Tuesday, December 22, 2009

When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty - George Bernard Shaw



Morning, Saturday December 19

Here is my letter to Brighton and Hove Council after watching councillor Geoffrey Theobald defend the local authority's neglect of its citizens.

Dear Mr Theobald and members of Brighton and Hove Council,

Mr Theobald's defence on television last night of the local authority's response to the snow in Brighton since last Thursday was astonishing. Yesterday I made a complaint to the council about the state of the pavements and Mr Theobald's comments made me wonder if we live in the same city.

This is my experience of Brighton and Hove Council's response to the conditions we have had to live with.

I live in Hartington Road, a designated emergency route. It is a long hill running from Lewes Road to the top of Elm Grove. Most of the street on the first day of snow impassable. By Friday several side streets became blocked by sideways-on cars or lorries that had tried to move and become stuck.

There was no pre-gritting. Our road was eventually visited by a gritting van at about 5 on Sunday afternoon. I went out shortly afterwards. There was no grit on the road so perhaps it was just going home or putting on a show? That is the only evidence of council activity I have witnessed since the snow began to fall.

I had no need or desire to use my car and was perfectly prepared to walk everywhere, which I did, but with great difficulty. Every pavement in this area, along Lewes Road, across the Level and into the centre of town, or to the station, was like an ice rink. I walked to Brighton station on Friday and it took me an hour because the pavements were so dangerous. It would normally take me 25 minutes max.

On Saturday, I decided to walk to the marina. I went up Elm Grove and over the racecourse, down through Whitehawk. There is a long path into Whitehawk from the racecourse and as I walked down, keeping to the snow and off the path, there was an elderly woman with a shopping trolley desperately trying to get down too. As I and my daughter guided her, we arrived at the bottom of what was more like a toboggan run than a path. It was a sheet of ice and the ice continued until we arrived at the road. How the council could have allowed this path to remain ungritted strikes me as criminally irresponsible.

I wonder if Mr Theobald and officers of the council have attempted to walk anywhere, or perhaps they have restricted themselves to the parts of the city that have been gritted or perhaps they have travelled by car? Last night, (Monday) when the snow started to melt, there was a police officer in my street who tried to walk on the pavements, no doubt attempting to put into practice the official advice not to walk in the roads. Obviously, he had to abandon his attempts and joined the rest of us in the middle of the street.

So four days into this extreme weather, we are still risking injury in order to leave our homes. As for the council supposedly working round the clock to make the streets safe - I wonder what the council defines as safe, as the city and working round the clock?

My questions to each member of Brighton and Hove council are:

1. why were such dangerous conditions not responded to effectively?
2. has the local authority broken the law through its negligence?
3. why were council workers not working to clear the pavements?
4. why weren't members out in their wards with grit and shovels?
5. how exactly do you justify the level of incompetence that residents of the city have experienced?
6. who will pay if there are injury claims against the council - because I am not prepared for those claims to be included in my council tax.
7. when young people are next demonised for anti-social behaviour, can we perhaps remember how many local residents have been put in real danger by the irresponsibility of this local authority. For the last four days, the local authority has shown itself to be incapable of running the city.



Morning Friday December 18

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow and no to Tesco



Yes, snow changes everything. I walked over the racecourse to look for a Christmas tree - Wyevale had nothing below £40, Asda at the Marina had sold out, the Open Market prices started at £35. Price fixing all round.....even the lovely Turkish grocer's at the bottom of my road had upped its prices by around 200% from last year. I found one for £20, much against my better judgement and lugged it home on my head since the car's frozen to the ground.

It was quite literally a slide down to Asda from Wyevale, over the racecourse, down into Whitehawk. Our utterly irresponsible council - Brighton and Hove - barely deserves the title given its complete disregard for anyone's safety. Every pavement is a sheet of ice, and Brighton is a hilly place. But the path down into Whitehawk is like an Olympic toboggan run, smoothed to perfection by the limbs of elderly residents and their shopping trolleys as they slide ever downward.

I cleared the pavement in front of my house but no-one else saw the need. A man was clearing the pavement by the community garden on Lewes Road as the police attended yet another accident in a side street opposite. Virtually every street off mine is blocked by some lunatic who tried to drive. A fire doesn't bear thinking about.

But it's clearly not the council's concern. No grit in sight. Last night I spotted my first gritting van speeding up the road with its lights flashing. When I went outside to walk to a friend's I wondered what it had been spraying. There was no evidence of grit. Perhaps it was trying to persuade the city's population the council was doing something.

However, on to Tesco.



We have a beautiful, now frosty, community garden in Lewes Road that used to be a derelict petrol station. It's right next to a very handy Co-op that's been doing a good job for years, and opposite a Spar. Tesco apparently wants to open up here. We don't want Tesco and its bullying imperialism. Let's remember its attempt to silence criticism in Thailand by taking a local journalist to court. Let's remember its profits this year and question how they were arrived at. Tesco attempting to set up in Lewes Road is a blatant attempt to close both the Co-op and any other local business. It should not be allowed to happen.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Carol Ann Duffy is on form

There was never any doubt that Carol Ann Duffy was a brilliant choice as Poet Laureate and her poem for the 12 days of Christmas is total affirmation of her appointment. How else would such politically challenging material make it into the Radio Times?

Duffy is putting poetry at the centre of the arts again. It's fantastic she was chosen to hand over the Turner prize, that she's rising to these commissions with such skill, that she's writing what needs to be repeated.....what better place than a seasonal TV guide which will be in almost every home in the UK.

I hadn't read her poem first thing this morning. There I was driving into Guildford listening to Radio 4 and discussion about bankers' bonuses/executive pay, feeling utterly disenfranchised. There was never a point in my life when I remember agreeing to deepen the divide between rich and poor. I thought when I supported Labour, it was for change, imagining Labour had learned from Ken.

Ken was on this morning. I cheered up when he said 'good riddance' to bankers leaving for more money elsewhere. I've never heard a good argument for bonuses or tips either. They're like pocket money for household chores, aren't they?

Like Ken, Carol Ann Duffy's bringing what's said in the margins into the mainstream again and reminding poets of their responsibilities, too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Party, coincidence and the police

It can take long time for reviews to make their way to you, perhaps not nearly ten years, though, which is the case for the one I stumbled on today. Some writers claim never to read them but the good ones can give you a sense of whether your words work. Charles Bennett reviewed Party for the English Studies journal and I'm cheered by the fact that he appears to appreciate the book.

