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Showing posts from August, 2007

The Impossible is Possible

Having thoroughly regretted not buying at least a day ticket for the Smashing Pumpkins', my all time favourite group's, triumphant return to England for this year's Reading and Leeds Festival, I thought I'd post a brilliant performance of one of the band's most successful and well-remembered songs, Tonight Tonight. If you look around YouTube there's a few vids of the Pumpkins playing songs at Reading, too, including the recent Tarantula and Siamese Dream classic Today, but this particular performance is taken from the band's 1998 tour, and demonstrates their mass appeal (they inadvertently turned up late for this particular gig in Chile, and yet the crowd are still hugely receptive and chant the lyrics all the way through), as well as their versatility, as the song is differently arranged and without cello and violin augmentation, yet still works brilliantly. This song is definitely still one of my favourites of the Pumpkins, and never fails to move me in w…

Muse - Knights of Cydonia

Muse are a band that are the source of much argument in contemporary rock music. Are they a futuristic group in the post-Radiohead era, forging music of explosive, effect-layered grandeur driven by the undoubtedly talented Matt Bellamy, or are they a farcical outfit, a backward-looking musical ensemble who are not so much a progression from the stadium rock of Queen, U2, and, more recently, contemporaries Queens of the Stone Age, as a band firmly routed in the heavy riffage of the late 70s and 80s? I couldn't give a flying fuck. The arguments over the how-serious-should-you-take-me tone and monolithic flamboyance of Muse's music are pointless, or more to the point, they miss the point. Muse create music of almost limitless appeal. There is something in each of their albums, particularly the latest and most brilliant of these, Blackholes and Revelations, to please everyone. Well, almost everyone. There music, quite simply, is to be enjoyed for what it is. The video embedded abo…

It's Just a Song About Ping Pong

In keeping with musical themes, and as stoopid-kool takes over the alternative scene (hence CSS and New Young Pony Club), I'm betting this single, from Operator Please, will sweep the clubs off their feet and blow flourescent teenage minds for, like, a whole month. After all, it's terribly written, extremely bouncy, has a kind of slow bit in the middle, moves at the pace of the faster numbers in The Hives' catalogue on speed, and makes chuff all sense at all. It's just a song. It's just a song about ping pong.

The Mercury Prize 2007

As August starts to draw to a dreary and rather wet close, summer (or what we had of a summer), is officially over. And with it, the shortlist for one of Britain's biggest prizes for British and Irish musical talents will be whittled down to a single winner: the winner of the Mercury Prize 2007.

Last year saw the Arctic Monkeys win with their record-setting super-fast-selling debut album, 'Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'. And they've been shortlisted again this year, with their second, heavier and harder-hitting follow-up, 'Favourite Worst Nightmare'.

As ever, the Mercury Prize shortlist is also a mix of familiar names and relative unknowns. What I want to do then, as somebody who has no control whatsoever over the final outcome, is to plead with the judges, if by some fluke of the universe they end up reading this page, to choose Natasha Khan a.k.a the wonderful Bat for Lashes, as this year's winner.

Why? Well, the Mercury Prize is always …

The Difference Between Song Lyrics and Poetry

A while ago there was a general discussion on Rob Mackenzie's Surroundings about song lyrics, and whether or not they constitute poetry. It's my belief that song lyrics are not poetry, as they lack the singularity that the good poem possesses. That is, a good poem creates its own music, it stands alone and functions as verbal or written words on the page or the stage with no distinct and seperate musical elements to make it up and lend the words their weight and poignancy. That said, and song lyrics can work quite well on their own from time to time: Bob Dylan being a prime exponent of what might be called poetic songs, for example. Below, then, I thought I'd post lyrics to one of the better tracks of Bloc Party's latest album, 'Uniform', from A Weekend in the City. I'm a big fan of this song, and think its message is pretty well executed, but when I came to read these lyrics on the page, they lacked something. Worse, they'd gained a kind of contrivedn…

Poem 7 - Meanwhile surely there must be something to say...

The seventh draft poem for Matthew Sweeney's Guardian Unlimited workshop, taking a line from a W.S. Graham poem to inspire drama within your work (and push you out of your comfort zone):

Meanwhile surely there must be something to say
of what we had: the way we met as friends of friends
at a polite party nothing short of dead, the day we
headed to the coast and kissed and laughed and slept

on the beach, the same penchants for Marmite and BBQ
crisps, all this we could talk about before we sign this,
for instance, for instance… the way we made love in your bed,
my bed, our bed, the way we… the way we… made love. Had sex.

Poem 6 - I have my yellow boots on to walk...

The sixth draft poem for Matthew Sweeney's Guardian Unlimited workshop:

I have my yellow boots on to walk,
the sort I always wear for an operation

like this. Lucky charms, you might say.
But don’t talk. The next few hours

will need to be as delicate and precise
as disarming a bomb, and as skilfully

executed as a hole in one. If I pull
this off, see, it’s the highlife abroad,

some gorgeous villa on the Med
with its sun-kissed walls, and a swimming

pool next to which I recline, the shimmering
waters, cigars and cocktails to pass the time;

in short, a world free from misery and strife.
If I fuck this up, I’ll be banged up for life.

Poem 5 - Gently disintegrate me...

