Sunday, 31 October 2010

Dear Man with the Bicycle: A Prose Poem

Dear man slow-pedalling through Manchester streets, past all those late drinkers, the strangeness of students in swimwear on nights out and police vans with their blare blare blare blare. Dear man on your bicycle, everything seems slower when you are pedalling with a girl behind you clinging to your waist, arms warm, legs splayed and the whoosh whoosh of air and breath and fingers holding on, wanting you. And you find her hands are too gentle, her mouth bites kisses into your skin, and coats jumpers t-shirts are lost so it's just you bare-skinned in a chilly room and her, stripping off a turquoise dress, peeling away tights. She is an aching shade of white, not what you expect or want, she is a girl in front of you unfastening buttons and zips. She will sit astride you while you imagine you are still pedalling through the streets with her behind you. This city is a city you have always known; it is bricks and walls and music beating inside you with your heart drum drumming, and she is such quietness by contrast. She is not what you want. Dear man in her white-sheeted bed, not knowing what to say apart from Come on, fuck me. Fuck me. There is something just ever-so-maybe-you-don't-know-anything-about-her and she will ask you questions when there are no answers only music drum drumming inside you. Dear man waking with the end of a head cold, wondering why you didn't let her go all night, why she didn't ask you to leave like last time, this all or nothing everything girl who is accidentally maybe sometimes never going to be for you. But still, you feel the need to tell her Soon every time you leave on your bicycle, unchained from the front railings and pedalled slowly through this city of damp commuters and street sweepers, with the beat beat of your life loud in your head, louder than her, and maybe you know already that you never want to see her again. But you don't tell her. Yes, this is how it is. This is how it is.

Monday, 25 October 2010

This Government Cuts

Went on the rally against the cuts in Manchester. Last Saturday morning. It was pissing down with rain. Typical Manchester weather. But, we marched through town anyway, had a good shout, waved a few placards, listened to some very rousing speeches.

Although we don't look very roused...! Maybe that's because it's depressing. Many people in this country seem to think these cuts are inevitable. They don't seem to realise that the government have chosen to make cuts that will hit the poor and vulnerable hardest, and that there were alternative choices they could have made. This is going to be a hard four years for so many people.

Pavlov, sweat and tears... A reading this Thursday!

Just wanted to quickly spread the word about a reading this Thursday (see below). I've been commissioned to write a short story about a famous scientist and one of his eureka moments. It's part of a project by Comma Press linking writers with scientists, and will culminate in an anthology of short stories to be published in March 2011.

I have been sweating over this story for the past couple of weeks, talk about stress! I'll be reading a stripped down simple version of it this week... it still needs further work, and I'll write more about how mad, crazy and wonderful it's been working on this story soon.

But anyway, please come along, you can give me feedback after, and then I can scurry away to work on it a bit more...

Science and the Short Story

The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the Engine House, Chorlton Mill, Cambridge Street, Manchester

28 October 2010, 6.30pm (free)

Featuring Annie Clarkson, Trevor Hoyle, Emma Unsworth, with neurologist Sohail Siadatnejad and chemist Zoe Schnepp. An evening of fiction and science, with readings of three stories specially commissioned to celebrate moments of scientific breakthrough. Annie Clarkson revisits a fortuitous flood in the laboratory of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. Trevor Hoyle explores the potential ramifications of the brain's recently discovered 'Mirror Neurons' - the neurological seat of compassion, empathy and vicarious pleasure. Emma Unsworth plays cards with the father of modern chemistry, Dmitri Mendeleev. Followed by discussions with two researchers currently taking these fields further.

Trevor Hoyle's latest novel is Down the Figure 7, set in Lancashire just after the war. His environmental novel The Last Gasp is currently under option in Hollywood. He also writes drama for Radio 4, his play GIGO winning the Radio Times Drama Award. Annie Clarkson's first collection of long poems, Winter Hands was published by Shadowtrain Books. Her story 'Lindy' was published in Brace (Comma, 2008).
Emma Unsworth is a journalist, short story writer and graduate of Manchester University’s Novel Writing MA. Her first novel is to be published by Manchester's new press, Hidden Gem next month.

Part of Comma Press's Bio-Fiction project; supported by Manchester Beacon and part of the Manchester Science Festival.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

My end of October

Yesterday, I was driving down Princess Parkway. Leaves were falling from the trees on either side of the road. It seemed as if there were scatterings of rusty leaves filling the whole sky and drifting down towards me. It was so beautiful.

I sat on the settee in a strangers house. She recently experienced a breakdown and is slowly trying to piece herself together so she can care for her children again. We talked and smiled, and she told me things, and at a certain point she said 'That's the first time I've told anyone that.' I'm always astonished by people's courage.

I've listened a lot this week and it is still only Tuesday.

On Sunday, I baked a gorgeous apple and raspberry crumble made with delicious apples picked from Fiona and Nula's tree and autumn raspberries picked from my allotment. I shared the crumble with the girls at work with lashings of Devon custard.

