25 June 2011


In another room they were baking, mulling wine.
I was warm with cloves, melting butter, demerara,
and wearing your pyjamas.

I have been reading through the archives of  Julia Darling's blog. It is heartbreaking. But also full of beans. Beans and personality and the odd typo. It makes me think that the internet can be used for good things. Julia actually writes (in 2002) that 'apparently this kind of a diary is called a BLOG... derived from web logs. Mmmm'.

I was directed to it by my tutor as we were discussing my dissertation - illness, women, poetry. I knew the name Julia Darling from somewhere, but only in a vague kind of way. She was a novelist, playwright and poet. I say 'was' as she died in April 2005 of breast cancer. The blog is the diary of her final three years, and she documents her writing and her changing body and the people around her and the many projects she enthused about.

I read and read and read it through straight after my tutorial. And lo and behold, she lived in Newcastle. She was at the centre of the whole North East writing scene. She talks of all the theatres, art galleries, streets and hospitals that I know oh so well. She mentions people I am familiar with, and the town I grew up in. It turns out my mother met her more than once, and she was very good friends with friends of ours. This makes it so much more real, the tragedy more cutting... Mum can picture her in the Queen's Hall Arts Centre wearing a turban and chatting away to the arty types of Hexham. Full of energy and getting stuck in to the last. The blog is brimming with people, more than just the characters Julia created in her writing. She left school young and writes from not a formal but an intuitive background. She tries to 'go into the space where poems are made every day' and enters 'that pleasurable made up world that I control absolutely'. She gets to the truth of  a thing.

'The streets in the real world are much colder than in my made up one'

18 June 2011

Studious as a butterfly in a parking lot

My, my, and only part way in to a fully-booked poetry fortnight...

Tuesday was a sweaty workshop after a busy day working in a sixth floor greenhouse that grows books and books. I was introduced to some mind-bending new stuff by a UCL alumnus, a tour de force of a young poet who has a voice I would love to hear read the shipping forecast, or even the dictionary. A John Ashbury opening, then Timothy Donnelly* providing the delicious meat of the language sandwich, and finishing with an ekphrastic poem by Brenda Shaughnessy...

Would I dance with you? Both forever and rather die.
It would be like dying, yes. Yes I would.

Then off to the post-workshop pub, where I chatted about the Unthanks with the girl who had charted the whole of the folk music movement, plotting it along her bedroom wall. I admitted my poet girl-crush, and listened to Kelly Clarkson belting out a song I seemed to know the words to.

Wednesday saw the Eric Gregory Award winners reading at the Betsey Trotwood, a favourite old ale pub that draws in poets. I bumped into the tiny oh-so-connected online magazine editor who studies T. S. Eliot and Renaissance drama at PhD level, who is the girl who published me first (the poem of he previous post...ahem) and who loves Barbara Trapido as much as I do and will get to chat to Zadie Smith any day. Roddy Lumsden, our host, was chuffed, nay - made up!, over a Scot winning the prize for the first time in seventeen long years. The two toasted this with scotch just before the wee poet had to read his set. One winner had just got back from his honeymoon, and two others are engaged. Everybody is getting married. The Scot is tying the knot in three weeks which has brought about a bout of death poems. I sat with a short American with a trust fund who flies from programme to programme (literature, painting, poetry), country to country, and said he'd take me to New York in his suitcase. I think he curls his eyelashes. He recently broke off his engagement to a girl who was at least a foot taller than him. They had been seeing each other for seven years. He gave her New York; he has the rest of the world (though he hates Paris, thinking it barbaric. Apparently there is more culture in Cornwall). He never reads his poetry out to anyone, and he doesn't want to publish anymore. He claims to have no ambition. He is on an endless quest for beauty, seeking all things beautiful. He effused that men are wholly inferior; all he does is to worship women. As we parted, he told me he'll see me in heaven. Or hell.

Then it was a Thursday ZINE launch. The zine is a visual masterpiece, in colour or black and white or any way one cares to eat it up. We sellotaped poppies into the introduction; they are now caught between pages and re-printed over and over. Familiar faces read, and the beautiful tattooed lesbian rapped in a knowing middle-class way that blurted quite beautifully. A cold pint, free of charge and all the more satisfying for it, kicked off the evening.

He had the final lines of Dover Beach running through his head all yesterday, as I had a book drop down on my head. My face is now scarred by book spine. Today I drank hot chocolate and tried not to cry as I read of Elizabeth Barrett Browning dying in Robert's arms.

...from Browning some 'Pomegranate', which, if cut deep down the middle,
Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity.