The fifth draft poem for Matthew Sweeney's Guardian Unlimited workshop, and quite unusually for me, a poem that overtly deals with issues of faith, proof, and belief:

Gently disintegrate me
into this world, Lord,
when I am gone,

disperse my soul
and spirit from the flesh
of my faithful form

to the far corners
of this earth – wind, sea,
sky, earth, make me

one with the very atoms
and quarks of this universe
that people waste entire lives on;

debating whether or not
you are the ultimate source of. For
when I am the very same

as the trees and clouds and rains I see
before me, Creator, that,
I think, will be proof enough.

Brand New Writing from Bright New Writers

Hurrah! Brittle Star issue 17 is out now, as it jumped through the letterbox this morning. And as is usual for this little yet varied magazine, it contains a variety of poetry, prose, essays and reviews from various writers, my highlights after a quick flick through being Michelle O'Sullivan's poem 'Interlude', Daniel Andersson's wry and affecting quatrain 'Forecast', and an unflinchingly personal piece by Phil Poole on his friendship with the poet Phil Malleson, who died earlier this year.

There's loads more in the mag, too, including a little something by myself, so why not buy a copy? You can subscribe on the website (only £6 for two issues, or £11 for four), and get a feel for the sort of work published with the sample poems available in the archive. Even better, there's a few older issues loaded up on the Poetry Magazines' site: Happy reading.

William Blake: poet, visionary, printmaker, painter

As David Caddy's 'Letters from Poetic England' note, this coming Sunday (12th) marks 180 years since the once overlooked, now seminal and hugely significant, poet William Blake's death. This year is also significant as it marks 250 years, come November 28th, since the poet was born. To mark the occasion, I thought I'd post this critical essay which I wrote sometime ago, exploring the social concern evident in arguably Blake's most important work, Songs of Innocence and of Experience. May Blake's memory remain as one of poetry's richest and most groundbreakingly subversive talents.

Social Criticism and Concern in Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience

In 1940, George Orwell, the great author and socio-political commentator, remarked of Blake’s ‘London’ that ‘there is more understanding of the nature of capitalist society in [this] poem… than in three-quarters of Socialist literature.’ Such a statement is neither unwarranted nor, arguably, hyperbolic…

Poem 3 - Whatever you've come here to get...

I'll be busy tomorrow, so here's the third draft poem for Matthew Sweeney's Guardian Unlimited workshop, which I've written in advance (this line was the one that first grabbed me):

Whatever you’ve come here to get
you’ll not find it in the slow turn and
reflect of the moon’s gunshot wound,

in the maplewood glow of the streets
after hours of trance, dripping with sweat,
when you try and pick me out from a crowd
pouring towards minicabs and kebab meat,

tired and sallow-faced and sparking up
in the flickering omnipresence of traffic lights.
You’ll not glimpse me making my way back home,

either, dragging the sack of myself to the front door
where, as the old gag goes, I piss gloriously against it
before pulling the keys out and opening up. Unseen,
and you’ll not even spot me as the last to leave,

led slowly out by the bouncers like a victim,
but just in desperate need of sleep. I won’t be
anywhere you might think, in fact, as you lie

in bed in the morning’s first light: catching a train

Poem 2 - I leave this at your ear for when you wake...

The second draft poem for Matthew Sweeney's Guardian Unlimited workshop:

I leave this at your ear for when you wake,
a seashell that sings a song as you thrash
about in your sleep – the same dream
I’ve had grasp me in our bed, when
the sun pours through the curtains
and you see them all: the world
of men-as-mass; the legions
of the undead, combing
the earth about their
usual business, whatever
it was, and you feeling like
that kid from The Sixth Sense,
and realising in the same way that
for months I’ve been dead, a ghost about
this world so wrapped up in myself I’ve lost
my head, and then birdsong, or an alarm clock
that rings as if from the heavens, and intercepts it.

Poem 1 - Imagine a forest...

The first draft poem for Matthew Sweeney's Guardian Unlimited workshop:

Imagine a forest
Small and modest
Where trees blow
And winds grow
And each rustle
Or hedgerow’s bustle
Is not deer so sleek
But a mythical beast.

A twig’s snap and break
Is the chimera’s wake,
The sudden birdcall above
A gremlin or lycanthrope,
Some echoed distant shriek
A wailing mandrake,
And the breeze through your hair
Shows a unicorn’s there.

What to do with this place
That you’ve stumbled across?
Two options: stay, or run off,
But beware that you’re already
So far in that your hopes of leaving
This miniature yet devilishly
Twisting maze of wood
are quickly wearing thin.

It’s growing dark. You’ve had enough?
Well be my guest to fish yourself out.
If you’re down on your luck
I suggest listening out
For the groan of a wood maiden
In an oak’s moan and flexing.
They’re at one with the forest,
You see, so be at one with their feelings.

Look. The moon’s wide eye is settling.
Its cold and wet and beautiful, but you’re
More worried about what’s o…

Matthew Sweeney's Poetry Workshop

I've decided to take on Rob Mackenzie's challenge of writing a dramatic poem a day for the next ten days that starts with a line from a W.S.Graham poem, from a list that Matthew Sweeney has chosen as his writing exercise for this month's Guardian Unlimited poetry workshop. The lines are as follows:

Imagine a forest

I leave this at your ear for when you wake

Whatever you've come here to get

Shut up, shut up. There's nobody here.

Meanwhile surely there must be something to say

I called today, Peter, and you were away.

This morning I am ready if you are

Gently disintegrate me

Just for the sake of recovering

I have my yellow boots on to walk

Above, then, is my first attempt, using the starting line 'Imagine a forest'. You can keep tabs on Rob's poems on his blog, Surroundings.