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On History and Private Eye Magazine

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They say you should never take an important decision when you’re tired, ill or drunk, and I guess this applies to the decision to make a soul-baring entry in an electronic journal. Since Thursday I’ve been down with flu despite having had a flu jab, and it’s even been suggested (impossibly) that it’s the corona virus, presumably based on the willingness of my doctors to diagnose exotic illnesses such as elephantiasis, ebola and legionella (though the last turned out to be true). The time-honoured advice for medical professionals is think herd of horses before you think herd of zebras.

On History

I used to tell students who had succumbed to the seductions of higher education in History, ‘Well, at least you’re still involved with fiction’.

To be an historian is to be obliged to string together a coherent narrative from surviving artefacts and accounts of varying reliability. The amount of subjectivity necessary for this procedure explains the frequent wild variations of opinion among historians, and the constant pull of revisionism.

The ‘facts’ that history produces, it seems to me at least, cannot stand as truth, in the sense that what happens in the course of the life of even a single individual is a complex tapestry of thought, word and deed with consequences that become precursors of other outcomes. The intricacy and subtly shifting hues of these intertwining threads do indeed weave pictures, but to interpret them accurately one would have to be a talented metaphysician, perhaps, rather than a factual historian. Books that show the relationship between these patterns of existence are rightly held up in awe by humanity: works of scripture such as the Bible; works of literature, such as those of Shakespeare. Or works of art: what is the greater record of the Guernica atrocity, Picasso’s painting or any number of historical narratives about it?

What determines the progress of societies or nations is not factual or logical or worldly but resides in such karmic complexity, which is often paradoxical or seemingly contradictory, yet always moral. Wiser cultures have sought to record this not as history but as myths that easily supersede in their power mortal lives and temporal dates.

It can be argued that there is only one reality, which is the present: the past is last night’s dream, the future tomorrow’s fantasy. All histories are constructed—must be constructed—from the present, as must all futures dystopian or utopian.

And I’ll go further: all news items, true stories and factual accounts are similarly false because they involve subjective selection in the present moment. The news, for example, is not raw feed at any point because of editorial prioritization (at news agency level) and an editorial rejection (at a more local level) of wars, natural disasters and atrocities that might impinge on the popularity of the programme or newspaper. Thus viewers and readers, assuming they are being told the truth, don’t realize the extent to which they are being manipulated.

On Private Eye Magazine

This brings me to the matter of this magazine, born from a combination of satire to pull down the proud and a desire to ensure that news is accurate and not compromised by privilege, vested interest or editorial bias and selection.

Perhaps hypocritically, considering what I say about history above, here is a potted history of satirical magazines through my subjective eyes (and from my selective memory). All such seem to have a limited shelf life: they rise, flourish and fall, seldom rising again. Even the mighty Punch started to falter in the 1940s after 100 years, failed in 1992 after being itself parodied by, among others, Spitting Image, was revived by Mr Al-Fayed in 1996 (as a competitor to Private Eye) but failed again in 2002. Mad, having survived the EC Comics purge, became itself satirized itself by National Lampoon in the early 1970s, continued until Al Feldstein’s departure in 1984 with decreasing sales, before losing its way entirely, being bought by DC and staggering along in its present incarnation printing endless Trump skits. National Lampoon itself lost its mojo in 1975 when its best minds left for Saturday Night Live.

When I was at school Private Eye was recommended by my English teacher as being hilarious. I bought a copy but couldn’t make head or tail of the political references. Later in life I started to understand and occasionally was drawn to it, before becoming a subscriber after its 9/11 coverage. In this, as with the death of Diana, it showed itself the sole voice of sanity in a world of mass hysteria.

It has itself been subject to satire—for example, in William Donaldson’s The Complete Naff Guide—and has fallen short in areas where Viz has been sharper, such as in skewering celebrities like Carol Vorderman or political correctness in, for example, ‘The Modern Parents’. In fact the pattern has been one of silently compromising long-held ‘principles’ (its stand against ‘homosexualists’ and ‘wimmin’ being worrying examples) by jumping each time on the rear end of each PC bandwagon as it came along. But, overall, it has kept up a courageously even-handed, fair-minded and balanced view.

