Saturday, 28 February 2015

Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare: Wendy Pratt (published by Prole Books)

Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare is an unsettling yet powerful set of poems that embrace nature, fertility, femininity, the mundane, the bags of lives; what carries us, heals us and makes us wake up and run away or look within. It's all the coping mechanisms rolled into fourteen poems of loss. How to Find Spaces to Lose Things in starts the collection and hints at how we can deal with these things with magic and nature,

"Breathe in the sky and you notice you are not broken".

For me it feels generational and completely female. Who is Nan Hardwicke? The only clear identity in these poems is 'M', the baby that dances with a suggestion of 'remember me', the heartbreaking line in In the Bathroom, "She was always too tiny and too slow".

The collection of poems feels like the womb, the embodiment of safety, of sexuality, of looking to the wise for help...and to feeling hunted down and punished. For me, Nan is the crone, the poet is the mother and the maiden is the lost daughter, all embodied in words to immortalise them all.

The title poem is my favourite, the shape-shifting into a hare, running away to breathe and cope before you shift back to daily life and carry on as normal;

"I tensed her legs with my arms, pushed my rhythm
down the stepping stones of the spine..."

Find your backbone to strength in this poem, it may feel tight, claustrophobic; you will want to run "and fly across the heath, the heather".

Wendy Pratt's words embrace everything from the mundane of a bag, losing things in sought out places to overwhelming heart wrenching human loss, her skill being in weaving all these things together;

"...but bag I love you.
Don't spurn me now for a few weightless seconds"

These lines resonate with an emptiness, a feeling that a full belly left your arms empty. "Don't leave me now, for the imaginings of flight". Almost as if there's an internal battle of fight and flight that embodies the imaginings of transformation in Nan Hardwicke.

 Behind the Velvet Rope is the reminder of the circle of life and death starts with sex;

"...holding back the lips of an ancient tapestry,
displaying the soft pink majesty of a brocade
which concealed a discreet indecency"

It ends with the line "I'd fallen in love with someone dead by 1752".  It captures longing and a need to embrace memories, museums of our minds and longing in times of emotional hardship and the other saviour, a sense of humour.

There are recurring themes in these poems, "the bones of trees", "the stepping stones of spine" everything that holds us together and makes us magnificent,  the nature, the escape and history to a pagan past of Scrying, the grounding of Funeral and the pain of a lost item or a drive away from A Week On Friday. Funeral in particular reminded me of Seamus Heaney's 'Mid-Term Break. 

This is a collection that I read hurried, eager to link the poems, and have gone back to again and again to retrieve more wisdom at keeping going, carrying on. Hanging on tightly to my own carpet bag of tricks.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Pride: written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus

This week I've overdosed on 'identity' in various forms and this blog felt like it needed a spring clean and a new title. It took a while to think of as so many are taken, especially if you reference music or literature. Anyway, for now this space is 'Black Hearted Love', a PJ Harvey song of course. I've also put my full name on Facebook and changed my twitter handle so feeling a little over exposed right now...links to the right if you want to befriend or follow.

Film recommendation this week is 'Pride', based on a  true story of the struggles of the LGBT community and the Miners in 1984. This seemingly unlikely union is powerful and touching. Both groups were being battered by Thatcher's administration, the police and the tabloid media with the black cloud of Aids adding fuel to the fire of ground level prejudice.

Set on the road between London and Wales, it starts and ends at a Pride March, led by activist Mark Ashton. A story of common interest and fighting a common enemy:

Socialism, humour and heartbreaking losses, all to a soundtrack that includes Bronski Beat, Yazoo, King, Dead or Alive, with all the campery and fun, the women were pretty fab and integral in this film too;  no manic pixie dreams girls to be seen here. 'Pride'  is a feel good film, but also deadly serious portrayal of the collective power that a Tory government seek to fracture. To quash any hint of a labour movement. And though this all sounds so serious, the film is made by a script written with a humour that could draw in those that might usually turn away.

A movement written out of history, this film repairs some of the damage done by the 2011's 'The Iron Lady' where not a miner was mentioned, very conveniently.  'Pride' reminds us that activism is worthy, that 'Pits and Perverts' gave strength despite the miners being defeated and those communities still suffering today. I'm not sure if that passion or that labour movement still exists today to the same extent... but the film gives hope in a political climate where unions struggle to have any power and don't exist in the privatisation of just about everything. Watch it and work out who the real enemy is, it's certainly not  'the gays', the vulnerable who need help, or working people.

