TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!! Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire!

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…”

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!!!- Telling Tales!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introductory Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB!: Hera Lindsay Bird

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

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

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

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

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

Keats is Dead so Fuck me From Behind

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

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ‘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.”

 

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB: BARONESS ELSA VON FREYTAG LORINGHOVEN!!!!

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!

ELSA!!!!

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.)

Elsa performing her poetry, not giving a fuck for her haters 💅🏼[/c[/c[/c[/c[/c[/c[/c[/c[/c[/c
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.

My shrine is better than your shrine :)))

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.

Elsa and Claude being iconic

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

IDOL

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.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOOX