Thursday, 22 September 2011

Poems: Symptoms of Love

I found this poem in a second hand novel in a bookshop in Hay on Wye. It was hand typed on a yelowing piece of card. Brilliant. I have it on my notice board in my kitchen. I often wonder why someone typed it out, when they did it and who it was for.
Symptoms of Love
By Robert Graves
Love is universal migraine
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.
Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares -
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Could you endure such pain
At any hand but hers?”

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Poems: I Am No Good at Love

As well as being a natty dresser, a superb songwriter, the author of the sublime "Brief Encounter" and a cracking playwright, Noel Coward also wrote some rather nifty poems. I love this one. I think we've all felt we're not very good at love at some time or other. It can be a tricky pastime.

I Am No Good at Love

by Noel Coward

I am no good at love
My heart should be wise and free
I kill the unfortunate golden goose
Whoever it may be
With over-articulate tenderness
And too much intensity.

I am no good at love
I batter it out of shape
Suspicion tears at my sleepless mind
And gibbering like an ape,
I lie alone in the endless dark
Knowing there's no escape.

I am no good at love
When my easy heart I yield
Wild words come tumbling from my mouth
Which should have stayed concealed;
And my jealousy turns a bed of bliss
Into a battlefield.

I am no good at love
I betray it with little sins
For I feel the misery of the end
In the moment that it begins
And the bitterness of the last good-bye
Is the bitterness that wins.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Reviews: Summer 2011

I read a lot, some might say too much. I’m happiest cloistered in my bedroom, propped up on a bank of pillows with a good book and a strong coffee. I tend to get through a couple of books a week on a good week. I also spend a lot of time seeing theatre when I can afford it and I love cinema (as long as I’m not sitting near the incessantly talking woman. I usually am sitting next to the incessantly talking woman). Consequently, I come across a lot of dross, bad novels, weak films and dodgy plays. I’m not however interested in giving bad reviews so I’ll concentrate on just a few of the things I’ve loved this summer and share my views and hopefully encourage you to like them too. It’s good to (over)share. I’m hopeful that you find some things here which you might love too. I’m also hopeful of avoiding pretension and sounding preachy. I’ll try hard not to and hope I can share some stuff that you’ll like.
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan

 This novel is written almost as an interlinked series of short stories with a set of characters in common, travelling backwards and forwards in time. The characters tend to be self destructive and messy (i.e. easy to identify with) and are exceptionally well drawn. There’s a setting within the music industry, which I found interesting too. The style is edgy and dark which suited my tastes. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is definitely worth reading.

“London Triptych” by Jonathan Kemp

I stumbled across this book and found a real gem of a novel. It concerns three different characters and their stories: an artist in the 1950s who becomes obsessed with his male prostitute model, a young rent boy in the 1890s who becomes involved in the trial of Oscar Wilde and a man writing from his prison cell in the 1990s. All the characters had strong individual voices and the cunning writing style draws you in with its subtlety to a world that is at times brutal and sordid but totally compelling. Often when a novel has multiple narrators, there are ones you favour and ones you endure in the quest to reach to get back to the story of the ones you care about. Jonathan Kemp manages the rare trick of making you care about and holding your interest in all the narrators. In terms of gay history, these interlinked stories with thematic similarities, subtly teach whilst entertaining. There’s a discrete erotic thrill throughout the book with an undercurrent that is often more implicit than explicit. I’d recommend this book to anyone. It’s one of the best gay themed novels I’ve read in many years.

Role Models” by John Waters

I don’t read much non-fiction but this book was too tempting to resist. I loved John Waters’ films and his subversive humour thrills and amuses me. What’s not to love about the original “Hairspray”, the scratch and sniff film “Polyester” and the amazing “Female Trouble”? This book is a real treat. It’s more a memoir than an autobiography, with him focusing on people he views as role models. As you’d expect, they’re not standard role models and he describes a motley collection of people including Johnny Mathis, an aggressive lesbian stripper and an insane Christian martyr. I was lucky enough to see John talking about the book this summer. It’s a gem.

My top three films of the summer are as follows:
1)      Submarine: Darkly comic tale about a Welsh teenage boy trying to lose his virginity and cope with his parents dodgy marriage and his father’s depression. I cried laughing at this film and it left me feeling uplifted. Pure genius.

2)      Jane Eyre: I went to see this with fairly low expectations. How many versions of Jane Eyre can you see in a lifetime without it becoming an over worn cliché of a story? I was very pleasantly surprised. Filmed in my native county and with a sense of the true brutality and savage romance of the novel, I loved this. Michael Fassbender is an eminently hot Mr Rochester too.

3)      Life in a Day: I expected to hate this. In fact, why did I go and see it? It’s the film where the producers compiled lots of clips sent in by people, all filmed on one day in 2010. I expected schmaltz and sentimentally but got beauty and scenes which left me open mouthed.

