Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year, readers!

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone who follows this blog my commiserations on the shitstorm 2009 turned out to be, and my naieve hopes that 2010 will be a better and more prosperous year for you, me, and all the people and causes we care for. I know I'll be working to make it that way: hopefully I'll land a few more good punches in the next 12 months.

I did want to do a long 'review of the year style' post, but, y'know, feck it, who has the time? But as a gift for readers, have a gander at this link to a youtube video of Tori Amos covering Bonnie Tyler (and not in the way some of you imagine, you filthy, filthy bastards). And if you consider that an inadequate recompense for a year's worth of faithful service, I beg leave to remind you not to fuck with the Ears with Feet.

Seriously, though: I love you all, and thanks a billion bundles for putting up with my witterings. Now, piss off and enjoy whatever you're doing, and I'll be back to rant at you some more in 2010.

Monday, 28 December 2009

More Elizabethan Musings

So I've been researching the sequence I'm toying with about Elizabeth by listening to the audiobook of David Starkey's Elizabeth, which is read excellently by Patricia Hodge (it's a performance which is, what I call, quite good).

One thing I've learned from this is that the final line of yesterday's poem will need changing. Elizabeth wouldn't have regarded Henry as a 'fiend' - if anything she seems to have been something of a daddy's girl, at least after Henry welcomed her back to court - which is a shame because I quite like that line. But there are two interestingly juicy points which will be worked into the sequence. First of all, Elizabeth was meant to be a boy: all the major astrologers Henry had consulted had predicted she would be male, the letters announcing the birth of 'a young prince' had already been written, and Henry's biggest problem was whether to call the lad Edward or Henry. The second interesting fact, while not strictly gender-related, is that Anne Boleyn supplied Elizabeth with loads of expensive clothes after the young prince(ss) was installed at her own private court in Hatfield House. Unsurprisingly, this supply dried up after Anne's execution, and there was a period during Elizabeth's childhood when she literally had nothing to wear. Later in life, she apparently made sure the royal wardrobes were stocked with hundreds of dresses...

I'm not sure at this point what form the Elizabeth sequence is going to take, but it'll definitely include something about these.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Elizabeth, the Woman King




Beneath the swagger portrait
she stands, legs wide, arms angled,
hands, raised to harp or dance,
to be plighted, an enchanting gift,
their pallor and their dainty size
a toy for kings to stroke
with their rough fists,
and marvel at, returning
from campaign, or from the lists,

turned in, and resting on the skirts
which flare from where her hips must be:
thick cloth, stiffed with willow-bent,
so she may echo, in her shape,
the man whose pose she imitates,
the absent lion, England’s finest monster:
this brawling, warring, whoring fiend her father.


* * *


I've became fascinated with Queen Elizabeth I recently, and particularly her odd position as a woman forced to follow in the thundering footsteps of her father, Henry VIII, a king who set a benchmark for an over-the-top, brawling, angry, I-want-it-all image of masculinity which looms large over the English collective psyche. As Simon at Obsessed with Film has pointed out, King 'Enery is a role which just about every major English actor with a certain heft has had a crack at at one time or other, and Elizabeth seems to occupy a similar position for Britain's female actors: in recent years alone we've had Helen Mirren, Anne-Marie Duff, and Cate Blanchett try their hand at playing the 'Virgin Queen', and it's fair to say she occupies a position in English culture just as important as that of her wife-decapitating, pork-chop-munching, church-establishing father.


I think a lot of the interest in Elizabeth and Henry derives from the fact that we imagine a contrast between them: Henry is a sexually rampant monster, a pre-embodiment of 'lad culture', while Elizabeth is an eternally unsullied national matriarch, the Ice Queen Gloriana of an England which forever stands alone. But this is the complexion we've put on things after the facts, and it ignores a key reality of gender politics in the Tudor era, specifically that Henry could get away with it; Elizabeth couldn't. Can you imagine what would have been done to a female ruler if she'd carried on in the same way as Henry? How people of her own time, and future generations, would perceive her? Well, you don't have to imagine very far: consider Catherine the Great. Catherine wasn't by any measure as much of a monster as Henry - but Henry makes it into the history books as a lovable, bumbling, Falstaffian figure, while Catherine is eternally remembered as a crazed sex-vampire who met her end trying to be pleasured by a horse (an urban legend which is, in fact, entirely without foundation). And Catherine's reign took place centuries after that of Elizabeth! Clearly, Elizabeth was never going to be able to get away with acting like Henry in matters of the flesh even if she wanted to jump the bones of every hot courtier she saw (a view hereafter to be known as the 'Sexy Tudors' school of history).


The odd thing is that in some ways, Elizabeth tried to act a lot like Henry. The poem above is about something my ex-wife, Michelle - a major Elizabeth-nerd - once told me. Elizabeth had a copy of Holbein's famous 'swagger portrait' of her father hanging up in her chambers and, when giving important people an audience, she would stand underneath the picture and place her hands on her hips in imitation of Henry's pose.


The implied meaning of this, of course, is that she was reminding people who her dad had been, and that they'd better watch out, but it's an image I find interesting for other reasons. Here we have a woman who's became an icon of a particular kind of feminine power (Margaret Thatcher's self-presentation during her reign as British PM can almost be regarded as a kind of Elizabeth tribute act), and one of the ways in which she herself asserts power is by trying to alter her gender presentation so she comes across as more masculine. What if Elizabeth saw herself, not as a Queen, but as a woman who had to act like a King?


It's not as far-fetched as it might seem. The discourse of power at the time was entirely male, diplomacy and nation-management described in terms of what 'a prince' should do. Elizabeth had seen how her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, had come unstuck by being a good girl and relying on her husbands to take care of her: maybe she decided to forget about getting a man in and deal with the King business herself. She even pretty much said as much, in the famous Armada speech - 'I have the heart and stomach of a King', remember?


Entirely predictably, I find this aspect of Elizabeth - the way in which she deliberately confounded expectations of how she, as a woman, should behave - extremely interesting, and I suspect the poem above is probably going to be the start of a sequence. We'll see how it goes. This is all very much W-i-P, though, so I value your thoughts.

The Honest Scrap Blogger Award

Kristen Mchugh at Carnival of the Random has conferred on me something called the Honest Scrap Blogger Award, for which much thanks. Under the terms of the award, though, I have to do two things: first, I have to tell you ten true things about myself which no-one knows, second, I have to confer the award on ten more bloggers to spur them to further acts of embarrassing self-disclosure.

I'm going to interpret the first commandment fairly loosely, as ten things which people reading this blog probably won't know about me. There are probably one or two people irl who'll know these things, but for the most part, I hope, they'll be new for you.

1) It doesn't always show up in photos, but I have two different coloured eyes. This is actually a source of mild irritation to me because, when you have different coloured eyes, people always mention David Bowie to you, and Bowie doesn't have different coloured eyes. I'm a massive Bowie fan, and one of the many teeny bits of trivia which Bowie fans accumulate at the expensive of remembering more useful information like, say, which bit of the periodic table tells you the atomic weight of an element, is that the Dame's eyes appear to be different colours because one of his pupils is larger than the other as a result of having a brick thrown at him as a kid, an accident which also distorted his depth perception permanently. I have normal depth perception and normal-size pupils, so my eyes really are different colours...

2) When I was much younger I saw something one night which at the time I thought of as a ghost, but which I'm now inclined to regard as a hallucination brought on by sleep deprivation. At the time I was terrified of seeing ghosts or, more accurately, being seen by them, and decided the best way to deal with this was to stay up all night and keep watch for the feckers. Unsurprisingly, I eventually saw something, in this case, a bearded head floating above the bottom of my bed. After that experience I figured that it was definitely more frightening to see something that shouldn't be there than to be watched by such a thing, so I made sure I always got plenty of sleep thereafter.

3) Despite having enjoyed David Tennant and Patrick Stewart's performance in it yesterday, I actually think Hamlet is a bit of a mess as a play. To me, it lacks the sense of inevitability that characterises Macbeth, the sense that every action the protagonist takes leads inexorably to their doom, and that doom has been set in motion from their first wrong decision.

4) I'm genderqueer rather than trans, so, while I don't entirely conform to the rules for male gender expression I don't devote massive amounts of effort to 'passing' as female. Despite this, on three separate occassions in the past few months I've been casually assumed to be a girl by people with whom I've interacted. Two of these people were women, all of them were cis (i.e. non-trans). I find this interesting because, if someone like me can screw peoples' perceptions so effectively, it suggests that the widely-held idea that there are tell-tale signs which mean you can always tell trans women from cis women is, well, a load of old (untucked) bollocks.

