Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Poetry-1991, aged 19

Freedom is the licence to forget
To turn from the dense clamour
That collects in the mind
To wipe the jewel clean and begin thought again
To lift the eyes, overtly, in quest
To listen, to presume nothing but that which is evident.
To that time and to that kingdom
When vacancy is no more
When the light dazzles and blasts.

That was a poem I wrote in 1991, which my sister Rachel likes. Or maybe it's a 'prose poem'. I am not entirely clear on the precise difference between a poem and prose. Actually I dont care that much if it's a poem or prose. I like the above piece, even if others don't. Is one allowed to like ones own writing? Curious how one is supposed to feign indifference or lowly disregard towards one's own output, even if such is dishonest. I guess this ties in with the whole grovelling "I am not worthy" impetus behind so much of our culture, traditionally speaking; that same impetus which now tediously generates in our age a knee jerk reaction towards narcissistic self-adulation. Each feeds off the other, while balance and sanity holiday beyond the moon.

She also likes this one (also from 1991):

Before the sacred face
Discarded, misunderstood,
Cleaned and redeemed
In dreams of you I shall encourage
Lavish rich impulse
On the breasts of promise.

I am not sure how I should use line length and punctuation in such writings. Im not sure if it matters much, or if so, how or why. Actually the line arrangements here are influenced by the absurdly narow template on this blog, which I'd like to change

I don't tend to give my 'poems' titles. Things are what they are, not what they are called. Still, one poem I wrote in Durham in March 1991 I called 'Gentle lady', which refers to the young, charming English woman, in whose room I sat when I wrote the following lines. I forget if she asked me to show her what I wrote, but I didn't. Though I'd like her to read it somehow. Her name is Nicky. She was kind and lovely, and also had the most immaculate handwriting. I haven't seen her in over ten years. The poem perhaps, especially the beginning, has little directly to do with gentle ladies.

Gentle Lady

From the bowels of a bloated skull seep the waters of truth
Oozing through and about the parched and famished heads
Of blind and featherless peacockes.
Mankind, puffed up and terrified.
We, the bulbous, insubstantial, stilted proud rapists of the earth.

All this rubbish, awkward and strange
About fear and death, pollution and suffering
Means nothing
And is nothing
To the eternal poised repose of the silences.
Still, since we dwell deep inside the hell of our blindness
And do not see and cannot know the space between words
Onward and hateful we labour and toil and cry and strive
Waiting, waiting
For the mother silence to conceive her son
And the effulgence of his dawn
To surpass us.

Monday, February 19, 2007

On Stylistic Freedom

This is what one of my A-level teachers wrote about me in the summer of 1989, shortly before I took my A level in English literature:

'He will impress the examiners by the quality of his information on the various texts and his ability to marshall evidence, both textual and critical, to support his interpetation. He will be less impressive in his own expression which still sometimes slips into excessively pompous and obscure phraseology. I hope that he'll manage to write simply, clearly and directly.' (my italics).

I have enjoyed looking back over alot of my old school reports. I highly recommend the experience. It yields an insight into the person you used to be of a type different and more objective than the one provided by the inscape of memory.

I wonder if my writing style is any less convoluted and stilted today, in the eyes of my readers.

Actually, if I can be frank, I only partially care, since I am happy with the way I write. But then, to me, the way I write is an expression of the way I think, a vehicle for the conveying of the content I want to put into the world. To me, style is not an end in itself, it is the servant of content. Content is key. I write because my mind and my heart and my spirit need to breathe, and want to aspire and because I feel I have things to say. Whether or not others think I have worthwhile things to say is ultimately irrelevant. Though I would prefer happy to unhappy readers, I write not plotting and scheming for approval but because I feel I have things I want, indeed sometimes need, to say.

In this way, to an extent, by articulating a vision and conceptually responding to my interrelationship with the universe, I carve out and mould for myself a self I can the better inhabit in this bizarre and mysterious world.

