TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ‘ZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME’

HELLO EVERYONE! LONG TIME NO SPEAK!!!! I am truly very sorry that I have been so neglectful tending my little nook of internet, but this year I am trying to be happier, badder, and in control of my self-made destiny (whatever the fuck that means) – hence, I have been a busy bee. Every weekend since the New Year has consisted of me cramming as much littiness and love into 48 hours as is humanly possible. I’ve been to the pub from 6 until 1 am with my cousin, been clubbing in Leeds, rolled many a zoot in Guildford and even managed to fly out and gallivant around the Netherlands. So you can see I haven’t been quiet for nothing, but now it’s time to get this show back on the road! I am starting 2019 (and today is Chinese New Year’s, so it does count!!!! YEAR OF THE PIG, OINK OINK BITCHES) with a bang, and will talk about one of the most beautiful, tender and courageous books I have read in a while. I am happy that I have started this new year with such an inspirational tome to guide me onwards: Zami: A New Spelling of my Name by Audre Lorde will be the jewel in the crown of today.

For anyone who hasn’t been blessed by her presence yet, Audre Lorde is the fat, black, queer poet/lover/essayist/activist/teacher of your dreams. Audre ended up being the poet laureate of New York before her tragic and too early death of Cancer at the young age of 58; in her reign upon earth, she befriended James Baldwin, was admired by Adrienne Rich and anthologized by Langston Hughes. Audre is a big fucking deal, to be frank. But this book is the story before her canonization into modern literature. This book follows her growing up as a young girl, an outsider determined with visions of poetry and survival through love, making her way in a cruel world that at best doesn’t give a fuck, and at worst actively hates her for being a fat, half-blind black girl who loves girls.

Although this book isn’t a feminist theory study guide, it is a fascinating look into the experience of what it is like to live in clashing intersections of identity, and what feminism must do to include these people. The way Audre frames her personal narrative enables her to talk honestly about the loneliness she felt in self-professed, so-called ‘progressive’ circles- and the need, if feminism truly wants to uplift all people, for feminists to encourage more discussion of difference and clashing perspectives. For instance, Audre being a lesbian in hetero-centric black spaces made her feel alienated, but simultaneously her being black in predominantly white queer spaces also made her feel aberrant. Audre lived a life of difference, embracing and cultivating all the separate influences which made up who she became, regardless of whether people approved or not. Audre knew she couldn’t please everybody, and so performed for nobody; Zami is a reckoning of different histories and mythologies- personal and private, uniquely combining to build up one life – of all the people and stories that clashed, merged, and catalysed to create the mystical being that is Audre.

Moving on from the feminist aspect, the way Audre writes her environments gripped me like a kid going to the cinema for the first time. She infuses the streets and markets with sounds and light like you’re a tiny bug flying through the air next to her, drinking in a new way of seeing. Her gentle power manifests in the sustained attention to detail throughout, turning a stoic eye on the most fleeting of moments to craft a world of mundane beauty and vibrancy. One of the most evocative moments for me is when Audre is a child and first gets new glasses (and I don’t just like this part because I too am a four eyed poet child). The world transforms with a new pair of glasses, from a smudged blur of thick shapes and shades, occasionally startled with the glamour of warbling white lights, into an unforeseen language. “Enthralled, I started up at the sudden revelation of each single and particular leaf of green, precisely shaped and laced about with unmixed light.” For Lorde, poetry is a way of seeing, of reorganizing worldly objects into alignment with unworldly emotions and ideas, shaping ‘reality’ into a coherent meaning and art. Just how her glasses helped Lorde to make sense of her place in the world, enabling her to study and appreciate the delicacies of her surroundings, poetry is also a guide towards creating new worlds. Audre didn’t just write poetry, she lived in it too.

I know I am writing a lot, but please bear with! I just AM OBSESSED with this book a lot!!!

Another reason I cherish this book as a bible for survival, is for how precious and important love is. Love, and specifically love for women, whether it be friendship, romance or familial, is a serious and driving force behind Lorde’s activism.  Let me quote: “Any world which did not have a place for me loving women was not a world in which I wanted to live, nor one which I could fight for”. It gave me Goosebumps to read her lines of intimacy, when Audre bares her soul in poetry remembering the love she made real. With different women, in different ways, sometimes believing she could never love again, but always surviving with a heart softer and stronger after suffering.