"Wills explores the seemingly ordinary surface of things, her descriptions acute and poised, and finds – as she follows the dictates of the poem – that the everyday has become unsettling: violent or suddenly beautiful. The poems lead round to the other side of things like a Mobius strip: the reader begins in one place on a seemingly ordinary day and suddenly there we are, on the other side of it all with no memory of how we arrived at this suddenly cold and threatening destination....."

And it's that final idea that rang the coincidence bell when I read it.

Yesterday I was walking a neighbour's dog on the racecourse. It was windy, dramatic and and I was walking fast to try and compensate for the amount of sitting I've been doing. We did the sweep of the racetrack, down into the dip and over towards Wilson Avenue. I was on my way back up the hill feeling fantastic as I always do when I've had nearly an hour of the sea, air and city below me. I heard some motorbikes across the valley. They'd come in from East Brighton park, I guess, and were speeding along the ridge. I was irritated by the noise, but not worried, until I realised they'd raced across to the side I was on and they were fast. The dog was off the lead and I was at the bottom of a slope. Suddenly they were at the top of the slope, riding down, then waiting on a path, revving their engines. They wanted me out of the way. I was trying to get the dog and then they were speeding towards me, one in front, manic, the other holding back more.

The dog wouldn't come, then she did, and one of them was a couple of yards from me, on the slope, laughing like a maniac. I'd called the police - the only time I've ever dialled 999. It took most of the day to feel normal. The bikes had become a weapon and from being safe, ordinary, at the end of my walk, I turned into a wreck as the bikes shot back off to the ridge and away.

The police turned out just under an hour later.

The same force that sent a transit van full of men in flak jackets to break up a bunch of 8 to 13 year olds playing football at the cemetary gates one summer evening, chasing an eight year old boy up the road with the van... that sent 3 cars to intercept a friend who'd been seen 'driving erratically' (not drunk, just careless) and that attempted to ignore a daylight attack on Lewes Road very recently.

Yes, a squad car in a traffic jam on the opposite side of the road to the attack - I was walking at the time with my daughter. A volvo pulled up in front of us, a woman got out and started attacking another woman yards away. I couldn't intervene, but saw this police car and was signalling to it. Eventually the woman driving it looked at me and wound down her window. I pointed to the attack still going on under her nose (she was not alone in the car).....what did she do? She raised her eyes to heaven, looked sour and pulled over reluctantly.

My daughter rang 999 recently when she was with friends. They saw a man covered in blood walking down the road, staggering. They waited for the police who never arrived.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Women and beasts



The generous and wonderful Australian poet Les Murray once famously said that he'd written a long poem because he didn't have time for a short one. I find it hard to convince myself sometimes that a day spent on a couple of lines is well spent. On one of the first Arvon courses I went on as a student, when I was starting to write poetry seriously, the tutor told me how delighted he was that he'd found a final line for a poem that he'd been working on for a couple of years. It sounds so ludicrous, doesn't it?

I've since found myself saying that sort of thing - maybe an idea keeps coming back but never quite works, maybe a few lines won't go away and I want to fit them in somewhere. Perhaps it's like moving the furniture around, or refusing to throw out an old pair of shoes, knowing they'll go with something. Jane and I were talking about our books and recycling. The idea's embedded in how we're working, as is throwing an idea, an image, some words back and forth until they settle.

Women and beasts seem to be emerging as themes as our books begin to take shape. There's a way to go yet, though, we're aiming for a lot more than we'd initially planned and the exhibition at Chesworth is unlikely to happen now before Christmas. But we'll be showing some finished books in an open house outside Lewes in December, along with some cards that kicked the process off....

Working with another person helps keep self-doubt in its proper place. We focus only on what we want to do and what works - wonderful, practical, absorbing time, almost sacred in its effects. We can trust the imaginative process, it runs like a river in the background.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Three poets, new work


I'm reading tonight with Catherine Smith and Nicki Jackowska at the Red Roaster cafe in Kemp Town. Catherine's a great poet and has published three collections - the New Bride, shortlisted for the Forward, The Butcher's Hands and Lip, also Forward shortlisted. She's a Next Generation poet and I've known her for years - we first met when our children were at Tarnerland nursery. She's a versatile writer, turning her hand to short stories and radio drama, too. Her poetry's terribly unsettling sometimes but it can be very funny, too. She has a pretty unique world view and refreshingly, much of her work is driven by ideas and not sentimental anecdote.

Nicki Jackowska has published 6 collections of poetry and three novels. A seventh collection, Behold, is being launched at the beginning of next month. So she's by far the most prolific of the three of us. She's also written one of those seminal books on writing. She's collected plenty of plaudits in her long career, the most recent from John Berger, who's written on the back of Behold 'its grief has penetrated its syntax'. Her work is concerned with deep, primitive human motivation and the subconscious rivers running through us.

So it'll be a good night, then and I'm looking forward to reading some new work which has hardly seen the light of day yet. I am always anxious about readings. I love them, but always fear there's not enough laughs. But I guess that's what intervals are for.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It is no coincidence - about a week after starting my Royal Literary Fund fellowship at Surrey University, I wanted to write poems again. The anxiety about earning enough to live on has been lifted until the end of May.

I am still confused about what poetry's for. It's a noisy world. There's a lot of shouting, generally in the arts. I'm not convinced artists should have to market their own work. I think it's one of the culture industry's biggest mistakes.

Let us celebrate uncelebrity, lack of achievement, austerity, stamina.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Collaboration



In the two and fro of collaboration, writing words that will appear between paintings, quite literally in a different kind of book, I am finding myself increasingly obsessed with the one liner. What is its appeal? I've been thinking about how little is worth saying and why the images on my walls are so stark - a chalk path, an oxbow bend in a river, a face asleep, one of Turner's single trees. But then there's Carver's Late Fragment folded over a photo of my kids.

I feel that making anything now, I need to take account of background noise and how poetry might cut through it. That expansiveness isn't necessarily the way. That short lyrics, the simplicity of Basho and of Longley are the great marker stones for this decade - leaving so much out but showing the details we might otherwise overlook. It is the power of metaphor but without the great finger pointing, saying look how clever I am......

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fellowship at Surrey

I start my Royal Literary Fund fellowship at the University of Surrey tomorrow. I'll be helping students write essays. It's a brilliant scheme, funded by the RLF to support writers and promote good writing within universities through one to one mentoring.

For the first time in years I'll have an office. I'll be able to work on my own writing, too, because I'm being paid regularly for a full academic year. What with this and the project for Chesworth, the autumn is glowing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A cataplasm of webs



Research and poetry.....I remember the thrill of discovering how a spider creates a web across a stream. Of how she can spin a web across my lawn, from the apple tree to the elder.