That is, until Brexit, which has precipitated a marked bias which the magazine has been made aware of many times but still denies. This attitude should have waned, if not after the referendum certainly after us leaving the EU. But no—see the picture above left of the wretchedly unwitty cover of the last issue, 1515.

I already said in this journal that it would be good for my soul if I stopped reading satire since I believe it promotes negativity in my character. Here was my chance. The cover was the last straw and the letter was sent:

Dear Sir

What a puerile and unfunny cover to Private Eye No 1515. It made me ashamed to be a subscriber.

Back in the days of the death of Diana and 9/11 you were the lone voice of reason, but now Brexit seems to have proved your undoing.

When are you going to accept the reality of the British people’s decision, draw a line and start supporting the best interests of this country, instead of indulging your present attitudes of negativity and denial?

I am surely not the only subscriber who expects a balanced, incisive and mature-minded satirical magazine, not the Fortnightly Dog in a Manger.

I never thought I would say this, but please cancel my subscription.


Yours faithfully, etc.

I don’t expect the letter to be published—they never publish my letters. The last one I wrote complained about the ‘In Search of Dissent’ exhibition at the British Museum, curated by Ian Hislop. It was expensive and underwhelming, with very few contemporary exhibits—the only ones I could remember were a Banksy hoax and a £20 note overprinted with a John Bull Printing Press message, which I suggested Mr Hislop had done himself. The exhibition was held at a time when there was nationwide dissent in many forms, such as fake prostitutes’ calling cards advertising Theresa May and Boris Johnson, but these were conspicuous by their absence.

The editor wrote back to me personally, refuting everything I said. But at least, I told myself, I rattled his cage.

Sadly, with the present letter, at the very last moment I deleted the ‘Please cancel my subscription’ part.


 

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On the Netflix Witcher, Dives and Lazarus, and Robert Hunter

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I suppose an electronic journal is no more or less than a public diary, though unlike private ones it needs to serve the common interest. This is why I give warning about what each entry contains—readers can skip what doesn’t interest them.

The hiatus in these entries is from a number of causes, ranging from a mouse infestation to creating a scheme of work for the Poetry Society, to keeping the peace by doing less on the computer by going out more. The neglect of the Georgian book, Firebird website and this blog has had the benefit that my bad leg, exacerbated by working at a standing desk, no longer feels like it should be amputated and is only marginally annoying.

On Netflix’s The Witcher and an abandoned suite of gaming poems

Its condition was helped by resting it while watching the Netflix Witcher series. I read and enjoyed the books years ago, briefly played the slightly less enjoyable computer game to Chapter 2 of Witcher 1, and was looking forward to this version. Alas, the title character’s appearance has been prettified, losing its trademark scar, and the stories spun out in the modern way with the female roles of Triss and Yenefer dominating the show, resulting in periods of longueur and longing for Geralt to reappear. Triss is strangely muted, while Yennefer, beginning well in her adventures before her magical cosmetic surgery, becomes increasingly annoying in the later episodes.

The accents are an improvement the CD-Projekt game, mostly either RP or British Isles regional, and the acting is spottily good; but the writing is uneven and occasionally crass, like the worst fantasy novels. For example, just before Geralt finds Ciri there is a dialogue in which ‘okay’ is used in every line and while archaisms such as ‘sennights’ for ‘week’ are thrown in the mix from time to time like ingredients in the Macbeth witches’ broth, synonyms are replaced by repetition, such as children, animals or mythical creatures always being ‘raised’, never ‘brought up’ or ‘reared’, as if the intended audience are assumed to be less than literate gameplayers rather than readers.

The music is generally cod Irish, with some players sporting a vague brogue to echo this, but the proper names are such a hotchpotch of cultures as to be hard to swallow: ‘Oxenfurt’?

Moreover the structure of the story is beyond baffling. Without titles it is difficult for anybody who isn’t already familiar with the tales to separate flashbacks from the present day. Also, some episodes work better than others: the dragon hunt is pretty well done, but the famous one with the striga is better served by a cut scene in the video game.

