Hello everyone! I actually wrote about this author very recently, but after a light summer rain I wanted to dance in thunder, hear the clouds boom (do you see I’m setting up a rain vibe?). Today’s book is a blending of modern quotidian life with epic forces of Ancient mythos, and I have just learnt that it has been made into a play too- so I guess it spans genres as well as histories. The Half-God of Rainfall is the latest offering from Innua Ellams- a dramatic tale of revenge against the powers that be, in this case the gods themselves.
I talked about Candy Coated Unicorns & Converse All Stars a few weeks ago, and this long poem seems to be a technicolour extension of one of the poems at the beginning of that first pamphlet- Portrait of Prometheus as a Basketball Player. Combining the drama, power and passion required for ruling the basketball court with the patience, meter and skill for composing poetry- The Half-God of Rainfall brings apparently separate realms of sport and art, of gods and mortals together into glorious collision. It follows the story of Demi: a half-god bastard prodigy born of rape. His mother is the mystic and quietly strong Modupe, a woman drenched with the sacrifices of her ancestors, who is forced through the cruelty of the Gods to repeat that cycle of pain herself- left alone and traumatized with a life she never asked for in her arms. The powers and influence of the Gods flow down to the world of mortals below, and whilst Demi may seem like a wimp to the other boys in his Nigerian village- it is his tears that rock the world, cause devastation with their emotion. He has inherited his mother’s humanity, along with some distant power. Love and rage. A powerful combination, which the Gods in their weakening purity cannot ignore, and like the mortal men they foolhardily think they’re so different from, seek to control in order to protect themselves.
However, whilst Demi is lauded with stardom he is not really the hero of this revenge plot. Ellams’ poem is a reworking of myth and modernity to make an exciting (and very satisfying) blood bath of feminine retribution against the Gods- who for all of history have been demanding that the feminine stays on her knees, in more ways than one… With the protection of the Nigerian spirits, and what turns out to be an inter-connected rebellion of all the feminine deities across the globe- rest assured Modupe does not let the Gods decide fate easily. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but Hollywood ought to zip it with Superman and that rabble, and really should make this poem into a film because I would LOVE to watch Modupe fuck shit up all goddess style. I thought I could predict the ending from the plot, and the tradition of revenge tragedies (me being an arrogant lil boffin) but what is remarkable about The Half-God is that it uses the old and hidden to make something dynamic and timeless. We all know that mothers are superheroes without capes, but this is a revision of herstory that truly reinstates mothers- and all those who suffer under colonial patriarchal violence- to their true majesty and vivacity.
If you love a good old plot of celestial planets and powers, sports and punch ups I would highly recommend this book. Its rhyme and metered verses make it fairly straight-forward to follow, without the laborious and cryptic language that epic poetry rooted in the ancients often remains. A modern decolonialization of myth to give the world a new taste of what power can look like, it’s potential when fuelled by love and not bloodlust.
“…Among the Greeks there is a famous tale of pride, about a child strapped with feathers and wax. It’s told this child who got too close to the sun fell and died.
Whenever and however this story unfolds, it’s never admired that he flew that he proved, it was possible, knew it, that- wings- fluttered bold,
Bright, b r o a d, a graceful glide of a thing and it moved towards the horizon before gravity pulled. His vengeance needed greatness… “
Hello again!!!!! It has been a hot minute since I’ve had a chance to write! I have been twitching to get the poetry/blog ball rolling again, and so I’ve decided to indulge myself and write about a poet I don’t know too much about, but whose work makes my soul sing in the lushest and funkiest of ways… NANCY CUNARD!!!