Many things are still coming together. Walking on the racecourse with Julie and her dog, picking blackberries and elderberries. Raspberries from the allotment - still ripening, even more jam. Making elderberry cordial with ginger and cloves - it seems elderberries are a super fruit, even more so than blueberries.

Reviving my old obsession with Culpeper in discovering an amazing book at Yale Medical Library with brilliant illustrations. This remedy seems particularly seasonal.

A CATAPLASM OF WEBS
Take Venice Turpentine 2 ounces; Juice of Plantain 1 ounce and half; Figs 3; the yellow pareing of Orange Rind 2 drams; Bole 1 dram and half; Soot half an once; Pigeons Dung 1 ounce and halfl large Spider Webs 6; black Soap 4 ounces; Vinegar enough to beat it up with. To drive an Ague, tie this about the Wrists, so as to make it bear hard upon the Pulses, two hours before the Fit.

Thomas Fuller, Pharmacopoeia Extemporanea, 1710

Monday, September 21, 2009

Recipes and old cures - exhibition Chesworth Arts Farm November and December 09



The mistletoe trees in the Vendee are magnificent straggling giants and I've been remembering them as I prepare for an exhibition with Jane Fordham in the winter. We're working on cards and pamphlets loosely based on recipes and old cures - excited by some bizarre discoveries in old manuscripts - and we're bringing an older collaboration closer to reality in the form of a book. Add to all that a seasonal theme, plus cake and tea and it'll make for three great weekends in November and December at a wonderful studio she shares in Horsham, Chesworth Arts Farm.

I'm glad of the project to focus me on writing again. I also start my fellowship at the University of Surrey on Tuesday, thanks to the Royal Literary Fund, so I'll be employed two days a week until next May. Most of September I've been out collecting blackberries or elderberries and making them into jam or chutney. It feels like I've been clearing my mind of whatever silted it up this year but now I need some routine. Paid work's been almost non-existent and at times I've wondered about the increasing divide between my reality and that of people in full-time jobs....

What I've had to cut out is takeaways, impulse shopping, nights out, cafe trips, travel, books and pampering. It's possible to pare spending down to basics and the allotment's helped massively this year - I've only just started to buy lettuce and am still eating veg, although the squash and beans aren't as abundant as I'd hoped. Three massive patches of tomatoes were wrecked by blight, heartbreaking. The raspberries have compensated, though, still producing fruit after weeks of picking, so there are jars of the most delicious jam at the back of the cupboard in the dark which will lighten up February or March.

Sunday, September 06, 2009



In this cave is a beached submarine with empty portholes looking into the rock, its chamber owned by the tides.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cloths of Heaven



Dramatist and fiction writer, Sue Eckstein has just published her first novel The Cloths of Heaven with Brighton-based Myriad Editions. The title’s from that famous Yeats poem, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

At the centre of the novel is a fabric warehouse in Bakinabe, west Africa. Among the silks and chiffons works a mysterious and troubled English girl, Rachel. The warehouse is both a meeting place, metaphor for global change and maybe too, a tangible indication of the kinds of choices life offers. Certainly, it is where love, desire, longing and loneliness are played out and the Yeats poem is a link to a life before west Africa, almost before adulthood. So this warehouse is a serious place of dreams, secrets and obsession. But Eckstein gives it a twist of gentle irony, too by making it a place of pilgrimage for Father Seamus and Sister Philomena as they seek out kitsch fabrics printed with repeats of the Virgin Mary and Pope John Paul 2.

Father Seamus and Sister Philomena’s story is one of a number of narratives that make up the novel. They are the gentle, eccentric and humane missionaries who are one facet of ex-pat life in west Africa in the early 1990s. In its own way, each narrative draws attention to the legacy of colonialism, psychologically and literally. Like the classic post-colonial novel by Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (a title also borrowed from a Yeats poem, The Second Coming) Eckstein’s story shows the violent and horrific implications of exploitation.

But it also examines the difficulty of aid and the complex, suffocating and at times ludicrous lifestyles of ex-pats forced together only by skin colour or couples who stay together because they are in exile.

I couldn’t put this novel down when I first read it – Eckstein’s no novice, she’s had three plays broadcast on Radio 4 and is a fluid, careful writer. And although she raises important issues in this book about continued European meddling in African society, continuing attempts by the unscrupulous to make a killing by whatever means, it is also a novel about how a single passionate affair reverberates through an individual’s life.

Eckstein’s book will contribute to an important body of fiction written about the continuing relationship between African and European countries. Her background with VSO and now her work in medical ethics ensures that her perspective is informed, intelligent and demanding. This incisive intellect also delivers some fascinating, complex characters who won't necessarily behave the way you expect.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A women-only poetry prize


My daughter took this pic.... A poem of Susan Wicks keeps coming back to me. It's a new poem about women in a changing room and it's stunningly simple like the best life drawing. I saw it at a poetry workshop group that meets in London regularly. All the participants are excellent poets, we have a range of different styles, we are all women and I like that.

Wicks has a fabulous eye. Her poems carry no clutter, they are contemporary, her voice is modern, she's in tune in the way that Neruda always is. In fact her work reminds me of Neruda, they're working in the same territory. Both sneak into my thoughts when I'm least expecting them to. (I rarely swim without remembering one of Wicks' very early poems, Singing Underwater).

I have wondered for a long time if it's possible to identify a writer's gender from their work alone. I've never been able to make up my mind, although I suppose subject matter and the first person would probably end up giving enough clues. It would be interesting, though, to read work anonymously for a while to cleanse the mind of preconceptions. The North, a magazine published by Peter Sansom and Janet Fisher, used to ask poets to critique an anonymous poem. I think it's a great idea.

Anyway, this is leading to another kite flying exercise - an alternative, women only, Forward prize 2009 shortlist to blow apart the increasingly restricted group of men who appear to be regarded as Britain's best writers (regardless of who's judging it, it seems). Another excellent poet, Catherine Smith, alerted me to the list. I wouldn't have had a clue since most of my time at the moment is spent on the allotment.

(I came back from Womad to a picking frenzy - armfuls of chard, some French beans, broad beans, bags of peas, beetroot, lettuce, onions, raspberries and blackberries.......)

Anyway, the big cash prize of £10,000 has a shortlist of five men and one woman. One of those men's books isn't even out yet. Glyn Maxwell, Hugo Williams, Christopher Reid, Peter Porter, Don Paterson and Sharon Olds are the people in question.