Alas, Sapkowski, unlike J. K. Rowling, does not seem to have taken proper care of his creation but instead failed to take up arms against the slings and arrows of big money, and there have been far too many compromises in what is presumably another attempt at a Game of Thrones. There is, of course, the argument that the Witcher himself is a mercenary, and it’s not surprising if his creator is, but in the included interview the talented creator presents himself—sadly—as a star-struck old fool who’s ‘never been on a movie set before’, happy to preen himself while his characters and plots are done this disservice. On such evidence, which I hope is not typical, he would have made a convincing Immanuel Rath in The Blue Angel.

Watching The Witcher reminded me that I once planned a series of poems about video games. Here’s the rough sketch for

Half Life 2:

The magazines raved about the first,
Though I have to say it left me cold,
Preferring above all to play
Unreal;

Yet something about the sequel called to me
And patiently I slowly sank into it
Till suddenly I was hooked and gasping.
This wasn’t the same lab in New Mexico
From which some mutants had escaped
(Though it half-heartedly pretended to be):
Instead there were all these bombed-out flats,
Their entrances filth-strewn, sickening,
Their bloody front rooms turned with dentist chairs
Into makeshift chambers of torture,
Their horror heightened by the commonplace;
A traumatized people who stared right past,
Informed in Cyrillic on every building
By ubiquitous posters of state control.

The magazines said it was innovative,
Original, creative, gaming anew,
A fresh open world to explore,
But I knew it was just a medley, so slick,
Of chase and platform and FPS
Concealing behind its invisible walls
The true costs of the Yugoslavian war.


On Dives and Lazarus

Why, out of all characters available in all media, do I like the one of the Witcher? Perhaps because I identify with a soul that has swapped emotion for knowledge. Do I love with a full heart? No. Do I love with a heart sufficient for me to write successful poetry? Time will tell, but I don’t currently feel it.

Am I ignoring the Lazarus at my gate? Quite possibly—I don’t see him. I heard recently a Thought for Today on Radio 4. Usually I find the slot either annoying or laughable in its fatuous parade of platitudes and pretended altruism. But I was rightly humbled to hear an interpretation of the Biblical parable—hardly a parable—which sought to justify the terrible treatment of the rich man, Dives, who enjoyed a sumptuous life without noticing a brother human being covered in sores.

The commentator astutely pointed out that Dives’ problem is that he can’t think beyond his own household: he expects Lazarus to come from Paradise to serve him some water in Hades, just like a servant; his request that he is allowed to warn his brothers is too focused within his limited domestic realm and is met with deserved rejection.

I suppose the mercy in my own case is that I was never given much wealth or responsibility. The magnates who have—the media moguls and tech giants who exert control on the lives of billions, the princes of this world, the modern Dives—have more to fear. Occasionally, though, one sees the light and turns their attention away from self to humanity. A good example of this is the once despised Bill Gates, now seemingly redeemed through charity.


On Robert Hunter

I have it in my mind (and I hope that it is true) that Mr Gates, along with Bill Clinton and the founders of Google, was a Dead Head. We are blessed with so few geniuses to guide us in life that the recent death of The Grateful Dead’s lyricist at the age of 78 affected me deeply. I felt the same way when that other rare genius, Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian film director, disappeared (in body at least) from the world. He too was concerned with the deep undercurrents of existence, with expressing the truth—the essential underlying truth—of the human condition, and publishing an obituary on Tarkovsky is one of the few actions I have taken in life that I feel to be a badge of honour.

Watching the documentaries of the band on Netflix or Amazon—The Other One or Long Strange Trip—one might be forgiven for thinking that John Barlow occupied the key role of the band’s lyricist, and indeed the numerous obituaries of Barlow seemed to suggest this. Long, Strange Trip in particular features Barlow time and again in interviews while portraying Hunter as a cantankerous crank.

And when Hunter died there was little Press coverage. I only saw one, admittedly good, from The Guardian although, now I’ve Googled it there were others from the BBC, Rolling Stone and Billboard. But who copied from whom and who copied from Wikipedia? They’re pretty rote, with the possible exception of the Billboard one and incidents from Hunter’s life which struck me as worth mentioning—for example, his career as a Faber poet, the hostility of Dead Heads to ‘Don’t give up your day job’ and his spat with the band after he was excluded from the cover of Workingman’s Dead—don’t feature. As with Jerry Garcia’s death, so badly covered in Mojo and elsewhere, perhaps a brilliant biography exists in an obscure corner of the Press? Garcia’s was in Record Collector.