From birth overwhelming forces called parents, teachers and other children shape and shock us into a form of their own devising. For those compelled towards, or those who choose, the path to self-awareness, something must be done to wrestle back the pearl of authenticity, of soul, from the world. Having been compacted into yet one more brick in the wall, we must make real our innermost knowledge that we are no brick and that there is no wall. Lifting our eyes, and spreading our wings, needs to be done in reality too, not just in dreams.

Struggling to find ones own voice, in language, is a central way in which this can be done, perhaps the only way for those cerebrally disposed. Expressing one's own voice, in one's own style, in the privacy of diary and private notebook, or else, in a slightly less sheltered way, in letters to close friends, who will preferably love one, are two ways that one can give free vent to the expanse of one's soul in a benign and sympathetic context.

But it is when one must assume the public voice, which the world of schooling expects, and trains one for, that delicate decisions must be made about the degree to which one is willing to sacrifice authenticity of expression for the sake of conforming stylistically to the straightjackets of conventional form in the harsh and impatient public arena.

Was I really able to write what I wanted to say about Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale", and Narayan's "A Vendor of sweets", and Tony Harrrison's 'V' in a form of phraseology less apparently stilted and pompous? Well, since I hadn't sought verbosity and the prolix as ends in-themselves, the answer must be no. I used the style I did because I felt it the appropriate vehicle to express what I felt and what I thought. I could have written in a simpler, plainer, less circuitous manner perhaps....but had I done so, would I have been able to say the same things, that is the question; and been able to say them, moreover, in the prescribed finite number of words?

I did not feel that I could, and also now, I do not know how my content can wear another dress than it does.

A question is this: what matters most - imitating conventional styles at all costs, in order to conform, and jump through someone else's formulaic hoop; or that we express what we really want to say..using the various devices and potentialities of language in the most suitable way we feel for our task?

Personally I love idiosyncrasy of form since I do not think it can exist, except there be an idiosyncratic mind and soul behind it.

I make no claims about the objective quality of my writing. This is for others to decide, since I am not objectivity. What matters to me is that I write what I mean, which I always try to do. For this task style is my servant, not my master.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Absence and Some Questions Answered

I have written nothing for ten days. Is this a long time? Maybe yes, maybe no, it will depend on who’s judging. Voices within me say I might want to think about apologising for not writing sooner. But I quieten them with the thought that it is presumptious of me to suppose anyone cares. Since Xmas my Myspace Vanity-meter has registered a dwindling interest from readers, whilst on blogger I have no idea how many ‘hits’ I get. Actually I don’t want to know. My vanity would dislike being informed of my irrelevance, whilst my spiritual conscience, so it tells me, would disdain the arrogance-swelling consequences of information to the contrary.

I have not stopped writing out of any deliberate choice. Rather, I have been that most fashionable of things – busy. On Feb 7 I again flew to England, courtesy of a fume-spewing aluminium Irish bird. I would rather she’d have soared pristinely in a vast wing-flapping motion, but this it seems was impossible. I console myself with the realistic thought that the Ryan Air creature-in-question would have journeyed as it did anyway, with or without my attendance; I know, however, that such a violation of Kant’s categorical imperative is only superficially impressive. Still, I trust we can agree that it’s going to take a lot more than any smug self-righteous avoidance of convenient transportation to turn this world around?

I went back to Blighty to attend an interview for the JET program. It is run by the Japenese Government and it posts teachers of English to schools in Japan. I may accept this job, though they’d have to offer it to me first. On the other hand I may not, presuming they do. Really I’d like to get out of TEFL altogether but doing so in a way harmonious to my soul, or indeed in any way, is a question. It is indeed The Question. Suggestions and job offers are welcome. Of course if life was not just a vulgar business of keeping and defending money, things would be a whole lot easier. And not just for me, we can be sure. For you too, oh beloved fellow denizens of the blue planet.

Sometimes I wonder if we really are slaves of some inhuman cosmic agency set against us….until I wake up and remember it's only we ourselves who insist we wear the chains we wear.