The film ends with The Communards track 'For A Friend' written for Mark Ashton who died in 1987 from an Aids related illness. A tragic loss on so many personal and political levels.

Related Links:

Pride IMDb

The British tradition that Thatcher could not destroy.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

PJ Harvey: Recording In Progress 3/02/2015

Confession time; when I first read about ‘Recording in Progress’, I did think it sounded a bit woolly, but probably because I hadn’t bagged a ticket so was being a bit of a grumpster about it. Low and behold, via Twitter, I read that more tickets were being released due to demand and after a little excited squeal and ‘everyone stand by your laptops and watch that button until it goes from ‘sold out’ to ‘buy tickets’ and then boom’. By the end of the day, there was a green light to go.

Presented by Artangel and Somerset House, this was a date with Polly, her musicians and producers Flood and John Parish. Of course a 45 minute slot does make you wonder if you’re going to walk in on tea break or a fight of unimaginable creative tension…but if you’ve ever seen PJ Harvey interviewed she is the charm, wit and beauty of West Country otherworldliness that could only run a very tight ship of efficiency. 

I avoided reading anything written about it and really didn’t know what to expect. On arrival to the very beautiful Somerset House, sitting aside the Thames on a freezing day, the atmosphere felt like a school trip. Don’t be late, line up, hand over your phones, hang up your coat and keep up. And finally, stick together. Oh okay, don’t mind if I do as Jarvis Cocker is stood behind me and though I’m pretending I haven’t noticed, I’m listening to every lovely deep voiced thing he’s saying and wishing I could remember the name of his 6 Music show.

So having speed read the programme and Polly’s ‘In Conversation with Michael Morris’; recording spaces are a big deal. As a writer, I can get that, I’ve tried to carry the notepad and write on the move but so far, I need a zone, quiet, or music and get into a resonant space that allows all that creativity (or desperation) to flow.  Polly recorded ‘Let England Shake’ in a church and the “building graced every note”.

What interested me about this ‘vitrine’ idea was that Polly is a multi faceted artist, a singer/song writer and visual performer who likes to feel scared and do something she’s not done before, and I wanted to see, read and hear her working with regard to recent news that she has this album coming out and a poetry anthology ‘The Hollow of Your Hand’ later in the year.

My love affair with Polly began for me at around 17/18 years old listening to 'Dry', I seem to recall Courtney Love calling it ‘angry vagina’ music, not sure I agree with that, but Polly's music has remained passionate, personal, political and drenched in history and art. It is no wonder that there was so much interest in this project. Her career has evolved and been consistently innovative with her pick of collaborators over the years *and* her achievement as first solo artist to win the Mercury prize twice.  From 'Sheela-na-gig' to 'Down By The Water', to  'The Words that Maketh Murder', my love of music first off, and later on writing, seems to have been encapsulated by this super ethereal like creature from another dimension.

The progression of writing has accumulated for her, in her own words "I work the words on the page first". And she differentiates between writing words on a page and how it comes to be a song. Very different things, but she’s way ahead of me on this one as I only started writing poetry recently after realising that lyrics are perhaps the simpler versions of poetry, so bring those two loves of my own together. How often have I wished I could write and sing as it just makes your words so much more accessible.  Unfortunately I’m working with the page alone having no power in my voice at all. Anyway back to PJ Harvey and watching the creative process, the hard work and repetitiveness of the whole process was fascinating.  The attention, the care and the labour…

We listened to them tuning up saxophones (three of them) and I noted a certain Pulp front man yawned at this point, then Polly saying ‘Shall I sing this one and just play guitar?’ Yes, yes, yes, pleeeeeease. And she did, three times in different keys while giving Mike Harvey (a bad seed) a bit of a look about his drumming that had gone a bit awry. 

In truth, I think what this ‘Recording in Progress’ did reveal was the patience needed to flow creatively and how it’s not just about bringing the perfect finished product to your audience but revealing the flaws and mundane to the table (or glass box) and seeing musicians recording songs with a maze of cables around them like our own mess behind our televisions and computers. Seeing your favourite writers in piles of paper, surrounded by empty cups and glasses and furious at the wifi going off at a crucial moment would be similar.

Is the process more alive than the polished product? It was fun watching the producers faces go from slightly irritable to head nodding glee, hearing the difference between the same track played in major then minor keys… and the difference was startling. Surrounded by speakers, distortions and scribbled lyric sheets in view of a white board of crossing outs. I’ve seen PJ Harvey perform live so this was a behind the scenes that I personally enjoyed being part of, despite feeling a bit odd looking through one way glass.