I first discovered this poet/heiress/bad-ass icon at an art exhibition- Modern Couples at the Barbican, to be exact. After having read a few more articles about her, I can paraphrase her fascinating life with my patchy knowledge as such: Nancy was born to filthy rich parents, magnates of the Cunard shipping line and famous for their posh parties. She was always embarrassed by her wealth, but used it to fund her art: establishing a printing press, The Hours, and hobnobbing with Modernist greats (she knew Virginia Woolf- FANGIRL MOMENT), even bedding many of them as her lovers too. SHE IS A COOL LADY. In her later years, she dedicated much of her life to fighting injustice: she was involved in the Spanish civil war, actively fought fascism as it spread throughout Europe, and also used her money to help champion the artistic talents and civil rights of black people in America to fight against racism there. Nancy actually lost her huge inheritance over her refusal to concede to her family’s wishes to break up with black Jazz musician, Henry Crowder (but sadly they split eventually anyways). She helped the French Resistance in London during WW2, and somehow was even on board SS Windrush from Jamaica when it travelled over to the UK (not that she was involved in fighting for immigrant rights so much, it is just a weird coincidence she was on board). Her activist efforts are sometimes dubious by today’s standards, many rightly criticise her efforts for being heavily steeped in exoticism and White Saviour-is, not really making the efforts to fully grasp how to best help people and rather revelling in the drama. However, I do like to believe Nancy had good intentions even if her execution was not always on point. In the end, her life was very sad- abandoned by most of her former friends and artistic cohorts, sick and mentally unwell in a Sanatorium; which is also why I think it is important to remember her now, so that grim loneliness in the hospital isn’t really her end at all.
Nancy’s poetry is full of heart and soulful observations about the world around her, infused with messages- whether it is an apple tree, a bunch of jonquils or a busy Parisian street, Cunard finds meaning in many places. One of the most stunning works to me is a long poem- Parallax– she wrote in response to T.S Eliot’s Wasteland, and what she felt was an uncompromising and somewhat misplaced negativity after the chaos of WW1. Where Eliot’s work is stark and undeniably morose, Cunard is febrile and sensitive, mingling the past sorrow of lost adolescence with the happiness from those memories that still lives in details of her contemporary post-war moment. She channels exuberance with grief, sensitivity with a tasteful gaudiness for expanding on minutiae, and doesn’t present a monotone landscape of emotion. Her works are serious in their poetic sincerity, adventurous in how they manipulate traditional motifs and structures in on themselves to create fresher voices, and saturated with nerve. Whether lamenting the loss of love and beauty, traversing and interpreting/interrupting urban landscapes or challenging social status quos and injustices- Cunard has a gravitas that can change its tune, but never its conviction to making us feel something.
Without going on and on, I will finish by including a poem of Nancy’s that I found very romantic and despondently beautiful in its intense stoicism on the pains of unrequited love. A sonnet of sorts that, in its strict structuring of lines, hides a trembling heart afraid of its own devotion, and the terribleness of the implications of being known. Nancy is a poet of mystic and fantastic vision, not fully understood but still starkly passionate in her various rebellions against family, cultural tradition and dominating politics. May we continue to rediscover and celebrate her legacy to modernism, activism, and generally being a bad ass rich bitch with a mission. The so called ‘socialites’ of today could never….WE LOVE YOU ALWAYS NANCY XOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXO
You Have Lit the Only Candle
You have lit the only candle in my heart that I am bound to worship,
Kneeling in the draughts of that cold and most solitary place,
Alone, without the stirring priests and breathless sounds of confession
That have made holy such other seclusions, and in their hour of grace
Absolved desires and sins that I am barren of. This sharp
Straight flame of yours is silent, and like a saint throws down on me,
Now I have knelt again after so long on this remembered ground,
The steadfast radiance of his mute impersonality.
You have lit the only candle that shall illumine my wayward paths;
And I tell you, before the time comes when its flames must tremble
Facing some great wind of eternity that rends and masters it,
I shall be gone with the thread of its tall spirit safe against my heart.
Hello everyone!!!! Today’s book is one that I’ve had my eye on for a year or so, and finally I found it again at a feminist book fair I went to a few weeks ago and said to myself I CANNOT LEAVE WITHOUT THIS BOOK!!!! It is a collection of short stories, not a genre I usually dabble in but this was glorious; so, without further ado, I introduce to you ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’ by Kathleen Collins.
