poetry

Tomboy Bookclub!!!- Telling Tales!!!

I first heard of Chaucer from my mum. When she studied one of her favourite parts of literature were the mysterious and boisterous lyrics from the dark ages; whether it be Old Norse Vikings or the Green Knight and Sir Gawain in Arthurian lands. I had never read any old medieval literature myself until university, but I must admit I was dreading it. I thought it would be gobbedly gook; too hard to read with ease, old, musty and gruesomely boring. But I was wrong, marvellously so. Perhaps it’s because I had a teacher who really, really loved what she taught, but reading Chaucer’s Canterbury tales really did grip me. They were profound, bawdy, hilarious and sad- sometimes all at once. I found myself seeing so many parallels between the dung heaped and bejewelled carnage of middle England, against the fibre-optic entangled and petrol dowsed world of today. Who knew that a good fart gag would be funny for people who lived hundreds of years ago the same as it is now?

This brings me to today’s Tomboy recommendation… a 21st century reworking of the world famous Canterbury Tales: ‘Telling Tales’ by Patience Agbabi. It is ambitious, riotous and enchanting in what it seeks to do. Taking Chaucer’s tried and tested lyrics, and exploding them outwards to give old stories new life in a variety of forms, from sonnet sequences to long skinny poems ricocheting their rhymes page after page.

Chaucer wrote for the sound and performance of language. Not many people could read back in day- what a surprise– and Chaucer wrote in English at a time when most ‘upper-class’ writers would have written in French; he was a proto-slam poet rebel me thinks, endorsing a language which normal people could hear and enjoy, instead of keeping all the literature in a language exclusive to nobility. And this attention to pleasing crowds with the tonal beauty of language is a tradition that Agbabi has mastered perfectly. Whether you’re reading in muted breaths on the train, or muttering the words to yourself in bed each poem has a different cadence that not only entertains, but helps reflect the story of the tale she is reworking. The lewd hilarity of the Miller’s Tale comes out with a freshness that nods to the past whilst still being perfect in reflecting how we speak and keep ourselves amused today: ‘Get me a pint of Southwark piss!/ It all took place in a pub like this.

Not only has Agbabi reworked The Canterbury Tales in a whole host of different forms to access different paces of rhyme (not all carry ordered meter, some poems use looser arrangements, fractured and sparse, more tender handlings), she has also given the pilgrims themselves a make-over. No longer are they travelling to pray at Canterbury Cathedral, competing with each other for a meal with their stories. Agbabi has them touring a poetry show, performing their poetries for each other on the way to their final destination. The characters are poets, writers- all unique, and often Kooky. The wife of Bath is now Mrs Alice Ebi Bafa, a Nigerian business woman out for money, men and laughs. The Reeve is no longer Oswald- entrepreneurial landowning sour-puss- but ‘Ozymandia’: ‘expelled from school before she learnt to hate poetry. Taught herself Anglo-Saxon… now lives in Leeds.’

One of my favourite re-tellings is that of Ozymandia Reeves’, ‘Tit for Tat’. In the original (to summarize very briefly), two clerks try to get revenge against a dastardly miller, Sympkin who lets loose the clerks’ horse and steals their grain. Vengeance is had by fucking Sympkin’s daughter and his wife, then stealing back their bread and running away after Sympkin’s wife hits him on the head with a pan (bit mad, but that’s why Chaucer is great). In Agbabi’s version, the clerks are not Cambridge scholars, but Butch Al and Fem Gen- two dykes in need of weed with a pet dog instead of a horse. The poem is told through the view of the dog (named Little Weed) and it is hilarious: ‘me, sniffer dog/ laid off, Bad dog, for sniffing drugs’. Sympkin is Psycho, a dodgy dealer who tries to sell Butch Al and Fem Jen dried lawn as purple haze. Their retaliation is based of Chaucer, and I don’t want to spoil the funniness of the poem, but I shall say this- it’s a tale of two dykes and their dog swindling a dealer with the end result of ‘free food, free dope, free cakes, free love’ (what’s not to get gassed about there?).

Ultimately, I think Chaucer would be proud of Agbabi. She takes universal themes, concerns like farting and death and fidelity and love, that were all as important back then as they are today, but re-energizes them in a way so that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve read the original (though I do recommend). She gives our multi-cultural society today a glimpse of itself through time, showing that we don’t just progress and leave what’s past behind. Humans are humans, we will always be heroic and gross and romantic- and united. I like to imagine Patience and Geoffrey together: a bi-black woman of the 21st century and a middle aged white male scholar from a time where the world was flat, both believing in the power of language to entertain and inspire, to reflect and celebrate the chaos we will always live in.