It was lovely being back in England, for reasons that had nothing to do with work: Seeing old friends, Liz from Durham, an old Slovak teacher Vicky, Clare from Durham, British Laura, Lee and Nicola in Northampton, and my Mum in Water Hall, Suffolk. I would like to spend all my time engaged in such activities…visiting my beloved friends, smiling and laughing, being delighted to be alive, and talking about joyful and cosmic themes, but alas I cannot. The iron frown of Lord Mammon, the uber-bore, takes no prisoners, as we know. He wouldn’t smile even if you tickled his balls.

Life is a serious business…I do not need to be reminded.

Anyway…here’s another silly or not so silly questionnaire that I had sent to me..this time by someone called ‘Suicide Baby’. Actually from what I know of her, she seems very jolly. No doubt some people may consider these kinds of questionnaires trite and stupid. There’s no doubt they do try to force you into a box, sometimes, in the kinds of answers they expect. Nevertheless, I think they can often ‘get to the core’ more directly than some more sophisticated approaches can. This one I think was above average.

Ever punch someone in the face? Yes, my brother..he was teasing and mocking me after I’d cut myself and while I was sitting on my Mum's knee.

How old are you? 35 (not my decision..I'd rather be 17)

Are you single or taken? Single..but even if I weren’t I wouldnt be 'taken'..I belong to myself and to humanity and to God. Not to any specific person who wished to unite with me such as to be able to 'own' or control me. Is that unromantic?

Eat with your hands or utensils? Cutlery, unless I'm in the cinema or am eating a sandwich, nuts or crisps (chips to the Americans).

Do you dream at night? I am seldom aware of my dreams. Probably I do dream, but the messenger obviously gets lost.

Ever seen a corpse? From a distance in India, burning by the side of a river..I couldn't make out any bodily features. I sat next to my dead father. He was under a blanket. I decided not to look. I wanted to remember him as he was when alive.

Have you ever wished someone dead? Yes, but not was a kind of simulated unreal emotion expressive of deep pain and frustration. I’ve only ever hated the people I loved. Why would I hate the people I don’t even know, since I can expect or want nothing from them?

Do You Like Bush, the President? I haven't met him. You are asking if I like what I know of him courtesy of the Media? Well, he's got a funny smile and his postures are kind of original. He can make me laugh. I worry about his intelligence and facility with words. As Governor, he killed people in Texas- although it was legal for him to do so, it must be said. But is an evil law an excuse? No doubt I might want to ask him a few questions about a great many things. He suffers the usual defects of politicians operating in a deeply sick world.

What's your philosophy on life? and death? You want me to summarise it...hmmm..a about loving your enemies, or rather not having embracing and reconciling opposites and being responsible for all existence. In my opinion, not believeing in God might make this stance more difficult. Death is a pain in the ass..and in the skeleton. I am not in favour of it.

If you could do anything with me, and have no one know..? This would depend my dear on what you wanted to might also depend on my mood..I might just want to drink a tea and talk about ethereal themes..or I might not..who knows. Answers would be context dependent.

Do you trust the police? Not particulary, one way or the other.

Do you like country music? Cotton Eyed Joe is very amusing!

What is your fondest memory of me? Alas, we have never met.

If you could change anything about yourself what would it be? I'd be thinner and have straighter lower teeth, and be more accomplished in the pronunciation of my 'r' sounds.

Would you date me? Heavens do I know?...I'd have no problem going out for a coffee or meal with you if that's what you mean. I'm not entirely sure what the word date means (i.e what does it include/exclude/necessitate).

What do you wear to sleep? I sleep naked.

If I only had one day to live, what would we do together? Probably be a bit frightened?

What is your favorite thing about me? I like the way you send out questionnaires like this to 'strangers' like me..or rather 'friends' as myspace would have it.

Do you think I'm attractive? er..not sure I’ve seen enough pics.

What's your favorite color? There is an ongoing tussle between blue and green but I think blue was green as a child.