But Hunter goes back to the very origins of the Dead in 1961, when he struck up a friendship with Garcia and played mandolin with him, before going to university and getting involved in the experiments with psychedelic drugs which inspired his writing, continuing to co-write numbers with Garcia up to the end and the ‘lost’ last album. His solo career, while producing albums of very mixed quality, created the masterpiece Jack o’Roses, which reveals ‘Terrapin Station”s origins in the traditional ‘Lady of Carlisle’ and that ballad’s own origins in ‘The Book of Daniel’. Bob Dylan’s purloining of his song ‘Silvio’—a quintessential Hunter song—led to the two collaborating on Together through life.

To paraphrase Mickey Hart, if you come across the inexplicable in life, Hunter’s lyrics often spring to mind to explain it. Hunter himself saw that the communication between the lyricist and the listener is a two-way process, and the writer has to expect that the audience will respond in ways perhaps never intended. As Garcia’s music was aimed at those who wish to expand their consciousness, so Hunter’s lyrics were the philosophy for those who wished to do this, but were pitched universally and metaphysically—often aphoristically—as watchwords that excluded no-one from their meaning, and could be used to apply to a wide range of experience. At random, here are the opening words from ‘Help on the Way’:

Paradise waits
On the crest of a wave,
Her angels in flame;
She has no pain;
Like a child she is new,
She is not to blame.
Poised for flight,
Wings spread bright,
Spring from night
Into the sun.
Don’t stop to run—
She can fly like a lie,
She can’t be outdone.
Tell me the cost—
I can pay, let me go,
Tell me love is not lost.
Sell everything—
Without love day to day
Insanity’s king.
I will pay
Day by day
Any way,
Lock, bolt and key.
Crippled but free,
I was blind all the time,
I was learning to see.

Many of his compositions do indeed bristle with universally applicable aphorisms, as here in the opening of ‘Uncle John’s Band’:

Well the first days are the hardest days—
Don’t you worry any more—
‘Cause when life looks like Easy Street
There is danger at your door.

These words have come to mind many times when the danger has been at my door. I seem to remember a book called The Wisdom of Jerry Garcia, which was remarkably thin because his wisdom was in the music; a similar volume published on Hunter would be quite a doorstep.

But equally Hunter’s writing was that of the visionary, as in the vision of America by the doomed outlaw in ‘Jack Straw’:

Leaving Texas, fourth day of July,
The sun so hot, the clouds so low,
The eagles fill the sky.
Catch the Detroit Lightning out of Santa Fe;
The Great Northern out of Cheyenne
From sea to shining sea.

Or the vision of humanity by the unrequited lover at the end of ‘Scarlet Begonias’:

Stranger stopping stranger just to shake their hand,
Everybody’s playing in the Heart-of-Gold Band,
Heart-of-Gold Band.

His poetry, though, is different and is very much like that of the beatniks in the 1950s, and very good at that. But it’s closer to the surreal than the spiritual and rather shamefully I have to say at the moment I’ve yet to crack it. It seems to change when read out loud, and that’s perhaps the intention—it’s worth listening to Phil Lesh reading ‘Terence’ on YouTube to get some flavour of it.

Once aspect of Hunter that Long Strange Trip (in itself a quote from Hunter) correctly touches on is his prickly nature when asked about his lyrics. That was a mistake you didn’t make twice—as I found out to my cost when I asked him about ‘Box of Rain’. He told me that my questions reminded him of the Army doctors who had experimented on him! But my brief communications with him ended with his regret that he fell out with the producer of Jack o’Roses and wanted it to be rereleased. I had it in mind to contact the producer and sort it out, but sadly was distracted by other matters. Perhaps Hunter’s best album wouldn’t have sunk into obscurity thereafter if I had showed more resolve.

The last thing I’d like to say about Hunter is that I don’t believe he is dead, but simply lives on in a different dimension. And those who don’t accept this belief must allow that the essence of the man still dwells among us, as his words are enshrined in songs that still play, in books that are still in print. I was astonished to find a medley by many American musicians of ‘Terrapin Station’ on YouTube. It is, though, based on the Grateful Dead’s version: the Dead only recorded a page and a half out of Hunter’s seven, and my favourite passage‘Ivory Wheels/ Rosewood Track’is missing.

