Last Dozen Films I Saw

 

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Blood on the Moon : Robert Wise (1948)
To Have & Have Not : Howard Hawks (1944)
Manchester by the Sea : Kenneth Lonergan (2016)
Red Road : Andrea Arnold (2006)
Parisienne (Peur de Rien): Danielle Arbid (2016)
Cinema Paradiso : Giuseppe Tornatore (1988)
Jackie : Pablo Larrain (2016)
Toni Erdmann : Maren Ade (2016)
Thumbsucker : Mike Mills (2005)
Portrait : Sergei Loznitsa (2002)
Twentieth Century Woman : Mike Mills (2016)
Old Joy : Kelly Reichardt (2006)

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Tom Raworth, 1938-2017

Tom Raworth Sept 2015

The first book of Tom Raworth’s poetry I bought was The Relation Ship; a second, 1969, edition of the book originally published by Goliard Press two years previously.  Goliard, later Cape Goliard, being an important small press – vital, at the time – set up by Raworth himself and Barry Hall.  I would have bought it almost certainly at Compendium in Camden Town, discovering Raworth round about the same time as I did Lee Harwood, Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley and Edward Dorn.

It’s battered now with use and faded, but the poems still have freshness and delicacy and precision – you can sense Raworth stepping with care between the words …

THE OTHERS
(for anselm & josephine)

she said nothing
leaned on the stone bridge             the wind
howled in my ear, pause
between the dropping
of the record & the music

dust                      the wind                 the streets
already in shadow

we walked                  someone
playing the piano in a tiled room

oh
said her mother a
mister dante called you
beatrice

And I’m surprised, reading these early poems again now, the extent to which, in some, Raworth sounds like Harwood and vice versa. This is Tom, but it could be Lee – the title, especially.

YOU WERE WEARING BLUE

the explosives are nearer this evening
the last train leaves for the south
at six            tomorrow
the announcements will be in a different language

i chew the end of a match
the tips of my finger and thumb are sticky

i will wait at the station and you
will send a note, i
will read it
it will be raining

our shadows in the electric light

when i was eight they taught me real
writing
to join up the letters

listen you said i
preferred to look
at the sea.   everything stops there are strange angles

only the boats spoil it
making you focus further

Towards the ends of their lives they were both living in Brighton and Hove – the same ships, the same sea. The last time I saw Tom was in September, 2015, when, with others, we were reading at the Red Roaster Café in Brighton, as part of an evening celebrating Lee’s life and work – he had died that July – and that’s where the photograph of Tom at this top of his piece was taken. He may have needed a little help up onto the stage, but, as I’ve said elsewhere, when he read he read like a lion.

The final entry in his blog, dated 23rd January, read …

Last Friday after two days of tests, scans, bone-marrow extraction and so on, our Doctor came in the evening to say the cancer had badly metastsized…to bone marrow, liver, right lung, kidney and small bowel. Nothing to be done except palliative care and that I had at most two weeks to live. So that’s it. I can’t see I shall ever get back here. Emails will reach Val val.raworth@gmail.com who obviously will pass along to me whatever she can. Bits of it all have been fun and it’s been a decent run.

He died on February, 8th, the world a lesser place.

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New Beginnings …

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“Now it is necessary to get to the grindstone again.”
Ernest Hemingway, 1938

“So there is this pressure now, on every sentence, not just to say what it has to say, but to justify its claim upon our time.”
Renata Adler : Pitch Dark

Two quotations which were very much in mind at the end a week in which I began writing a new book for the first time since I set out on the road to Darkness, Darkness back in 2013. Not another Charlie Resnick, of course, but what, if things go as planned, will be the fourth of the Frank Elder series, tentatively titled Body & Soul. Where Frank is concerned, it’s been a while. The third, and last up until now, Darkness & Light, was written in 2005, published in 2006; Ash & Bone was published in 2005 and Flesh & Blood, which I began writing in London and finished in New Zealand, was published in 2004.

Up until recently, my standard answer to the question, would there be another Frank Elder book, has always been no, no way: the central element in the books, for me, had been the changing relationship between Elder and his daughter, Katherine, and by the end of Darkness & Light that seemed to have settled to some kind of conclusion, a compromise, at least. A trilogy, over and done. But nothing comes from nothing and, a little over a year ago, the germ of an idea struck me. Not exactly an idea, an image: one which suggested a retread of the scene at the beginning of chapter two of Flesh & Blood, in which Elder meets Katherine after she has travelled down to Cornwall to visit.