I have to go back to Neruda to sum it all up. Perhaps shortlists don't matter.

Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or from a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

The poem sends me back to moments during two of the highlights of Womad when that summons was present on stage - the Malian singer Rokia Traore with her funky French band and the Corsican singers who closed the festival, A Filetta, introducing songs with quotes from Rene Char and Fernando Pessoa.

Rokia Traore

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Revisiting Tilly Olsen



Since 1993, the TS Eliot prize has been won by 12 men and four women.

Since 1992, the Forward prize has been won by 14 men and three women.

Between 1966 and 1987, 17 men won the Alice Hunt Bartlett prize and five women.

Since 1966, 101 men have won Cholmondely Awards and 42 women.

Since 1934, 32 men have been awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and seven women.

These are poetry's laurels. They often come with large amounts of cash and significant book sales. The counting idea isn't original but it does a job.

There's a debate going on about women, men and poetry, how women are (or aren't) represented in the Poetry Society's flagship magazine, Poetry Review and how women poets, critics and readers respond to all this.

I think people should respond from many different perspectives and we should have a bigger debate. Some of us have been floating this idea for a while because of the absence of any serious challenge to the male status quo in poetry.

Personally, I'd like to see a discussion extending beyond Poetry Review into prize lists and promotions, publishing and interest groups, academic world and anything else that arises.

Coincidentally I was lent a copy of Tilly Olsen's Silences by Maude Casey recently. How timely. I wonder if it could be a focus for this wider debate since Olsen addresses in the starkest way numerical evidence of exclusion - she calls it counting. She, and Shelley Fisher Fishkin who writes an introduction to the 25th anniversary edition, make clear that enforced silence of the kind that happens in discriminatory practice must always be challenged because it is a symptom of systematic discrimination. Fishkin points out that Olsen's idea of counting is still under attack.

We know this, don't we?And many of those allowing discrimination to take place would find it pretty difficult to argue against. So it is our responsibility to remind a wider audience of the consequences of silencing tactics. Maude is a dedicated campaigner, particularly on secret evidence, and I think it's no coincidence that she passed Silences on to me.

The chapter in the book which could be used very effectively is one based on 1971 and 1976 figures. Olsen calls it 'One out of twelve - the figures for writers accorded recognition'. She counts, for example, the number of women included in 20th century literature courses, critical reference works etc. as well as inclusion in anthologies, textbooks, on prize lists etc. etc.

Elaine Showalter was campaiging at the same time as Olsen and hasn't stopped. She responded to the idea of the great American novel as a purely male object in the Guardian in May this year. She provided an alternative list to great effect.

There are still many ideas alive from the 60s and 70s which are relevant and it would do us no harm to draw on those. I love the idea of different lists presented in a batch. Oh, and as an aside - the last time I was an Arvon tutor some of us were chatting about how courses are always packed with women and yet prize lists etc are packed with men. It was unscientific musing, really, but the truth is masterclass courses are always oversubscribed with men. What does that say about our view of ourselves?

We must have the debate, too, about how we support one another. Women have a responsibility to read one another's work properly and well, so we can counter the arguments always put up to defend positions of power - that there just aren't enough good women around. Please, can we stop allowing the men to choose the women they favour as landmarks and can we start making our own minds up? And then there's the old chestnut of age and how it applies differently to men and women.

We can challenge and make changes. The pic's of the beautiful fossil forest, perched on a cliff and within MoD firing ranges near Lulworth Cove in Dorset. It seemed strangely appropriate.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Equality is a long time coming

Equality - it's still a long time coming and particularly in the small pond that is English poetry where the shortlists, the prizes and the jobs are rather unevenly doled out to the boys.

So I think we should stop skirting around the edges, of worrying about what voicing an opinion will do to our prospects, or of being seen as embittered hags.

It is, in fact, our responsibility to speak out......

Here is the life-affirming raison d'etre of the new Equality and Human Rights Commission, from its own website:

"The Equality and Human Rights Commission is charged by law with a vital mandate. To protect individuals against discrimination, to enforce the laws on equality and to promote fairness and human rights for everyone."

And there's an interesting theme on the title page: Fairer Britain.

It states: "We focus on the need, for all who live in Britain, to have a deeper sense of commitment and mutual respect based on shared values with fairness at their core. We see our role as helping people who might not otherwise meet to get to know and understand one another better.

"Equality isn’t a minority interest: a fairer society benefits everyone in terms of economic prosperity, quality of life and good relations within and among communities.

"The responsibility for building a successful society rests with all of us."

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Dark Night of the Soul


Saints are everywhere in France and Spain. They lurk by the roadside, have shrines in the most unlikely places - pre-industrial revolution celebs, I guess, providing the drama, violence and suffering we seem to need as a species. Amado makes links between Catholic saints and a more animistic spirit world. I've always been fascinated by this duality in St John of the Cross and this interest has come back to me again. But why, an unbeliever, can't I ignore him?
The writer of that familiiar phrase 'dark night of the soul' which has endured for centuries, a man who re-wrote psalm 137 By the Waters of Babylon, was born in June 1542 and with St Teresa of Avila, formed the barefoot Carmelites. John was 27 years younger than Teresa but only outlived her by nine years. Despite constant illness, she lived to 67 and died in one of her own convents in 1582. John died in 1591. Both are renowned for their mysticism.
I wonder if I was reminded of him by Kapoor? John of the Cross, in Dark Night of the Soul, suggests the soul must empty itself of self to be filled with God. It is reminiscent of Kapoor's interest in nothingness and maybe my recent immersion has revived the old fascination with this Spanish mystic who so angered the Inquisition.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oxford Professorship and Moniza Alvi

A cub found its way into the window space outside the cellar. I found it when I went to investigate the sounds it was making. It half growled half hissed at me, a tiny, skinny little thing with enormous ears and baby eyes that was probably there half the night and the whole day. I wrapped it in a blanket and carried it to the cemetary. When I laid the blanket down it stayed there for an instant, looking truly comfortable and warm at last. It scampered off and I hope it found its mother.

In between all this natural drama is the Oxford professorship of poetry. Normally I dismiss this as irrelevant but this was to be the year two women defined British poetry and it was long overdue - Carol Ann Duffy as laureate and Ruth Padel as prof. I am irritated Padel blew it, sorry for her too that she felt she had to give it up. I think she should have sat it out.

As for Clive James waiting in the wings, he's another of those old rich men, isn't he, like Felix Dennis, who wants some artistic credibility after a life-time of chatshows. There'll be plenty of bared teeth scavenging.