If you could bring back anyone that has passed, who would it be? Probably Jesus, then Jim Morrison, then Gurdjieff. Talking to Nietzsche would also be interesting. I think however you mean amongst people I've known...probably my Dad..but this might depend on whether or not he's happier where he is.

Tell me one interesting/odd fact about you? I have two spots on my upper arms. When I was young the darker one was called Africa, the lighter one India. Actually now they seem pretty much the same colour.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Boris on Gender; Me on Gender and Politics

Boris Johnson is Shadow Minister for Higher Education of the British opposition party in Parliament. Recently he wrote an interesting article about gender issues which can be read here.

If you don’t want to read it, he is addressing issues relating to the frustrated sense of ‘no competition’ and ‘no quality’ felt by many modern women about the available male talent on offer.

I shall quote the aspects which I liked most and seem most relevant:

"I was half asleep in the front seat the other day, coming back from some exhausting tour of an educational establishment, and in the back seat were two twentysomething female graduates. They were talking about men, so I tried to focus, while keeping my eyes cunningly half closed.

One of them made the eternal feminine complaint. "All men are useless these days," she said. "Yeah," said the other. "The trouble is that they haven't risen to the challenge of feminism. They don't understand that we need them to be more masculine, and instead they have just copped out."

I am afraid that, at this point, I copped out myself, and slid into unconsciousness. But before I went under I thought, hmmm, this is interesting; and I think back to that conversation as I read that women continue their astonishing dominance of university admissions."

Boris Johnson then spends the rest of his article, after asserting his acceptance of feminism, reflecting interestingly on some possible negative consequences for the class divide in Britain of the disproportionate amount of women, relative to men, pursuing and obtaining higher educational degrees. While that was intriguing in-itself, it was the above quoted section that interested me most, and about which I was mainly thinking when I replied in this manner:

"A brilliant and fascinating analysis. Very thought provoking. Certainly we need a new masculinism, one that takes on board the noble feminist critique against male pompous, boorish oppressiveness, yet rekindles the fires of male self-confidence and assertion in the direction of something more sublime. I believe that a new type of spiritual, somewhat post-religious male is waiting in the womb to emerge. Yet this is a question more for culture in general than politics I grant. One cannot socially engineer such developments. Your suggestion about encouraging more male teachers is surely wise. And original, thought provoking scripts in soap operas are also a good idea.

It was always the original stance of the best feminism that men should also be liberated from their subjection to their own gender templates. The wimpy, mother's boy template is as traditional and conventional as the stern, bombastic, emotionally sterile one. Both should be transcended. I am imagining (am I wrong?) this was the type of man your fellow travellers wanted, and not just a retreat to a pre-feminist male.

It is interesting how a corrective to some of the misandristic tendencies in some feminist consciousness, which tend to think men just hopeless by nature, will actually serve the nobler sentiments of feminism and the wishes of these twentysomethings for a better type of useful man, Darcy or otherwise.

So, less sexist misandry from women also please, in combination with a new, more refined fire in men."

As I state on my MySpace Blog, which asks who you'd most like to meet (one presumes they ask in terms of famous of people?), I have written Morrissey and Boris Johnson. Perhaps because Johnson is a Tory, Morrissey may hate his guts, as he does I think all Tories, and most politicians, or so it can seem. As for Boris Johnson's views on the Mancunian Bard from Manchester, I have no idea, though Boris would have been in his formative years as a young man at Oxford when Morrissey launched his unique genius on the world. So possibly, as was I, Boris may have been susceptible to his melodious and evocative charms. No mention was made in Andrew Gibson's recent Biography of Boris of his thoughts on the Mancunian Shaman, however- not that there's any reason why there should have been, of course.

Boris Johnson's party, of which he is a high ranking member, and about whom it has been wondered if he will become its leader and so, by default, Prime Minister- were this party to win a General Election- is called the ‘Conservative Party’. Given the dramatic, revolutionary effect it had on British society when in power under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, it is legitimately to be wondered what exactly it is that it ‘Conserves’, but anyway.