As I say, nothing comes from nothing. That image wouldn’t let me go. What was she doing there? How long has it been since, father and daughter, they have seen one another? Why has she come?

I have a notebook in front of me now [Yes, all right, I’ve fallen for all the hype and it’s a Moleskine] which has Body & Soul in ink on the wrap-around cover and on the first page, the title again, with, underneath it, towards the bottom of the page, Dec. 2015. On succeeding pages are the notes and ideas that occurred to me in the ensuing months, some just a few words long, some longer and numbered into what could be a sequence; others, more elaborate and connected by arrows, the beginnings of a structure; then there are lists of the possible names of characters; things I need to find out, people it would be useful to talk to, what I need to talk to them about. I had briskly re-read the other novels in the series a couple of weeks before starting, making brief notes and marking passages I thought I might need to refer to. The next step was to process all of this into a different form. Armed with a white board and coloured markers I made as close as I ever get to an outline, not linear, but circular, beginning by placing the central event around which the action will be focussed at the centre and arranging the principal characters and actions around it.

My other preparation has been to go through my usual palate cleansing exercise of reading Hemingway – the first section of A Farewell to Arms and a selection of the short stories – the Nick Adams stories and some of those set in Europe, “A Simple Enquiry” for instance, and “Che Ti Duce La Patria”. Why? See the Adler quote above.

At some point, the reading has to stop  …

Monday, January 30th, 2017. Somewhere around 9.00/9.30am, having been at my desk since 8.00, hovering uncertainly over the crucial first sentence, the first line, I settled on this …

The house was at the edge of the village, the last in a row of stubby stone-built cottages backing onto fields leading down to the sea.

Not much, perhaps, but it felt right, it was a start …

After that, things moved along with, for me near the beginning of a book, almost worrying speed. Just short of 700 words on the first day, close to 1,000 on the second and third, and then 1, 300 or so on the fourth. I don’t know how that compares to other people, but for me, these days especially, it’s pretty good going. But now it’s another Monday, and the beginning of chapter 4.

She had first seen him …

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iPod Shuffle, February 2017

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  • Pancho and Lefty : Townes Van Zandt (from Live at the Union Chapel)
  • Satie: Ogive No. 2 : Sarah Rothenberg (from Rothko Chapel)
  • Famous Blue Raincoat : Jennifer Warnes (from Famous Blue Raincoat)
  • Sitting on Top of the World : Mississippi Shieks (from Stop & Listen Blues)
  • Cold Enough to Cross : Joe Henry (from Scar)
  • Three Guitar Special : Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (from Anthology, 1935-73)
  • No One Gets In : Bill Frisell (from Disfarmer)
  • Driving Home : Liz Simcock (from Seven Sisters Road)
  • Let Him Roll : Guy Clark (from Old No. 1)
  • My Girl : Otis Redding (from Otis Blue)
  • In a Mellotone : Duke Ellington (from Highlights of the Great 1940-42 Band)
  • I’m Pulling Through : Billie Holiday (from Billie Holiday & Lester Young, Complete Studio Recordings)

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Sherma Batson 1957 – 2017

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My friend Sherma Batson died suddenly on Sunday, 8th January, at the age of 59.

Active for all of her adult life in the community life and local politics of Stevenage, the town where she lived from an early age, Sherma served as Borough Councillor for 12 years  and was awarded an MBE for her services to the community in 2008, being appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Hertfordshire the following year. In 2014/15, she became the town’s first black, female mayor.

I first got to know Sherma when she was a student in one of my English classes in Stevenage in the 1970s, self-confident and aware and, when she deemed it necessary, outspoken. A younger version of the powerhouse she was to become. I remember her dragging me on to the dance floor at a school disco, waving away any faint protests with the assertion that Stevie Wonder was too good to be allowed to go to waste.

We became friends and met regularly if infrequently over the years – when I asked her advice about my characterisation of a black policewoman in a novel I was writing, she informed me in no uncertain terms of my failings – and I could only stand back and admire from a distance the drive and single-mindedness she brought to those issues of equality, health and diversity that were, to her, so important.

