Thursday, April 26, 2012, 04:58 PMSo, a few months ago, I got this email.
We are a quirky T-shirt company, www.philosophyfootball.com
We find quotes from philosophers, add name and squad number, turn it into a T-shirt, Believe it or not, this pays us a half-decent wage!
But wearing our ideals on our sleeves we plough the profits back into events that support causes we believe in. Mixing up ideas and entertainment, spoken word has always been an important part of our nights out. Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, Jackie Kay, Lemn Sissay, Kate Tempest, Polar Bear, David J, Laura Dockrill, Jean Binta Breeze, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Attila the Stockbroker, the late Adrian Mitchell. All have been part of our nights.
Our next night is very special, Thursday 26 April will be the 75th Anniversary of Guernica, the bombing of the Spanish city that inspired Picasso's painting. We are organising a night with the descendants of the Basque Children who escaped Guernica to be taken into English homes in 1937, and the International Brigade Memorial Trust.
The Spanish Civil War also inspired much poetry. 75 years on we would like to commission a poem for the anniversary of Guernica. We always ask the poets we invite who we should ask along next and your name has come up lots! Reading your poems we thought this would be perfect for you, we would like to commission you to write the anniversary poem, and perform it on the 26th.
I hope the idea appeals, in principle, let me know and we can then sort out the details. Fingers crossed!
After we had spoken on the phone and Mark assured me it wasn’t an elaborate hoax and I explained that I did silly, interactive stuff and was shockingly ignorant about most things, including Guernica and the Spanish Civil War, I took the commission.
Mark sent me a load of information and a book of poetry. I started reading this all on a train from Norwich and of course, minutes in, I was completely a mess, had tears rolling down my face for the rest of the journey.
I wanted to honour the facts and events that give rise to such intensity of response without putting my own emotions into the frame. I felt like it wasn’t legitimate to do so, when this was a commission and also when there exists so many fine poems from men and women who were there, who literally put their lives on the line. So I approached the subject from three possibly quite marginal angles.
This is Goring at the Nuremburg Trials
"I urged him [Adolf Hitler] to give support [to Franco] under all circumstances, firstly, in order to prevent the further spread of communism in that theater and, secondly, to test my young Luftwaffe at this opportunity in this or that technical respect."
I was thinking about how technology becomes a kind of motivation or logic in war, how testing things out becomes a reason or excuse to commit atrocities, how ‘Can we do this?’ is often not countered with ‘Should we do this?’ and how counter-insurgency strikes go on today.
It was a weapons test,
It was a trial run,
It was a practise war,
Not the main one,
It was an exercise,
What could be done.
It was strategy,
It was tactical,
It was planned out
And agreed on.
It was a favour dealt,
It was a back scratched.
It was the two birds,
With the one stone.
It was an afternoon,
It was a Basque town,
It was a blueprint,
It was a seed sown.
It was a market day,
It was late spring,
It was a blue sky,
It was children.
It was church bells,
It was one peal,
It was bomb shells,
It was death-blows.
It was rained down,
It was dive bombed,
It was carpet bombed,
It was a market town.
It was technology,
It was policy,
It was Coventry,
It was Dresden.
It was Hiroshima,
It was Vietnam,
It was Iraq,
It was Iran.
It was advancement,
It was deployment,
It was Afganistan,
It was Pakistan.
It was nuclear,
It was stealth bombs,
It was drone strikes,
It was napalm.
It was a Basque town.
It was sheep herds.
It was market day.
It was afternoon.
It was parents.
It was children.
It was them and us.
It was me and you.
For the second poem, I wanted to try and write something positive. I will be inspired for the rest of my life by what I have learnt about the men and women who went to Spain to fight in and support the International Brigade.
On a folded plane of space time,
In the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country,
In the province of Biscay,
In the town of Gernika,
on April 26th 1937,
At half past four on a Monday,
There is no single peal of the church bell.
There are no Heinkel 111s,
No Junker 52s,
No machine guns,
No 22 tonnnes of no bombs.
Between five and six that afternoon
No fighter planes fly low, herding
No men, women and children
Back into no exploded streets.
There is no attempt by civilians
To escape from their homes,
With their lives and loves.
No pilots through no windshields view without pity
No anguish on no faces.
No-one pulls triggers,
Pumps metal, mutilates animals.
No-one takes away no-one’s future.
Previously, on Earth, Archduke Ferdinand
Remained inside the building,
Francisco Franco was not entitled,
Hitler never shared an opinion
With any other like-minded human being,
Mussolini did not put on braided uniform.
There were no gouged out hierarchies.
No-one devised signature styles of marching,
No-one recruited no-one for no torture squads,
No Luftwaffe, no special secret inner sanctums.
No-one’s hands or taxes were used to make or buy munitions,
No glass was shattered on no Krystallnacht,
No-one stood by and did nothing.
No-one threw the first stone.
And on that other curve of space time,
This is also my fight,
This is also my war,
This is also my freedom, my duty, my world.
No-one gives up their home, their safety, their family,
No-one does that willingly,
No-one asks for whom the bell tolls.