It starts with Ginger, the effervescent chubby girl Audre works at a factory with; coarse, direct and giggling in daily life, but who becomes “precious beyond compare” in Audre’s embrace. Lorde’s respect, admiration and devotion to the pleasure of the female body is serious big pussy energy which I and the world needs more of. Specifically, it warmed my soul throughout to read fat and chubby women being written as elegant, as desirable, and unquestionably loveable. The adoring way she describes Ginger as having “skin the colour of well-buttered caramel… (and) gorgeously fat, with an open knowledge about her body’s movement that was delicate and precise”. Today, fat bodies are pathologized into caricatures of negativity and shame- but Audre will have none of it. To read the pride and beauty of fat black lesbians having sex is a life affirming moment, a big fuck you to the powers that be that want us all to ignore or berate each other. This book’s revolution is in the bed sheets- tender and delicate- resonating an energy of love and togetherness that remains when we go out into the streets. I think this is a good quote to show the scope and strength that Audre believed love, WOMEN LOVE, AUTHENTIC SINCERE INCLUSIVE LOVE, could provide us to survive this cruel society: “We had come together like elements erupting into an electric storm. Exchanging energy, sharing charge, brief and drenching. Then we parted, passed, reformed, reshaping ourselves the better for the exchange…”

One of the most enduring loves in all her escapades through our hostile society is Audre’s love for her first best friend, Gennie. Gennie was “the first person (she) was conscious of loving”– reading the deep, sincere and unspeakable amounts of devotion in these words made my heart flush a hundred shades of wow. Gennie and Audre would toast marshmallows on pencils lounging on Gennie’s mother’s sofa, smoke cigarettes and craft various outfits for exploring the city, transforming each other into different characters. “Bandits, Gypsies, Foreigners of all degree, Witches, Whores and Mexican princesses”. The freedom and fun the girls relish in, exploring New York’s avenues and side-streets with candour still engrossed in their own private fantasies made me want to sing with happiness. But, it is this enchanting warmth that makes the pairs’ ending even more brutal and devastating than it already is. Without giving too much away, Gennie is lost to Audre, and it is enough to make the grim reaper weep. I couldn’t believe what I was reading when their lives started to unravel on the page, and I haven’t cried at a book like I did reading about Gennie in a long time. But, it isn’t the sadness that shines out the most. It is what Gennie taught Audre in their togetherness. That love doesn’t have to be obedience, or fear or a tradition. Love makes you feel like you can do anything, that you deserve everything, too. When love is built and then stolen, it is possibly the most devastating thing that can happen to a person. But the fact that this doesn’t necessarily have to destroy us, that we can learn from what we have lost to create new versions of the same emotion, is the hallelujah and amen of life Audre is trying to get us to sing… “how hard it was to explain to anyone who didn’t already know it that soft and tough had to be one and the same for either to work at all”.

I wish I could summarize how much this book means to me and all it can teach in a neat little explanation, but that is futile. Instead, I will leave you (at last) with a quote as per usual. But, if you think I have missed anything important in talking about this book and Audre, if there are any other Audre stans out there please join me!!!! I hope this post hasn’t been too long, but it is good to be back xoxoxo

“In a paradoxical sense, once I accepted my position as different from the larger society as well as from any sub-society- black or gay- I felt I didn’t have to try so hard. To be accepted. To look femme. To be straight. To look straight. To be proper. To look ‘nice’. To be liked. To be approved. What I didn’t realize was how much harder I had to try merely to stay alive, or rather, to stay human. How much stronger a person I became in that trying.”

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- HOME FIRE!!!!!

Hello everyone!!!! I have just finished reading Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 Women’s Fiction Prize Winning novel, Home Fire, and fucking hell IT IS SO AMAZING!!! A story of love VS betrayal, of state VS family, and of East Vs West in the ‘melting-pot’ of modern Britain. It is loneliness- what to do with the unbearableness of it: sink into the comfort of hostility and proclaim that there must be revenge, or to reach out through the pain, be honest with it and fight for what you need to survive?