It was a real pleasure and an honour to have known her and to have been counted among her friends. It is no platitude to say that she will deeply missed – by her husband, Howard, and her daughter, Ahisha – and by the many people who worked alongside her and came to know her.

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Totally Wired for Sound

Thursday of last week saw the first of what is, for me, a surprisingly long list of readings, mostly of poetry with, here and there, a modicum of prose levered in. Totally Wired is a monthly series that takes place in the Wired Café Bar in the centre of Nottingham, and organised by the poet, Becky Cullen, along with two lecturers from Nottingham Trent University – Rory Waterman and Andrew Taylor – both poets themselves. It’s no surprise perhaps that the majority of the audience are on the young side [let’s face it, anyone south side of fifty or so registers as young to me these days] or that a good number – the majority? – are students from NTU. What is a surprise is how many people are there, extra chairs having to be hauled up from the back of beyond, so that by the time Andrew has gone round collecting the names of those poets who want to read from the floor and the event is due to begin there’s a real sense of being squeezed up close to one’s neighbour and sharing their air – in my case, that of my  daughter Molly Ernestine, who’s come along for moral support and is prepared to step into the breach should I falter.

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The first four readers do two poems each, good poems read well, and, after an introduction from Andrew, I’m on. One of the most difficult things for me, when working out which pieces to read, is what to begin with. It doesn’t want to be too long, too obscure, too – for God’s sake – too dull. I used to make a habit of kicking off with “What Do You Say?”, a sort of riddle of a poem, to which the answer is the saxophone player Roland Kirk – which is fine when I’m doing a poetry and jazz gig with the band, but less successful otherwise – most people tend to scratch their heads in mild bemusement and I can’t say I blame them.
So, emboldened by the fact that not long since I was in Nottingham to take part in a Frank O’Hara tribute at the Five Leaves Bookshop, and surmising there may be more than one or two O’Hara fans in the audience, I opt for “Poem (In Imitation of Frank O’Hara)”, which is exactly that and turns out to have been a reasonable choice.

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After a pause in which I take the risky step of asking people not to applaud after every poem (as if!) on the grounds that I could probably fit in another poem in the time lost, I make my way through the remainder of my twenty minute set. You can see, feel, the audience listening, responding in what I think of as the right way – a couple of laughs in the right places – and I can relax and enjoy what I’d doing.

At the interval, Molly hustles and sells the relatively few books we’ve brought with us; I chat to friends, drink another (seriously good) flat white, and wait for the second part of the evening and half a dozen more readers – a good number reading for the first time – and it’s a real pleasure to hear so many good new poems – some humorous, some heartfelt, some both.

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I say my goodbyes, shake hands, and Molly and I set out for the station and the London train, the sounds of poetry and the strong sense of having had a better than good time reverberating around us.

For those who like to keep abreast of those things, this is what I read …

“Poem (In Imitation of Frank O’Hara)”
“Apples”
“Slow”

“Apparently”
“Winter Notebook” [Also with quite a few changes]
“Chet Baker”
“The U. S. Botanical Gardens, Washington D.C.”
“Curve”

… Nothing too unusual, save for “Slow”, a poem I dedicated to Lee Harwood and Paul Evans, and which I thought to read after receiving a positive comment about it from John Kieffer on this blog, and the little poem set in the Botanical Gardens in Washington D.C. – as I said, the last thing you might expect coming out of. D.C during the week of Trump’s inauguration is a love poem.

The U.S Botanical Gardens, Washington D.C.

The floor is azure blue tile
slick with the residue of that morning’s watering,
green hose slack within the leaves.
We used to come here, safe, and sit
not touching, humidity high in the nineties
and helicopters hovering, a block beyond the Hill.
In the display of medicinal herbs, I break
small leaves into my hand:
yarrow, for internal bleeding; foxglove
for the muscles of the heart.

When we meet again a year or more from now, by chance –
the departure lounge at Heathrow, hurrying
along the platform at Gare du Nord,
and your eyes as, uncertain
whether to offer your cheek for a kiss,
you hold out, instead, your hand,
I will slip into it these remedies I have long carried:
the knowledge that, nurtured, passion flowers
in the darkest places.