Chaucer Tales, track by track, here’s the remix
from below-the-belt base to the topnotch;
I wont stop all the clocks with a stopwatch
when the tales overrun, run offensive,
or run clean out of steam, they’re authentic
cos we’re keeping it real, reminisce this:
Chaucer Tales were an unfinished business…”

TOMBOY BOOK-CLUB!!!- ‘Please Mind the Gap’

At work recently, I have taken up a lunchtime habit. To walk outside towards St Paul’s Cathedral, plonk myself down on a bench either by the roses still hanging onto their plump colours or next to pidgins scratting around thinning grasses for crumbs or seeds, and I read. Also, I like to treat myself to some MacDonalds (but only on Fridays, so I don’t become enslaved to their global corporation of capitalist exploitation of animals, and also so I don’t become an actual potato) whilst I peruse the pages of my book of choice, exploring a whole other world contained, yet beyond the concrete noise of London. This week has been a delight, words mingling their power with the delights of tomato ketchup. I have been reading Sophie Sparham’s ‘Please Mind The Gap’.

I have actually met Sophie irl, and she is lovely. A bespectacled punk with red lips surrounding a smile, unmistakable with dreadlocks the colour of chilli peppers that hang down past her waist. She performed in Peterborough for a FreakSpeak poetry night in honour of Pride, and her poetry made me laugh and wipe away tears in equal measures that night. My slightly drunken appreciation fixed on her as she commanded the stage with a down-to-earth confidence that was not shy exactly, but was not too boisterous or forced. I spoke to her in the bathroom after she had read, we were both washing our hands. I told her how wonderful I thought her poetry was, and she thanked me with laughter and smiles, wished me luck when I said I also wrote then we went on our ways to watch the rest of the night’s wordsmiths.  Sophie is from up north in Derby, and her thick accent wasn’t difficult to listen though, it made the poems even more heartfelt and unique, evoking the places and people with whom her mind wrangled with to write these AMAZING poems.

Sophie’s poetry is the best ‘fuck you’ for days when you feel shit upon by the universe. Her work focuses on political and social issues- especially women’s issues, depression and LGBTQ+ rights. Her poems are about the mental impacts material suffering perpetuates on the mind. How anti-gay sentiments seep into the pavements of her childhood, how the rush and crush of ceaseless production wilts the heart to a hollow calculator of survival, unless we try to let the beauty in. I love her work, because the topics she talks about are serious and difficult to grasp, yet the way she phrases her work is so fluid and delightful to read I almost feel guilty sometimes for paying more attention to the control she has over rhyme and rhythm than on the crippling suffering she is trying to address and heal. It’s not only me who thinks her poetry is bomb either, in the edition I have, Benjamin Zephaniah, a poetry great, has written a foreword where he states: “I was very impressed with this fearless, compelling performer, who is unafraid to seek out the truth and comment on issues that others might shy away from“.

Her work flies above the country, and sets its visions to lands even further out to sea when imagining the unity fighting oppression demands. Her work spans the universal disappointments and difficulties of trying to be honest and happy in a world that cares more for profit and shallow popularity. But alongside these searing commentaries that I am sure Ginsberg would approve of, she also talks about her own life and memories with an intimacy that allows her point to be sharp without becoming too concerned with the details of life that she could include that would make the poems less lyrical, but more rich in specific moments. I’m not saying here that her poetry lacks imagery, it most certainly does not- but her talent and power truly does rest in the structures she can build out of rhyme and rhythm, the true gift of a poet whose work is most alive when read aloud. And, considering she tours her poetry with punk bands and at festivals, I hope many more people will be able to hear her songs, her battle cries for the release of old pain to help make concrete changes.

After first seeing Sophie perform, I expected reading her works would be the same visceral concoction of song and sadness and soul. I was not disappointed. This book is for anyone who cares, and who wants a book to pull out in fleeting moments stolen from the machine, as well as to curl up with for longer in reflection. Its style flows easily, but the issues Sparham writes about will make you want to slow down and think before rushing onto the next delicious rhyme. Her poetry will bring you eye to eye with the most confounding and saddening of injustice- social and personal- before bringing you back up to hope again and be strong against what potentially lurks behind each stranger; a smile or scorn. Her work makes clear the inevitability of our suffering, how unwittingly and silently it is committed by and against each other. But on the flip-side and more importantly, how we are all able to help each other overcome these problems we’ve made for ourselves. The words affirm that strength is not to be measured by the mainstream standards of clout or wealth or popularity: “Success means the paths we chose chose to explore/ not how high we climb”.