5) I've always regretted the fact that I never kept up the piano lessons I took when I was young. Having an instrument to hide behind when performing would give me a much greater feeling of security than having to stand up in front of people with just a microphone, the poems I've memorised, and my back-up portfolio.

6) While I'm always open and confident in my writing, I'm actually painfully shy in a personal context. At most gigs I tend to spend most of my non-performing time floating around, desperately wishing I had the gumption to talk to people, and constantly thinking that I must look a tool.

7) I have very long toes: the second toe on each of my feet is only slightly shorter than my little finger. As a result of this I'm actually pretty good at picking things up with my feet. A jiu-jitsu instructor once described my toes as 'elegant' and I still class this as one of the ten nicest things anyone's ever said to me.

8) I once saw Ant McPartlin (of Ant 'n' Dec, Geordie TV presenting duo) while out walking around Newcastle, and said 'hello' to him, because I vaguely recognised him as someone I knew. It only occurred to me a few feet later, when I realised who he was, that I only 'knew' him from watching television, and had never met him in real life. I imagine this probably happens to celebrities all the time, and must be one of the more bizarre things about being famous.

9) When I was younger and trying far too hard to be interesting, I used to be something of a hanger-on in the local fetish scene (I never got that heavily into it, I might add, I just liked the clothes - though I did, once, let someone run an electric current through my nipples, to see how it felt. Tingly, since you ask.) and there exists, somewhere, a sketch of me attempting to open a wine bottle with a high-heeled shoe I borrowed from a drag queen because I'd forgot to bring a corkscrew. It's one of my biggest regrets that I never bought this sketch from the guy who did it, because it would make a great illustration if I ever decide to write an autobiography.

10) I share a bathroom at the moment with my parents, and my mum has a skin condition which makes me paranoid to use bath bombs, foam, salts etc when taking a bath because I'm worried their residue might cause her to suffer a reaction. As a consequence of this I have genuinely considered staying the night in a hotel simply because I could marinade myself in a variety of Lush products guilt-free. The fact that I would almost certainly do this if I had the money is one of the few things that makes me think my being poor is a good thing.

Phew! That was hard work. Now, the nominations:

I confer the Honest Scrap Blogger Award upon the following people:

Kevin
Alison
Matt
Lisy Babe
Thomas Moronic
The Redhead
Nikki Dudley
Jessica Johnson
Robbie Hurst
and Kate Fox, why not, eh?

God, that took bloody ages. I hope to god some of you lot I've tagged here do your own answers. Otherwise I'll feel a right tool. Right. Off now.

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Very Merry Cismas

It was a good christmas, on the whole. Sure, the shop where I work closed and I lost my job, and, sure, I still have a massive wodge of glue on my head from having to have a gash in it patched up after I decided to fight a metal fire escape last week, but on the whole things are good. I found out I've lost four inches off my waist. I found this out because my parents bought me new jeans which actually fit. My ex-wife got me a bottle of Jack Daniels and a Dylan Moran DVD which I'm watching now; I had enough money to buy myself a bottle of Barolo which I'm drinking now; and my folks went to the trouble of getting in nachos and dip which I'm munching my way through now. I shouldn't be, really: my gran came over and we all had a ridiculously massive dinner, with turkey and pork and sausagemeat and stuffing and parsnips and yorkshire puddings and carrots and pigs in blankets (oh my!), and really I probably ought not to eat for a week, but fuck it, it's christmas! If you can't enjoy yourself at this time of year, when can you?

Of course, there are people who find it hard to enjoy themselves at this time of year.

One of the major advances in my writing this year came when I had to prepare for the Plinth in Trafalgar Square, and I realised the frequency and intensity with which gender issues come up in my work. Practically all the time in what I write I find myself obsessing with issues of what it means to be a man, or a woman, what behaviour marks you out as such, and why I just plain prefer doing things the gender binary says I shouldn't. I like wearing make-up, I like acting femme, and I'm attracted, usually, to girls who don't. It comes up again and again in my work, it's something I think about a lot; but because I'm so frakking dense, I never realised how damn genderqueer I was until the facts were there in front of me, when I looked at everything I'd written up to this October and thought, wow, I kinda think about this shit a lot.

And so, because I'm a regular Willow Rosenberg, I began researching. I mined the internet for facts. I read whatever I could find in the local library which seemed, to me, to be relevant (which wasn't much, to be honest, in a hick town in the North East of England). Through the agency of the fine authors and twitterers Poppy Z Brite and Caitlin R Kiernan (who really are two of the best writers on the planet, and whose work you ought to read whatever you think you may be), I began to become acquainted with the trans community on Twitter, in the course of which I temporarily became a satirist , but, more importantly, I learned a fucking lot. And one of the things I learned is that I'm a fucking lucky bastard.

And I'm lucky because, as queer as I am, I'm not trans and, more specifically, I'm not a trans woman. I've written before about the disgraceful murder statistics for trans women, and I want to draw your attention - your and my privileged attention - to the fact that while we're all basking in the love of our families and material bounty which would, a century ago, have marked us out as some kind of tribal potentate, for many women who had the misfortune to be born into the wrong kind of body, and the courage to do something about that, Christmas is anything but a happy time. And rather than get on my guilty white liberal high horse and preach, I'd prefer it if you followed, and read, these links to important, informative, and moving posts from the blogs of gudbuytjane and Helen at Bird of Paradise.

I'm lucky and, if you're reading this blog, the chances are that you're lucky too. And that's fine. We won't change the world by wearing a hair shirt and flagellating ourselves (you might have fun if you do that but, y'know, your thing is your thing...), but we might change just a little bit if we remain conscious of the fact that we are so lucky, and that our 'luck' in fact represents a widespread system of kyriarchal prejudice which functions to keep certain people at the bottom of the heap, and that we might create a world in which those people can have the same 'luck' we have if we change our own attitudes to those people and give them space to speak...give them space to speak? No. That's not right. Respect their goddam right to speak and help spread and publicise the things they have to say so that the people who would deny them their rights feel like the shamefaced idiots they are and step aside.

Helen, and Jane, and every other trans woman who has been rejected by their family and friends, deserve to not feel sad and traumatised at a time when the rest of us are stuffing our faces with doritos and drinking Italian wine. The fact that they can't experience the same happy winter festival as the rest of us is what is wrong with our society, and it is wrong because of people like us. And we can change that, and we should. So. Y'know. Let's.

And yes, it is Joshua ben Joseph's alleged birthday and here I am blogging about gender issues and the kyriarchy. I do indeed have no life. But I do have Barolo, doritos, DVDs, the freedom to express who and what I am, family that loves me and a safe roof over my head. And I'm off to enjoy those things now, because I'm privileged enough to have them. Good night.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

What on earth is going on?

Two things happened today which freaked me out a bit. The first thing was finding a small metal ball-bearing apparently left randomly on a shelf in my section of the bookshop, next to a copy of Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde. This probably seems like a fairly quotidian thing to have happen, but it seems a bit perturbing if you know what the last book I read was.

The other slightly odd thing that happened was that my Blackberry apparently only detected that it had a memory card in it tonight when I went to take a photo of myself demonstrating the size to which a hole in one of my socks had grown:



The weird thing is, I've taken photos on the thing before, and it's always just saved them to the device memory, not a media card. I didn't even know there was a bloody media card in the thing in the first place. So - what the hell happened? Was the card always there, and did the thing just fail to detect it 'til now? Or did somebody sneak into the staff room, break into my bag, and install one? And if it's the latter - couldn't you have installed one with more than 1 gig of memory on it, man? That'll hardly be room for anything.

I suppose it must have been there all along, which is both a shame and a blessing. A shame because if I'd known I had a memory card all along I'd have downloaded the 7digital app, a blessing because if I had done I would have bankrupted myself buying Florence and the Machine tracks by now. Indeed do many things come to pass.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Human Rights Celebration Gig

This gig isn't about me performing. I'm doing one poem and that's it. It's about giving the audience an opportunity to write something, themed around this prompt:

'I'm afraid to say...'

and that's it. The idea is that in some societies people are afraid to say things because of government repression, but in our society many other kinds of repression are in play. The idea of the piece is to give people a safe space to say things they would say, but they're afraid of reprisals from bigoted, ignorant people.

Over the course of the day, we'll be asking people to write down what they're afraid to say, and stick it to a wall in Newcastle Central Library. At the end of the day I'll take down these notes, collate them, and work them into a poem we'll publish on the web (and elsewhere, if possible).