The most astounding theatre I’ve seen this summer has all been in Sheffield. The Crucible theatre has proved itself a brilliant and innovative regional theatre which unlike mainly theatres in large cities, doesn’t just trot out travelling musicals and plays full of ageing soap opera stars but produces new theatre. They put on a season of plays by David Hare this year which were exceptional. The coming season is something to watch out for too and there’s some cracking stuff coming up. I’d definitely recommend taking the time to travel there if you can. Sheffield is also a lovely city to visit, with the beautiful Winter Gardens and the fountains in the square. If you’ve not been to Sheffield Theatres you’ve missed out. Sort it out!
1)      Plenty: You might have seen the film of this play by David Hare in the 80s with Meryl Streep. This was a really clever and visceral version of the play about the ennui of life after wartime and the constraints of fitting in. The Crucible’s staging of this was perfect.
2)      The Pride: This was a play about the life of three characters in 1958 and 2008. Like “London Triptych” it focused on gay themes, this time looking at sexual freedom, drawing clever parallels between the past and present. The play was directed by Richard Wilson of Victor Meldrew fame and it added novelty to see him in the audience. Pure genius and rare intensity of drama.
3)      Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: This is an all time favourite play of mine and having seen it staged several times, including a frightening performance of Martha by Kathleen Turner in London, I set my expectations fairly low. The production was, in fact, the best staging of this I’ve ever seen. The tender violence and loving hatred were captured with zeal and the play left me in tears.
David Sedaris: If you’re not familiar with the works of David then you’re lacking something quite fantastic in your life. David writes wry accounts of his life and manages to make the most mundane situations into high comedy. His account of dealing with a mouse infestation is darkly compelling and hilarious. There’s a subtle gentility to his prose but with a discrete punch underlying this. To see him speak is a rare and precious thing. He’s a diminutive man in his 50s with a child-like effeminate manner and he stands before a lectern or microphone and simply reads his works out. Don’t be fooled. I was lucky enough to see David at Hay on Wye and in Edinburgh this year and his performances were amazing both times. Read his books, listen to his CDs and check out the YouTube clips. You won’t regret it.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Poems: Days

I'm ramming more poetry down your throats. You know you want it! This is another one which I love by the patron saint of grumpy librarians, Philip Larkin.




By Philip Larkin

What are days for?
Days are where we live.   
They come, they wake us   
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:   
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor   
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Ramblings: More, More, More.