* By God, 'Pansies Under Monkshood: A Folly' is the biggest treat. the moist / rot monitored with heart... And the most intelligent thing - you don't even realise it's ABABABCC. Then you spy it, and are like 'Whoooaaah!'.

15 June 2011

Unpacking the MPDG

“That bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations
of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life
and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

The above describes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Kooky and quirky and oh so pukey. This is pretty much the best Wikipedia entry I've come across on anything ever. And everyone should definitely watch this video.

So even our offbeat role models live purely "to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.” Great.

9 June 2011

What came out of the Dordogne

A woman with the loveliest name made me rose and violet creams for my birthday. Chocolate-coated crystals of over-the-top Romantic perfumed confectionery that should be eaten whilst reading novels and lounging in a silk kimono. The unusually-named woman and I had chatted about this sugared symbol of high romance in the past and she had remembered my gushes. Plucking them from the fridge on a hot day at work before meeting my parents in the evening for a warm drunken night put me in mind of an old poem. A poem that I wrote years ago when I was brimful of fancy. I read it now and scream inside my head: 'Edit! Edit! Cringe... EDIT!'. Here are the opening lines:

Veils in parade, each clutching rosary beads,
Rubbed between fingers like strings of pomegranate seeds.

Then this is the section where I was obviously dosed up to the eyeballs on sugar and escapism and 1920s glamour that I had only read about:

Both chocolates and kisses are exchanged by flush-faced girls,
Rose creams and violet creams and hazelnut whirls.
The lipstick prints left hanging in the air beside rouged cheeks
Linger like faint perfume of female mystique.

Other choice lines are:

Mata Hari dances wild, in her robes of gypsy russet.
Men glimpse flashes of gold, flashes of gusset.

The decorated mime artist, with cuffs and collar frilly,
Deeply downs champagne from the trumpet of a lily.           

And then towards the end comes the height of excessive, pretentious poesy. I use French and everything. For goodness' sake:
They laugh at others en francais, monsieur et mademoiselle,
Judging if each debutante resembles bĂȘte ou belle.
The party is invaded, by barbarians vain and louche,
Starved for entertainment, guzzling amuse bouche.

And I hadn't even read any Ronald Firbank or Zelda Fitzgerald at this point. They were to come later, and they did actually starkly expose the absurdity of such a sense of whimsy. I still adore them both of course.

I wrote this poem one summer on the car journey back from the Dordogne, where I had been holidaying with my family (and a boy named Budzak). The holiday was filled with devouring a biography of Lydia Lopokova (the Bloomsbury Ballerina who danced with the Ballet Russes and ended up living across the street from where I lived for my first year in London), smoking weed with teenage boys, sour expressions from my hollowed cheeks, a skinny love for everything I ate up with my eyes, delicious lychee liqueur, reading Middlemarch in hammocks, and being wedged in the back of the car on the way home with my youngest brother feeling delirious and silly and happy and half-asleep-dreamy. That's when I wrote a first draft of this long spiralling flight of fancy in clumsy couplets. I can't believe it was all the way back in 2008. It is so cringe. But was, and still is, so entirely me with my head in the highly scented pink clouds.

1 June 2011

I think the most absurd yet useful thing I can come up with is having a tattoo of a moustache beautifully inked along the inside of my index finger so I could put it up to my philtrum and be moustached just like that. Ta da.

I had bottled Crabbies and his special quesadillas for my pre-birthday feast after a day inside the colours of Miro.

My Great Aunt sent a card for a twenty-one year old boy. But I bought yet another thrifted 90s shift dress for my collection, and spent a day with poets. The gloriously intimidating and glorious editor of The Poetry Review gave me postcards and past copies. I bumped into our rather sun-leathered former Poet Laureate as I walked through Bloomsbury and chatted about his trip to Korea and him meeting his wife's aunts and uncles.

Pints of Czech lager, halves of strawberry beer, chatting politics and Dr Who in a Shoreditch pub where an elfin girl with a black woolly hat served us. Then a brick cave of a gig venue, where smoke, laser lights, and LOUD swallowed us. Three Trapped Tigers. Every mortal should be made to see their drummer play live. Such FEATS he pulls off. Mystifying. A gin and tonic for 'the birthday girl' then hummus pitta with two forks on the bus back home. Biting the end off the big green pickled chili and spraying the insides. We went a bit mad with the lemon, but after the gin it was pretty perfect.

You peel my eyes.
You flay my heart
as we shed our skin
and make dust.

And now it is the first day of summer (well, close as damn it), and I ate surprise chocolate cake and have a mini bottle of pink cava chilling in the fridge. And I am unwrapping butterflies.