So, in this blog-post I want to include the first poem I heard Sophie read aloud, and the first in ‘Please Mind The Gap’. It is beautiful, and I will be damned if it doesn’t make you feel even one degree warmer inside after maybe wiping away a tear or two. Thank you for being such a wonderful and kind person Sophie, and I hope more and more people get the life-enhancing pleasure of reading and hearing your poetry!!!!

Introductory Gathering

Oh come all ye faithless, joyless and defeated
Come all ye washed out, ye chewed up and ye beaten
I want every loser,
As far as these eyes can see
To climb out of your corners and sit next to me.

Oh come all ye rejects, ye homeless, break out from your margins
Come all ye lost, troubled and drive no hard bargains
You’ll soon find that there’s no leader in this hoard
Worship yourselves
Christ, you fucking lords!

We are gathered here today to witness revolution
The coming together of our demons
As we learn the meaning of evolution
Our song birds will scream from the branches of burning trees
Not be left in their cages to sing peacefully

But they will create lawful reasons why we cannot rise together
They’ll tear us and they’ll beat us amidst this stormy weather
However, there are no exit signs here so I urge you, please don’t run
You’ll never leave this bus stop, if you’re waiting for the sun

And I don’t have faith in a god,
But I know everyone needs something to believe in
And you can build your own angels if you feel you really need them
But I would rather bow to your monsters
Put them on the committee intake
Our problems shouldn’t rule us
But it’s important to learn from our mistakes

And have you ever felt lost?
Are you lonely?
Are you the talk of the town for not buying the butchers baloney?
And are you hurt?
And are you hated?
Are you tired and wired, feeling wrong and exasperated?

Well, I’ll be your comfort in this darkened shade of blue
I don’t have faith in a god,
But I believe in you and you and you

And have you been wronged?
Are you conflicted?
By this bullshit we’re living in as long as we don’t get evicted?
And are you as tired of this everyday slog?
Did they use you and abuse you until there were no parts left to
flog?

Well bring what’s left to this table
And lets put together what we’ve got
Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not able
Your’e capable of a lot
Because blessed are the wicked, the weird and the truly despised
For allowing us to see the world through other people’s eyes

 

 

 

 

 

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB!: Hera Lindsay Bird

Today’s post is about one of my fave modern poets, Hera Lindsay Bird. She is a New Zealander poet whose work I first came across a few years ago online. Hera (such a lovely name) is a riotous mess of caring too much and not at all, of dreaming in fluffy pastel unicorn clouds all drenched with an acrid whiff of scepticism and wit. She is a lot to handle, but anything else just wouldn’t be the same.

Some may think she is arrogant, Bird did name her first book after herself using a picture of herself for the cover. But I think this hyper-exposure of her self in poetry is also a mockery of the cult of narcissism/ egotism that fuels how we interact with the world today. IDK about you, but a lot of what is ‘cool’ now seems to be based not on substance, but on who is saying it and how. You don’t actually have to believe in what you say you do, so long as there’s plenty of followers to like and retweet the version of yourself you most want to sell. Hera’s poetry blends an awareness of self necessary for sincere emotional bonding with a biting sneer towards the supremacy of the individual; simultaneously pointing to the fact that the 21st century obsession with personality and celebrity is ridiculous, yet somehow sentimental. We all want to be somebody, we just don’t know who we already are and that other people also exist.

Her poems blend the cuddly with the cruel. In one sentence she will proclaim unceasing vulnerability and then proceed to douse it in gas and set softness alight. Profane and profound, Hera uses images in her poetry to undermine any concepts of emotions being unsullied by the world around us. She even uses her front and back covers to undermine the seriousness of having a book published by one of the worlds biggest publishers (Penguin). She places praise from Carol Ann Duffy and her friend Ashleigh Young’s mum side by side, blurring the boundaries between what counts as ‘making it’. She points fun towards the darker sides of us it is often tempting to turn into elevated grandeurs of suffering. Her love bleeds, but not roses. Hera’s love bleeds a realness entangled with the similarities and depths of sadness which taint each day. As she herself says in the blurb, the poetry is “heroically and compulsively stupid………….. whipping you once again into medieval sunlight”.

