TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!! ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’

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…

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 PRESS BOOK LAUNCH!!!!!!

Hello!!! Today is a very special post and I am excited for you to be reading it, BECAUSE TOMBOY PRESS CAN HAPPILY ANNOUNCE THE LAUNCH OF IT’S LATEST TOME!!!!!

‘I Try To Love’ (which is still for sale, so if you haven’t had a chance to read it please try to get a copy, I make and print them as cheaply as I can!) came out earlier this year, and is a meditation on the ways that private love and intimacy blurs with the social and shared emotions fuelling protest- the ways we publically love and support each other being a branch grown from what we sow in our secret lives. What I have to offer now is a slight departure away from my main interest of political and love poetry, but not much. This time round less focus is given to the societal and non-romantic forms of love, in favour of a more pinpointed, emotional free-for-all fall into the mechanisms of rapture and passion.

And so, DRUM ROLL PLEASE…….. I PROUDLY PRESENT TO YOU…….. ‘We Live In Hope: A Collection of Love Poems’!!!!!  ‘We Live in Hope’ is split into three sections: Unrequited, Halycon and Complicated- exploring the big L-word in all its complexities, joys and tragedies. To complement each section, it also features original full colour art work created by the one and only Ned Beale, @NetBdesign on Instagram- my little brother! He has patiently helped me bring this Frankenstein Dream to life, listening as I vaguely described ideas out to him in hopes that he would ‘get what I’m saying- you know what I mean?’ I wanted this collection to be something you could read any time- whether you’re tired after a long day studying at the library and want to snuggle down in solitary peace, or on a crowded train home still buzzing with the day, and I thought a great way to complement the poetry and help ease mental strain was to have some pretty pictures!

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!!! My deepest love in creative writing has up till now and will always be poetry, but I wanted to try explore other avenues of communication too (the joys of self-publishing). So, ‘We Live In Hope’ also offers miniature essays and meditations framing the sections of poetry I’ve lain out, hopefully to elucidate and introduce the themes and ideas I wanted each part of the book to confront. This book has poetry, pictures and prose all about the most elusive and ever-popular of emotions- WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK FOR?!?!?!?!

This project has been close to my heart (quite literally, it is not easy constantly reading your heart breaks and past happinesses over and over) and I think quite a while in the making. Ever since my ears first became attuned to the lilt and lusciousness of language in poetry, I have had quite an irrational bias towards the genre I thought would kaleidoscope the world into the beauty it truly deserves to be: love poetry (even when I had nobody myself ‘to love’, but I discuss this issue of who and how you should love in the book). I hope this isn’t the last book on the topic that I’ll make (not that I’m an expert or anything), but it does feel wonderful to finally have achieved part of my dream! My own book of Love Poetry!

ANYWAYS! I would love to be able to share this lil’ book o’ love with as many of you as possible- spreading the luvvvv and all that- so please let me know if you would be interested in getting a copy! The more books I sell, the cheaper I can give them to you for! AND ALSO, because it makes no sense writing about love whilst doing nothing to actually show it to the world, I want to donate £2.50 from every book ( both Tomboy titles) towards helping people suffering right now in the Yemen. Millions of adults and too, too many children right now are suffering, starving to death because of the vainglorious pride and capitalist bloat exempt of any compassion manufactured by those who are supposed to love us – our ‘leaders’. Love shouldn’t be a luxury you can write about and luxuriate in in reflection. People deserve a right to live, and that is what makes love possible.

PLEASE!!!!! SUPPORT INDEPENDENT ARTISTS AND THE CAUSE OF POETRY AND LOVE!!!!! My email address is mollybeale@hotmail.com so please drop me an email if you’re interested in a copy- or collaborating on further books in the future!!! Tomboy Press Instagram @tomboypress is always happy to answer messages on there too (We also have twitter, and I will check it more regularly but insta is a safer bet)

THANK YOU FOR READING THIS SELF-PROMO!!!! PLEASE SHARE THE WORD!!!!! TELL UR SISTERS AND MISTERS, MOTHERS AND FATHERS, QUEENS AND KINGS!!!!! THIS SHALL NOT BE THE LAST YOU HEAR OF THIS!!!!!

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB-The Daylight Gate!!!

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…”

 

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- ‘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.”