Thus, finally, we have lost another rare genius from the world, a true bard of the universal and eternal. As McDonald Clarke said of George Washington,

Eternity give him elbow-room:
A spirit like his is large

Or, as Hunter says himself in ‘Silvio’:

Silvio, silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold.
Silvio, I gotta go
To find out something only dead men know.

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On a Young Foyles Poem

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As I gear up to finish the Firebird Writers’ Group website along with this WordPress site (besides dealing with a mouse infestation) I receive a request from Alice Watson at the Poetry Society to produce lesson materials based on the Young Foyles poetry winners. It seems always the case that work attracts work, but I’m not complaining. There are some fine poems, my favourite being Helen Wood’s ‘Appointments’:

Appointments

Helen Woods

Contains strong language.

The first doctor insists that my relationship
with food is to my self what a seed is to a fruit,
that my eating habits are the moon and all
my life’s catastrophes are the tide. The second doctor

makes a diagnosis I can’t pronounce.
My father tells me I will fuck up my life
if I don’t get a grip, which is all
strictly medical terms. I want

a perfect life that everyone is jealous of.
I want all the water I touch to turn
into pearls, I want a miserable life
that everyone is jealous of.

Summer is to me
what a stained glass window is to a fist.
I should have prefaced this poem with an apology,
to my family and to the NHS

because there is nothing you can say to a poet
and be certain it won’t be set loose again.

The trigger warning about ‘strong’ language is comical, and surely not from the poet. I wonder which is stronger, My father tells me I will fuck up my life / if I don’t get a grip or Summer is to me / what a stained glass window is to a fist. Perhaps the father should read Larkin.

It’s a remarkable poem for one so young, with the first doctor (of what?) usurping the poet’s place, the humour at the end of the second stanza, the contrasting desire for recognition seemingly at the heart of the eating disorder, the jokey belated preface in the penultimate stanza trying to knit things together with half-rhymes, the pithy, punchy ending which makes it an extended sonnet… I could go on, and hope I can convey some of this in my ‘learning resource’. I never much liked lesson plans, doing best with spontaneity, and in lesson plans never liked the fashion for gimmickry, which tends to distract from the learning.

On another pressing matter, for simplicity’s sake I’ve now decided to combine the Pagespinner travel and poetry journals and revive the Mandevilles’ Travels idea. This means editing and retrofitting a lot of entries, some of which (the Sri Lankan ones) have yet to be written.

Watch this space—or rather, the menu on the right.

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On Fruit Bats

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Another poem from the trip to Sri Lanka, a first draft based on a rough that I unexpectedly found this morning in the Aspinal notebook:

Fruit Bats at the Botanical Gardens, Kandy

Juicy black fruits themselves, they hang heavy out and down from trees, no branch spared,
Stock-still, their shapes pregnant, ripe, bulbously
Promising great transitions, harbingers of a future
Rooted, inevitably, in its primæval past.

Suddenly a flicker, a shudder, a flap,

Then one fruit flowers, unfurling dark petals,
Morphs into a pterosaur from antediluvian times,
Followed by others who. stirring one by one
Like alien travellers from transpatial sleep, now kite the sky criss-cross,
Respooling the landscape of river, palm and bamboo
To dusk-smudged origins of dankest green, the little fingers on the wings
Somehow disturbing, like the bones that Hansel puts out from his cage,
Their shred-heart shrieks—as from the tortured young of all life-forms—
Distilling those terrors that carry no name.

It goes some way to capturing the moment, despite the odd weakness. The bats were genuinely scary and earn the vague Lovecraftian feel (I substituted dusk-smudged for eldritch while writing this). The crude three-image rough is fleshed out as well as it could be and effectively wrote itself into a free-verse sonnet. Could be something worth keeping here.

Last night I watched Mrs Lowry and Son in the hope (as usual with this type of film) of inspiration, but found its narrow focus on his rather Oedipal relationship with his mother. Both Redgrave and Spall were brilliant, but this left me somewhat short-changed after Spall’s Turner—and he really does not resemble Lowry. In fact, by the end I was hoping he would (unhistorically) wring her neck.

