Monday, 14 February 2011

The Floating Man

According to Ben Wilkinson, the best poems in Katharine Towers' the floating man are the ones about music. I wouldn't disagree, but I'm not sure I entirely agree.

I loved the vibration of piano and violin strings that resonate through this collection (recommended to me via FB - oh the sometime usefulness of the place - by Polly Atkin, thanks P) and the sense of light fingers at work.

But the poems that really drew me in were the archaeological ones: 'Amber' ('so frail a thought/ to hold against the slipshod years'); 'First Word' - of the digging up of a woman's body in Ethiopia; 'Found' - of stones 'we've wintered in the earth'; 'The Floating Man' - another unearthed body. I love that view of continual life, the profound belief in our heritage. In this book it's a world heritage, a historical interconnectiveness between us that's tremendously exciting.

These dug-up people are the main characters in the book. There are others, a 'you' and a 'we' here and there, but the life is in these ancients. A little like the vitality John Crace describes in Being Dead. A little like the buzziness of stillness - that monkey mind we all possess. There is, it seems, no escape from this pulse, this energy that surrounds us - wherever you are. Katharine Towers says she livs in the middle of nowhere. Her nowhere is everywhere, a continuous everwhere. She might be low in tone, but she's sparking with static.

What I also admire about the poems is just how subtle they are. A subtlety I can't even dream of. I am a tram-crash, multiple-house-selling, malfunctioning-glasses kind of dreamer. And as such the same kind of poet. A huge part of writng is accepting what you write. There is only a limited control you (or rather I) have over it. Sure I can work on improving, developing and stretching myself, but I only get to play the cards in the deck.

Which is why it's so good to be introduced to poets at the opposite on the of the spectrum to yourself (on many levels, I might say in this case). I don't want to write like Katharine Towers - a good job since I can't. But she has reminded me of my quieter aspirations. The joy of a quiet unpacking - like another Picador poet, John Glenday. I wonder what they were like as children at Christmas.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


Carrot Cake, in fact. The second issue. Slightly delayed due to leaves on the line, snow, gales (gusts of 50mph here over the weekend) bankers' bonuses and a missing cat called Tibbles. Available here.

It was launched last night in the rather wonderful Peter Scott Gallery. Always a good place to have a reading, especially for those of us who arrive alone. I especially enjoyed the exhibition: Conversations with the Collection. Ah yah yah rhubarb rhubarb, I said and it said Purple murple, churple churple. And we just got along famously like old friends amusing ourselves until the readings began. Or maybe not quite.

Staff at the uni had been asked to select a painting from the colelction and pair it with some possession of theirs. Simple. Fab. I think my favourite pairing was a Patrick Caulfield and Coco the clown (toy), but there were some great meditations on the security of a door (with a painting of a bricked in doorways) and the ever returning hope of allotment growing (paired with a surrealist image of apples tumbling out of wallpaper). So you're pulled into lives of others (through their writing/object) and then thrown out of it and given some kind of new 3D glasses to look at it again with the painting. Very absorbing. And as I said, perfect for the solitary poetry goer.

And then the entertainment...

Emily Bagshaw read 'Skinned Alive' - a quietly nasty love poem that reminds me of Cronenberg's Crash (this is a good thing).
Jacob Silkstone didn't read 'A Fall, as seen through footprints', his contribution to the magazine, but chose instead to share a laconic obituary that rolled around the sand and grit of life like high water in a spout hole.
And me, risking a brand new poem prompted by hearing on the radio that morning that 44000 books on Amazon are about the end of the world. 44000 books.
Are they all wild spectulations to pique curiosity? self-help/how-to survive guides? New mythologies? I bet there aren't many apocalyptic recipe books among them.
Jamie's missing a trick there.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Continuing on Artifice

I went to see Zosia Wand's new play, Quicksand, at the Dukes in Lancaster last night. It's billed as a love story, in fact a tale of 'forbidden love', which I don't think does it justice. For me the most interesting relationship in the play was not between the young 'lovers' (which was touching then startling) but between a middle-aged woman and her 'home help-cum-companion". The dependency between them was subtle (the actress who played the companion was the shining star of the production) and uneasy, complex and poignant. Maybe it's a sign of my age, but the burgeoning love between the younger man and woman didn't engage me hugely.

Or maybe it's a sign of the actors' ages. It's a far greater stretch for younger actors to embody characters convincingly than older actors with more experience to draw one. Perhaps as my companion suggested the younger the actor the more they are relying on talent rather than acquired skill/experience. Talent being a far rarer thing.

The other element that grasped me was the difference in power between the internal scenes and the external scenes. The internal ones held all the drama, the intensity that I love in theatrical productions. The neat use of the round - switching from one 'corner' to the other to flick between kitchens - heightened the entrapment. It didn't work so well when we were asked to be outside: either on a hilltop or at the shore. The expanse of the Bay, its dangers and history, were all explained to us through the courtship and subsequent scenes, but I didn't feel it. Maybe the round wasn't the best device for this, maybe the set didn't allow for it. Maybe the switch between the realism of kitchen/table/mixing bowls and the abstraction of rock/floor tiles/picnic rug couldn't take us with it.

Which got me thinking about theatre and artifice. My tastes leaning far more towards the awareness of artifice. I like being asked to engage with a story through surrealimsm or obvious pretence, so that declaration becomes part of the emotional impact of the performance. By revealing artifice it is removed. I'm sure someone somewhere else has been far more eloquent on that. If so, please let me know where...

It brought up my thinking/feeling towards puppets and physical theatre (as discussed yesterday) - and how much easier I find that is to engage wholeheartedly (and I use that word advisedly) with a performance when I am projecting stuff on to it rather than just receiving an actor's interpretation. There's something strenuous for me in fusing that distance of stage and audience. Physical thatre and puppetry (spoken word stuff to an extent) don't allow my brain to engage; they require a far more visceral/emotional engagement, the medium is some how more direct, by requiring me to play part of the conjuring.

Which feels unfair to put in a post about a play. A little like comparing a piece of music with a poem.

So I'll end by repeating what I began with - the older relationship was the Quicksand. The kitchen table the island. It's worth seeing to watch the two women cling to their raft as the tide turns.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

What's animation got?

Last year was a bonus year for animation. What makes a truly great animiation for me is how it could not be humanised in anyway. Or to humanise it would be to lose something essential to either the story or characters. Like puppetry. And like puppetry it pulls in a greater level of investment from me to animate it than 'real life' stuff does. I think it must track back to my cave-living ancestors: that need to imbue everything with our image. It's putting to a good use our inherent need to humanise everything, our egotistical drive...

And so last year's pick of the bunch:

The Secret of Kells was beautifully drawn. A French Irish collaboration, it called to mind Scandinvaian design more than anything. The horror was terrifyingly delicate. T fecund nature more tangled and patterned than anything 'real'

A Town Called Panic was an hour of absurd mayhem; non-stop panic which I could not have coped with if there'd been a real person anywhere near it, but from a plastic horse, cowboy and indian it was just silly and more silly.

Mary & Max pulled off a touching, near-sentimental friendship with a grotesque love. The greyness of the claymation adds to the characters' intensity. More pain than laughter but I relished every ouch

How can such enegery be directed into poetry?