I'd like to give people who follow me on the net a chance to be part of this too. Imagine you're completing that sentence: 'I'm afraid to say...' followed by what you fear to say. Even if it's 'nothing'. (I would love it if it was nothing, and can think of at least one person who'd give that as her answer). Then, once you've decided how you'd complete that sentence, either reply in the comments below or tweet me at @adamfishpoet on Twitter with the result. If you tweet me, add the hasthtag #imafraidtosay to make sure I see what you're getting at, and also the hashtag #anon if you'd like not to be credited for the final published version of the piece. If you add your line in the comments, mark it either 'anonymous' or 'creditted' as desired.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to people taking part. Updates here soon on how this gig goes, and then we begin the countdown to the next gig which, as much as I fear it, has to come some time. See you soon.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Speak Fear

Don't worry that I haven't said too much about the Human Rights Celebration Gig at Newcastle Library on Saturday (it's at 3pm, by the way, if anyone wants to come). Work is happening on it, a few things have changed, even since the Baynham Test post the other day, and I'm now a lot more confident that It'll go better than originally planned. One of the things that excites me about this thing is that there's very little performing involved in it. I will have a video of one piece on before I perform, I will do one number myself, then I have a little presentation to give (with accompanying Powerpoint slides - oh yes!) explaining the point of the thing, and then - it's over to the audience. It's their gig, not mine. They'll make it or break it, and I hope to god they make it, because I want to give whoever turns up a chance to speak their fears, to feel brave, even for a moment, in the hope that that bravery might be something they then carry with them elsewhere in their lives.

And part of that is because, at this point in my life, I'm absolutely goddam terrified. And the thing that I'm terrified of is my next gig. I don't know when that is yet, and in a way part of me doesn't want to know, and part of me wants to delay it indefinitely for exactly that reason. Go on hiatus. Leave the scene.

Those of you who read this blog and are aware of my previous work will have observed that the stuff I've been posting on here recently has taken a slightly different turn. I'm not playing to the gallery anymore; I'm not doing funny poems about Meat Loaf and rhyme-heavy freestyle-derived numbers that show off my performance chops. I'm trying to be real. I'm trying to write something true about myself and the way I see the world. Something that doesn't depend on audience approval, or indeed the provocation of audience disapproval: something I can stand by and say this is me, this is how I see it and let the chips fall where they may. This is the whole reason I pulled the plug on publishing All Haste is from the Devil back in July, and, as much as that decision hurt a lot of good people and made me look like a ridiculous primadonna, I'm more certain than ever that it was the right one, because forcing myself to be real, to get back to a writing process that's about describing what I experience in the most honest way I can, has resulted in poems that I can be proud of. You've seen some of them on this blog. But here's the thing: you haven't seen the half of it.

There are things I've written recently, good, well-crafted poems I've spent a lot of time on, which ripped out my heart and stamped it to a smear. Poems the writing of which literally left me in a crying heap on the floor of my room. And I am afraid to read these poems in public, afraid to submit them for publication, because as good as they are (and I believe them to be among the best I've ever written), I know that to put these things out there will change my world in ways I'm not prepared for. I'll go further: I'm afraid that putting these things out there could break me, and that if they do, there's nothing that'll put me back together.

And I'm afraid most of all because - and here, really, is the thing - they want to be read. They want to be published. The next time I send work out for publication, these poems will be among it. The next time I perform, these poems will be the stuff I read.

And that's what scares me. That's what wakes me in the middle of the night, what makes me stop and sit back on my haunches on an afternoon walk, what makes me think a million times a day about announcing that Saturday's gig will be my last one. Because I don't know if I can face the gig after that.

Because: after I invite Saturday's audience to find the strength to speak their fears, I have to find the strength to speak my own.

Friday, 4 December 2009

On Looking Back Into the Mosh Pit

Off to a party tonight and may not be in easy reach of a computer for a couple of days because I'm off to another party the next day - I am so rock 'n' roll. So to tide you over, here's the poetry video I've been working on over the last couple of days.


The Baynham Test

I've been working on the text bit of the interactive poetry session I'm going to do for the Human Rights Day gig at Newcastle Library on the 12th of December. This is really weird because I thought there wouldn't be a lot of writing and me talking, and so far the combined intro, links etc comes to three pages. I'll be trimming, that's for sure. But one of the things I've been thinking about, one of the challenges, is this: how do we keep an event in which we invite people to collaborate and write a poem based on the idea of saying that which they're afraid to say, and stop it descending into an 'I'm afraid to say I hate the Muzzies but I can't because of political correctness gawn maaaaaad' hate-fest?

And then it occurred to me that you can't fake fear. Here's part of the text I've written up for the presentation bit, addressing this issue, and proposing an idea of how we can assess the risk-value of peoples' free speech:

There’s an idea, widespread in this country, that defending the rights of minorities to live without fear is bullying and a curtailment of free speech. And that’s crap. It’s a lie perpetuated by liars who have a vested interest in keeping it going to sell newspapers, and that’s it. First of all, from the earliest time free speech and free expression were recognised as rights it has always been understood that they don’t include the right to make life hell for vulnerable minorities, or to spread hatred and prejudice. And for another, how often do you see the same boring people droning on about ‘political correctness’ and how it tries to silence them, week in, week out? If there really was a group trying to silence them, don’t you think they’d, well, be silent? It’s a crock and most people know it. Don’t believe what you read in the Mail or the Sun: only 19% of people trust those papers, and with good reason.

I propose a test we can use, on ourselves and anyone who pretends to be standing up for free speech: let’s call it the Ian Baynham test, because he’s the example I’m going to use. When he challenged three thugs about the homophobic abuse they were spouting, he knew he was taking a genuine risk, that the situation could turn violent and he could get hurt. In that situation he would have genuinely, emotionally, felt afraid. He would shake and feel the blood draining from his bodily core to his extremities as his fight-or-flight reflex kicked in. Now, when Richard Littlejohn sits in his mansion in Florida and writes another nonsense column about political correctness, or when Tony Horne says in that hilarious way of his that ‘we’re not allowed to say ‘gypsy’ anymore’, do you think they feel like that? Do you think they feel that they run a genuine risk in what they’re saying? No. That’s the test. Fear is an emotion. It can’t be faked. So – what real things, things which actually exist, try to frighten us out of expressing ourselves?

I’ll give you an example from my own experience. As some of you may have worked out, I’m not exactly the most macho guy going. An alpha male is not me. And because of this I fear taking the bus late at night, because I know there are people who object to the way I express myself in terms of my appearance and body language, and there’s a risk that these people might beat me up. And that, genuinely, makes me feel afraid. I’m vulnerable in that situation. I feel that tightness in the stomach, that lightening in the head, that urge to run away. And that’s how I know that’s a genuine fear, not one I’ve made up.

What things make you afraid to speak up, readers?

Theology Geek Humour

Thanks to Mitch Benn for writing this brilliant paragraph, quite possibly the funniest thing I've read in months:

As is often the case with sequels, The New Testament was not as universally well received as its predecessor with many staunch fans of the original refusing to accept it as part of the “canon” and preferring to ignore it completely (see also Highlander II: The Quickening).

Comparing the first major schism of the Abrahamic religions to the reaction of Highlander fans to that film's dire sequel is a stroke of genius, which reminds me I should try to make time to listen to more episodes of The Now Show.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Worst Thing?

You know what the worst thing about being a writer is? The absolute worst thing? Worse than the conflict between the need for constant praise and the violent desire to run screaming away from the world; worse than the nights staying up past three in the morning with a pad and a pen and raging insomnia because you're trying to say something and you know you haven't got it quite right just yet, but if you stay up just a little longer and change this little bit here then you might have something that works; worse than the fact that it's almost certainly a one-way ticket to a lifetime of grinding poverty and total dissatisfaction? Worse than that?

It's the fact that occassionally you read something, or hear something, in which someone really pours out their heart, exposes themselves in ways you'd never think they'd dare, rips off a layer of their skin and shows you the fresh fucking blood and muscle beneath...

...and part of you, a horrible, mercenary, assassin-hearted little part of you, is clocking all the mistakes, all the little ways it's not quite right and thinking: 'yeah. I could top this, easy.'

I'm a writer. I hate myself. Sometimes, these facts aren't unrelated.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to have a shower.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Just Don't be a Dick, Dick.