Her poems aren’t that political, though I’m sure her contemporaneity ties written words to material circumstance in ways that I am currently missing. Her work points towards more general woes of our time: the often shocking extents to which we make our emotions available for public consumption, turning love either into a funeral wake or a freak show. the concept of loneliness which plagues and hounds so many of us in each acts we attempt to do with gusto each day. And, like any poet, she talks of love. But never love like you could find the Romantic lot wafting praises about in a gondola (though she does have a poem about romance being dead and Keats fucking her from behind…). Hers is a love that stumbles, stutters and spits itself out towards the beloved in lines ricocheting between honest vulnerability, and hiding softness through prosaic sentences littered with imagery from calculators for hippies and windows 95, to deer splattered with red paint to save animal activists time in the long run. By evasion, often we unwittingly reveal where our attentions really lie.

I highly recommend Hera Lindsay Bird’s poetry for anyone who is romantic and questions themselves for it every day. Who think celebrity is stupid yet still pout at themselves in a lonely mirror. Who feel deeply, but can only communicate the divine infinity of cosmic faith via emojis and text talk. Her work is young, wild and unlike anything I’ve read by any one else! I want to try think of something as cool and witty as she would say to end this post, but I can’t aha. I shall leave you with the poem that I first read of hers and I’ve already mentioned. A marination of bitterness and hope. Softness and sarcasm- I hope you enjoy xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Keats is Dead so Fuck me From Behind

Keats is dead so fuck me from behind
Slowly and with carnal purpose
Some black midwinter afternoon
While all the children are walking home from school
Peel my stockings down with your teeth
Coleridge is dead and Auden too
Of laughing in an overcoat
Shelley died at sea and his heart wouldn’t burn
& Wordsworth……………………………………………..
They never found his body
His widow mad with grief, hammering nails into an empty meadow
Byron, Whitman, our dog crushed by the garage door
Finger me slowly
In the snowscape of your childhood
Our dead floating just below the surface of the earth
Bend me over like a substitute teacher
& pump me full of shivering arrows
O emotional vulnerability
Bosnian folk-song, birds in the chimney
Tell me what you love when you think I’m not listening
Wallace Stevens’s mother is calling him in for dinner
But he’s not coming, he’s dead too, he died sixty years ago
And nobody cared at his funeral
Life is real
And the days burn off like leopard print
Nobody, not even the dead can tell me what to do
Eat my pussy from behind
Bill Manhire’s not getting any younger

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!!- The Body Is Not An Apology

Hello!!Happy Sunday! I finished this book yesterday in the bath, and honestly it made me feel so jubilant afterwards I knew a blog post was waiting. This book is like a little explanation manual of why you feeling shit about yourself isn’t always your fault, how you hating yourself is actually the product of years of subliminal indoctrination into shame and how this shame builds divisions and inequalities that fuel ‘Body Terrorism’. Body Terrorism being, according to Sonya Renee Taylor, the ubiquitous bombardment of stereotypes, hierarchies and judgements we subject our own and other bodies to.These ingrained negative messages about ourselves and others ultimately being the energy powering every kind of ‘body oppression’, every kind of discrimination there is from racism, misogyny, fatphobia, abelism, ageism, homophobia and more.

I found this book so relaxed, yet so rich in potential ways of re-organising the brain away from inertia and hatred, that I found myself repeatedly rereading the same passages and dog-earing many of the pages for future reference. Sonya Renee Taylor is an activist and founder of the ‘Body is Not An Apology’ website and movement- so her book isn’t set out in a traditional format, with chapters for readers to get through without enquiry as to how the material they’re reading is making them feel or what they’re learning. She sort of makes it like a school text-book for emotional growth (and political empowerment), interspersing text with small bubbles of her ‘Radical Reflections’ and ‘Unapologetic Enquiries’ for the reader to engage not only with Taylor’s words, but with the brain of themselves that is processing and reformulating the book back in terms of knowledge their own brain can retain. Though this book covers some timeless and universal struggles that I’m not sure can ever be easily addressed or answered, Taylor makes the book manageable to read, without being condescending or reductionist in how she proposes her tactics for the eradication of body oppression and terrorism everywhere: radical self love.