I recently heard the comedic actor, Simon Day (from The Fast Show), talking on Radio 4 about his life and his previous addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling. He said something along these lines: “Put me in a room and I’ll find something in there to become addicted to.” This definitely struck a chord with me.
I’ve had a few issues with addiction myself, my most enduring one being nicotine. I started smoking aged 17 and was addicted to it in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure why I persevered with the habit initially It was pretty grim, inhaling that foul smelling smoke and reeling about green faced with the vertiginous shock of the nicotine rush. It didn’t take long before I was craving them, spending my pocket money on packets of ten John Player Specials and it was only a small leap from there to the person I am now, who needs a hefty hit of nicotine before I can even start to function in the morning. I’m ashamed to admit that I even wake up in the night to smoke a cigarette, almost every night. I look back fondly on the time when I could wait and boil the kettle for a coffee to have with my first cigarette with but those days are long behind me, my eyelids are still ungluing when I stumble downstairs and have my first hit of the day on the back doorstep.
My limit is 3 to 4 hours before the crabbiness and psychosis sets in. Often on plane journeys, I’d become a total monster after the third hour. I’d glare at the stewardesses, thinking what over made up fatuous whores they all were and Rob always knew not to try to speak to me until I landed and was safely ensconced in a cloud of smoke and stopped muttering obscenities under my breath. Oddly my rationality returns once the drug hits home and I’d wonder why I’d been so full of contempt for those lovely and charming girls on the plane, baffled by how drug withdrawal could turn me into a total monster.
I endured nine months of not smoking once by using a lot more than the recommended dose of nicotine replacement therapy. I also experienced a very hefty depressive episode at this time. By month three I was certain I’d conquered my habit, but sadly succumbed during that time of year when misery comes knocking at the door, Christmas. I sneaked a cigarette on Boxing Day to reward myself at putting on a good show of pretending I’d enjoyed the season and within a week was on twenty a day again. I know its pure madness and I’m invoking cancer, heart and lung disease, but it grips me firmly and strips my wallet of cash. If you ever see me looking twitchy and glazed over during a very lengthy meeting then there’s only one thing in my brain: a giant smoking Marlboro.
I fetishize cigarettes. I love the smell of fresh tobacco, the blueness of the smoke in sunlight and the look and feel of them. I love antique smoking paraphernalia. I had hypnotherapy and lit up as I left the office. I turned my copy of “Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking” yellow. I can tell you exactly what each nicotine replacement product on the market tastes and feels like. I start to fret if I have less than 60 cigarettes in the house and used to keep a back up pack in my locker at work. I’ve smoked in lots of places I shouldn’t have and braved wind, rain and ice storms to go outside at work for one. I think I may be a hopeless case.
My first real addiction was coffee. I fell under its thrall at age 5. I loved sugary milky coffee and came to rely on the buzz to maintain my frenetic energy. My parents were constant coffee drinkers and downed cup after cup every evening. It seemed natural to join them. I physically crave it and can’t stand to speak in the morning till my second cup. I dose myself up throughout the day and run on it like rocket fuel. If I don’t have at least 6 mugs of strong coffee a day I’m niggly and have a dull headache. I have cut back as I’ve got older and have tried to learn to relax more but can’t imagine life without it. I am a bit calmer now I limit myself to six cups a day, rather than the 20 I once drank.
I’ve been or still am, addicted to people, various foods, television programs, the internet and Facebook to name but a few things. A few of my addictions have been less than savoury but thankfully I’ve managed to avoid hard drugs, gambling and sex addiction. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t react well to drugs, I get strange reactions to innocuous things, so have always believed that if I tried Ecstasy or Cocaine then my liver would fall out of my bottom. When some of my friends were into the rave scene in the 1990s and drugs abounded, I’m glad I stayed clear. I think experience shows me I like drugs too much, even the more innocent ones. The sporadic doctors’ prescriptions over the years for tranquilisers and pain killers have made me realise that I actually like them rather too much so I keep away. It’s a slippery slope. If I had them, I’d take them. All the time.
Gambling strikes me as dull, but I know if I began I’d be betting my house away within a month. Sex addiction seems too much trouble; I couldn’t be bothered with all the effort and endless depilation involved. The constant trawling of the internet or bars for a random encounter has a faint allure but you’re ultimately better off with a film or a novel. It must involve a lot of laundry having a sex addiction. I’m not sure we have the drying weather in England and I’ve no room for a tumble dryer in my house.
I stopped drinking a while back. Again, I liked it too much. The temptation to be hammered day and night hits me if I drink at all. I have urges to drink when I’m distressed or when I’m happy. I always liked the hazy shutting off of worry as consciousness faded away. I was never one to have one drink. It was either no drink or have the bottle. Not so bad for you if it’s wine but not great if you’re drinking vodka. I definitely have tendencies to be a damn good drinker so I keep away from it altogether.
My latest addiction started the way they all do. You think you’ll try it. Other people seem to handle it. It’s safe enough, isn’t it? Before I knew it I was haunted by my desire to do it. I was waking up in the night thinking about it. I’d almost make myself late for work doing it when I woke up in the morning. I was missing television programs I wanted to see, not reading or socialising. It was taking over my life.
I’m talking about the Angry Birds application on my phone, of course. It’s fiendish. If you want to label this addiction as sad then do so, but I suggest you try it first. It’s like a hit of heroin, once tried it’s a descent into addiction. If you don’t know what it is then please, I beg you, stay away. Don’t download it to your phone; the country is full of casualties. I was almost a victim of the great Tetris addiction of the 90s but luckily managed to break free when I realised that every time I walked into a room I was mentally slotting the furniture into patterns or thinking how to rearrange people. Insidious and evil and sure to have you still sitting in your dressing gown at lunchtime with a hunchback and a sink full of ignored washing up as you play just one more game. Hence I won’t buy a games console.
There is one addiction that would maybe be nice; exercise addiction. I really don’t understand that one. You people are just weird. Healthier than me but freaks nonetheless. I actually hate you and your kind. Leave me to my cigarettes and books and you keep your endorphins, whatever they may be.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Poems: This Be the Verse

A poem I love, which oddly enough, my equally childless brother loves too.

This Be the Verse 

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Poems: Shopper

I think this poem is quite topical.

by Connie Bensley

I am spending my way out
of a recession. The road chokes
on delivery vans.
I used to be Just Looking Round
I used to be How Much, and
Have You Got it in Beige.
Now I devour whole stores –
High speed spin; giant size; chunky gold;
de-luxe springing. Things.
I drag them round me into a stockade.
It is dark inside; but my credit cards
are incandescent.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Poems: Welcome Morning

Another brief poem. I don't know enough about Anne's beliefs and faith to be sure of what she means by God in this poem. It's not my usual style to pick a poem mentioning god but I like to think of this one as being a general celebration of the fleeting small joys in life. It's also proof that even suicidal and bipolar, alcoholic poets have good days.

Welcome Morning

by Anne Sexton

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
dies young.