Based off the ancient Greek myth of Antigone reworked for the modern day climate of Islamophobia- how it causes terrorism, and then even more Islamophobia, like a grim merry-go round of hate- this devastating novel has love and betrayal at its core; how we cope with each emotion, and which one should prevail overall if we are to hold on to one another. I had to keep stopping reading so that I could process all the conflicting passions without losing myself, and it is a book that will tear your heart not into two pieces, but a scattering of a million shards.

Shamsie’s novel is told through narrating the experiences of 5 main characters, all British- Pakistani citizens, all woven to put together a larger narrative that will draw them together whilst tearing them apart. This plot of tragedy and love is condensed into a seemingly anonymous Wembley household; the unseeming characters progressively more and more embroiled into a conclusion that reaches far beyond what they ever could imagine.

It starts with Isma, an intelligent but world-worn woman and elder sister/ mother to her two twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. I think Isma is one of my favourite characters, she is very good at balancing acts, of gently toeing the line between obeying the law to avoid further pain, and standing up for what she really believes in. Love of her family is Isma’s motive for pretty much all she does. Aneeka also is fuelled by love of her family, but without the forgivingness or subtlety of her sister- Aneeka’s love is pretty much all for her brother, not the mothering and hence oppressive Isma. Aneeka and Parvaiz’ twinhood is evoked so beautifully it makes the forces tearing them apart so cruel and callous I could hardly bear it; but whereas Isma’s love aims to bring everyone back together, Aneeka’s love is driven for one purpose only: to bring Parvaiz home from the terrorists he has been groomed into joining.

However, Aneekas love at first solely meant for Parvaiz actually multiplies in another direction. Aneeka falls in love with a man- Eamonn- her sister first met and sent her way- but this is not a tale of sisters fighting over a man ( it does still make me really sad that Isma is so alone in the book, it would have been nice for her to have at least one solace for herself). Eamonn is the son of the Home Secretary, and Aneeka, at first using him as a vessel for escape to bring Parvaiz home, ends up finding another escape for herself, away from the extremes of loyalty demanded by religion and state. Eamonn’s family are rich, integrated and push the piety of Islam to the back of their minds. Aneeka’s family are poor, derided by the general public for their devotion to their home land and religion. The contrasts are striking, which makes their falling in love only more bitter-sweet with the subtext of Parvaiz between them.

Shamsie evokes the character of Parvaiz before and after his defection to ‘the enemy state’ (the book’s main debate is essentially of loyalty to a state: which comes first, the state of law or love?) with a cleverness that doesn’t exempt him from criticism, but goes into detailed explanations of why what has happened has happened. Yes, he switched himself off and is complicit in the horrors of the Caliphate world in which he finds himself- but if that was the only way to survive, wouldn’t you dance for the devil, too? His choice to abandon his sisters, despite one of them literally being his other half, seems selfish and awful to the extremes. But, again, if you constantly felt alienated as the lone boy without a father in a world ran by women, at an age where you want to talk but don’t feel like anyone wants you… what I’m trying to say is that sadness makes people desperate, and desperation makes people do un-explainable things.

I don’t want to say what happens in the last scene, but it is a conclusion at once satisfying in its inevitability of plot tragedy, yet still discordant, gut-wrenchingly sad for all parties involved. It is reconciliation through grief, a reckoning that will make you want to simultaneously punch every bigot in the face (and by bigot, I don’t just mean Tommy Robinson clones, also the unflinchingly wicked men in suits at Westminster, too) and weep, clinging onto whoever love is to you.

I recommend this book very highly. It makes your brain think hard about the climate of xenophobia, islamophobia and prejudice that seems to govern politics today, and gives your heart a work out- that is never a bad thing!

“The language of violence, spoken by the powerful of all nations, erased distinctions beneath the surface. Two girls walked past, laughing, uninhibited. The sound- continuing on, burrowing down from the girls’ throats to their bellies- was more remarkable than bracelets or wrists. Perhaps surface was all there was to fight for. He remembered how it felt to float on a surface of freedom and safety, to feel himself buoyed up by it, and longing tugged at his heart…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- Astragal!!!!

Hello and welcome to today’s’ post about… Astragal by Albertine Sarrrazin! I had never heard of this book before, but I am sooo glad to have stumbled upon it in my bumbling ways. I was at a feminist book fair (I know you’re jealous) and on a stall were two books- Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles and Astragal. I was really leaning towards Chelsea Girls, but one detail caught my eye on the pink cover of Astragal and fate was sealed. That detail was a name: Patti Smith.

