Thursday, September 8, 2011, 02:47 PMThe hotel is in the 18th arrondisement, a slope down from the sex shops and Le Moulin Rouge. It is boutique, fourteen or so rooms. The stairwell smells of stale spunk on velvet.*
There are no numbers on the doors. I must examine and memorise the pictures on the corridor outside my room. The picture to the left of my door is of a peroxide blonde poking a nipple into the mouth of a sleeping man. The picture to my right has the model’s head thrown back, face obscured by Japanese hair.
I meet P and he comes back to the room. As we walk through the chic café that serves as a lobby, the concierge nods appraisingly. We walk up the stairs. I point out the smell, the lack of door numbers. P remarks on the pictures.
The room is dark blue. There are monochromatic bondage prints above the desk and a tiny, curved bath. There is a large white bed and two floor to ceiling windows, looking out onto a courtyard, filled with a tree whose elegant branches extend the air into architecture. Beyond, ivied walls shimmer in the wind. We sit on the bed. P takes out his guitar. We run through the set. The music forms a tender and invincible bubble through which time flows without regard for the digital clock/ipod dock/radio alarm on the bedside table.
We finish, magically, at the appointed time to meet Anais and Jemma from Shakespeare and Co. The concierge looks up at his screen and smirks as we exit out into sunshine and menus and kissing on both cheeks.
At the Trianon, I shake hands with the technical crew and know I will only remember the English-sounding names.
I find P upstairs in the luxurious, apartment-style green rooms, writing a poem out in dry-wipe marker. His writing is shockingly familiar.
'I’m going to get a soy latte,’ I announce, interruptingly.
‘Ah. Ok. Soy? Where from?’
‘There’s a Starbucks at Pigalle.’
‘There's a Starbucks at Pigalle?’
‘Do you want anything?'
‘Right. I don't want anything. I need to go. I’m nervous.’
‘Yeah. Always. Not you?’
‘No. I get lonely. I’m the guy that’s got to go clean up Chernobyl.’
I stay. We open small bottles of Evian, take gulps, place them down on tables filled with other half-full bottles of Evian. I decide I really am going to go, but then the guy comes to do a podcast for the Guardian.
‘Can we do it together?’
He is nice and funny and we talk and laugh with him at length, even though we both know from painful previous experience that we will individually come out sounding like a pair of tossers.
Backstage, I pace my rituals. P warms up his voice for the accapella. We hug before we go on. I don't know how it feels for him, but for me, it is not enough. I want to crawl under his skin and disappear. I don't know what I could have been thinking, it must have seemed like a good idea, but all the reasons for that are now not forthcoming. One thing is true - it is going to happen, it will pass.
I get up onstage and look into the lit-up faces of the audience and remember,
'Oh, it's you, it's you! Look, listen, there's this thing I reeeeally want to tell you...'
The detail is astonishing. It is durational, but not from left to right. I was wrong. The truth is, everything happens now.
I come off stage for P's set and he does the songs that undo me. I wonder how it will be to get on stage like this, without a face, to do the improvisation and the duets, but of course, it is perfect.
At the end of the gig, I thank Marc the lighting guy and Nicolas the spark but not the outstanding sound engineer whose name is Joachim. We hang around, back-stage, front of house, in the lobby, for P, for Jemma, for Anais, for Carmela, for the guy with the cds, for book money, for me, for P. Then, at quarter to midnight, we sit down at a long table, for dinner. I drink a carafe of red wine very fast. No-one really eats the food.
There is a taxi, which P runs for. It is hard to get cabs in the 18th, at night and he has a slew of press for ‘My Wilderness’ the next day.** I need to be in Covent Garden at 1030 BST. Anais walks me back to the hotel. It is 2am but I want to carry on feeling tiny after-shocks of connection and presentness. I ask the young guy at the desk where to buy cigarettes. He tells me there is a tabac at Pigalle.
‘I don’t want to go to Pigalle.’ I say.
‘Do you like Lucky Strike?’
‘Sure. Thanks. Will you come outside and smoke with me?’
We sit on the bench outside the hotel. He asks me what I’m doing in Paris. I tell him
I’m from London, I had a gig tonight with Piers Faccini, I did a spoken word set, he played some songs, then we played together, did some improvised stuff…
He wants to be a writer.
He left his job in tv to experience life, to meet people. This hotel is very chic, there are a lot of artists, interesting guests. It is famous because you can also rent the rooms for an hour, during the day, for sex. He asks me which room I’m in and I tell him 102. Jemma requested that my room be not too extreme. He nods, yes, there is nothing in that room, some of the rooms are extreme, there is a - I don’t catch this, but I think – giant model of the owner’s cock in one room. He says that it is quite disconcerting to be confronted with it every now and then.
‘This is the guy who pays me, you know’.
He says he can’t write yet, because he has had no suffering, his life has been normal, lucky, uneventful. His favourite writer is Bukowski.
'Bukowski really lived', he says.
I tell him he doesn’t have to experience pain, it is enough to observe, with honesty. I urge him to start tonight, something short. Despite the gig having gone well, despite the fact that earlier, people listened to me, at this point, I become unconvincing. He politely says he might but I can see he won’t.
The next morning, I see him sitting on the same bench. He waves goodbye and I tell him that I am going to write about him on this blog.
Young concierge/writer guy, If you are reading this, I forgot to say, save your pain for when loneliness irradiates your bones. Those times where you wander through hours, days, weeks like departure lounges, sick with choice, unable to leave. I wish you a lucky, uneventful life of writing. If you can deal with the occasional fear and fall-out, it's the best job in the world.
* Years ago, we went to sex clubs in Paris for shitz and giggles. Maybe one day, I will write a story about it.