And Jeanette Winterson putting Alice Oswald up instead......I've always had respect for Winterson, but in this she's wrong. Oswald is a newcomer with upper class credentials but not a patch on many other women writing today, despite her prizes. A Farrow and Ball heritage poet.

Moniza Alvi gets my vote. She writes poetry that's of the moment and relevant. Yes, let's have a woman and let's have one who's writing about modern life in all its confusion, violence, emotional complexity, who celebrates small domestic tasks, who has explored the metaphorical world of being of mixed race with imaginative brilliance.

One in ten children now lives in a mixed race family and the figure is rising to the extent that very soon being mixed race will be the norm. (I hear cheers from Pedro Archanjo here, hero of Tent of Miracles, a story of candomble, spirits and the mixing of races written by that great Brazilian writer Jorge Amado).....

So Alvi is way ahead of her time, inventing the creative landscape to which so many as yet unborn writers will return. In fact, she is probably the only UK poet charting, in poetry, the demographic changes taking place in every UK town and city.

It was Ruth Padel, ironically, who reviewed Alvi's new collection, Europa, for the Guardian and wrote this:

"Her voice is spare, oblique, surreal, compassionate and original. She has unique insight into splits, both emotional and cultural: "The receding east, the receding west", as she laconically puts it. At the end of Split World, a selection from all her books, are the poems with which she became the first, and so far as I know the only, poet to explore sustainedly what 9/11 has meant to Muslims living in Europe.

"Alvi has trained as a counsellor, and her new collection, Europa, explores post-traumatic stress disorder and the meaning of rape while mining the international politics of east and west through the myth of Europa."

So if there's going to be a debate about who's the Oxford professor, let's have a proper one - consign celebrities and strategic networkers to the sidelines and we poets should have our say, not just the media pleasing novelists and rent-a-quotes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Anish Kapoor The Dismemberment of Jeanne d'Arc


I heard the birds screeching from upstairs in my room. Ten minutes later there's another screech by my bed. The cat's brought one in. It's still alive and I pick it up, stretch the wings gently to see if they go back into place. I'm not sure if it's injured but it lets me carry it outside. The cat's prowling, furious. I shut her in the kitchen and put the bird in the apple tree. It's small with a speckled chest but not speckled enough to be a thrush, I think it's a female blackbird, probably exhausted from feeding chicks. The male's in the sycamore behind, still calling. A wren's joined in. I go back inside to keep the cat away from the catflap and when I go out again, it's managed to fly to a neighbour's pergola, I can see it in the vine. The male's still above me and it, watching, flying from branch to branch, calling. It calls back. I feed the cat, hoping to keep her away long enough for the female to make her escape. The wren moves up into the sycamore too, where one of the parents is keeping guard. When I look again, she seems to have left the vine. But the cat's prowling again. She's moved on from slow-worms, her regular offerings on my bedroom floor and in the hall.

Before Tiger brought the bird in, I was thinking about my trip to C-Curve last night with Maude when the sun had disappeared from the horizon but the sky was still light and there were fireworks on the pier. I spent most of the afternoon there yesterday, attempting to explain why people shouldn't touch it (fingerprints ruin the effect) and wanted to see it at a different time of day. Ewes and lambs were rushing down the hill as Maude and I were walking up. The Chattri's white dome stood out on the hillside. It was perfect. We missed the sunset, although the sky was spectacular in town, but it was quiet and the side facing away from the sea totally surprised me as we walked back to see it as a whole, not close up, as a phenomenon that delivered the light, land and sky we were among back as abstract shapes - blocks of blackness with that indefineable wash that's made when the sun's just gone, the stars emerge and the sky is luminous. It's a camping sky - when people are part of the earth and light is telling us something about travel, history, space, colour and stories. On the side facing the sea - in daytime my favourite side because it's more about panorama and breadth - Brighton seemed smaller, the fireworks little sparks of saltpetre.

What astonishes me is how that concave surface is a funfair hall of mirrors in daytime and hours later becomes a kind of outside Rothko triptich......until the fence goes up and the illusion, as with the theatre curtain, ends.

But the bird reminds me, too, of a story I heard about the Dismemberment of Jeanne d'Arc and the family of fox cubs living in a den inside the old fruit and veg market. When I was last there, I asked about marks on the mounds where the colour was gone and was told it was probably the cubs, playing at night. While I was there late one afternoon on the last shift, I was sure I could hear them behind the black netting that screens off spaces once occupied by particular wholesalers. Among the regular motor sounds of the pigeons, merging with traffic and once, perfectly, a scooter, there were the playscreams I hear outside at night sometimes when cubs take over our gardens and streets. This is the excitement of sculpture - it's made richer by everything around it. This might be obvious to artists and curators, but it's been a discovery for me.

In the old fruit and veg market, I couldn't get out of my mind a poem by Robert Minhinnick, The Fox in the National Museum of Wales. This is a verse from it:

Through the cubists and the surrealists
this fox shimmies surreptitiously,
past the artist who has sawn himself in half
under the formaldehyde sky
goes this fox shiny as a silver
fax in his fox coat,
for at a fox trot travels this fox
backwards and forwards in the museum.....

The picture from the Dismemberment of Jeanne D'Arc attempts to show how the light in that space works - rather like in a cathedral, I felt. I felt the calm of frankincense and sunlight through stained glass. Filtered light in big empty spaces is in the same league as twilight.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The C Curve and Chattri - Anish Kapoor on the Downs



Above the Chattri is the C Curve, part of the trail of Anish Kapoor sculptures that have taken Brighton Festival to an extraordinary level. I was there this afternoon with hundreds of other people, horses, dogs and sheep.

There were conversations about the Downs, engineering, physics, sculpture, and screams of excitement from kids. Kites appeared and disappeared. Figures were stretched and shrunk. The path up from the road was crowded and even later in the afternoon there were still carloads parking in the narrow lane. Some visitors were very familiar with Kapoor's work elsewhere, some had just heard about this mirror on the hill. A very angry man argued that it wasn't sculpture if it couldn't be touched.

It is strange to see so many people making this journey, sitting around a mirror, walking around it and marvelling at how stunning it makes our landscape - reflecting it all back to us on a massive screen - and how bizarre it makes us seem, on the other side, with our heads where our feet should be. And I wonder if Kapoor's 'don't touch' policy, by making us stand back, is gently suggesting that we need to contemplate as much as we need to feel.