As I see it, what it has traditionally been envisaged to conserve are things it has called family values, a belief in self-reliance, a limitedly interventionist state- except in matters relating to ‘law and order and defence'- and a respect for traditional British institutions, including Monarchy and the Church. If I might simplify, it was brought kicking and screaming into an acceptance of a range of developments that characterise the ‘modern era’; amongst which are: the mass male franchise extensions in the 19th century (paradoxically, to a degree, by one of its own leaders and Prime Ministers-Disraeli..who in a cunning fashion sought to outfox the middle classes by appealing directly to the working classes under their feet); the dominance of the House of Commons, our ‘lower’ chamber, over the House of Lords; votes for women and their basic legal equality; the existence of the Welfare State; the legalisation of the right of adult men to do what they like, sexually, with other adult men; and the forbidding of cold blooded state murder, in the form of Capital Punishment.

So, traditionally, it has represented that element of the collective political psyche famed for ‘foot dragging’, it might be said; for questioning and testing and finally sometimes relenting to, changes and developments in how society wishes to conceive or re-conceive of itself.

The nature of this party was changed, possibly forever, in the 1980s by its unconservative demolition job on Britain's manufacturing base; as well as by the general cultural assault on the subtle, implicit, somewhat all-pervasive instincts of deference towards ‘perceived’ sociological superiors which had earlier, for good and ill, so stereotypically defined the global image of the English Gentleman. Now, freed from the hard, physical, eminently productive industries of manufacturing, Britain is now dominated by service industries that deal in abstractions that want to make us feel good for spending money on what amount, often enough, to mere images, created by others and imposed upon us by others. Meanwhile, we import our actual products from China or India or elsewhere. Now, freed from the gracious habits of creating space for others by restraining our baser, insulting instincts, we have given birth to the triumphalist, epic Kraken of an hitherto restrained, or at least formerly shameful, animal malice. Now, it would be crediting your political opponent with too much respect, too weakly, to argue against him on his terms, or even seek to assume a common ground between you (common ground being something one might assume one shared with someone you trod the same soil and spoke the same language with, and with whom breathed the same air). Now others are either for you or against you. This dualism, reminding us of the defining Zoroastrian metaphysical error of our aeon, and the insane divisiveness, for example, of the Dead Dea Scrolls, has existed for a long time, of course. But it has got a lot more intense, I would suggest, since the 1970s, with the deconstruction of the post-war consensus and the rise of our new hyper-reality. Such a hyper-reality, enshrining ever-expanding material consumption (environment be damned), emotional aggression and sentimentality, and spiritual vacuity, is now the status quo in Britain and, one suspects, many other places too; a hyper-reality paraded with abandon in advertising, the media, popular culture and the gladiatorial arena that is Reality TV.

For these reasons, despite the fact that I want Boris Johnson to be the UK Prime Minister, since I see no other, more intelligent, more independent alternative –with a similar degree of humour and humanity- I shy away from calling myself a Tory (Tory by the way is the 17th century Irish term of abuse for the ideological forebears of modern Conservatives who wanted to preserve James II's right to ascend the throne. This term, however, though the original meaning of 'guerrilla fighter' or 'outlaw' be lost, is now embraced by Conservatives themselves).

Anyway, even if the Tories did atone, or are atoning, as some say they are, for their post 70s , consensus smashing past, and for their ultra-individualism – shorn of social conscience, borne on the wings of a shameless, predatory capitalism - I still don’t think I could call myself a Tory.

I wonder seriously if the age of the Political Party has passed. Maybe it should never have arisen. It offends me that Members of Parliament, whose loyalties should be to their consciences, to all of their constituents, to the welfare of the entirety of their country and beyond that to the health and peace of the entire world, are required to pay homage to an ideologically abstracted insitution, the Political Party, which is consciously partisan and divisive- which seeks power at the expense of other parties and which wants power as an end-in-itself, even when the time for it to relinquish power is echoing in the rafters.