The Body Is Not An Apology is split into sections. First examining the roots of our self-hatred and internalised stigmas against ourselves and others, excavating how those who tormented us ultimately aren’t the originators, but pollinators of hate and judgement they’d learnt from external forces. Second, it explains how we are subjected to ideas perpetuating body terrorism- via the media, culture, and intimate pollinators of shame- and how these ideas are made concrete, made real and painful by systemic and structural enforcement by governments, and more cruelly and baffling, ourselves. This book does not endorse a binary organisation of thinking at all, Taylor is not in favour of any ‘you’ VS ‘them’/ ‘He’ VS ‘She/ ‘Black VS ‘white’- she offers radical honesty into admitting when we were victims, and learning to write new stories for ourselves to live by. But, equally, Taylor gives us a mirror, questions to hold up to ourselves so we can realise how we are never purely victims or enforcers of judgement, but always simultaneously being harmed, and (unintentionally, mostly) causing harm to others.

Her argument is simple: if you treat yourself with suspicion and animosity, if your’e forever giving yourself a hard time for not being ‘perfect’, if you don’t afford yourself empathy and compassion then how can you begin to extend that to others? If you cant hold yourself accountable for who you really are, not who you are told to be, how can you honestly hold other bodies accountable without reverting to bias and cruel stereotype? Taylor cites a perpetual reluctance to accept difference and ‘not understanding’ as ways our inherent capacities for self-love are intercepted. If you constantly hold up a default standard of body which deserves more love, respect, and grace than any other type, becoming hostile and confused whenever bodies not conforming to your rules choose to be something the rules don’t allow, then how will the mysteries of life ever be anything other than fear? If you can’t come to terms with differences that have no ‘why’, with not understanding the various reasons people become who they are, then how can you truly try to love everyone without making your love hinge upon some category that must be fulfilled? Basically, by Taylor grounding oppression and injustice in the body, the physical homes which keep us ticking, she is making the political issues that seem beyond our grasp a literal part of our DNA- she brings the fight truly home.

Her book is about honesty, forgiveness, curiosity into the why things are structured the way they are; and how by becoming more aware of who we are, our true potential for love is the long-term revolution that will truly sustain the world for future days. By examining the intersections of our identities, we can become more aware of how our worst fears about ourselves are not isolated or arbitrary, but indoctrinated into so many other people there’s no need to feel alone or afraid. Equally, by being honest with how who we are impacts our thinking, we can begin to understand why we have absorbed negative messages about others whose ‘faults’ are different from our own. By seeing ourselves more clearly, we can more effectively see how  we treat others-regardless of whether we actually ‘understand’/know them- you don’t have to explain yourself or understand yourself to deserve love.

Sometimes it may seem that Taylor is being too idealistic, too lovey-dovey for her idea to actually be radical, but that’s why I think she is genius. Her revolution doesn’t propose us all to be sitting in flowery fields, congratulating each other on how beautiful our bodies our and how all corruption is finally gone. Her revolution is material, embodied and so close you can literally touch it: it is within each push of the lung as it heaves out more breath. Her revolution reaches to the poorest of neighbourhoods,to the richest of banks, because her argument is applicable to all: if you have a body, love it- and that love will spread like the best ever virus you could hope to catch. If you constantly try to organise humanity into tribes to be trusted VS targeted, you could have the best intentions in the world and still result in cruelty when you finally get the power that was held away, and use it to do to others what was done to you. Without loving yourself, and by extension all bodies, nobody is there to interrupt the infinite figure of 8 the devil has somehow spun hatred into the seconds with.

I know that I’m definitely going to be revisiting this book a lot. Taylor has included many tips and tricks for helping unclutter the mind from the shit-show named body hierarchies. If you’ve been feeling not enough/ frustrated with yourself and where the world has placed you/ hopeless at what you can do to make it better- just generally confused/ ugly/ worthless but forever glimmering with that shadowy dust of hope, then this book is for you!!!!! Sonya Renee Taylor has a big heart that we can all learn from, and I really hope you give this book a try! It is not tedious, too complicated or far-fetched. It is beautiful and necessary. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, and to conclude, I’ve decided to quote someone who I know would agree with Sonya and L.O.V.E the message of this book…. RU-PAUL!!!! ‘IF YOU CAN’T LOVE YOURSELF, HOW IN THE HELLLLLL YOU GONNA BE ABLE TO LOVE ANYONE ELSE??!?!?!?!’