Better was what I watched after it—The Strange Case of Margaret Rutherford. This was a more tragic tale, but left me feeling upbeat, if only for Rutherford’s philosophy of lifting people’s spirits. The fruit bat poem falls somewhat short in that department.

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On Poems I Can’t Get Arrested With

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According to Wordsworth poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity, a view which I feel holds some truth, but I prefer to think of it in terms of capturing the moment. That said, there is only one piece of verse that I have written which (I flatter myself) successfully does that. Unfortunately it is a poem universally disliked. I tried submitting it to numerous competitions, have shown it to numerous people and—yes—workshopped it, all with negative results. In fact, I was planning to self-publish it in a volume (with many others) entitled Poems I Can’t Get Arrested With.

In my defence I’ll say the following: this is in alliterative longline, a form which effectively died out in England at the end of the Fourteenth Century, in Scotland at the end of the Fifteenth. Although poets from Dunbar through Swinburne to Hopkins are credited with its revival, none of those strictly writes in longline. Some modern poets do qualify—Steve Ely’s ‘Big Billy’ springs to mind—but all the examples I know tend towards Chaucer’s ‘rum ram ruf’, being vehicles for Morte Arthure-style battle poetry or satire, rather than the ‘lele lettres loken’ subtler effects of Gawain and the Green Knight or the prologue to the Parlement of the Thre Ages.

I wrote it on the spot in Aksum, Ethiopia, looking down into the valley from a hill near the Queen of Sheba’s pool, watching boys lead strings of camels to water against the background of those fields of obelisks called steles (stelae is wrong), while drumbeats echoed from the church where the Ark of the Covenant, stolen by the Queen from Solomon, is kept. The moment was so awesome in the literal sense of the word it was indescribable, then suddenly it could be described with poetry, falling naturally into longline:

The Queen of Sheba’s Pool

The subdued evening’s syllables · mesmerically resound
In the Ark’s dreamlike drums · through the distant mist
Where two buzzards still ballet · and beneath the blue-grey
Of the steel-canopied sky · camels, straw-heavy, are led
To the wells of reflection · where she bathed and wondered
How such words of wisdom · could part the waters of life
And produce kings and princes · so anointed with prudence:
A line leading through love · to the light beyond time.

This sacred moment’s syllables · find subtle counterpoint
In the dampened bray of donkeys · on darkening hills,
Where a striking young woman · strides between steles,
Sets down bundle and bows · before the church on the slope.
The moon shimmers in the mirror · of the enchanted mere,
And mysterious meanings · round-ripple, emanate
As witness of when in faraway lands · the Queen of these waters
Sought out her Solomon · and the Song of All Songs.

Those secret-bearing syllables · were sealed deep in the Ark,
The angels smiling accomplices · to its acquisition and theft,
Preventing Sheba’s pursuit · as they parted the seas;
Thus Ethiopia eluded Israel · as Israel escaped Egypt.
And now the same rhythm · beats in red soil and rock
Where the Queen of the South · considered her quest;
Where legend now leads · to this landscape of thought;
And where whatever was · becomes whatever will

Here, in these steles and stones · where their wisdom sings still.

The above is the competition submission version, a little ‘dumbed down’ from the original. My travel verse philosophy is to bear honest witness to what my senses perceive, but I did make one change here: the ‘striking young woman’ was carrying a bucket, used for cleaning out a latrine, which was present in the early drafts but sat ill with the elevated perspective.

Here she is below, in prosaic reality.

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On Satire

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Satire is the genre I feel most at home with—it seems to come naturally to me. This might be explained by an unhappy childhood that saw me turn to Mad magazine in the 1960s (along with listening to the Mothers of Invention and watching Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and National Lampoon in the early 1970s; in adulthood I read Private Eye. I even got into trouble at school for producing a satirical magazine of my own.