Yes, Astragal is one of the favourite books of none other than New York’s poet punk rock queen. After a tumultuous period with Robert Mapplethorpe ( no details about Robert are in this book, but to anyone interested ‘Just Kids’ reveals loads about that relationship, and is such a beautiful and tender book you will treasure it forever) when Patti was alone and knocking about New York with just her tattered boots and the pennies in her pocket, she had to make a monumental decision. To eat or to read. A cup of coffee, or a paperback of Sarrazin’s novel- both for 99 cents.

I think we know it is clear what path Patti took that day. And reading this story and Patti’s introduction to it- I am so happy she went without coffee that day.

Astragal is sleek, cool and deliciously dangerous in its style and subject. A French book from the 1960s, it narrates the escapades of Anne, but is really a lightly veiled auto-biography of what Albertine herself went through. Anne: the vulnerable yet acrid femme fatale. She is a character of multiple and conflicting selves, on the run from jail, an escaped prisoner returning to the world of freedom.

But is she more free inside or outside the prison walls? In prison, Anne knew the ropes; was contained but mainly free in her desires to manipulate and break the rules. She climbed out the kitchen windows to see her girlfriends, she knew the measures of time in a day and how to whittle the hours. But once out, she is not fully herself. The bravado gone as she is helpless in the road, alone in pyjamas with a broken ankle after jumping the prison wall. Burdened by the tethers of the law always behind her back, constantly on red alert for another police pig to lock her away. But the greatest barrier to Anne’s freedom isn’t her illegal status. It is her heart.

As soon as Anne is out, she falls in love with the man who saves her. I know, a bit OTT and cheesy. At first, I thought the same. Seriously?!? She literally has just escaped, has the whole world to swindle, already is in love with a girl in jail and a man comes by once again, like the cliched prince on horseback, to save Anne from her queerness and cherish her injured ankle, her vulnerability- because without it, she would run away she would run from him like she’s always run from authority. But, remarkably, Sarrazin does not make this one of maudlin and derogatory romance. It is hypnotic, complex and grittily real in its sparsity of hiding places from the human heart.

It is a tale of freedom VS confinement, of power VS submission, of Appearances VS Motives as Anne hankers after her lover and tries to rebuild her sense of independence and rebellion. Sarrazin writes in the first person view point of Anne, and the use of ellipses and general grammatical smoke screens means that sometimes this book can be hard to follow temporally. I had to re-read many a section to determine whether what was going on was in the present, past, predicted future or a dream. But that adds to the beauty of the book. You can read it as slickly or as slowly as you choose, depending on whether you want to be blown away with the drama, or contemplate deeper signals and meanings in the text.

This book is for anyone who seeks romance, drama and intrigue. It doesn’t take too long to read, and should definitely be on the TRL (to read list) for any Smith fan, as its amazingness really can be seen to filter through into some themes and styles of Patti’s own writing later. I will stop blabbering now, and leave you with a quote to tempt you to that bookshelf you know you shouldn’t stalk, just like Patti and her last 99 cents all those years ago… xoxoxoxooxxo

“A life had taken shape, after my arrest: for years, I had let it sprout, joyously absurd, naive and shameless. In that life, you were never carried off, petted, saved; you stood up straight… But in that life, all the same, you could get your kicks in the secret certainty of each day’s routine. My new freedom imprisons and paralyses me…”

 

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!- ‘Me Too: Poetry Anthology’

Hello and welcome to Tomboy Bookclub! Todays’ book is not for the faint-hearted, but it will always be important, even if all the media attention surrounding its topic does disintegrate soon… it is ‘#MeToo: A Woman’s Poetry Anthology rallying against sexual assault.’

You would have to be living under a rock not to know by now what ‘#MeToo’ means, but for those who want a little clarification: #MeToo is a hashtag originally created by Tanara Burke (not the famous Hollywood advocates of the movement, important though their contributions raising awareness have been) for people who have suffered from sexual assault and harassment to share their experiences without shame or indignation, to rightfully expose those who have done wrong. Speaking out and reclaiming respect for the downtrodden to remedy a problem that for pretty much the whole of history has been swept under a rug, something that has been made to feel like a part of life ‘you have to get on with’.