“We are not simply good or bad; vessels of pure, divine light or mongers of hate; interrupters of body terrorism everywhere or singlehandedly upholding oppression of bodies across the planet. If ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were the choices on a quiz about who we are, the answer would be ‘all of the above’. Humans (i.e., you and I) are doing and being all those things all the time… Binary thinking limits our possibility, squelches compassion, and reinforced narrow ideas of how we get to ‘be’ in the world. That marginalisation is a function of internalised body terrorism. If you recall, the practise of ‘I am not my thoughts’ prompted us to examine our thoughts from a place of curiosity and diminished judgement. The same is true for our behaviours. We can change our behaviours, but only when we see them as mutable- of us but not us. Honour that you will be many things throughout the course of your life. Sometimes you will be a phenomenal gift; sometimes you will get on someone’s damn nerves. There is gorgeous potential and heinous instinct in all of us. Singularity does not define us. Our instincts influence and shape us but do not define us. When we find ourselves in the land of either/or thinking- characterised by words like never, always, only, every time, mostly, rarely– it is a great sign that we may be off our path. Binary thinking is the antithesis of radical self-love…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- Rise Like Lions: Poetry for the many

Today’s post is in honour of national poetry day, grandma shouted it out up to me whilst I was washing off London muck in the shower. But also, this post is in honour of an even more important date to my grandma… today was my late grandads birthday. She never mentioned it to me before, and I was a bit annoyed (probably just feeling guilty that I didn’t know and never cared to ask) she didn’t make more of a fuss. But that is my grandma; straight forward, and never sulky, always lovely.

So, in honour of my grandad and national poetry day, I have chosen to write about Ben Okri’s compilation ‘Rise Like Lions’, a collection of poetry across British history of political activism and thought  (left wing, of course). My grandad was what some people would call a champagne socialist. He would sit and pontificate about the woes of the world with a glass of rose in his shaking hands (a rose socialist, is perhaps more fitting for him), and to my shame, I used to think in juvenile delinquency that he was  just chatting shit. But my grandad knew struggle, and how those who suffer from it aren’t to blame. He never had a dad, as my great-grandad died in a WW2 plane over the North Sea, and was left to care for his younger brother ( he brought a prostitute home one Christmas and grandad punched him in the face- happy families!) and alcoholic mother, Alice.  She was devastated by the death of my grandads dad, and tried to open up a care-home but lost all her money. She relied on an army pension in her old unemployed age, spending it all on toys for my dad and uncle… and of course on more than a few glasses of barley wine in the pub. I’m not saying that my grandad suffered immensely because of the government for who he was. But, circumstance did render him vulnerable- and circumstance is always beyond our control. He knew poverty, and he climbed out of it with his mother on his back, whilst supporting his wife (my grandma) and his kids (my dad and uncles) at the same time. My grandad was no revolutionary political prisoner, but he knew that caring matters.

Today’s book is in honour of my grandad for that reason: he cared. Ben Okri’s book is a celebration of caring. It is a collection of various verses, giving voice to their politics through angry indictments or lyrical odes; but all probe at the concept of truth and how poetry reveals it. From working class revolts, anti-racist rallying and women speaking out their truth- this book fights all battles of oppression.  The poems are organised into different sections- Ideas, Vision, Protest, Change and Truth- which each come with introductions by Okri that mediate on the theme of that section. The book uses multiple individual voices, all speaking at different moments to show how even though its expression may vary, truth always holds central place in a poets vision for language, whatever ‘truth’ may be to them.

One of my grandad’s favourite poets was Shelley, and we read ‘Ozymandias’ at his funeral. I asked my grandma why he loved that sonnet so much, and Chrissy said its because he probably won a prize at school for reading it out loud (haha). So again, I can’t pretend that my grandads devotion to Shelley’s ode on the inevitable fall of autocratic power is rooted in some blood-deep militancy, but it must be said, the man had taste. Although ‘Ozymandias’ is a political powerhouse, Okri has not included it in his collection, probably because he knew how popular it already is ingrained in the back of all our minds… “LOOK ON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY AND DESPAIR!” So, instead I have chosen to put another poem by Shelley from ‘Rise Like Lions’. It is dedicated to those who go unrecognised for their struggles and pain in having to serve a country who doesn’t serve them. In my 21st century mind, I like to dedicate this poem to all working class people slogging it out for what feels like nothing. To migrants, immigrants, refugees and minority groups (whether they be oppressed by race, gender, disability or sexuality) who are the backbone of this country. We need to do better for you, and even though grandad isn’t here, I know he would agree.