If you live for political activism and Love stories (all the best people do), these stories will fill you with a nostalgic delight so that you’ll wish you had a time machine to go back to the early 60’s, pick up a placard and march along (and fall in love with) the people who trail blazed the world’s progressing social justices we are still working on today. Collins hearkens back to the time when integration, interracial communities and ‘the melting pot’ were young American ideals still unsullied from failure. When young white people and black people still believed that simply living together would solve all the problems created by white ancestors. Of course, we know this idealism failed and that the benefits of multiculturalism often turn out in reality to contribute to the erasures and misunderstandings that it is trying to solve. But Collins is both nostalgic and critical- revealing a tense undercurrent of dissatisfaction with this periods’ short-comings whilst also celebrating it as a time of energy, of enthusiasm and hope- even if free love didn’t have such strong foundations as the political arguments that would come after. Collins shows the bad and the good of the time when people didn’t want their love to be confined by race, and these are stories of love- in all its complexities of heart-break, young love, marriage and friendship. Love and race, how the two interact with each other in the lives of young, vivacious black women.
That is one of my favourite things about this collection: all of the stories centre around black experience, and most specifically, the vast majority are focused on the narratives of black women. IDK about you, but I can hardly think of any main-stream romantic heroine/ hero of screen or fiction who is black, and not made into some mistress, sexualized beast or just generally chastised because of it (I am always open to being wrong, so if I am mistaken please let me know which rom-coms to watch which don’t make me feel like I am observing a Nazis dream of marital eugenics). Most romantic stories, in trying to please white male publishers and producers, have constructed stories of love that fulfil their notions of what it is that will complete them. Unsurprisingly, most men (whatever race) don’t want their meek beloved- who they will supposedly save from the cruelty of spinsterhood (yawn) – to outshine them; hence why so many female romantic protagonists turn out the same: white, ‘beautiful’ (read: able-bodied and skinny), alone and needing dick to rescue them from whatever it is women can’t possibly have enough brain to solve themselves- everyone KNOWS that dick is the answer to all life’s problems!!!!
But in these stories shine black women, from many different class back grounds, but specifically focusing on middle-class/ boujie black girls which I found refreshing opposed to the stereotype of all black people always being poor. Black Women (Collins often chooses to focus on lighter skinned black girls) who are exploring love on their own terms and are not afraid to break out of stereotypes white people and even their own well-intentioned family’s force upon them. There’s the girl who cuts her hair and lets it grow natural and falls in love on a summer French course (with her professor- I didn’t wanna give spoilers but that story was so sweet I couldn’t stop smiling); there’s the sophisticated, cultured and elegant black girl who doesn’t need white validation, or to demean other black girls to prove her worth; there’s painters, mothers, freedom fighters, violinists, and daughters. They may not always be ‘empowered’ as such, as in many stories the girls are wrangling with men emotionally distant, abusive and just generally immature- not leaving relationships as quickly as we may like with our more modern ways of thinking. But each woman is an agent of her desire, and all the stories speak of some awakening, whether it be realising what love is, or figuring out how your skin colour affects what love is available to you- these stories are beautiful in how they show emotion so fleetingly and yet so powerfully, without the breadth or scope a whole novel would have to use.
Collins also worked with film, and this influence can be seen in some of the stories. Because they’re so short, many of the stories don’t get their emotional depth from the coming together of plot, but from the overlapping of time periods and omissions of narrative that allow you to fill in the gaps yourself. One short story, ‘Interiors’, is a set of two monologues from a husband and wife; its 9 pages, but the way Collins’ fits so much story into such ‘little’ prose, so much heart into sentences that don’t reveal everything- it does as much work that a story triple its length may not achieve.
I will stop blabbering now, but honestly these stories do not take ages to read and anyone interested in race, relationships, civil rights, art or LUV would adore these stories! Collins has long been forgotten as a black woman playwright, director and author and reading these stories it is wonderful she has been rediscovered from the mire of history to enlighten us again!!!!!!!
“… The night I danced for you. Why am I recalling such a simple time? We were taking a walk and suddenly I started dancing. I don’t know why; it wasn’t like me at all. I just wanted to jump outside my coloured looks and make you laugh… Why am I recalling such a simple time? We said good bye. We never saw each other again. Once my father mentioned that you’d moved to Washington, become a doctor, married. But all that seemed beside the point. It took so well between us…
Hello everyone! With the recent descent of Trump and his white supremacist cronies in the US mid-terms ( may they sink ever lower) and the higgeldy-piggeldy MESS that is Brexit, Windrush and Grenfell swamping the UK with arguments over who is or is not allowed protection under ‘great’ Britannia’, it seems appropriate to talk about this book now. Today’s post is all about Akala’s first novel Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’- I know he has also released graphic novels- i REALLY wanna read them- but I mean in terms of non-fiction hardbacks.