Yesterday I had to 'represent', as I believe you young people say. Walking back from work, I saw a man in a van shouting at a woman in a 4x4 stopped across the roundabout. She was in the wrong, but this guy was leaning out of the cab of his van, shaking his fist at her, shouting 'come on' and generally being a violent arsehole. I thought as fast as I could, realised I couldn't cross the traffic to get to him , so whipped out my Blackberry and trained the camera on him, making sure the fucker saw that was exactly what I was doing. Fortunately, realising someone was watching and recording suddenly made this fellow unaccountably sheepish, and he drove off in a huff.

What would have happened if I hadn't been there? Would he have climbed out of his cab and assaulted her? And how did she feel when she drove home? These things are on my mind today not because I want to show off how much of a hero I am - I'm probably in the running for Poltroon of the Decade - but because today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Violence isn't just hitting. Violence is shouting, violence is creating an intimidating environment, violence is acting in any way with the intent to frighten, subjugate and humiliate a woman purely because of her gender.

There's a hell of a lot of violence against women, cis or trans, in this world, from all kinds of quarters. It isn't just a male-on-female issue, there's violence against women by women too, and there's behaviour that enables violence against certain groups of women by creating a false distinction between them and others(I'm looking at you here, Bindel), and there's the general existence of a rape culture which makes all women (and a hell of a lot of men who aren't total pricks) unsafe, and it all has to stop.

Arguably, that woman yesterday avoided a beating because I happened to be walking past with a camera. That shouldn't have to be the case. However she was in the wrong, the guy in the van should have caught on to himself, held his tongue, and been man enough not to be the oppressor.

A world in which men do that - a world in which we all do that - will be a safer day for all of us. Keep that in mind.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

So yeah, poetry 'n' stuff

The other day I was cleaning out a cupboard, and I found something I'd looked for and failed to find about a week ago: my old recording mike. I last used this thing about a decade ago to record some poems for a probably-long-forgotten project at the Arc in Stockton, back when it was a new venue, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it still worked. I plugged it into my laptop and realised that this now meant I could record some of my actual poems.

Once I'd got over the horror of being forced to listen to recordings of my freakish voice, I did so. Then I looked into ways of uploading them to this blog, and my facebook page.

Turns out the easiest way to do this is to post them as videos. This, however, would entail me having to work out how to use Windows Movie Maker. So I sat my ass down and did so.

The first video, posted only to my FB page, was really just a test to see that the audio uploading worked. But I've spent tonight working on a new video where the images reflect the text, follow each other sequentially and last the whole of the video, giving you something to look at while you listen to me witter on. So, without further ado, here's 'Retreat':


More TDOR

Some more links to blogs discussing the Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November 09.

Cheryl Morgan muses on, among other things, the prevalence of transphobic violence in Brazil, and a commenter discloses a tragic story from Italy about yet another way in which the Catholic church seems, to this reader at least, to be on an ongoing quest to make itself as least like Christ as it can possibly get.

The wonderful people at The Angels paint it black in remembrance, providing a list of the fallen.

And Lucy from Catspaw makes the important point that when we talk about the murder of trans people, we're overwhelmingly talking about the murder of trans women, and particularly trans women of colour. Oppressions, as she says, do intersect, and if we're ever going to undo the kyriarchy , as Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza calls it (though in my sci-fi geek heart I still call it the Matrix), then we have to be aware of those intersection points of oppression, and not try to co-opt them to play the I'm-the-most-oppressed game.

Lucy also provides another important service, in providing links to further blogs dealing with TDOR, all of which I urge you to check out.

It isn't November 20th on the Greenwich Meridian anymore, but it's still that day somewhere, and somewhere on this planet, men and women are being oppressed, harassed, and murdered for being themselves. And whatever day of the year it is, that has to stop.

Friday, 20 November 2009

TDOR 09

Here is a link. Please read it, and think about it. And think about this:

Risk of being murdered for most people? 1 in 18,000.

Risk of being murdered for transwomen? Between 1 in 8 (for transwomen of colour) and 1 in 12 (for those transwomen lucky enough to have been born caucasian).

I know it can seem wearing for some of you, when I get on my high horse and start having a go at the Mr T Snickers ads, or Julie Bindel's transphobic magazine wankery, but there's a reason why I do it. And that reason is right there, in black and white, in those numbers.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Learning to speak all over again...

Last week I fucked up. I stood in front of a small crowd in a room, read two poems which I then apologised for and fucked off the stage. Nothing wrong with the poems. Nothing wrong with the way I performed them - other than that they were too heavy for the start of a set. I did nothing to soften up the audience. Nothing to get them in a receptive state, make 'em laugh and make 'em let their guard down. No foreplay, basically. And so having failed to properly get them revved up, I finished too early. I'm sorry. This sort of thing almost never happens to me, honest.

Today I looked through a huge portfolio file of my poems, working through them and finding which I could stand by in terms of publication, and those I could stand by in terms of performing. This was born of two anxieties I've had recently: that I need to get my performances right and start giving the audience a little more of a back rub before elbowing their attention point, and that I need to make a proper push toward getting something seriously published. In the whole set of poems I found fourteen poems I could stand to see published (with another two I'd probably grudgingly include) and thirteen I could stand to perform. They weren't all the same poems - publishing and performance have slightly different criteria, but the point is, there were so few of them.

There are times when I wish I could throw out work as fast and perform as confidently as my old self. But it's a wish I know better than to indulge. Because the old me was an arrogant prick, a monster of ego, who treated people badly and did things out of a selfish desire to be loved and then, for some time, a selfish desire to be hated. And I never want to be that person again. Ever.

I've changed. A lot. And I'm continuing to change. Part of that means learning a new language, a new way of being - a new way of speaking. Of performing. For a long time I tried to be a rock star poet because I thought that was the best way to perform, because I thought it was a persona I could wear to give me the confidence I needed. And it did. All drugs confer a benefit, for a time. But that persona wasn't me. It was something I pretended to be which eventually became me and which turned me into someone arrogant and grotesque and actually, when you got down to it, kind of mean.

And now, at long last, I'm at a stage when I want to drop all that shit - both the love-me shit and the hate-me shit, which are two sides of the same damn coin anyway, and just start being me. Perform and publish only the stuff that seems to be truly me, that I can truly own, and present it to people in a way that doesn't beg for their affection or taunt them to attack.

Today, in the dining room of my parents' house, I found an old portfolio from my Creative Writing MA. I haven't really looked at it yet, because I know it'll make me cringe, but it reminded me of how it felt to write things which, awkward and ungainly as they were, still had beauty and truth in them. To dredge something up from my sewer of a heart and say this is me, rather than to try to manipulate for an emotional reaction. And the best reactions I ever got in any case, the ones that meant the most - they were from those poems. Flawed as they were, and delivered so quietly they could barely be heard, because I was so chonically shy in those days.

I want to be heard these days, and I want to perform in a competent way, and I want to give to the audience rather than just take, so I'm prepared to work harder to make my performances interesting. But I want to do it while being true to myself this time. So in that sense, last Thursday's performance was a step forward because that I was doing. Inevitably I'd feel nervous. I'm not the guy I was. But I did it and I didn't bullshit the audience or try to fake who I was. From there I can work on the performance aspect and get better. And only having fourteen poems I'll stand by? Fair enough. Back when I was starting that MA I'd have killed to have four good poems that really said how I thought, so fourteen is frakkin' stellar.

Last week I fucked up. But I know that I'm going to get better.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Why I Fight

I don't have, and for as far back as I can remember have never had, anything approaching a conventional religion. Oh, sure, I was raised Catholic, but even at infants' school I was the kid who annoyed the teachers by asking difficult questions about the rules. One of my earliest memories of theological argument is of me sitting in the tiny class library in my third-form infants' class, showing another student a picture of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness in one of those cool illustrated bibles they do for kids (I maintain that adult bibles would look a lot better with those fantastic, fully-painted kitschy illustrations), pointing at Satan and going 'This is God' and then pointing at Jesus going 'this is the Devil.' I was a Gnostic at the age of nine! Needless to say the kid freaked, went and told the teacher, and I got me a good shouting-at. The point is, I never bought the official line from Christianity, and I still don't.

As I was growing up I became fascinated by alternative religious movements. I flirted with wicca, as most teens do, but it felt...neutered, somehow. Wicca is too nice for me. There's too much sweetness and light in it. Or at least there was in the wicca that was being touted when I was growing up. My feeling is that it may, post-Buffy, have gotten a little darker and made a little more room for the nasty things in life, but, I dunno, whatever. Most wiccans I met never looked, to me, as if they could last half a round in a mage-off with Granny Weatherwax, so I moved on.