** To hear a track from P's new album "My Wilderness' (released 26th September)
(Please do listen to the track 'My Wilderness'. I did some lyrics on this track - have no memory of it, but P,very generously, has given me a writing credit, so I'm banking on it becoming a global mega-hit. And then Alvin and the Chipmunks will do a cover version of it and Manchester United will rebrand and use it as their new anthem. And then all my worries will be over.)
In case you are in Paris on Wednesday and in need of this kind of thing...
Monday, September 5, 2011, 12:00 AM
A few spaces left on this Arvon week for Write Out Loud...
Thursday, August 18, 2011, 08:52 PMI'm co-facilitating workshops at Arvon's Lumb Bank this November with Julian Jordan who is responsible for the on-line poetry phenomenon 'Write Out Loud.' These weeks are always intense and amazing, do come if you can. Here's the blurb...
An inspiring poetry course – at Ted Hughes’ old house.
Writing Out Loud – 14th - 19th November, 2011
Once Ted Hughes’ house, Lumb Bank is an 18th century mill owner’s house in twenty acres of woodland, in a striking Pennine landscape of rivers, fine stone houses and weavers’ cottages, packhorse trails and old ruins.
Be inspired and learn new techniques with other poets of various levels and interests – on this unique, Monday-to-Saturday, intensive-but-fun course run in partnership between Arvon and Write Out Loud, home of the UK's leading open-mic poetry website.
Here is a your big chance to take your writing further, as well as giving you top coaching in how to bring out the best from yourself and your words as you read or perform your poetryYou will receive guidance and tuition in writing, selecting and editing for reading out loud; and improving how you perform your work. There will be group work, individual coaching, and chance to showcase your work on Friday evening.
The tutors are the “Queen of Performance Poetry” Francesca Beard who has run workshops right across the globe, Write Out Loud founder, slam and open-mic veteran, professional writer and publisher, Julian Jordon; and visiting tutor Elvis McGonagall of Radio 4 fame, on Wednesday evening.
This course is generously subsidised (by Arvon and Arts Council) at £385 for an all-found week (all tuition, accommodation and excellent food). The subsidy is for Write Out Loud members (you simply need to be registered on our website). That’s around £200 less than their usual fees.
£100 deposit needed, refundable if we can fill your place. Send a cheque with full names, address, contact telephone, dietary or other requirements to Julian Jordon, Arvon Bookings, Write Out Loud, 7 Warehouse Hill, Marsden HD7 6AB. We will accept email reservations providing the cheque follows by post please.
The course is only open to people aged 18+
Venue: The Ted Hughes Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank
Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire HX7 6DF
Tel/Fax: 01422 843714
Wednesday, June 22, 2011, 11:00 PM
On Monday, after three days of working on this London Tales character piece thing, I realised that it was not only the worst poem I'd ever written, but the worst poem I'd ever read.
And that is saying a lot.
I have been facilitating workshops for a while now, plus doing residencies in places where I passionately and sincerely encourage people to write poems that they passionately and sincerely don't want to write - and frankly, those poems don't want to be written.
It was an exultantly exhilarating experience, the realising that this poem was not good. I think it's because it can be difficult to definitively say what is good and not good in poetry, on the page, what is reaching for truth and specificity/what is pretentious, and for live, what is performed well but actually old hat dressed in new clothes.
Yesterday, in Norwich I performed for the third time, a set about social norm behaviour and the rules for audience participation, followed by 3 shit poems. And the reaction gave me food for thought in this direction.
The first time I performed this at the SouthBank, people clapped politely and afterwards, quite involuntarily, I shouted 'C*NTS' down the microphone.
The second time was at BookSlam, after Jon Ronson's lovely set about sociopathic behaviour and it went text-book how I imagined - people totally laughed and got the satire and also the sincerity and most importantly, the point I was trying to make.
And I was so sure of that, but last night, doing it again in Norwich and getting feedback from the audience and also poets like Martin Figura, Helen Ivory, Luke Wright and Hannah Walker, I realised that, unless it's a very knowing, confident crowd like what at BookSlam, it's just not fair to set it up like how I've been doing and expect people to give critical feedback.
I know what I think of as bad poetry from good, because heaven help me if I don't, but why should someone who has come out for poetic entertainment? - it is, after all, a very thin line between aresholery and profoundity.
All well and good - on a more worrying note:
Recently, I realised that I loved some of T S Eliot's work and think that some of it is rubbishness.
Similarly, when googling Marvelll's universally acknowledged masterpiece, 'The Garden' tonight, I felt it was overlong and that a bit of pruning would improve it.
by Andrew Marvell
How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays ;
And their uncessant labors see
Crowned from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid ;
While all the flowers and trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.
Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men :
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow ;
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.
No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green ;
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress' name.
Little, alas, they know or heed,
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheresoe'er your barks I wound
No name shall but your own be found.
When we have run our passion's heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat :
The gods who mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race.
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow,
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head ;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine ;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach ;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.
Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide :
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets and combs its silver wings ;
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.
Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate :
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But 'twas beyond a mortal's share
To wander solitary there :
Two paradises 'twere in one
To live in Paradise alone.
How well the skillful gard'ner drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new ;
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run ;
And, as it works, th' industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!
Which lines would you cut?
Friday, June 17, 2011, 01:16 PM
At the start was probably not the word. It was some thing.
That thing was probably nothing. Not even time.
And then, BAM!
Light unravelling to all directions, making a here and now,
Twisting, shooting, tunneling,
Unzipping the void, forcing dimensions,
Making space for chaos, it’s effects and causes,
Making way for duration and journeys,
Making possible the many and the one,
Hierarchy and chains, difference and same.
Breath, sap, cell.
Water, earth, air.
Rising and falling and fire.
There was us, we came.
That was word and world and beginning.