I've cried. There was this man. I spent some time with him, and was growing to like him. He gave me a ride on the back of his bike and made me feel as if my breath was whooshing out of my chest sometimes when he looked at me. But, after he stayed the night last week, he didn't call. And now I know he's not going to call.

I dug out a heap of weeds and just kept putting the spade into the ground and turning the soil over, and digging again. It was a damp day and it kept spitting rain. I came home with earth on my face, my hands, my arms, my clothes, my hair. I was dead cold and my hands ached. But it felt good because I know that whenever I want I can go down there and dig and everything always feels a little better.

I sat in candlelight on my big brown settee with my roasted beetroot, roast sweet potatoes, my home-made meat and vegetable pie. I listened to James Yorkston, Meg Baird, Nick Drake, Bon Iver.

It's been months and months of not writing, but I'm here again, pen, paper, ideas. My head is filled with this character, this place and time that is so far away from me, but which has become so familiar. I almost have a story.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Pets, Pest, Prey, An Elastic Sky and The Word Dress

Wow, what an amazing day of poetry in Lancaster yesterday.

First, a day for writers published by Flax Books. This involved wandering around the very beautiful Storey Institute, listening to poems about Pets, Pests and Prey. A really interesting idea - readings taking place in different places, the bar, corridors, the gallery, the stairway.

I particularly loved hearing Cath Nichols beautifully poem about Starlings, Rosie Garland's poem about a certain kind of pest, and Kate Davis' poems about her taxidermy gifts to her husband...

This was followed by a lovely lunch. Thanks Flax! Plus, a workshop where thirteen of us worked together to create a collaborative poem. We then performed this in the gallery to a very friendly audience. It worked really well, I thought, considering most of us were strangers only an hour earlier, and our poem 'We are hundreds of moths' sounded amazing and was such fun to be involved in.

And I decided to stick around for some Litfest events too...

The launch of An Elastic Sky.

Lovely scones and tea, readings from the five wonderful poets featured in the anthology and five short films inspired by a poem by each writer. A packed auditorium, some great readings, and very moving films. I was so inspired. I've been lucky enough to be published in two of their anthologies, and can honestly say their launches are better than most.

And then WOW, the most gorgeous event I've seen at a literature festival.

Claire Massey is an amazing writer of fairy tales and she was commissioned to write a fairy tale about this gorgeous dress. The dress was made by a bridal designer and has been made out of the pages of a book. In this case, Angela Carter's brilliant book The Bloody Chamber. I mean, Wow. How beautiful does she look, and the story was amazing.

You know what, I love poetry and writing and reading and everything to do with books. I love that I can keep being amazed, surprised, and moved so often. Thank god for words right?


My review of Brendan Connell's Metrophilias is on
The Short Review's website
. It's my latest book review, and just for your amusement here is a little snippet...

This book is filled with drunks, miscreants and sexual degenerates. Many of the characters seemed scarred or ugly in some way. We have stories about masochists, sadists, cannibals, erotic-pyromaniacs, and characters obsessed with carpets, noses, soft toys, and broken bones, for example. There is a man who finds a woman's head in the trash, takes it home and falls in love with her. There is a woman who, literally, gets sexual pleasure from the holy cross.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Busy Poet

I've been a busy poet.

After a quiet six months, lots has started to happen. Readings. A workshop. Writing. And some other writing opportunities that I can't talk about yet.

Funny how things shift and shimmy into place without much effort.

First, a lovely reading at Didsbury Arts Festival. A Tuesday evening at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, not the obvious poetry venue. We were a tad worried when there was only five people ten minutes before we started, but what a lovely crowd we got. There was maybe 30 or 35 people, very receptive, warm and friendly, There was an odd backdrop as behind me, Rachel Mann and John McAuliffe as we read were a trail of tennis players, passing the other side of the window from the tennis courts. It created a quirky evening of poetry/tennis. I loved meeting Rachel, the only vicar/poet with tattoos I ever met, and John's lovely Irish voice brought his poems to life, made me smile.

Then, Eat Your Word Soup at Cafe Culture for Wordpool 2010. Bit of a mouthful. I drove over to Blackpool, the North West's glittering seaside town, for an afternoon/evening of workshops and readings. And my first ever writing workshop. Eek. It was only a wee half hour workshop, but it was good. I think. I enjoyed it, and I hope other people did. I got people writing in response to various things I gave them, postcards of people, ripped up bits of my old work, angel cards. It was a way to spark new ideas, find starting points for poems or stories. Half an hour is not long, but we packed in lots of quickfire writing and then people could read out what they'd written if they wanted to... It was a real buzz actually for me, and for a first workshop I was dead pleased. Yay.

Then the readings, which were fab. Rachel McGladdery was wonderful in her slinky back dress reading some very powerful poems, especially the one about her dad, I think it's called Long Shadow, and it was brilliant, can't say more than that. I was next, and it was weird, I read the same set of poems as for the Didsbury reading, but it felt different. No nerves, but being a reader between two performers, perhaps made it stand out as being a little less confident. Marvin Cheeseman was AMAZING, I am his new biggest fan. He made me laugh so much, brilliant entertainer, very engaging, and some very funny poems. It was so lovely meeting them both, and a lovely audience which sadly was very small, which is a shame. The Eat Culture put on a brilliant event, and yet very under-subscribed. And on National Poetry Day too... where were all the poetry lovers, or are there no poetry lovers in Blackpool?