This book collects poetry from a whole host of women poets, encapsulating myriad experiences and traumas in a united aim to confront horrific power imbalances, creating hope for a world less riddled with pain. Although focusing on the experiences of women and girls mainly (of course the reality is not clean-cut, woman= victim man= abuser, but to save agro can we all just accept that the majority of women will suffer harassment in ways that the majority of men will just never experience in the same scale or intensity), this anthology is not exclusionary. From childhood to adulthood, amongst the sheer number of different stories coping with pain through art- there is going to be a poem that tugs at your heart strings, whether you’ve ever had to say ‘me too’ or not.

Each section speaks to a different aspect of assault, whether in abuse’s preludes or aftermaths to try to give full scope to the long-lasting and immediate effects that sexual assault can have on a person. Children slowly learning not to trust strangers, girls harassed on their journeys home in school uniform, grown women shirking from husbands and cars that drive too close- it is harrowing how ubiquitously, how insidiously assault rears its head repeatedly over the course of so many lives.

Poetry speaks of before, when the world was trusted, and evil was a mere blot you were told existed but had never seen or felt with your own body. And poetry speaks of during- the helplessness, the pain, fear and worry- ‘why didn’t I fight?’ ‘Does this mean I wanted it?’ ‘It can’t be so bad if it left no bruise or cut?’ Then aftermath: the constricting and contradictory longings of love and to be alone, trying to heal and forget but being unable to let go. How fear stays in the body- no man slowing down the car to ask for directions will ever be an innocent encounter again.

The scope of this book is not limited to the most abhorrent of crimes either (though too many a poem forces it to the front just how wide the scale of child and domestic abuse actually is). Some poems speak of silent evil, made so familiar and ingrained deeply into what we are taught to expect, so that when the blow falls no hurt comes after. This book makes you realise that many people supress the past, hide it away so they no longer classify what happened as what it is- abuse. There are women reflecting back on their pasts and realising with a shiver that it is them too, after all these years batting hurt away like a fly at the dinner table.

I don’t want to list the number and severity of the stories the poetry tells- that makes these poets no longer in charge of how their stories are told, it degrades the thought that went into making these poems. So I will just reiterate again: these poems will make you harden up inside, cry, break down and want to howl.

But, it doesn’t end with an acceptance of cruelty and gendered violence as being forever. The book ends with hope, and that is what makes it most important as a tool for healing and learning. It celebrates the resilience and beauty of all those who can now hold their heads high in survival. All those different people, with different voices and stories and emotions, all helping each other to live a life unburdened by the self-hating insomnia cruelty causes.

And, the ‘#MeToo Anthology’ actually does help make a difference to the lives of survivors like those whose poetry is in the book. All proceeds from the book go towards helping Women’s Aid, a UK charity helping women suffering under domestic and sexual abuse.

I hope I have written clearly enough to communicate how necessary I feel this book is to educate and inspire action towards helping people. ‘MeToo’ demonstrates how it could be anyone, anyone you know, who could suffer next from this epidemic; and which will show no signs of dying out unless we continue to hear, acknowledge and believe the people who need our help.

All the poems in this anthology are so gut-wrenchingly honest and beautiful for it, despite the pain they came from that I wish I could post them here. But, as I can’t I have chosen one that really stood out to glitter in the blurry tears that kept falling when reading. Please do try to get a hold of a copy, and please always try to remember this anthology’s lesson: Don’t let the evil of this world keep you quiet, when somebody else needs your voice to help birth their own xoxox

Exile

Love as a yes to the world
is difficult when I am
besieged by fingers and thighs
and strong strangling arms.

I am bedraggled by the touch
of desire without invite
and I can choose to stay here
in full body armour,

Hard-eyed, light guttering,
here where pleasures are
but at a price, or I can
unpack my boots and go,

With a map and a plan
and a bag of good books
to where hills and sky and
sea collide unseen,

Go to where the snow falls
untouched but for where
my feet tread.
And yet, to stand alone

Under endless steely sky-
what use inner light then
if there is no one,
no one for miles, to see?

– Rachel Buchanan

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- 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- ‘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.”