Right now, in a market town,
In a market square,
Everyone is here,
Connected and entire,
To hold each other and say,
Thank you for your gift.
This is what it is to live
So somewhere else we will not die.
This is what it is to die
So somewhere else we live.
I didn’t want to see the people who were bombed in Gernika in 1937 as victims, I didn’t want to feel pity, it seems that acts of atrocity, on top of everything else, put victims into the position of victims and take away their right to define themselves in any other individual, specific ways. And it creates a barrier. Victims and non-victims. I wanted to feel connected. I imagined what it would be like for me and where I lived to be bombed like that. To survive and the next morning, look around at the devastation. All of the little things, the trivial stuff, the annoying, repetitive, chores would suddenly, in that rubble, become unbearably precious. And so I thought this could be a chance think about that detail in our own lives which we might moan about or resent and how sane and ordinary it is. How much it defines us and also how little it defines us.
This is meant to be an interactive piece – the audience is invited to add to the list.
Give thanks to the repetitive, the mundane, the boring,
The paying of the congestion charge on-line,
A fine through the post,
Give thanks for the burning of toast, the filing of invoices,
A mistake in the diary leading to a series of uncomfortable phone calls.
Give thanks for it all,
Next door’s baby teething through the night,
Jehovah’s Witness at the door.
Give thanks to the black mark of a bike handle scored against a newly painted wall.
Discovering that voucher for a free haircut three days too late,
Being put on hold, being told your call is important,
Being made to feel stupid by your smart phone,
Wiping your five year old’s bottom, telling her that she is too old and so are you for this shit.
Give thanks for looking out the window and realizing you left the washing out and it’s raining,
Cutting your finger on a piece of glass while weeding the garden,
Buying something on ebay, the next day finding it 10 quid cheaper, free delivery, 12 month guarantee.
Give thanks for slammed doors and ‘I hate you’ and ‘I don’t care’.
Give thanks for other people’s teenagers.
Give thanks for these things on the 26th of April,
Or even every Monday,
Or even every afternoon.
Words In Motion
Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 11:04 PM
If you're travelling on the tube this week, you can watch some of the Words In Motion films curated by Smile for London on your phone.
So, if you want to watch, you download augmented reality app Blippar and hold it over your oystercard until it locks in and the film begins to play.
Oyster cards are the triggers for the films and can be used on the underground as long as the app has been synced in the morning.
Here are the featured films (20 secs each:)
Monday: Scroobius Pip & Oxborrow and Andrew, 12foot6
Tuesday: Ray Davies & Hexstatic
Wednesday: Francesca Beard & Ben Collier Marsh
Thursday: Polarbear & Bran Dougherty-Johnson
Friday: Benjamin Zephaniah & The Studio of Williamson Curran
Or you could watch Ben Collier Marsh's amazing animation of my poem here:
Death, Taxes and Commentary on How infrequently I update this blog.
Sunday, January 8, 2012, 11:51 PMAround this time of year, someone says something about how I'm walking round, apparently well and seemingly quite busy and doing stuff and yet, I have, for months, failed to register any of this on my blog. Not like they really mind or care, more a wondering observation. This time it was Tom Hodgkinson of The Idler, which I think is a little rich.
Well then. The next thing that might be relevant or seeable, unless you happen to be attending a Tower Hamlets primary school or, or, oh, other stuff which you won't be doing, is this.
Poem films for the London Underground, collaborations between a series of great animators and some very cool poets. It'll will be launched from the 16th January.
(2012, just in case I don't come back for a very very long time.)
After that, it'll be another collaboration, this time with pioneering cardiologist Dave Hildick-Smith, on the Human Heart, for the fabulous Fuel.
Sunday, October 16, 2011, 05:26 PMI've got a week of writing. I was going to hole up in a cheap b&b somewhere in the middle of nowhere, but Murray, my oldest friend, who I never see, has a huge guest room in his apartment in New York. Plus, he works insane hours, he's in his studio from 6am til late...
Now I'm here and he has informed me that he's inbetween series and it's cocktail hour.
So I've flown xthousand miles to sneak in writing time, the main difference being that instead of two small kids, it's just one big one.
Still, in the words of King Julian of the Lemurs, it's not a bad view. And it's so so good to see my beautiful, funny, friend.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 02:39 PMThe Guardian's Fiachra Gibbons met me and P in Paris for the Trianon gig and then podcast producer Tim Maby came round to talk a bit about live poetry and performance.
Here's the link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2011/oct/07/poetry-forward-prize-audio
The extracts from the Trianon gig and my bits are from 6.50 in but I enjoyed the whole podcast and hope you might too.
Here's a youtube video of me and Piers performing a song together, with thanks to Sylvie T x
If you have a yearning to develop your live poetry skills, there are three spaces left on the Write Out Loud Arvon course beginning 14th November 2011, with tutors Julian Jordan and myself and guest poet Elvis Macgonigal.
Here's a link to where you can find out more or book yourself onto the course, attached to a nice discussion about the list form by Julian, using my Poem that Was Really A List, with video included: