who aren't necessarily fans of John Denver will be interested in coming along to see as much as fans of John Denver.

So any suggestions for appeal in this field, as ever, welcome ...

Monday, 11 January 2010

New Discovery

It's not often that I pick up a poetry book and at almost every page turn think oh wow, oh, yes, yes, and then sob deeply at the next page, and then continue reading the whole book in my first sitting and then hold it in my hands, stroke the cover, admire that too, and open randomly and reread a poem and sigh.

Perhaps that's a good job. Life would be pretty exhausting if I did.

This weekend, instead of going up to Edinburgh (warned off because of the snow) I picked up Grain by John Glenday. I'd ordered it because I'd read a review and a poem from it in the Poetry Book Society, a great way of being introduced to a whole bunch of new books every quarter that I can either buy or not buy.

So, what got me about this? Well, it's always high anticipation at opening a book of someone I've never read before (apart from the good feeling generated from the PBS Bulletin). So it's already a little like opening a treasure box (especially given the lush cover, which this picture does not fully

What really hit me in the reading was how John Glenday repeatedly stripped away not just the layers of our world, but of our time. Narratives ran backwards, images unpeeled shade, found the dark under light, the rhythms echoed what was behind words, and he was forever asking questions, doubting, uncertain as he did so.

I've been thinking a lot lately about poetry's contribution to our current society, not too enthralled by the few war poems I've read. Eco-poetry (despite its handy label), for me, displays an effective reflection of now, a banner for what is now (middle-class) mainstream concerns. But this book does something so much bigger, more consuming. It reflects the need for us to stop and reassess everything we know, strip it back to we can, individually measure its worth. And, more beautifully, it does it in a way that's so quiet, so tentative, that I just want to crawl inside each poem, alongside each word sound, sit there and listen with my eyes closed.

Yes, there is a predominance of nature poems. There is also writing on relationships, myth, religion and work. And all of them show a care in handling the language, in the respect of words and communication. This collection, of 43 poems, reminds me of my father's adage: only speak if you have something worth saying. John Glenday isn't as much speaking as sharing what he has witnessed and is trying to connect together.

A generous book. A great start to my year of reading.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Another Murmuration

Just over a year ago, one of my first posts on this blog was of a visit to Leighton Moss where I watched thousands of starlings roost.

It seemed like a good thing to do on New Year's Day.

The pools and reedbeds were still frozen so walking around the reserve was a surreal spectacular entrance into an almost monochrome, almost sepia world. Very few birds about. Sensible really, it was very very cold.

We got to the public hide just as the sun was turning the sky an apricot mousse in the west, settled ourselves and opened the little window facing the woods in the east. Then I saw a smudge. And another. They swarmed and grew for the next five or ten minutes in the distance over the woods, with clear parameters, never swerving too far from a centre. All the time more fingerprints of birds adding to the mass.

Then they started to fly closer to us, spinning out, stretching the shimmering wider, thinner and then looping back into each other. Thousands of them. Back to the woods. Back to picking up more groups.

The turning, the there-are-thousands-suddenly-cutting-into-transparency movement of this huge group was hypnotising. Not so much that I couldn't leap up and out of the hide as they turned and flew towards us, then over us.

The spray of their wings, an airy cascade. The scattered plop of shit. The squeaking shrillness. A sky darkening. They swooped into the seaward reedbed and caught wave upon wave of themselves, calling, whistling as only they can, as they settled in. Wave upon wave. Low down, nearer to us, the numbers magnified. The reedbed still and tall, as they skittered through it.

It seemed a far larger display than last year. I felt closer (physically not emotionally) to them. There was more variation in their groupings and swoopings. Or maybe I was was more alert to it all.

Whichever, it has sent me into 2010 with a renewed sense of purpose about my work - to have patience, be focused on each project, enjoy current and seek new collaborations, listen intently and watch out for the bird shit.