What I eventually settled on, religion-wise, was my current practice, which is one of devotion to an orisha in the Santeria pantheon called Yemaya. Yemaya's a sea goddess, and I've always had an affinity for the sea. Large bodies of water have always calmed me. Standing by the lake or the sea has the same effect for me as standing in a gothic cathedral, an intense, numinous sense of awe and wonder. But it isn't just that. If it was just a sea-god thing, I could pick any number of deities. No, the reason I like Yemaya, the reason she's the only god-like-entity I could ever truly get behind, is because of a story.

See, Yemaya has a son, Chango, the fire orisha. And Chango is a cocky motherfucker. Swaggers all around the place, cheats on his wives and concubines any chance he gets, takes vengeance on anyone who fucks with him: generally Chango is a big, dick-swingin' playa. Any woman he wants, he gets, and he will break any heart without regret. But Chango's an orphan. He's never known his mother.

Then, one night, Chango finds Yemaya at a big feast, and she looks incredible. He doesn't know who she is but he wants this woman. So he swaggers over and tries his usual thing. Yemaya does know who Chango is and takes major offence at being propositioned by him, especially in such a disrespectful manner, but doesn't show it. Instead, she leads him out to the beach, and gets in the sea with him. Then, when Chango's in the sea, she cooks up a big storm and tries to drown him. The whole scene gets so bad that Aganju, Chango's father (or possibly his brother - these syncretistic religions are confusing like that) even comes along and pleads with Yemaya to spare the boy. Yemaya replies with the incredibly zen line: 'I will save him when he is willing to drown.'

(That is the part I love about this myth, that line. You'll only be saved when you give in to the ocean. When you let go of the heroic ego and dissolve into oceanic experience. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

So of course Chango, being a total badass, is not willing to drown, so down he goes. Yemaya lets him back up, and asks him again, and again he basically gives her the finger. So down he goes again. The third time - and of course it's always the third time in mythology, but you knew that - the third time, Chango relents, gives in, and tells Yemaya that she can drown him if she wants to. And so she lets him live.

What I like about this story is the confrontation between the heroic, swaggering, masculine, heroic ego and the deeper, subtler yin energies represented by Yemaya. And the fact that ultimately the masculine hero is powerless against those forces. As all heroes are. You can swagger all you like, you can boldly go wherever you frakkin' want to but boy, at some point, you're gonna go down in that ocean. Your precious strength is going to leave you. You will lose your power to exert your will upon the world. You will sink into the ocean of aging. The ocean of infirmity. The ocean of senility. The ocean of forgetting. The ocean of death.

But that needn't be a bad thing. If you're willing to descend, the ocean ceases to be frightening. And, like quicksand, if you keep your head, all of these oceans can be swum in. Even the ocean of dying.

Of course there are other oceans which are just as much of a threat to the heroic ego: the ocean of mystical experience, the ocean of compassion, the ocean of love. All these things are a threat to the masculine hero because they remind him how small he is. And he can't have that.

We live in a hyper-masculine culture at the moment. We live in a culture afraid to go down in any of those oceans. A culture so macho that, as George Monbiot points out, we fight back against the growing evidence that parts of our planet are literally sinking into the ocean with ever more ludicrous, environment damaging behaviour. A culture which erects hurtful, disabling standards of masculinity which ultimately punish both those who don't conform and those who do. Our culture at this time is like Chango, thrashing around in that ocean, ignorant, confused and striking out in that confusion uselessly, unable to see that it can only change when it makes peace with reality, and abandons the heroic ego. Unable to see that it can only be saved when it's willing to drown.

Our culture has too much Chango in it: too much of the damaging, big-dick-swinging badass. And the collateral damage is there for all to see, in the rape statistics, the suicide statistics, the domestic violence statistics, the harassment which women suffer daily from ignorant male pricks, the homophobia, cissexism and heteronormativity which expose anyone who fails to conform to the prescribed templates of masculine and feminine to be liable to discrimination and violence, and the scars on the wrists of those young men and women who, beaten down by their failure to live up to a warped world's expectations of 'the normal' can see no recourse but to punish themselves.

Our culture needs an overwhelming dose of Yemaya's forces right now. Before we blow ourselves to shreds or choke ourselves to death with greenhouse gases, we need a big, big loan from the girl zone to make us see that all our thrashing about is useless - but if we make peace with the ocean, if we accept that we're going to drown, we may yet be spared.

This has been a longer post than I expected, but then this is a complex topic. Anyway, that's all I have to say for the moment on it. Doubtless there'll be more stuff later but, for now, I need to shower and get my nails on for tonight's gig. Laterz, yeah?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Operation: Sex Change

...is the title of a game I proposed to MB that would, I swear, have made them a cool billion, but did they go for it? No. They thought a game in which the player has to carry out a perfect vaginoplasty (link NSFW, BTW) on a ruddy-nosed cartoon man might be, and I quote 'pushing the envelope in a direction we, as a family games manufacturer, really don't want to go, and if you keep calling our office high on drugs in the middle of the night we'll have you bludgeoned', and instead went with a Simpsons tie-in edition of the old Operation! franchise. Pussies.

Not really of course. What Operation:Sex Change is, in fact, is a Facebook Campaign set up by people from Bekhsoos, a queer arab magazine, to draw attention to the problems faced by transgendered people around the world, and in particular to draw attention to the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th. It's a pretty simple idea: you go on Facebook, you change your gender identity on your profile, publish the change to your profile and, when people ask why, you tell them about the campaign.

Readers of this blog will know that as someone who self-identifies as genderqueer I often explore related issues on this blog and in my work, and will not be wholly surprised to note that on my FB profile I now appear to be one of those HOT LOCAL GIRLS facebook ads are always telling us we should meet up with RIGHT NOW. But I'd also like to encourage you to do the same. As Cheryl Morgan points out, it doesn't hurt, and it's only temporary. Go on, live dangerously.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Don't get me wrong, I still hate the Tories an' that...

...but this guy shows that disgust at the Sun's latest sickening and over-hyped attack on Gordon Brown goes beyond party allegiances. I can forgive Jacqui Janes for her anger about this, and I can appreciate that she's probably being milked for quotes by some red-top bottom-feeder, but I can't forgive the Sun for deciding to make a story out of what boils down, in the end, to picking on a disabled man.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Just Writing Week: Another Worstdraft

The arcade beneath the office block,
plague hospital beyond, the Georgian close
tucked neat behind the underpass,
the weed-choked steps, a hanging wasteland garden
walked by hungry eyes at night
but safe as houses in the day;

these places, all the others, every view
we saw together, every path we both danced down
while swapping sugar-high perspectives:
what happened to the way we used to walk?
When did we start shuffling and shambling
with the rest, start creeping to their tempo
and not keeping our own beat?
If you came here, if I went to your town,
would you, just once, wish to dance again?

Tell Me Why (I Don't Like Sundays)

Ah, Sunday morning, and here I am up way before the sun getting ready for work. I have to get up stupid early because I need to make sure to get the bus into work at the right time. The bus I need to get only runs once an hour on Sunday in off-peak time, and this is definitely off-peak time.

You have to hand it to the kyriarchy (Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's more nuanced term for the dark forces who would rule this planet - go read the link, it's important), it played a blinder when it convinced us that allowing shops to trade on sunday would give us all more freedom. Of course it hasn't. But it oppresses us in different ways, and we only think that some of those ways are freedom.

It oppresses me because I have to get up this goddam early. It oppresses me because so much of my time is spent trying to find a way around the crappiness of the Sunday morning bus schedules so I can get my ass into work without being late and without being so bloody early it hurts. It oppresses the bus driver who has to be there in that bus driving my sorry arse into work in the morning, and the guys at McDonalds who have to be in there even earlier than I do to give us other Sunday-working mofos our coffee while we wait for the managers to arrive and open up the shops we work in. The only people who think they're liberated by this system are the people who don't have to work on Sunday, the middle class folks who get to spend Sunday morning nice and comfy in their beds before they go out shopping.

But here's the news from those below: if you're taking your ass out shopping on a Sunday, then your ass is not liberated. Because you have accepted the idea that your role as a passive consumer, as a cog in the neo-'liberal' capitalist economic machine, can know no bounds. You are accepting that there is no space, no time in your life which cannot be commercialised. I don't agree with the Christians on a lot of grounds, but one area where I do agree with them is that, when we decided to treat Sunday as basically just another shopping day, we lost something. We lost the idea that there might be one day a week when Mammon didn't reign supreme.