The keen-eyed will note that’s been trimmed and altered a little since it was published in Bluer Than This (Smith/Doorstop, 1998)

The next poetry reading I have coming up is at Words & Jazz, Downstairs at the Vortex, in Dalston, East London, on Thursday 23rd March, after which I’m back in Nottingham on Wednesday, 12th April for an evening of Poetry & Jazz at Bromley House Library, with Ian Hill (saxophones) and Geoff Pearson (double bass). Then, on Friday 28th April, I’m at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden [or, just possibly, at Bar 48, Brixton, please check] for Fourth Friday, where I’m hoping to be reading alongside Debris Stevenson, with two sets from singer-songwriter, Liz Simcock.

On Tuesday, 23rd May, along with Leah Fritz, Danielle Hope and others, I shall be reading at Primrose Hill Library, North London, in a benefit for the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, and on Thursday of the same week, the 25th, I’m reading with the John Lake Band as part of the Brighton Festival Fringe.

Oh, and I might sneak a few poems into my session at Almondbury Library, Huddersfield on Thursday, 9th February, when I’m talking about my 40-odd years as a writer.

 

 

 

Walhalla

It’s difficult, visiting the current exhibition of Anselm Kiefer’s work at the White Cube, Bermondsey, not to be overwhelmed. It’s not just that the individual pieces – sculptures, paintings, assemblages, vitrines – are, in themselves, large and powerful (the power to some extent deriving from their size) it’s the way in which  Walhalla takes over the  gallery more or less in its entirety. Step past the woman handing out the obligatory Health & Safety guide lines – If you accidentally touch the works, it is recommended that you wash your hands thoroughly … Small children must have their hands held as a number of works have hard, rough edges at a potentially dangerous height – and immersion begins.

The central piece, from which the exhibition takes its name, runs the length of the central corridor,  bare bulbs overhanging rows of folding beds, empty save for heavy sheets of crumpled lead. The aftermath of a disaster, a terrorist attack? Are we in Aleppo? Mosul? World War Two or is it Three? An institutional dormitory, the gallery notes suggest, military sleeping quarters or battlefield hospital. As we weave cautiously in and out, damp and already somewhat depressed by the foul weather outside, I catch myself thinking, not too flippantly, of some not-too-distant outpost of the NHS.

At the far end of the corridor a much enlarged black and white photograph shows a single figure walking away into a barren winter landscape. The artist, making a break for freedom, free to give us his interpretation of the world? The hero of some dystopian novel, the last man left standing? Perhaps both …

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Walhalla : Anselm Kiefer [Photo: White Cube (Ben Westoby)]

Keen as ever to gouge out the horrors of his country’s history, Keifer’s paintings yoke together Nazi architecture and Norse mythology, portray vast landscapes in which towering buildings are being eclipsed by flowering clusters of blueish grey, corrosive and beautiful.

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Photo: White Cube (George Darrell)

One room is given over to a single piece, a spiral staircase rising up into the roof, discarded clothing and strips of film hanging from its railings; its primary inspiration, according to the gallery notes, the ascent of Valkyries as they lead those killed in battle to Valhalla; to me, the Holocaust, genocide of European Jews in World War Two.

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Sursum Corda : Anselm Kiefer [Photo: White Cube (Ben Westoby)]

Step into one room given over to a single installation and it is like stepping into Kiefer’s storeroom –as the title says, his arsenal: trays and boxes of paper, paintings, a myriad of things; old broken prams, machinery; strips of film that hang everywhere, film rendered, like so much else, into lead; a safe containing papers that have been burned and all but destroyed, another that remains locked and impossible to open; a version of Thor’s anvil that is displayed in another room. All of this, Kiefer seems to be saying in  this exhibition, all of history, memory, mythology, is my life, my work … your world.

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Arsenal : Anselm Kiefer [Photo: White Cube (George Darrell)]

The exhibition continues at the White Cube, Bermondsey, until 12th February.

RR : Combine Harvester

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Robert Rauschenberg : Rebus, 1955

Still zinging a little from the variety and brilliance of the Rauschenberg show at Tate Modern and planning a quick return (or two), I just came across a reproduction of Rebus, one of his early combines, made from attaching objects to a painted surface, often ‘stuff’ he found laying around his studio in Lower Manhattan.

This particular piece comprising … Oil, synthetic polymer paint, pencil, crayon, pastel, cut-and-pasted printed and painted papers, and fabric on canvas mounted and stapled to fabric, three panels.

Enjoy …