I drove back from Blackpool with all kinds of thoughts in my head about poetry and writing, and me as a writer and my life, and what I want to do and not do. I have a story to write, poems starting to shape themselves inside me again, which is nice. Yay. I'm a writer again, little old me, writing. I have no idea whether it will be any good, but it's about enjoying it right?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

This is England 86

I've been catching up on This is England 86 on 4OD. I was on holiday when the final episodes were televised. So, I missed out on any of the discussion about it. I wanted to share some thoughts, as phew, that's got to be one of the strongest pieces of television I've watched in a long long time.

I'm a big Shane Meadows fan, anyway. Dead Man's Shoes, This is England, A Room for Romeo Brass are all brilliant. He always captures something very tough about British society, the underbelly maybe, the stuff that other people just allude to, or explore in passing. No, Shane Meadows as a director really hits it to his audience, he seems unafraid of confronting the ugly truth. There's always humour, it's always hard to watch in some way, bloody heart-breaking.

So, Shane Meadows directing television is not one to be missed.

But heck, episode three was difficult to watch. More than difficult. I was shaking by the end, and felt physically quite sick and upset. Brutal, honest, horrific, very affecting. Brilliantly acted. I have no idea how actors play such scenes as the one between Mick and Trev. Johnny Harris had such a tough job playing the part, how any man takes the part of a rapist and plays it in such a convincing way, I've no idea.

We had a discussion at work about the last two episodes, both of which have horrible sexually violent scenes. For me, the scene with Trev in episode three was harder to watch. It was the power dynamic, the way he says, 'this could be the best sex you've ever had or the worst sex you ever had', the way he coerces her into not putting up a fight. And also how the scene seemed to last forever, it wasn't cut when it got difficult, but followed the action to the end. There was that awful moment when its over when Trev pulls up her knickers and fastens her jeans, and we all know that this isn't over for her. Rape is never over like that, even when the physical act has finished.

I'm in awe of Shane Meadows for directing this in the way he did, and Channel 4 for broadcasting it, the actors for putting themselves through this scene which must have been tough. Brave. Unflinching. Hard-hitting. Emotionally very raw.

It took me a while to get myself together, and I wandered around the house doing a few bits and pieces, wanting that awful feeling to go away. I've thought about it for days on and off.

Episode 4, with the scene with Lol confronting her dad was even more brutal, violent and in some ways more shocking. The girls at work found it more upsetting, but I think I was ready for it in some way. It was no surprise at all to me when her dad tried raping her as well. When she went round there, I understood why, I knew why she would want to scare him, confront him, show him that she knew what a nasty, violent shit he was, but there was part of me that wanted to shout at the TV, no no no, don't go near him, get out of the house! Sickening. But brilliant, the way they showed Lol reacting in such a different way, fighting him, angry, determined, desperate.

Some people might think it was too much, but I think it just showed reality. In my view that's the only way to confront reality, but shoving it in people's faces and saying watch this. This is what happens sometimes. This is what some men do. Yes, and not just psychos, or strangers, but men in people's own families...

It's why I still call myself a feminist, why I laugh or get annoyed when people say that we live in an equal society.

Anyway, rant rant rant. There were a hundred other reasons why I loved This is England 86, and thought it was a class piece of telly. But I've said enough!

Watch it! It's still on 4od...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

I have broken my machete

I know, it sounds like the title for a brilliant prose poem but, I really have broken my machete. I was hacking down my giant sunflowers and the handle broke, and now the blade is very wobbly. I kept using it like. But I'm sure it is a danger to mankind, or maybe just me. Sigh. Anyone know where I can get a new machete? It's not really an item I'm very sure about going into a shop and asking for. But it is so handy down the allotment for hacking, chopping and generally looking like I know what I'm doing. It also makes me look seriously well-equipped. (Incidentally, do you think the police would accept that I use it for gardening, if I was stop and searched? Hm)

After avoiding the allotment for the past few weeks, apart from harvesting some very good looking veg, I did a good two and a half hours solid work down there today. I had energy to burn and a lot to do, so I got stuck in, digging, pulling down my almost dead ten foot sunflowers with stalks like small tree trunks, and a bit of weeding.

I have SO much to do. The allotment committee have offered me the other half of the allotment, so I will have a full size plot for myself. Only trouble is, the other half is derelict, has not been worked for two years, the soil is hard as rocks, and there are piles of weeds, debris and other crap all over it, an overgrown pond with a hole in it, and some really tough looking grass on the rest of it. I'm beginning to think I might be nuts for saying yes. There's still a lot to do on my half, and now I have doubled my workload.

Eric has found me a greenhouse with no glass, that needs erecting and glazing. So that's lying around waiting to have something done to it. I also want to build some compost bins out of old pallets.

So, is anyone up for a dig? Seriously. If you're in Manchester and you fancy some hard labour for no money (although I'll throw in some veg or a beer, depending what appeals most), then give me a shout.