It reminds me of a quote I have on my wall, borrowed from a fellow poet who was teaching haiku...it's by Chuang Tzu: "The hearing that is in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. The whole being must listen."

There are some amazing thoughts on Kapoor's work in Brighton here:

http://www.anishkapoorinbrighton.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Anish Kapoor in Brighton



I left the Dismemberment of Jeanne d'Arc yesterday feeling emptied. So empty, in fact, that I found it hard to put words together. I wanted to lie on the grass somewhere and stare at the sky. In fact, I was doing a workshop with Jane. The installation by Anish Kapoor is in the old fruit and vegetable market off Grand Parade, a cavernous, netted space with speed limits on the walls and nets against the pigeons for a ceiling. Two vast piles of excavated waste sit at one end, two pitted trunks are splayed at the other. At the centre is a vast red hole.

I couldn't wander around it on my first visit because of preparations for a performance, so visiting yesterday was my first proper experience of it.

The space is a gift for an artist but Kapoor's used it well. I was delighted to be disorientated, to feel my mind had been wrung out and a little more space created, maybe, for other things. When I started looking at his work I was resistant, snagged up in the Rushdie words around Blood Relations, perplexed by the title of 1000 names (but that was my own cultural ignorance, I now realise). The Rushdie words are too loaded with everything else that is attached to a successful male novelist.

I was held up, too, by fame.

Working through all these issues was like cutting back the hedge of brambles on my allotment each year. There was a promise of something sustaining.

And yesterday, sitting in Pavilion gardens after the workshop with Jane and her partner David, we talked about the buzz that's come with these pieces placed around Brighton and about the discussion Kapoor's role has generated. This morning, though, I realised that there was something else that had worked on me yesterday and it's indefineable other than through comparing experience. It is starting to feel like my annual week at Doris (sadly not happening this year) when I set aside words and reconnect with movement and contemplation.

That's why the Doris hand is waving.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A riot in Brighton


Sirens all afternoon and everywhere...as I was picking spinach on the allotment, returning carpet squares to CarpetRight, baking apple cake and now, they're still going on after supper. The police helicopter emerged from mist as I came down the hill from Tenantry Down and earlier was hovering over Mouslecoomb where the arms manufacturer EDO has a factory. EDO allegedly makes parts for missiles used by the Israeli army.

I hadn't planned to go to the May Day demo against EDO, I wanted to walk up to the Chattri and see an Anish Kapoor sculpture. I stopped off at his Joan of Arc installation in the old fruit and veg market (it is amazing) and when I got to the pier saw Fred Pipes on his bike. Maude had told me she was going and so was my son. So I decided to join it as it moved off towards the town. It was laid back, good natured, a bit noisy but unthreatening.....

So what's so stunning, crazy, call it what you will, is the brute force demonstrated by the police for such a small gathering. (The scale of their preparation is evident from a YouTube video showing a whole street of riot vans parked up near Five Ways.)

Mounted police set off at first, then two meat wagons, then a chevron of demonstrators in black and masked, with the rest of us behind. There was no violence, but every side street off North Street had police in it and as Fred and I skived back into the north Laines later - the demo apparently heading for the factory - we watched the end of it. At the very back, a couple of cyclists and a woman pushing a baby in a buggy. Behind her, four or five transits of police, smirking.

Fred told me a funny story about a Critical Mass demo when so few people turned up that he and the other three or four demonstrators went for a cup of tea on the seafront. They were confronted by vanloads of police who asked what they were doing and they replied they were having their tea. Above them, the predictable helicopter.

Anyway, so I held my breath for the afternoon, wondering what would be going on in Moulsecoomb and hoping my son would stay away from the flashpoints. I recognised the danger signs just before Fred and I ducked out - groups of pissed men joining the crowd, sharp faced troublemakers like ferrets.

Then my daughter rang to tell me she'd gone to a friend's birthday barbeque at Preston Park, arriving shortly after so-called demonstrators had rushed through, scattering the bowls players and terrifying her friend. And then my son rang just now from the seafront to tell me it had turned into a full-blown riot.

Do the police see any small demonstration now as an opportunity for some riot training? Has this become our only visible sign of policing?

Not a copper in sight to get the drug dealer doing four or five drops a day from his car around where we live, or the one at the bottom of the road who's also been sleeping with an underage girl, or the one who's now moved but was known to police and was also a paedophile or the couple who do their deals a few doors up from the nursery in Whippingham Road, blatantly, so confident they won't be stopped by anyone because when do you ever see police around here?

Not a copper, even, half an hour after the rush through Preston Park to stop a mugging. Not a copper, apparently, even on the seafront to do anything about blatant dealing in the crowd.

Policing is easy when it's macho shield battering, riding a line of horses into battle, taunting people who are mostly genuine about wanting to voice their opinions about an arms factory on a housing estate in their home town.

Is this all it boils down to - law and order - a line of police cordoning off the Level, the street alongside Barclays, wasting our cash on a helicopter and alienating our teenagers?

The Brighton festival organisers must have been quaking today as the 'Brighton Riot' moved into the Pavilion gardens where there's 24 hour private security for Kapoor's sky mirror. Read this.......http://www.a-n.co.uk/interface/reviews/single/526741

According to the local paper, he was spotted watching the demo in Queen's Road.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Blood and ink

It's 8 am and I'm at my window, sun on the elms and hedges of my street. The elm leaves are between bud and full leaf. I was at Fabrica last night for a reading from The Tale of Genji by science fiction writer Gwyneth Jones (who's also Ann Hallam, a writer of novels for teenagers). What knowledge that woman has. It's part of a series - Blood and Ink - put together for the Anish Kapoor show at the gallery. Gwyneth took us through social history, the other writing of the time, her own fascination with the book and the way she's been influenced by it in her own writing.

Gwyneth's website is: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/gwynethann/

In the afternoon I was planning a workshop with Jane. The treat of doing this is often a glimpse of her studio. I went in yesterday feeling fractious and knackered and was stunned by the luminosity of her new paintings. The walls were full of fruit, flowers, porcelain and fabric and the colours are like perfume, or a blackbird, crickets.......I didn't want to leave. It was like opening a door into an old walled garden with orchard and rampant flowers in the middle of summer.

Jane's work is on sale during May at The Handmade House, Beards Place Farm, 98 Lewes Road, Ditchling: www.handmadehouse.co.uk

There's a sculpture trail, food and jewellery too by the talented Emma Willcocks whose bracelets are never off my wrist. Emma, actually, reintroduced me to the pleasure of allotmenting when she asked me to share hers many years ago up near the racecourse, the one I still have.