However, in recent months I’ve concluded that its negativity does not make it a good way of seeing, but simply encourages a cynicism that is all too common in the world. I am finding it difficult to reprogram my neural pathways (or whatever the biology is) to change my mindset on this, since satire, irony and sarcasm seem to run in my veins. For example, an overwhelming idea came to me to create a volume of work for a poet called Trader John Ahole—Holey Moley It’s John Ahole—a ridiculous ‘woke’ author of doggerel, an Ali G of right-on concerns inspired by his hero John Agard (‘Who got me mi C/ At GCSE’), followed by a second volume entitled Brimmin’ from mi Bathtub (‘where most of mi best poems bubble up’).

A white man self-employed as a street poet in Norwich, Trader John, who keeps a low profile ‘because of a misunderstanding with de Norfolk Constabulary’, identifies as ‘a heteroflexible pansexual solo polygamous relationship anarchist who dedicates himself to the cause of womxn of colour’ he has written such masterpieces as ‘Jordan P’, an epic poem on the bugbear of left-wingers Professor Jordan Peterson, whom Ahole advises knowledgeably on gender identification:

Jordan P
It’s ABC
It’s ACDC
It’s LBGT
Q+

And offers thoughtful insights into the thinking of Peterson’s enemies:

Michael Dyson
Said, ‘Now my son
I don’t wanna be rude
But you’re a mean white dude
From a background privilege
That’s just a sacrilege
To us black folks
Tryin’ to throw off our yokes…

Other masterpieces include ‘Jezza Speak for de Palestinians’:

Netanyahu
(An’ I not sayin’ he’s a Jew)
Hurt de people o’ Palestine
He call dem de Philistine
He call dem de swine
He quote fro’ de Bible
An’ make dem liable
In dis Israeli libel
But Jezza is de Goliath
Who will stop dere bias
… [etc.]

This writes itself. I could go on with ‘Dem Evil English’ (‘Dey sucked up de world like a giant cup o’ tea’) and ‘C-16’, in which Ahole explains Canadian gender law somewhat in the manner of the old ‘Cricket Explained to an American’ trope, and numerous others. But I won’t: RIP Trader Jon Ahole.

‘Wickid!’

Of course, no-one gives up any addiction unless they recognize that that addiction holds no advantage for them, and the very appearance in this journal of Ahole’s ‘oofer’ (as he calls it) shows part of me still adheres to satire’s deceptive perspective.

As a material acknowledgement that I am cutting off satirical thoughts at source I really need to stop my subscription to Private Eye. Satire is a form of cruelty, if not of weakness and cowardice. Suspicion and making light of other people’s misfortunes is not a way of seeing, but one of blindness. I’m sure that if you’re living the right way your clarity of sight should illuminate your path through the world’s tricksters and hypocrites.

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On the First Post for The Mandevilles’ Travels

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As an amateur of mediaeval literature I was transfixed by Mandeville’s Travels, that very rough and fanciful guide to travelling the world which, like the Anglo-Saxon medical treatise Bald’s Leechbook, provides a fascinating insight into the mentality of its era. My idea was a multimodal modern version based on my world travels. Ambitious in concept, besides travel photographs it would encompass essay, play, non-fiction and fictional prose… and poetry. Then it hit the wall so hard I had to abandon it: despite having taught poetry as both creative writing and literature I discovered I couldn’t write it for toffee.

I had never (outside a school magazine) had a poem published, though I have published prose in the form of articles for magazines and newspapers now long dead. Poetry has always been a challenge for me, but that is the very reason I took it up: it is the vein of written expression which runs through all seams of human existence; literary in its permanence unlike, say, the novel, itself conceived as bourgeois entertainment and very much a Johnny-come-lately. Different too in the sense that it is spare, precise, semantically sharp, able to capture the moment in all its comprehensive senses, the otherwise unrecordable emotion, the butterfly in flight which would be crushed by the clumsy hand of prose.

It is a medium in which I am very inexperienced but undaunted: ‘Always be a beginner,’ said Rilke. It is curious that I have run two writers’ groups where I attempted to teach poetry, have taught poetic appreciation as part of Literature courses, and even received a Poetry Society award for my teaching of it. And yet I am, at the time of writing, complètement nul, as the French say, at composing verse.

So that is where I am: a poet in the making or, etymologically speaking, a maker in the making. This path of folly, as those around me consider it, is to me the choice of Hercules, who opted for the difficult path, the one I have always tended to take in life.

I hope to have some company on this journey.