Natives is clever, to say the least. It boasts pages and pages of educational anti-colonial, anti-racist facts and footnotes, and you can tell that it has been a passion long in the making, articulately put together to tackle some great issues of race and class for not only Great Britain, but the entire history of the world: Apartheid and segregation, education and prison systems, white supremacy and imperial history are amongst some of the topics Akala touches upon. His aim with this book is to analyse the way race and class both intersect and feed off each other in conflict with the white state and upper classes, and how these historically institutionalised concepts affect a singular life in the making.
Akala uses the story of his own life to examine the workings of history and politics around him, and how these forces have shaped who he has become. Some people may feel he is boasting by constantly asserting his own past and achievements into the narrative of global history, but I disagree. All the auto-biography included is relevant to the intellectual arguments he makes, his own experiences generating courses of study to analyse the fates of so many working class black boys in the country. Life shown in contrast against the statistical hardship of so many others (not that Akala himself has never known these struggles himself) only makes his achievements more commendable, and indirectly highlights the need to implement what Akala’s book is trying to equip us with and inspire: the knowledge and urgency to ensure that more such rigorous insights can be written by more people who know first hand the effects of state racism and violence onto a child’s future.
It reminded me of another book about race I read earlier this year, ‘Brit(ish)‘ by Afua Hirsch, in which she also recounts the difficulties of forming an identity as a mixed race child in the UK whilst unearthing and lambasting historical racism. However, I will say that though using the same method of analysis of auto-biography these two authors’ early lives could not be any more different. With Hirsch growing up confused, but ultimately sheltered in her posh Wimbledon neighbourhood, whereas Akala’s past is definitely not privileged in any sense of the word as we would expect in the UK; yet he has a surer sense of his identity with close ties to others from the Caribbean and to young boys in similar shoes as his own. Hirsch’s book is also amazing!!!!! It shows a different environment to Akala’s, which actually enforces the point which Akala is trying to make: it doesn’t matter how high up the ladder of capitalist achievement a black person can go or is born into, they will still be ‘Othered’, still be stereotyped somehow.
This definitely isn’t a book you can rush through, it’s one you have to think over before going to the next page; maybe that’s just me, but there’s so many facts and ideas about so many topics that it would seem negligent to simply graze over them without properly trying to understand the point at hand. This is a perfect book to start learning about key concepts and issues underpinning race in Great Britain- but Akala also uses his mixed Jamaican heritage and travels across the globe to give nuanced opinions about how race and class operate differently and arbitrarily for each country depending on it’s history and geography. I think his most powerful writing comes from critiques of the UK education and Prison systems, where argument is always founded on fact and long-meditated analysis fed by numerous theorists (who he references in the back- great for people looking for further reading once they’ve finished this book!).
The lens isn’t just focused on the effect of racism and classism on black and brown people though, Akala also turns arguments back on whiteness itself. Deconstructing what is the ‘default’ identity for governments and culture to build around, and showing its true nature: not ‘default’ at all, but a highly constructed, conceptualised and insidious weapon of Capitalism to pit man against man (or woman) despite their similar material circumstances. This is a scathing attack, and a brilliant one. As the title may suggest, it isn’t the thugs or hooligans who we should be most worried about (still, fuck the bigoted scum bags) but the ‘powers that be’, that create the ideas and conditions in which racism can grow unchecked. From teachers defending the KKK as America’s crime fighting vigilantes (the part where he talks about his teacher arguing that the KKK stopped crime by killing black people is horrendous, but when out against the backdrop drawn from history sadly not that surprising), Nelson Mandela as an upholder rather than complete destroyer of apartheid in South Africa, to the police who end up asking him for advice on how to tackle ‘black crime’ (his critique of ‘the idea of ‘black-on’black’ crime is unquestionably good) after trying to arrest him- no authority figure is safe from Akala’s most effective weapon: his brain.