This Sunday, readers, don't go shopping. Don't necessarily go to church, either, but do something different. Start a little project at home - something you can get started on without going out and buying materials for it. Visit a museum (do not go to the gift shop). Go for a walk in the woods, go running, take a trip to the seaside. Read that book you haven't got around to. Listen to some music. Visit a friend. Step out of the machinery, start focusing on the idea that maybe there ought to be more commerce-free areas of life. And stop submitting to the collective hypnosis that tells you you are free because you can buy useless consumer tchotchkes on a Sunday, and which oppresses us all.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Just Writing Week

I've christened this week (roughly this week anyway - from last night to my gig at the Jazz Cafe on Thursday) Just Writing Week, in my world anyway. I'm paring my tweeting and my Facebook participation back to less hyperactive levels and trying to spend the time writing instead. This is pretty much worstdrafting - throwing words out and seeing what happens - but I thought it would be interesting to post up what emerges on here, given that this is, y'know, sort of meant to be a poetry blog and that.

So, here's the first result. It doesn't have a name yet and it's maybe a little misshapen. Cradle it gently, as you might tend a wounded bird:

I come to again
in this hotel room dark
where paranoia eats the curtains
like a fleet of moths

the wine and whiskey in my bloodstream
laying plans with my enemy hormones,
chemical defence to make my body
shuck my soul, leave me just another zombi
in the low sun light of day

so inviting
this annihilation

all you have to do
is one more whiskey,
let yourself go under

be submerged
in dreams of other flesh, memories
of her piano
and the screams still ringing
their defiance
on this too-tame night

and now the sun’s too bright
through these windows
which do not open fully,
a suicide and lawsuit prophylactic,
this attempt to dodge
the human liability

this sun too bright
and last thing I remember
it was night

(and yes, I am reading Caitlin R Kiernan again. You should be too.)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Interactive Poetry Rides Again!

Remember the Interactive Poetry Experiment I was trying to pull off at the Trafalgar Square gig? I'm gonna get another run at it. At Newcastle's celebrations for the International Day of Human Rights (which will run for three days because we divvent dee things by halves oop here, pet), and under the aegis of Newcastle City for Peace, I shall be having another go at the 'I'm afraid to say it but...' collaborative poem idea at Newcastle Central Library on December 12th. And this time, there will be audience!

I'm massively excited about this. I was really looking forward to doing something with my plinth-time that got beyond my usual rockstar-poet ego-trip, included people and gave them space in which to speak their fears, so I was kinda bummed when it didn't go quite as it should have due to their not being a lot of people in Trafalgar Square at four in the morning (who knew?) and I just had to default back to performing. Getting a second chance to have a crack at it, in the service of such an important cause, is an honour. I'll be posting more about my plans for this one in the coming days, I'm sure, so stay tuned.

Anyway. Tea now, then pub later for me. Stay classy, people.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Buttocks and Hairy Chests

The Fishblog salutes the courage of Irish hurler Donal Og Cusack, who has shown a degree of courage not seen among England's ball-chasing, DJ-assaulting community in coming out as gay. In a sport as macho as hurling, whose players are seen as archetypes of Irish masculine virtue, it takes, well, balls to come out and admit to the truth of your sexuality, instead of shamming around with a Model-Actress-Whatever girlfriend from reality show central casting.

The Fishblog also commiserates with Donal on the fact that his coming out has been celebrated in verse with this, well, not very good effort from usually very good indeed Irish novelist Colm Toibin.

I mean - 'I love their buttocks and their hairy chests', Colm? Really?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Bindel PWNED

The Daily Quail have published my parody of Julie Bindel's recent transphobic brainfart from everyone's favourite right-wing reality-denial journal Standpoint. Have a read of it and, if you aren't doing so already, add the Quail to your blogroll. They do a fine job of parodying the fearmongers of our right-wing press -and, humour being the best weapon against fear there is, that's worth doing.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The kids aren't alright

The recent cowardly attack on a young gay police trainee in Liverpool follows closely on the heels of a similar piece of viciousness in London and is evidence of a worrying trend. Newsnight are looking into it tonight, with contributors including Johann Hari. They'll be asking where this rise in homophobic attacks by young people is coming from.

It's a complex issue and there are a lot of factors that probably contribute. The economy probably has something to do it - when young people are on the street with no prospects they're going to seek some outlet, and, depressingly often, that outlet is beating up the different. Never mind the fact that GLBTQ people are probably being hit just as hard by the recession, perhaps even more so - adopt the socialism of fools and blame it on the hate-group.

It doesn't help that there are figures in the media all too happy to spread the hate. Whether it's a Bishop and a crap DJ, a pointless newspaper opinion-monkey who looks like Tracy Turnblatt's uglier sister, or even Mister Fucking T, there's no shortage of media figures all too happy to contribute to a climate in which people who don't fit the heteronormative template are othered as deviants and weirdos.

I think there's another factor at work, though. I think one reason why we're seeing more young people attacking those of differing sexuality is the fact that we currently live in a sexually toxic culture. And the focus of that sexual toxicity is children.

Somewhere, we seem as a culture to have developed a deeply unhealthy fixation on the sexual abuse of children (I deliberately avoid the term paedophilia, because etymologically that suggests abusers love the kids they rape. They don't. Nobody who abuses another human being against their will just to make themselves feel good does it out of love.) Let's be clear on this: the sexual abuse of children is abhorrent. People who abuse children are scum. People who get off on the abuse of children are scum. But our problem is that there are an awful lot of people in this culture who do get off on the sexual abuse of children, but won't admit to it, because they get their jollies in a different way.

These are the people queueing up to buy misery memoirs. The people who froth at the mouth at the latest abuse-scandal on the news and derive an all-too-obvious pleasure in telling you what they'd do to these bastards. Ramsey Dukes had their number a long time ago. He suggested a thought experiment: imagine you're interviewing people to be babysitters for your children. One seems nice and friendly, another goes on obsessively about how kids are incessantly under threat from filthy perverts, yes, scum, lurking around the corners desperate to get at them, drag them away to some lair and then, hmm, yes do terrible, terrible things to them...which one do you leave your kids with?

You wouldn't leave them with the slavering obsessive, that's for sure. Because some instinct would tell you that a person that obsessed with badness happening to children is going to give them a very, very warped environment.

Except that we are giving people like that access to our children. We're letting them get right in their heads and fill them up with toxic bullshit.

The most depressing sight I ever saw in my teaching days was that of teenagers reading misery memoirs. Those books are incredibly popular with adolescents, and that frightens me. It frightens me because these are kids just coming to terms with sex and sexuality, and the depictions they find of those things in the culture are stories of children being preyed on by sick, twisted, evil adults.

Imagine you're a teenager. You're in the grip of crazy hormonal behaviour. You're growing hair in weird places. Bits of you are getting bigger and changing shape. You're starting to experience feelings of desire for others and, more importantly, you're also becoming aware of the fact that you can excite desire in others too.

And the only media you're getting which doesn't talk down to you about sex, which treats it in any way which isn't hedged about with paranoia and stupidity and kow-towing to spineless, moralising puritans, are stories about adults who desire kids like you in the most horrible way and who do terrible things to them.

That's going to fuck you up. That's going to make you paranoid about sexuality, and particularly about any sexuality which lies outside your boundaries of what's 'normal'. And when you see someone who lies outside those boundaries, that paranoia, that fear, is going to be triggered. Add to that a media which colludes in the othering of those with non-heteronormative lifestyles, and you have a recipe for violence.

What to do about this is more problematic. We can't censor misery memoirs. But we need to tell kids that their depiction of the adult, sexual world is a gross misrepresentation. Most sex isn't like that. We need to take a genuinely mature approach to teaching our teens about sex and sexuality, and stop the hysteria and paranoia by which the actions of a tiny minority of people cause us to regard all adult/child interaction as a minefield which needs to be watched and monitored obsessively by the government and other self-appointed guardians of morality. We need to teach kids that differing sexuality is normal, that sexual difference is not sexual deviancy, that the only truly abhorrent sexuality is that which abuses without consent. And we need to put a stop to a culture in which kids are learning about such deviancy before we teach them about normal sexuality.

