Friday, May 30, 2008

I applaud women who speak out about inequality, especially nowadays. But women who use feminism theoretically and don't have the guts to apply it get a disappointed thumbs down.....I have been through one of my faithless-about-poetry patches and it was fuelled by an email on who might succeed Andrew Motion as poet laureate.

This bandwagon's a bit like any stagecoach crossing a dark wood...those archetypal highwaymen are somehow comforting, aren't they? If you don't let ethics intrude.

Imagine inside this stagecoach are the favourites for laureate. According to the Guardian they are Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and James Fenton. For what it's worth, I reckon it's between Duffy and Armitage. I think Fenton's a bit too distant. I'd add in John Agard, who truly is a poet of the people, with utterly superb credentials, and Moniza Alvi who's less well known, maybe, but is nevertheless taught in schools (as Agard, Duffy and Armitage are) and writes superb, topical, relevant and truly accessible poetry. And while we're at it, Grace Nichols, another remarkably accessible poet.

The Independent's contribution is to list five other female contenders: Jackie Kay, Wendy Cope, Fleur Adcock, Ruth Padel and Lavinia Greenlaw.

This is where the journey becomes more interesting. The Indy's list is based on a press release that went out earlier this week. I was forwarded it by a fellow poet. At first reading, it makes a valid point - there's a vast number of good women poets in the UK who are ignored when it comes to big prizes. Let's use this occasion to celebrate them. Fantastic. Of course. I'm all for that.

Then the press release - which, incidentally came from the Ledbury Poetry Festival director, Chloe Garner - quotes a few names as contenders. On top of the first batch of contenders she adds some more....Now, these names are good poets but not all would be laureate material by any stretch of the imagination. One of these extras has just two books out, another just three.

I was amazed someone in that position could be naive enough to suggest names with so little experience they'd never be in the running - even if they were men. Apart from anything else, it's handing ammunition to anyone who's inclined to disagree with the fundamentals of equality. When I wrote about equal opportunities in the 80s there was regular discussion about people being set up to fail by liberalism or cynicism. Have we learned nothing?

I could speculate why some of these other names were quoted. I fantasised that maybe this woman director would give a voice to those of us writing in the margins. So I thought I'd look at the Festival line-up and do a head count of men and women appearing there. Given this blazing press release about the "many splendid female poets from all generations" writing in Britain today, I was hoping for ample evidence of us in the programme.

Hmmm. A quick count reveals a rough split of about two thirds to a third. Yeah, the gender represented by the two thirds is the boys. And those splendid women poets from all generations are yet again gagged.

Comments in an email, maybe, to Ledbury, asking for a money-where-your-mouth-is programme for next year?

Monday, May 26, 2008

My basil and coriander have been eaten by snails. I picked four off my mini cucumber plants. My new rocket seedlings, looking so promising, are stumps. I have a sense that I've been here before.

The last time I was at the allotment was Friday afternoon and evening - before the rain. I dread to look at the damage the rain's done. There were many promising rows of lettuce and purple sprouting brocolli. I will look tomorrow sometime.

The state of the world bears no comment. Why can't we stop shopping?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My eye has been twitching for days from reasoning with teenagers about creating a passage between clothes on the floor, endless washing, cleaning, shopping, meetings about work and worrying about money.

Negotiating and juggling are the downsides of liberalism. How easy it must have been back in the day, as they say, when food was seasonal and children obeyed their parents or were beaten.

Now the school's let the GCSE kids out and I have a teenager on roam setting, with revision to do. It's a freelance mother's nightmare. Do the educationists who make these decisions never consider how a lone parent will be affected? At least a few weeks ago I knew he'd be in lessons, with teachers who were being paid to get him through a few exams.

Now, I go to a meeting in London and he's off to the beach because the summer's back again. Can you at least make some notes of what you have to revise? I ask. Write out a revision plan before you go out? Give yourself a schedule of what you're going to do each day?

I come home and the CD player's on an extension lead outside the bathroom. It's the only sign of life, apart from jam on a knife and a lone trainer at the bottom of the stairs.

My other teenager's off to Paris with a friend. She seems to spend her time channel hopping - just back from Monet's garden and this time she'll be right in the centre of my favourite city, a stone's throw from the Louvre and the Marais. It's her friend's birthday treat and the weather forecast's brilliant. I am deeply envious but delighted, too, that she's inherited my love of the place. She's promising to bring me postcards from the Louvre and I'm wondering how I can go back to the city myself, soon...

When she's wandering around the Place des Vosges, I'll be marking, but on Saturday I'm off to a party being given by a wonderful woman, who is one of the brightest and most well read I know - and before that to see Helen Dunmore speak at Charleston festival because the OU, my very part-time employer, is sponsoring some events.

Charleston is always entertaining as an exercise in monied Sussex people watching and eavesdropping on the name droppers sitting behind you on the excruciatingly uncomfortable plastic chairs. I go there with my toes already curling, but it has a lure, nonetheless. It's a museum piece, a reminder of power and snobbery, of what wealth can do for the arts.

I was there last Sunday for a biography event and had a rather delayed realisation that biography is the middle classes tabloid reading, their justification for raking around the bins and dusty cupboards of dead heroes. Which would explain why biography is so popular - it fits perfectly with tell-all misery memoires that pad supermarket shelves and supply quantities of vicarious thrills, voyeurism and judgement......

What the middle classes haven't cottoned onto yet is organics for the brain. When I was writing about retail there was heavy resistance from senior retailers to admit there was an organics movement. I remember the edict coming back from our editorial board - the public's not interested.

Hmm. It was a Canute type statement and we knew they knew it. They were just trying to buy time. But who's making the point about brain food: poetry, translations, the big novels of ideas? Read Moniza Alvi's forthcoming collection of poems, Europa and Barbara Korun's Songs of Earth and Light. Read Neruda,, Auster, Plath, Longley, Popa, out the poets.

Here's the dark chocolate, fresh chard, home grown new potatoes, crisp pears and good bread. Here's the rich red wine to keep the heart going.