To conclude, I am going to quote a section of the book where Akala is highlighting the double edged sword that is white supremacy; at once giving it’s wielders a sense of superiority, yet completely negating any sense of individual strength of mind they could have by centring superiority on the assumed, and false, inferiority of others.
If you care about ending inequality, this book is for you xoxoxoxoxoxox
“…The long and short of it is that the master makes himself a slave to his slave by needing that domination to define him… We talk about white privilege but we rarely talk about the white burden, the burden of being tethered to a false identity, a parasitic self-definition that can only define itself in relation to blacks’ or others’ inferiority…”
HAPPY HALLOWEEN MY WITCHES AND BITCHES, MY GHOULS AND GIRLS!!!! Welcome to today’s Tomboy book club on this SPOOKY OOKY KOOKY SLAM DUKEY HALLOWEEN!!!
The book I’ve chosen today seems appropriate in its evil doings and filthy ways: its full of witches digging up graves and fucking Satan, but we’ll get to more of that later. I’d never heard of Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Daylight Gate‘ before I was crouching down hurting my knees at the bottom shelf of a charity shop bookcase with grandma looming over me (rifling through the DVD’s trying to find more films with her fave actor she loves to gush over- sorry for spoiling the secret, Chrissy), when I saw the name of beloved Jeanette and instantly reached for the spine.
The book is based off the true history (don’t worry, it still has the magical flare and fictional spell that Jeanette has made perfection) of the Lancashire Pendle Witch Trials in 1612- the home county of Winterson, too. Using details from the first ever witch trial in England to be documented, a narrative grown around the bones cast aside by history- like a reincarnation of spells- to flesh out a deliciously sordid and luscious tale of love, hatred, superstition and injustice.
Alice Nutter is the main character in the novel (it is really easy and addictive to get through though, I managed to get through it in 2 days and it would be great for a long journey!), a suspiciously aloof woman who has the audacity to live and control her own wealth without the direction of a husband’s hand. This book is full of contradictions and paradoxes, and whilst sometimes it can be a bit confusing trying to balance all the time, I think the way Winterson has created her characters to be so multiple and contradictory just adds further to mystery of the plot and hexes murmured. Alice is at once old and young, a mature woman with the face of a younger self; she is rich and supposedly got there by learning to be a merchant cloth dye trader- but how, and who taught her? Then there’s Old Demdike, the pustule ridden hag locked away in Lancaster Castle facing death, seemingly devoid of all tenderness and romance, but who actually has a past much more wild than I thought could pan out.
The male characters in this book on the whole are dicks- they are the powers that be spreading the atmosphere of fear and hatred which sent so many to death for simply choosing to live a little wilder. This book is set during the reign of King James, who is famous for writing ‘Daemonologie‘- an extensive study of witchcraft, and the ‘Dark Prince’ for whom they sell their souls. And also famous for being the target of the failed gunpowder plot, when Guy Fawkes and his lot wanted to blow up Parliament- it’s a pity they failed. But the book makes very stark the simultaneous persecution of Catholics and alleged Witches espoused under King James, making one wonder if its really witches who were the targets, or if witchcraft was merely a scapegoat for Catholics to be pinned with (“Witchery Popery, Popery Witchery“) as a justification to make those in power feel less guilty?
Using the rich men in charge to harass and essentially bully old homeless women and their families puts starkly in the foreground how class and gender were a big role in why people were really executed. It sort of makes the book more scary, as it’s not the witches who are the monsters- desperately trying any vile thing they can concoct to try to save their grandmother. The true Satan-spawn are the emotionless, and money-minded authorities- not giving a toss who they kill or why, so long as it advances their careers. They do say the real monsters aren’t the ones hiding under your bed…
Though I will give a warning to the faint hearted, this is a gristly book. Within the first ten pages a woman is raped (the book also features paedophilia and incest- but that is way to horrifying to go into here), and Winterson does not stop these relentless punches against ones morality. There are beatings, grave-diggings, torturings and orgies. Some of my highlights include when a head is severed from its rotting corpse, has a tongue ripped out of a boys mouth stitched inside its toothless jaw, is boiled in a pot and left on the side to speak. Or there’s the time teeth fall from the sky into Alice’s lap, or the time there’s a party for Satan and he literally starts shagging someone in the middle of the room with everyone watching- or the time a door knocker turns into human flesh… this book is weird, but a good weird I think. Not that I endorse any of the above acts, but the gore and fantastical gruesomeness is one of the reasons I love Winterson, she writes the most far-fetched things, but always manages to make it seem plausible in a way we dream of.