Kids will be less sexually bigoted if we let them grow up and develop as healthy sexual beings. And that means we have to try as hard as we can to create a culture which can be the good babysitter, rather than a culture happy to leave its childrens psyches in the care of foaming-at-the-mouth paedo-obsessives.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

A poem and some gig news

I will be performing at Pink Lane Poetry and Performance at the Jazz Cafe, Newcastle, on the 12th of November. It all kicks off at seven pm and lasts until quarter to midnight or thereabouts. Pink Lane pack a lot onto their bills so they're tight about sets lasting only ten minutes each. I intend to honour this and then some. The planned set is four poems, one of which may be stripped out, and I can probably get through it all in five to seven minutes. After which I will perform a rigorously controlled scientific experiment researching how many glasses of bourbon a 32-year-old man can knock back before losing the power of speech and motion.

Those who want to see a bit more of me may well have the chance at a large upcoming event in Newcastle, but I don't want to give away too much about that yet. More as it happens.

Here's something I wrote this afternoon. I know where I'm going with it, but I don't think it's finished as yet. See what you think:

Hymnal

I want to dance to the brushed-drum footsteps
of the fears that creep in the wake of your smile.

I want to dance to the high-end hammerklavier crash
of you smashing my nightingale heart like a drunk
gone far in self-directed anger
at the end of a barleywine night.

I want to dance to the singing-saw whine of these tears
which come, unbidden, as the thought of you
flashes up without permission
when I almost think I'm beautiful.

I want to dance out my own violence
and the ways that you hurt me,
to thrash out my spastic confession,
shake every last inch of my uncertainty.

I want to bump, and grind, and groan
my filthy eucharist:
I want to pray my fine wild prayer
along this polished, ash-strewn floor.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Ticking over

Hello you. As you'll notice I've been tardy about updating this blog. Dealing with some stuff. More soon.

In the meantime, today's lesson is taken from Mike and the boys, ch.11 v.9.

See you all soon.

Monday, 19 October 2009

I am officially humbled

(though not, thankfully, in the Iron Sheikh sense) by the decision of poet, editor and now novelist Nikki Dudley to list the Fishblog among her favourites on the blog set up for her debut novel, Ellipsis. If you aren't already reading Streetcake, the online magazine she co-edits with Trini Decombe, then you should be.

Up the Workers

I always hate the way the mainstream media reports on strikes. Particularly the TV. They always start with the negative effects: 'Thousands of commuters were left stranded today...' 'Holidaymakers were trapped in airports all over Europe this morning...' 'Today, hundreds of irritating children were forced to spend an entire day in the company of the soul-dead, middle-class meatsacks who spawned them as teachers went on strike...' etc etc.

I know I run the risk of being called a conspiracy theorist here, but I honestly believe they do this to try and convince you that the unions are your enemy. That it's the RMT who are fucking the shit out of you on a daily basis, rather than the barely mammalian scum who run the rail companies. If you thought about it, of course, you'd realise that the train drivers are as screwed over as you are, maybe more so: you only have to get on the train twice a day, they're there the whole bloody time. And they have to deal with potential derangements, suicides or idiots getting onto the track, and probably a whole load of bullshit targets about arriving at 80% of all main interchanges within a 2-minute margin of error of the 'on-time' time on at least 60% of all 'peak-time' journeys, 'peak-time' being defined as any time when the railway is operating at 72% or more of total passenger capacity...All you have to do is avoid making eye contact with the obvious psychos and try not to breathe in too much BO from the person you're jammed in right next to.

Same with any strike. The workers are the ones making things hard for you. If they just did what the bosses told them, your life would be much better. Only it won't.

Take teaching. Lots of teachers have struck in Durham recently over plans to create so-called 'academy' schools (declaration of interest here: my soon-to-be-ex-wife is one of those teachers). They aren't doing this just because they want to make mischief. They're doing it because they genuinely believe, and most of the facts seem to support them on this, that academies are not great (or even safe) learning environments for many children. They're anti-democratic, and make a mockery of our national education system. The teachers, being committed to that system, object to this, and choose to do so with the most powerful weapon in a worker's arsenal: the withdrawal of their labour. Hearteningly, many of the local parents in Durham agree with the teachers on this - Durham was hit harder than many places by MagThatch's war on the coal miners, and sympathy for the unions, and distrust of privatising authority remains strong. This has annoyed some in the mainstream media, because they haven't been able to get their 'unions vs. the people' narrative off the ground.

They're having more luck with the imminent postal strike. Again and again we hear about small businesses which won't be able to deliver goods, christmas cards arriving late, and a whole host of reasons to play the world's smallest violin on behalf of the consumer. What we don't hear about is how the consumer is actually being screwed by the people in charge of the Royal Mail, and even more by the people in those private companies which parasitize on it.

You won't find that on the evening news, in the red-tops or the Daily Mail. To find out about that side of the story, you need to read this article from the London Review of Books. 'Granny Smith', by the way, is the affectionate name the posties have for their average end-consumer i.e. you:

'We were told that the emphasis these days should be on the corporate customer. It was what the corporations wanted that mattered. We were effectively being told that quality of service to the average customer was less important than satisfying the requirements of the big businesses.
Someone piped up in the middle of it. "What about Granny Smith?" he said. He’s an old-fashioned sort of postman, the kind who cares about these things.
"Granny Smith is not important,"was the reply. "Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more."'


You're not important. You don't matter anymore. Not to the unions, but to the people who want to carve up the Royal Mail and sell it off. They're the ones who want to shaft you. They're the ones who are going to make it harder for you to get your post, in the long-run. And what's more, they don't care. To them, you're collateral damage: an acceptable loss in the quest for higher corporate profits.

Think about that the next time you see some talking head on the news bleating about Christmas cards.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

They know what is what but they don't know what is what...

...they just strut. Or, in the case of Jan Moir, blame the fact that they finally got called on being a homophobic little shiteyes on an 'orchestrated internet campaign' rather than a bunch of disparate people coming together and unanimously responding 'Jesus, what a shitty thing to say.'

I could go on, but I'm not going to. Here's Anton Vowl's perceptive take on what the Daily Mail are terrified to call 'Moirgate'. Anton gets extra points for a subtle reference to the Fishblog's current band of the year, Florence and the Machine.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Fear my POWER, mortals...


You are The Magician


Skill, wisdom, adaptation. Craft, cunning, depending on dignity.


Eleoquent and charismatic both verbally and in writing,
you are clever, witty, inventive and persuasive.


The Magician is the male power of creation, creation by willpower and desire. In that ancient sense, it is the ability to make things so just by speaking them aloud. Reflecting this is the fact that the Magician is represented by Mercury. He represents the gift of tongues, a smooth talker, a salesman. Also clever with the slight of hand and a medicine man - either a real doctor or someone trying to sell you snake oil.


What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Well I always preferred Murdoch anyway...

I think we've established here that I'm a reasonably genderqueer kind of person. I don't see myself as particularly masculine, certainly, and there are a lot of reasonably feminine things I like to do - adopting an effeminate vocal style, wearing make-up, being the non-dominant partner in my relationships etc. Having said that I don't really have any burning desire to have a man in surgical gear do a quick-change act on my winkie because, well, I kinda like it. It's brought pleasure to me, and many other people. Essentially, I may be a femme in a bear's body, but to be honest I like things that way.

What I don't like is being harassed by heteronormative fuckwittery on Facebook, as happened earlier. Vada, if you will, this page.

It's not necessarily the 'Mr T as Ubermensch' meme that I don't like here. It isn't even the 'Get some nuts' campaign itself. At first I found it kind of amusing because, (a) it was targeting people not so much not being men as men being cowardly or ridiculous, and (b) it's Mr T goddammit! I still have fond memories of Mr T telling kids to stay off the drugs, palling around with Hulk Hogan, and showing he was man enough to not be threatened by Boy George. I like the T. Hell, he even kicked cancer's ass. I'm down with the man with the mohawk.

So I have no problem with the man who played BA Baracus. I want that out there right now. What I do have a problem with is the crawling half-human scum who decided to graft this hateful little meme onto the Mr T Snickers campaign:

'Have you got a friend who needs to get some nuts? Either click on the "Snickers Mr T" tab to get Mr T to send that fool a message, or Shop Your Mate at http: www.getsomenuts.tv for the chance to win £1K!' (and yes, that hyperlink HAS been deliberately disabled)

Hey, fellas! Do you know someone who fails to conform to rigid notions of masculinity? You do? Then why not dob them in for a chance to receive a financial reward? Inform on your friends and family, that's a cool thing to do!

Look, I know what you're going to say. I'm not getting it. I'm just another humourless Guardian-reading spider and I ought to lighten up. But the thing is, look: kids with gender and sexuality issues already feel as if they're trapped in hostile territory where any transgression of some imagined code of masculinity could expose them to retribution, and in which they learn to police themselves carefully to avoid blowing their cover. Us all being adults, let's not encourage such a climate for the sake of a cheap advertising pop, eh?