In order to stand a realistic chance of getting elected as an MP–unless like Martin Bell you are already a celebrity- and in order, once an MP, to stand any real hope of being heard, prospective and sitting MPs must subject themselves to the dominion of these ghostly phalanxes.

Are we sure this is what our forebears envisaged when they wrestled, from the 13th to the 17th centuries, the executive power of the Realm out of the hands of the Monarch? Not that I seek the pompous, imposing divine right of Kings to stalk the land again, of course; but at least the King embodied, in his own person, the unity of the people, land and nation, however merely theroetically, however little this may have meant in practice.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


Yesterday I was sitting in the British Council reading ‘Hello’ Magazine and I came across a quote that leapt off the page, as quotes from celebrities seldom do.

It was by Cate Blanchett, and it went like this:

“My career hasn’t had any sense of direction..There’s been no philosophy or ambition except to deal with whatever comes up.”

I thought this was highly cool. No doubt I saw a lot of myself in her words. Of course, unlike her, I am not a rich and famous, successful thespian. Whatever. I warmed to her apparent embracing of worldly directionlessness.

One of the first questions I was asked when I was young was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember that I never found this question remotely interesting. Yet since it was so universally asked and answered, and so entirely without irony, I didn’t question outright its legitimacy. Usually, I would just shrug my shoulders non-commitally or say something helpful like “I don’t know”. I do remember when I was about five I used to reply with the single word ‘doctor’. Indeed I even remember saying this while we were driving in our car (probably Dad’s dark blue navy Volvo Estate but possibly Mum’s Morris Minor) along Queens Road, Cambridge, towards Newnham. I don’t remember why I said this, why I wanted to become a doctor. Conceivably, I just said it to shut people up; but apparently I said it with some finality and conviction. The thing is, I knew no doctors when I was a child (apart from the family GP, Dr Buchanan). None of my Mum’s or Dad’s close friends were doctors, none of my aunts or uncles, or as far as I knew any of my ancestors. Later in life, I had no particular interest in biology, no fascination for the white coated sterility of the operating theatre, nor any curiosity, as a pre-teen or teen, about the medical basis behind the ailments that would sometimes –fairly rarely as it happened- arise in my body and happily keep me from going to school, thereby allowing me to enjoy more than otherwise, Children’s TV and the pleasures of eating in bed.

Unsurprisingly, then, I did not become a doctor. Yet I have always wanted people to be healed, so perhaps that’s why I answered as I did. Healed from what though? This is a question. If I meant merely physical sicknesses and ailments in a conventional sense, I'd be a doctor right now and not, as I am, a ‘mere’ teacher of English language; one of those working in a profession that Hanif Kureishi referred to hilariously as the ‘last refuge of the directionless’, and which Noam Chomsky –for reasons I can guess at but do not know for sure- said anybody could do as long as they knew how to operate a photocopier.

But then it is not as if, in being a language teacher, I have found my perfect meaning and direction. The job is eminently sane and ethically sound. Thought is crucial to life, and language to thought. Teaching a facility with language therefore serves life.

Could I think of a superior job? More to the point, could you? Whatever could I do, whatever should I do?

Hmmm..well I can envisage for myself nothing perhaps that might sound sensible and reasonable. So I’ll just have to carry on getting by, tying to be myself in a world alien to my instincts, a world in which I feel an outsider- albeit one who sometimes finds himself unreasonably happy- for one living so far from home.

As Jacob Marley says, humanity should be our business, not making money for self-gain. I seek to understand this mystery that surrounds me, this mystery called humanity. I seek to serve it, to love it, and to see it transformed into light and joy. This is the only true direction I have ever sought to have. At times I have lost the plot and spiralled, perhaps, into Satan’s underpants. But I never wanted to go there, and wasn’t happy when I did. Any time that I felt my life possessed meaning and purpose, it was because I felt oriented to the higher light and desirous of its company. Desirous too, that it be made manifest for all, and turn all this dross metal into gold...that life might become, for the first time ever, truly interesting.