Winterson also always manages to put my favourite part of any story in amongst this bleakness: love. That may be the most devilishly strange thing after all, that love could survive in such a place. But it does, and whilst weird, the love stories conjured in this book are wild and soaring.
I won’t write anymore, most of you either want to go trick’o’treating or partying with one of those awful plastic clown masks- I hate those. But I hope you give this frightful tale a go, and it says that it was in production to be made a film so maybe there is a film too?!? Anyways, I hope you have a lovely Halloween and don’t piss off any ghosts or anything XOXOXO
“…’Do I believe in witches? He did not like that question. The question that followed he liked less: If Alice is a witch, how can I love her? He would love her if she were a wolf that tore out his heart. And he wondered what that said about love…”
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…”
Todays book club is going to be a little bit different, because instead of discussing one particular book/poem I am going to be celebrating the talents of one poet… ELSA VON FREYTAG LORINGHOVEN!
I only first found out about her a few weeks ago because like too many boss-ass bitches, she has been erased from so much of her legacy and historical input towards modernism/ dadaism in art/poetry. Elsa is so insipirng, not only is she absolutley crazy and therefore makes perfect sense to me, but she had a passion for truth and feeling as much as you can, that I think only a few people can equal. She was German, but moved to America in the early 20th century to live her life as an artist in the modernist community of Dadaists. She is highly suspected of creating one of the most famous pieces of modern art- that upside down urinal, supposedly by Marcel DuChamp under the alias ‘R. Mutt’. HOWEVER, many people think it’s Elsa, not Marcel (she tried to bed him unsuccessfully, but tbh I don’t think Elsa was lacking in the D- department- YASSS QUEEN!) for two reasons:
1.) There are letters from around the time of the Urinals exhibition (I can’t remember its name, and it never got accepted into the exhibition- but I think that was the whole point) where DuChamp writes that he recieved a found-art piece from a female friend in Philadelphia that he was thinking about entering into an art exhibition. Who was staying in Philly at that time, I hear you cry, and who also happens to be female?.. FUCKING THE BARONESS BITCHESSSSS.
2.) Due to Elsa’s Germaness, many people have commented on the phonetic similarity between the ‘R.Mutt’ psyudeom, and the German word ‘Armut’= poverty. People think Elsa could have been having some witty cynicism against the art world powers-that-were, by using the name to elude to the art world’s creative and visionary poverty when it came to understanding avant garde art in Dadism.
Aside from the urnial, another example of Elsa’s boundless views of overlapping realities is seen in ‘Cathderal’. A piece of driftwood, in which Elsa saw the shadows and spires of a grand cathedral; the unspeakable sadness of her longings for a lover who could not stay, of a God who couldn’t be worshipped. I love her bawdiness and unchastened view of the world and herself, but there is a tenderness and sensitivity to Elsa that I feel underpins so much of how she percieved so densley, and created where others would have seen nothing. Elsa isn’t only an artist of sculpture, though. She also perfomed sound poetry in her Greenwich Village appartment, paving the way for so many styles of poetry and music we listen to now. She talked about things no respectable people wanted to hear: eros, vice and sexual desire as transcending gender in its agency. I remember reading a part of her work when she said that Jesus had a large a penis, HAHA. When you think about it, that does make sense though. The son of God and saviour of mankind just wouldn’t have a mico-dick, surely? (No offence to any micro-dicks out there, God made you too.)
