Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Red Roaster

I'm pleased to be MCing at the Red Roaster tonight for PigHog. It's an Africa meets Ireland event featuring two poets with collections from Salmon, Paul Casey and Afric McGlinchey.

Casey lived for eight months on the streets of Dublin but is now housed. His first collection is Home more or less. Ian Duhig says: "Paul Casey is a truly international poet whose work is informed by languages from Irish and French to those of Africa, and his experiences of that continent enormously enrich this book. His creatively homeless imagination enables him to respond to his themes innovatively and with great formal variety; beyond that, a linguist's ear, his sharp mind and wide-open heart make 'home more or less' a collection that truly merits international attention."And this, from Thomas McCarthy: "In home more or less Casey has made the long journey from parched earth to writing under constant Irish rain. He has discovered that green colour so dangerous to wear, the colour of poems. Attended by the ghosts of Afrikaans, with African memories like the afterglow of stinging nettles, he has created an entire world out of a new myth-kitty of far-way and Irish material. In a poetry where the mountain Gods end their tears, he has created a new, sea-drenched climate for the soul."

McGlinchey's new collection's The Lucky Star of Hidden Things. She has a recommendation from Paul Durcan: "Afric McGlinchey belongs to an endangered species: she sees the world through the eyes of her soul."

According to Salmon, her collection "explores African memories and traces the nomadic path of her own upbringing. A number of the poems consider relationships, where, behind the imperative of love and passion, there lurks a pursing shadow of doubt. One can also sense an impulse for motion in many of the poems. These are the narratives of an outsider, where symbolic imagery hides as much as it reveals."

And although I can't claim to have ever lived in South Africa, I too have a batch to choose from that explore the place and family connections. Doors open 7.45 pm for poems and the best coffee in Kemptown.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Wilma Cruise - The Alice Diaries
Circa on Jellico, Johannesburg, July 2012
Austerity's not new to me. The most I earned was shortly before my first child was born more than 20 years ago. Yesterday, I accepted work at half my daily rate. I asked friends what they'd do - almost everyone said take it.

Austerity's rules are familiar to anyone over the age of 50, to most people on the planet.

1. Buy secondhand at charity shops, car boots, jumble sales
2. Cut down on meat and fish (I'm vegetarian but agreed this with the kids)
3. Make your own bread, jam, cake, chutney
4. No ready meals, no takeaways, no meals out, other than at friends' houses
5. No drinks out, ditto
6. No theatre - unless it's free
7. No cinema - iPlayer or 4OD
8. No live music - unless it's free
9. Grow food, especially greens, salad, soft fruit
10. Mend, repair, maintain
11. Avoid big supermarkets and town centres, shop local, little and often.
12. Park the car
13. Time the heating - an hour a day. Put up winter curtains.
14. Make sandwiches for days out, take a flask
15. No newspapers, magazines, sweets

Making the list reminds me of wartime cookbooks I've accumulated and growing up in the early sixties, 15 years after the end of WW2. China was looked after, glasses preserved, shoes polished and tables waxed. My mother  cut my father's old shirts down for my youngest brother. She remembers making slippers out of an old coat.

I embark on my new work hoping austerity is a shared state of mind, that it will bring change. The relationship between those in full-time, secure work and those of us in casual, insecure work is at the heart of this. Can you come in earlier for a meeting? means a casual works for nothing when you're paid. When you knock a freelance rate down, remember your holiday and sick pay, other benefits. Austerity may be what we need. It may be positive.

Wilma Cruise, more of the Alice Diaries
at Circa on Jellicoe, Johannesburg, July 2012

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Perseverance into October

My desk was once a wash-stand. My mother rescued it and put a slab of wood on top. I've had it for years and its dual life couldn't be a better way of trying to understand my undecided state.

Hunting for work, looking for new paths, I feel like a scavenger kicking up undergrowth, going through bins.

Autumn's good at uncertainty. It feels right for reinvention, but despite trying out a wig, rediscovering winter skirts and scarves, moving piles of books, I still feel absence on my back.

I'm trying not to complain, although I had a cry on Sunday, knowing what I need is to put on my wellies and dig. But then from nowhere ambition crawls towards me, the desire to do something more, to take on a big project. And suddenly planting garlic, weeding, pulling up the failed plants feels too ordinary.

Why isn't daily life enough? Why do I need to intervene, interpret and communicate, to film and record, to dance and chatter on the page, to digitise and amplify? When I came back from South Africa after at least two weeks of daily cooking on wood, washing with water carried for 30 minutes from a communal tap, washing in a dribble from a water bag hung from the grass roof, I was thinking the same. What is the point of writing and art when every moment is occupied with surviving? But I wrote when I was there. I walked around galleries.

I can imagine people who gathered up the hill by my allotment in the causeway camp needing stories, using words for quiet, for reassurance, for devotion. And why else would you decorate a pot, draw on a wall, than to go into another part of yourself, the part that escapes into the lines?

So thanks to my mother (always) my desk brings me together again, transformed from a wash-stand, it turns doubt into a motivator, promising more in the washing up bowl, tin bath.

Yesterday I looked at the film clips I took in South Africa in Mashau, I heard the birds again, could almost smell the fire - there's wood that smells of incense, another that smells of piss - and I could see over the valley towards the hills. I'm transcribing journals I kept on each of my four visits. Scavenging but rediscovering, reflecting.