Hopefully, grandad, if you can read my blog in heaven by some divine intervention where the angels help you work wordpress on a computer, you will like this poem and feel peaceful and happy to know that you are remembered and loved- not just by me me writing this, but every day and all the time. Chrissy misses you terribly and sends her love forever and ever. I am sorry I was so naughty, and would never be sweet and hug you before bed like you asked. But like always, good night and god bless. xoxoxxoxox

To the People of England, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

People of England, ye who toil and groan,
Who reap the harvests which are not your own,
Who weave the clothes which your oppressors wear,
And for your own take the inclement air;
Who build warm houses…
And are like gods who give them all they have,
And nurse them from the cradle to the grave…

 

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- Mudbound

I received this book for my birthday from my doting boyfriend, and though I’d never heard of it before or it’s author, Hillary Jordan, I did not question the literary taste of my beaux. And I was rewarded for my trust, the book was so interesting I finished it within less than a week. Plus, it’s also a film, so I can force my lover to spend even more time with me watching its dramatisation- aha jokes on him.  So, even though I’m not really too sure on what to write about this tome, my eagerness outweighs trepidation.

Mudbound is the sombre yet violent tale of two families intertwined in America’s deep south after the return of soldiers who survived WW2- The McAllans and the Jacksons. Both families are dealing with the trauma of holocaust seen from the air (Jamie McAllan was a fighter pilot) and the earth (Ronsel Jackson fought in a tank), however both families experience this PTSD under very different circumstances back home in Mississippi. The Jacksons are black, in an area where confederate bigotry still puffs up the chests of pathetic white men like hot wind in a balloon- but a lot more deadly than I was anticipating.

I feel Hillary Jordan uses these racial differences to create parallel characters, enabling the reader to see how, even though the characters don’t think it, they have more in common than they think. Florence and Laura are both the respective housewives of their family; slaving away to look after their families. However, Florence is sure and suspicious of outside forces (especially the sinister enroachment of the white man upon her family) where Laura crumbles with neglect, her husband looking at the muddy fields he bought with more affection than he ever looks at her. Both women are forced to help out people who they would rather not, but both arguably become stronger. There’s Henry and Hap- with Hap being loving and hopeful to Florence where Henry is stoic and aloof. Of course there’s the parallel between Ronsel and Jamie- both handsome, seemingly enchanting war heroes, but once the surface is scratched this persona falls apart. Ronsel is lovestruck and alone, leaving a secret behind in Europe that could cause serious danger if it comes out in the KKK badlands of his home state. And Jamie is a crumbling man, patching up his broken parts with smiles and whiskey to try ride the pain- his father, Pappy- the underpinning character of evil in the book, who all characters must navigate with caution- forever enticing Jamie to become like him: bitter, cold and selfishly hateful. Not one character in the book is a ‘good guy’ (though I would argue, either Florence or Ronsel come the closest). Prejudice is a way of survival, and intentions are muddied with politics as soon as they’re breathed.

This book is about life being messy; about how sometimes you have to do the wrong thing to get a right outcome. It is a book seething with anger, and especially female anger. There’s Vera Atwood, whose husband is the lowest of low and who meets a sticky fate, with perfect justice in tow- even if violence and disobedience to your husband is a sin. There’s Florence’s curses and voodoo, and Laura’s infidelity with the most forbidden of fruits. People fall into deep enclaves of rage, bubbling out the margins of silence in death-glare looks and turned shoulders. I’m not saying the message of this book is that its okay to be violent and angry, but it does explore how those emotions are inevitable, how redemption can come through uncivilised means. The story is told through individual voices, which I think adds to the alienation and anger- even the voice whose telling story never knows the full picture or motives, not even their own.

This isn’t so much a happy read, but gripping and thought provoking on matters of morality and what really constitutes as evil- law or passion. I recommend highly, after all- if its good enough for a Netflix film, its good enough for me xoxoxox

“Sometimes it’s necessary to do wrong. Sometimes it’s the only way to make things right. Any God who doesn’t understand that can go fuck Himself.”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ‘Devotion’

The fact that I have chosen to sit and type this after a day of work, instead of scrolling through instagram and letting other people decide how I should hate myself today, perhaps illustrates the point that Patti Smith is trying to explore in this book- Devotion, all about why writers choose to write. Why there is something within us all that won’t shut up, like a conker trying to burst out of it’s thorns into the dark softness of earth around. The mystery of what compels somebody to sit down and create a whole new world of their own choosing, whilst the real hustle and bustle of blood and bones keeps cranking the wheel outside dreamings. This isn’t the first book of Patti’s I’ve read, and Just Kids about Robert Mapplethorpe and her galavanting around New York in love and inspired will always hold a special place in my heart. Patti’s works are always little miracle drops into the vast legacy of language.