Another cool thing about the Baroness was her fashion sense, Lady Gaga aint got nothing on my girl. She used fashion as an extension of her artistic vision, and constructed modernist outfitts out of found everyday objects. She wore teabags as nipple tassles for fucks sakes- WHO EVEN HAS THE BALLS TO DO THAT I LOVE IT!!!!! (the breakfast food item theme contintues, as she also made a sculpture called ‘Orgasmic Toast’, and I can relate- toast IS orgasmic). One time she agreed to model for an artist friend, and when she turned up all she had on was a red mackintosh and a hat decorated with root vegetables, betroots and carrotts amongts others (as you do). He asked her to take her kit off so he could get painting, and she threw her coat down like a gauntlet, revealing her naked, save for a bra made of tomato-tin cans and green string to symbolise the commodifcation of the female body. HOW FUCKING ICONIC IS THAT, ALL SUPPOSED FASHION ICONS SHOULD BE QUAKING IN THEIR BOOTS! BASIC BITCHES COULD NEVERRRRRR!!!!!!!! To top it all off, Elsa even got arrested once for walking down central New York in a mans suit smoking cigarettes at a time when women were not allowed to shashay to their full potentials. She used her body and fashion to queer gender in unprecedented ways- allowing feminity to be sexually in command of the phallus, letting real bodies encapsulate both sides of the metaphysical gender spectrum- and if she were alive now I have no doubts she’d be a superstar.
ELSA IS GOALS!!!!!!!!!! I have no shame so I will share this nerdiness with the internet, but I actually made a shrine to Elsa in my room complete with decorated dragonflies and a minature rock garden with dried flowers and mini crystals. I repeat: NO SHAME.
Despite her lavish imagination, constantly producing a reflection of the modern world where nothing was cast in one singular image, but always moving and changing in different perspectives- the same fruitfulness cannot be said of her material life. She had the title of a Baroness, but in reality her Baron was merely a bus conductor, fallen far from any hints of aristocratic comforts. She lived much of her life in poverty, finding sustenance in her art and friendships. But, this wasn’t to last. She ended up dying of gas suffocation in her Paris flat, but its unknown whether she commited suicide, aged only 53. So much of her creativity and spirit is lost to the mainstream art world, where people rap off names like Van Gogh or Monet like muscle memory. Her sad and untimely ending haunts me, but the sparkle and colour of her imagination is enough to make even Death wince and rub their eyes in her gloriousness. I imagine her not battling insanity or capitalist suffocation, but vibrant and alive with her friends in Greenwich Village. With Claude McKay, her black and gay friend- another powerhouse queering bodies and gender- both dressed like club kings and queens and posing for the camera like they could be in any fashion show or red carpet now- just so long as Elsa can keep her root vegtable hat and tin can bra.
Her work is obscured, and so quite hard to get a hold of cheaply in print, but honestly to anyone who loves art/ poetry/ interesting people- I would highly recommend making Elsa your new fave person to google, because she deserves the regognition completley. From Grason Perry, to the sex pistols and beyond- so many punk rock anarchists today owe their lot in part to Elsa, and I hope one day she will get the biopic/museum/ commemoration she deserves. I will include a poem here to tantalize you, but I cannot say it enough: SERVE YOUR BARONESS! ELSA IS PARAMOUNT! MAY WE REMEMBER HER WITH LOVE FOR THE GLORY SHE DESERVES AND THE WONDER SHE INSPIRES!!!!! xoxoxo
Why is it – that for that distinctive man
We sigh- pray -cry- incessant jubilate –
That even lovely sun we shall despise –
Although he in his glory set and rise
Above exalted empire of own –
Unless that semigod bestride fair throne –
That this one pair of lips – applied –
To our own delight – spites death –
His step stark happiness –
Upon his shank we sit I state.
Why is it – that the tussle – teeming world’s
Figures appear to be dim marionettes –
Like corrupt corpses tidy put aside –
He kiss thy knee – Prince Carnival winks bright –
Merry kings house – we caper gay as god –
To humor his mad body’s ardent plea –
We spill our crimson fount exultingly –
Mount scaffold black –
Alike we would flounced bridalbeds
And yet again – and still that selfsame man –
After some spell – becomes he changeling
Loathsome to pet – we stare him down –
Where is his ermine – purple-studded crown –
Hey-well-a-way – times kindled blazing red –
And thus it stands: flesh is but fickle spark:
Flame burns eternal – tinder crumbles dark –
Idol for aye – blood sacrifice
His stipulated offering.