Now that would really be showing some nuts.

If I speak at one constant volume, at one constant pitch, at one constant rhythm, right into your ear...

'Small Victory', by Faith No More. We had a small victory today, here in the blogosphere. You may have heard about it.

Trafigura, the oil company that dumped toxic waste poisoning at least 31,000 Ivorian citizens and then tried to cover it up, tried to injunct the Guardian newspaper to prevent them reporting a question asked about the matter in Parliament. This was a gross abuse of Britain's unwritten constitution, which has long held that matters arising in the House may be reported without fear of censure. Bloggers and users of Twitter in the UK and elsewhere went ballistic at this, blogged, tweeted, retweeted and generally spammed the info all over the shop, to the point where Trafigura and their solicitors, Carter Ruck, decided to drop the injunction. Yay for us.

Problems, however, remain. The traditional media in the UK is still not allowed to reveal details of The Minton Report, available here via WikiLeaks, a report commissioned by Trafigura which the company is very keen to suppress. Trafigura have also still instructed Carter Ruck to sue the BBC regarding their own investigative reporting into the event.

We're at the end of The Two Towers here basically. The Twitterers have ridden in like the Rohirrim, and won the battle of King's Place, but there's still some way to go before we get picked up by the eagles and can get back down to some lazy Hobbit-style lovin'. The BBC is the Minas Tirith in this scenario (of course it is, it's HQ is in White City!), and Carter Ruck's libel action is, oh I don't know. The Witch-King of Angmar, or that ugly Orc bastard with the gimpy arm who spends the entire film being scary as fuck and then gets seen off by Viggo Mortensen in like half a second, the point is this is important.

Fortunately there are things we can do. First of all, link to the Minton report and get it out as many places as you can. Tweet it, blog it, spam it all about the place. That's what I'm doing here. I'm under no illusions that the eyes of the world are on this blog, but if I post the link to the report here, that's one more place the link is up and one more reason why Carter Ruck's gag should look pointless in the eyes of even the most blinkered High Court Judge.

If you're in London, join the Flashmob outside Carter Ruck's offices on Thursday. If you aren't, email Carter Ruck a photo of yourself, gagged, to show that you're with the protesters: their e-mail is lawyers@carter-ruck.com . There's a petition to enshrine press freedom to report proceedings in the house in law at the Number 10 website. And you can write to your MP to ask them to stop corporations gagging the media at 38 Degrees.

I've done all of these things, and I'd like those of you reading this blog to do them too. To switch cinematic references, there is something terribly wrong with this country: the abuse of the libel courts to suppress freedom of speech and prevent the public learning the truth about what our new corporate overlords are up to. This has been growing for a while now, and it's finally time to act, to say enough! and stand up for the right of the people to know what's going on without having to fight tooth and nail (well, tweet and blog anyway) to find out.

Monday, 12 October 2009

This is just getting all over the place, isn't it? See what happens when you try to censor in a networked world, you fucking brachiosaurs?

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.
From Parliament.uk, “Questions for Oral or Written Answer beginning on Tuesday 13 October 2009″

(292409)61N Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.
Click here for more background on the Trafigura/Carter-Ruck libel-abuse cover-up

Sunday, 11 October 2009

By a mousing owl hawked at

Back to the wall, her eyes looking right into mine
and suddenly this party isn’t funny anymore.
Suddenly I’m something small, cringing
back, seven millimetre heart going
five-hundred times a minute, and she’s
something far above, beating the air
and preparing to fall.

She doesn’t know that this
is how I feel, doesn’t know that, now,
I would surrender anything, money,
my passport, my manuscript pages,
would promise to take the late train,
set up in a different city, never set foot
in this one again, if she would only
look away and let me drift outside the door.

So she keeps looking.

After a few of those seconds which adrenaline
turns into decades, I hear you, unaware of this drama,
announce the interval is over, and tell us it is time
to take our seats. Your voice is the sudden fog,
the changing wind which gives this mouse an out.

I have never, in my life, felt quite as grateful
for half-an-hour of poems as I feel now.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Scared of Girls

Heworth bus stop. 7:40. She’s blonde,
wears a short skirt, some kind of jacket, red high heels.
Long legs. Skinny. But confident,
enough to wear this at a bus stop.
Edgy, though. Fidgets, uneasy
under the eyes of the guys in the queue.
The laughter and remarks. None intended for her ears.
But when you stand out, it’s easy
to imagine that the laughs are aimed at you.

I wonder if it’d help to know
she’s scaring the shit out of me.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Linked For Truth

Two links for your consideration today. The first is from Anton Vowl at The Enemies of Reason, pointing out that too much column space has been given to the fact that a punchable-faced hoofer has said the P-word that could have better been devoted to reports on more disturbing forms of racism. Personally I can't stand anyone connected with Strictly Come Dancing, but I know which of these two is the more serious story.

The second link is from the 'Cafe' section of US Progressive Women's magazine On the Issues, wherein the always-interesting Kate Bornstein presents an excerpt from her book Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide. It's an interesting book, but I link to the cafe article because it contains quite simply the best description of the reactionary, right-wing, neophobic mind-set that I've ever read, and the toxic effect that those who give in to that mind-set have on the world:

'People who are reactionary try to keep the world from changing, rather than do the hard, but ultimately more realistic, work of changing themselves. People who don't see any way of changing themselves or the world spend a lot of time wishing they were dead.'

Think about that the next time you see Glenn Beck or Richard Littlejohn fulminating about how the world's going to hell in a handcart because people recycle and a black man is President and people care for the feelings of prozzers, poofs and gypsies. They're afraid of change, afraid that they might have to abandon their rigid self-concept and meet a changing world halfway. So they scream and they rage and they make up turgid racist shite while at the same time claiming to be victims of a racism they can't even define, all because they're too cowardly to examine their own assumptions. And the worst thing is that their views, and views like theirs, are aired across large parts of the media, and people who are young and isolated and frightened see the vast edifice of bullshit these neophobes have erected, and fear that they live in a world which doesn't want to change, and which won't let them change either.

This is why I write: to show that these people are wrong. And that's where efforts like this blog, the blogs in my friends and followers list, and the Transgressive Poets I try to promote have value: we each, in our own minor ways, create a tiny chink in the edifice of bullshit which the neophobe media and culture have erected. We let through a million, tiny shafts of light and illuminate the possibility of a different kind of life for everyone who feels left out of the dominant narrative. In counterpoint to a vast chorus which cries out despair, we sing a fragile song of hope.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Forward Prize winner

Robin Robertson wins this year's Forward Poetry Prize for best single poem with this poem. I quite like it. Atmospheric, detailed, and also kind of twisted. Reminds me of Lynch and Lovecraft. I don't always like the poems that win these things, but I like this one.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Well, if the Royal Mail and the Book Depository come through, tomorrow your humble scribe will be voraciously reading this. It's a book that came up during a random googling of 'transgressive fiction' on the laptop and which piqued my interest. Not because I'm a dirty stinking pervert - I'm assuming, at this point, that we're taking that as read - but because it's an exploration of the psychological drives which lead someone, particularly a male someone, to be attracted to masochistic sexual behaviour. It's a topic I think is relevant to the transgressive poetry project, and one which crops up a lot in my own poetry - how can you remain a quote-unquote real man while labouring under a libido which constantly orients you towards girls who could kick the living crap out of you? Can you, indeed, remain a homo verus in such circumstances, or do you have to redefine your self-concept as something other? And, in that case - what is it?

Nothing's to say it won't be a shit book, of course, and if it is, I'll excoriate like the guys wielding the apple corer in the final scenes of Exquisite Corpse. But here's a line from an extract I found at nerve.com which suggests it might not be: 'I sleep on the inside of the spoon. She's my abusive boyfriend and I feel safe, her arms wrapped around me.'

Hmm. The sadomasochistic relationship as willingly-entered, if gender-reversed, wife-beater and wife dialectic? A huge amount to unpack there (and not all of it good) in terms of gender, power relations, and sexual assumptions. A fine piece of literary meat in which to sink one's teeth; a meal I look forward to. If you'd like to recommend some future deviant dishes, please do: remember though that unless I've already read a book or have been lent it, I do have to pay for the books I review here myself. But do make recommendations. The more we understand of the scope of transgressive poetry, the more room we have to maneuver. And the more room we have in which to move, the greater the damage that we can inflict.