Devotion keeps up the typical Smithian prose, sparse yet searing- using a minimal lanuguage to convey spiritual hopes and depths, that many writers forsake in favour of catalogued details to get more ‘realistic’ styles. Sometimes reading Smith I do feel a bit skeptical, like her writing is trying too hard to be profound and is too serious in its exultations of divinity. But, I also feel perhaps that is the green eyed monster clouding my perception- truly, I am amazed how one mind can be so sensitivley intune to the cosmic vibrations around the most mundane of routines without fanfare. In Devotion, Patti describes her visits to cafes for bread and coffee with as much beauty as if she were visiting an other-worldly wonder, not some old poets dive in Paris.

This book is not too long, but it engages with the topic on the origins of inspiration and the force behind writing with a mystical directness that only leaves me wanting more. It is probably my analytical mind being too hopeful, that I thought before reading this that Smith could give clear answers to these obscure and ever debated issues of creatvitity. But ultimatley, that’s what I love about Devotion– Patti is like a London pidgin, alighting on one thought, briefly pecking around its periphery before flying away in search of another hope to find substance, not mere crumbs. The only certainty being that there will never be certainty, never any right or wrong when it comes to the soul unsullied. Smith doesn’t pretend to know all the answers- she worships beauty on her knees like communion mass scribbled on paper. She appreciates, and celebrates without the burden of answers which is something I envy a lot about her writing. It is powerful, direct, yet not pretentious in the slightest. If she is melodramatic, it isn’t because she is hiding behind pretty words- its a pure and unadultarated excitement for the world and its little wonders.

She discusses the how and why of writing. We often know what inspires us, and how we come to express such dioramas of feeling and thought, but never the why. Why do we write when we could live? Why create another world when we are given what is before our eyes without even asking for it? Is writing a desperation, or an overflowing sensitivity of nerve endings, forever reaching to finally touch what we trmeble underneath, grasp what is really there. This book is interesting, as it is not only a short work of fiction, but also includes memoir of before the pen hit page. Of what her life was unfurling to prompt that brain to dream, those words to kindle. This is a story where slices of ham become round ponds of ice. Where ice skaters speak a limb language that only hands knowing the curve of inked-writing can echo. Silent forests and the way failing sunlight in winter breaks through crusted leaves, the way breath catches on frozen air- a cold beauty only the mind can embrace without shivering in uncomfort.

Her story is promted whooshing past fields of France, and is recorded in its final narrative as a story of a young, friendless girl with a longing of finding and speaking her solitary truth through dancing on snowflakes. The story is told through her perspective, at once brutally honest yet alienatingly emotionless as she encounters her doomed paramour. A strange yet alluring art collector, obsessed with beauty and thus cursed with his rejection of living- all he wants to do is own, safe and sturdy with his precious object to commandeer. When I started reading this book, I was unsettled by the story Smith spins, and the ending is hardly consoling. But, once you get past the initial shock, the story unfolds in a prophetic eloquency that only Smith could have the gentle, innocent audacity to write. I don’t want to spoil the plot here, as really if you have a day to yourself this book could be easily read with delight in silence, with copious amounts of tea or coffee or zootage. But rest assured, after reading Devotion you won’t only wish there were more pages to turn, but you’ll be wanting to pick up a pen and record the singular mysteries of destiny and love in your own silent epic that is us, our lives.

I hope this blog post finds you well, and even if you dont read Devotion, that you give Patti your eyes and ears. Her writing is always consice without being empty, deep without being too high-brow and arrogant. Her voice is loving, cosmic and demurely energized- a way of feeling deeply without thinking too highly. If you have no time to read, do at least give her music a try. She is the punk poetess of New York, after all- and for that, Patti, I am eternally grateful. Like she so often visits the graves of those icons and artists she has followed; if I can’t meet her in person, I hope to be able to lay flowers for her some day. As Patti would say: THEY LAUGH AND THEY EXPECT ME TO FAINT BUT I WILL NEVER FAINT I REFUSE TO LOSE, I REFUSE TO FALL DOWN. xoxoxoxox

” Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others… There are stacks of notebooks that speak of years of aborted efforts, deflated euphoria, a relentless pacing of the boards. We must write, engaging in a myriad of struggles, as if breaking in a willful foal. We must write, but not without consistent effort and a measure of sacrifice: to channel the future, to revisit childhood, and to rein in the follies and horrors of the imagination for a pulsating race of readers.”