And it's a busy time. I've been planting seeds, weeding etc. But for some bizarre reason my neck is rigid and I've been slipping in and out of a seam of anger, like a residue of winter muck. I'm trying to work out where it's coming from. Some is personal, but there's a fair bit stirred up by the world and its inequalities: the usual, men/women, poor/rich, confident/diffident/, powerful/disempowered.

Work no longer guarantees enough money to live on.

Men still have more influence than they deserve.

But maybe the only solution is to net the brassicas, keep slugs off the spinach and chard, scare birds from the redcurrants and leave the snarling, fighting and scrabbling for position, the mutual congratulations and building of towers to those who prefer air conditioning to the chalk slopes of the Downs.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Poem for a path


Tiles and picture by Julian Belmonte

This was a poem for a path....sometimes words work better off the page.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Magic realism and the kitchen floor

Snowdrops in the Pavilion gardens, but the best I've seen so far were in the garden of a student house this morning doing my daughter's paper round because she's ill. The bin bags set them off perfectly. A couple of yellow crocus in my front, no more yet and I'm feeling about as blank as the garden but excited by a new drive to abandon the first person in my writing, not this writing, obviously, but the poems. I've been attached to it for so long and wonder if I've been misusing the power of it, and certainly leading people to think that everything I write is autobiographical. This may be a mistake. It'll be sods law that when I decide that the first person is out of the window, poetry will find its way back to the kitchen and cleaning the floor will be all the rage again. But maybe if you spend your life cleaning the kitchen floor, it's not such a good idea to write about it, too. I'm drawn back to those magic realists and particularly Angela Carter and Amos Tutuola. They deserve re-reading. So I'm going to fling the pinny out of the back door and put on red riding hood's cloak.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Who's dumbing down?

"People tend to talk in terms of art for art's sake on the one hand, or art as a form of social engineering on the other. In fact the debate about the arts should be much more sophisticated than this; it has been going on since Plato's Republic, through Kant, the Enlightenment, Orwell, Leavis, Eliot and Williams." Sir Christopher Frayling has been moaning - "it's all a bit beer and skittles at the moment."

It's all very well to complain as you leave the top job at the Arts Council! I haven't been aware of a sophisticated debate being conducted by that institution. The bulletins I get in the post from the region (south) never cease to be tedious, worthy and predictable. Perhaps if there were some artists (a majority) on arts boards, there'd be a more interesting debate. Perhaps, too, if the arts council hadn't got rid of the specialists with vast experience of an artform, there'd be more challenging discussions, too about art.

You can talk more authoritatively about art if you know your subject through and through. I'm not interested in a debate about art if it has to be conducted within constraints that the arts council has promoted relentlessly, if it has to be conducted through arts council approved organisations, if it refuses to acknowledge the need to support individual artists, if it is squewed by interest groups.

When the arts council got rid of specialists, when it turned its back on individual artists, it hastened that dumbing down that he's so pissed off about. Where is the opportunity for poets, for example, to debate the role of poetry in this society? When did the arts council celebrate one of the most challenging of art forms?

But what does that "beer and skittles" insult mean? I don't think beer and skittles equates to dumbing down. I think it equates to the life most of us experience and where the debate needs to be held. How does poetry relate to our everyday experiences, what can it give us, how can it slot itself into those moments staring out of the kitchen window at the winter jasmine in the snow?

I'd say John O'Donoghue and I had a pretty sophisticated discussion about poetry and writing in the Park Crescent pub the other night. And about funding......John's new book, "Sectioned, a Life Interrupted" is launched on Friday. Buy it.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Can a fine artist save Brighton Festival?



'A book is like a garden carried in a pocket.'

Everyone wants to make books. Artists and kids usually make them beautifully, as do dedicated, experienced printers with a love and knowledge of fonts. Limited edition or one off books are mouthwatering. Scrapbooks, photo albums, diaries, baby books, travel journals. When I was working for creative partnerships at Bourne School in Eastbourne for two terms, helping kids in years four and five write poems, I ended my residency with a session on making hand-sewn pamphlets for their work. I'm nowhere near as good as someone who makes artist books, but stitching a little eight page pamphlet is simple and if you use quality paper it feels substantial. The kids loved their books - their first collections of poems, illustrated too - and in their own way were tiptoeing in the footsteps of that master of artist books: William Blake.

Then there are celebrity books. My daughter's heat magazine was the only thing to read on the kitchen table this morning, other than a problem page on infidelity by Virginia Ironside. Four pages on 'the crazy world of Pete Doherty'. And a photo of Pete, dressed in fetching Byronic pastiche, signing copies of his book: The Books of Albion - the Collected Writings of Pete Doherty. I remembered the turning point in literature festivals a few years back. Brighton festival had a wonderful programmer - a guy called Adrian who put on Derek Walcott, Sharon Olds, CK Williams and many more astonishing poets. He packed out 100 seater venues with poetry.

When Adrian left, the literature strand changed. Later it wasn't even called literature, but books and debate. The door to celebrity was flung open - journalists replaced poets, cooks replaced poets, biographers replaced poets and celebrities replaced poets. Instead of working on building up an audience for writing, the festival dumbed down.

Blake's Visions of the Daughter's of Albion was a radical, political tract condemning treatment of women and slavery. And he was an awkward, troubled man. I'd love to think of Blake wandering down the coast from his Felpham retreat, to do a reading at the Brighton festival, looking out at the sea where he imagined visions of his literary heroes. But try as I may, I can't make it work. Wordsworth wrote about Blake: "There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in his madness which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott." I wonder if Wordworth was as irritated by the easy targets in Don Juan as I am sometimes, especially that line towards the beginning, "At fifty, love for love is rare, tis true...." His arrogance is utterly contemporary.

Brighton festival launches on February 18. The guest director is Anish Kapoor. In publicity about his appointment there was nothing about literature - the four strands of the festival, it seems, are dance, theatre, music and debate. Can we have faith that a fine artist will dig deeper? Will the chattering classes ever be halted?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sandstone Dreaming and Fernando Pessoa



Sandstone dreaming was a poem written with a group of very young primary school children and transferred, word by word, comma by comma, onto clay. I thought of it this morning flicking through last week's Sunday Times over toast. I saved the news review for the amazing pic of Obama. Yesterday there was no time for a paper, I was scrubbing plaster spots off tiles and bannisters. Maybe I was reminded of the poem because of a feature about parents pushing their kids to succeed and what I love about poetry is its quietness, its integrity, particularly for children. Poetry gives kids an escape, especially in a classroom dominated by results and targets. It's a wormhole that becomes a sanctuary - almost as good as building a camp in the woods. More than anything, poetry is a place you visit alone. Every smell in that place is unique, every sound. And the words you find there can reproduce the excitement of any experience you want.

Funnily enough, escape was at the forefront when I was doing my accounts the other night. Jane Fordham and her partner David helped guide me through the labyrinth of an online tax return and relieved me of so much stress that the next day I felt renewed. But David reminded me about Pessoa, the Portugese writer who adopted at least 14 different identities (I exaggerated, I think, when I tried to tell David not all of them had been discovered) and wrote throughout his life, but when he died in 1935 only one book had been published. He was virtually unknown.

Now, of course, his importance is celebrated, whether or not his views are. A poetry International web feature on Pessoa argues: "It is sometimes said that the greatest Portuguese poets of modern times are Fernando Pessoa: Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos."

Alberto Caeiro: "I have no ambitions and no desires./ To be a poet is not my ambition,/ It's my way of being alone."

It's a tortuous route, I guess, from sandstone dreaming and an online tax return to Pessoa. It gets more tortuous. Because what I really wanted to write about, before I was hijacked, was that old Sunday Times news review and three references in it that I found rather shocking, I guess. I have been aware for some time of the widening gap between so-called opinion formers (chattering classes) and the group of people I know. Once I was maybe on the fringes, as a freelance journo. Now I'm decidedly not. The chasm is financial, intellectual and moral.

Featurette 1 by Rachel Johnson refers to a George Monbiot campaign against Agas (could you make this up?). She defends her aga in her Devon home for being "our only means of cooking and heating apart from log fires). Aaahhh.....but the postscript adds: "I also have an Aga in our basement kitchen in London......" When I think of Agas I remember the one Risenga's mother had in her corrugated iron home in a squatter camp on my first visit to South Africa in 1994, the year of the first election. When the whites clear out, they hand stuff over to their servants. Lots of Agas were inherited in this way. After the elections whites felt safer visiting the tin cities their servants lived in. So what did they do? Aware of the rise in the value of agas, they went round collecting them back, offering the smallest amount of cash they can get away with. (Reminiscent of Maupassant's short stories) Anyway, Johnson didn't mention that stuff. But what did she think she'd convince us of?

Featurette 2 was about middle class interns and featured Gemma. We are told that daddy had helped a company director friend into an exclusive golf club so in return she got work experience, which in turn led to a job in PR.

Feature 3 took up a lot of space. It was about women and money. Sooooooo in touch with the times, it quotes a senior editor at Elle magazine on paying the nanny: "I have to say 'How much is it?' or I'll say 'I'll sign the cheque. Can you just fill in the amount?' I feel so much better when I don't have to ink out that large sum." Margarette Driscoll, the writer, comments: "Women are not just reluctant to talk about money, it seems; they don't even want to think about it."

She might want to eavesdrop on almost every conversation I have with my neighbours, friends and even total strangers in a queue at a till.

Hey, Margarette, the problem isn't women talking about money - it's listening to the right women. Women know they're being conned, fleeced and robbed on so many levels but people like you aren't looking outside the Ivy and Groucho.

At least teenagers are thinking........ at least the ones I know, who aren't cocooned by agas and nannies and private education. I know who I'd prefer to have a conversation with over supper.

(The milk tooth is still there. The Maryland bridge was faulty and had to go back. A three week reprieve.)

Pessoa at Poetry International web: http://portugal.poetryinternationalweb.org
Potter Julian Belmonte: www.julianbelmonte.co.uk/

Thursday, January 22, 2009

William Maxwell The Chateau



The allotment has been on my list of worries - neglected since the autumn when the council began to change the locks and had not got round to sending letters to me instead of the friend I used to work the plot with. But hooray! I now have a working key and on Sunday was there, cutting the raspberry canes and clearing brambles. There's so much to do and this must be the year of raised beds, especially if there's another wet summer and slugs are rampant again.

What has happened to time? In between cooking, shopping, washing clothes, cleaning the house (badly, it has to be said), feeding the cat and attempting to earn a living.....I stop around 8.30 at night, I reckon, when kids and cat are fed, washing up's done and I have a couple of hours to watch a film before bed and an hour or so of reading. Maybe the film should go. That would leave my existence pared back to the absolute basics. Being hard up is time consuming. You have to cook proper meals because they're cheaper. You have to shop carefully. You have to walk places rather than take the car, you repair clothes.

I was glad to see that a novel I found in a charity shop and loved, The Chateau, by William Maxwell, was in the Guardian's top 1000 novels list. But I was sorry that Moniza Alvi didn't win the TS Eliot prize this year. She deserves it - her book, Europa, is brilliant and relevant in a way that very, very few collections of poetry are. Alvi is consistently under-rated and ignored and I don't understand why. I guess this is the fate of writers who are ahead of their time. Writers who maybe make their contemporaries feel uneasy because their work is so original. Europa deals with post-traumatic stress, rape, the anxieties and pressures of modern life...... I guess at least the winner was female.

Anyway, back to Maxwell - an editor for the New Yorker for 40 years and it shows. His prose is so sharp, his eye absolutely clear. Another New Yorker I've been reading is Mark Doty. What a good poet he is....and a nice man. I met him only once at the 1995 TS Eliot award when my first book was shortlisted. He said nice things about my dress - a sleeveless shift of big black sequins. It's folded carefully away for my daughter. But you can't sit down in it because you bend the sequins, so it's a propping up the wall or dancing party dress. Doty's latest book is Theories and Apparitions. I'm reviewing it for Warwick Review, edited by Michael Hulse. Good to have space to do it justice. Good to have time to really think about it. Anyway, the book's incredibly thought provoking and humane. It's big (metaphorically speaking, not literally) and generous, open minded and kind. Some of his Apparitions poems, though, reminded me of the Brighton poet John McCullough's wonderful homage to Frank O'Hara.

Today I lose my last milk tooth. A week off 54 and one of the first teeth I had, the little one at the bottom in the centre of the jaw, is still in my mouth. But by this afternoon it'll be out. For a tooth that's meant to last about five or so years, it hasn't done badly. In fact I'd like my dentist to give me a pat on the back, really. But it's feeling loose. He reckons it might last another year, but I'm nervous biting an apple nowadays and I don't want it coming out the day before I have to go and interview someone for work. So he's going to glue a false one to the teeth either side, somehow. Rather that than a plate soaking in a glass by the bed overnight. I'm not ready for that yet.