29 January 2009

Massie/Giles collabo

North From Strathearn, oil on canvas, 30" x 48"

This is a collabo between deeply talented artist Massie and myself.

North from Strathearn

For Claudia Massie

I saw the Artist rip down shreds of
Light from the edge of the globe last
Night; she stood up on her stool, a painterly
Arc from hip to quiff, mauling bunches
Of grey and black, all the tempest swam
In thick oil to make storm-clouds
With fingertips and the moody sky-
Fug blushed. You slip in it, muddily
Suspended like a mosquito in amber for a
Million years in a Jurassic landscape held at
Arm’s length, banked up in swimming
Curves with the cumulus light on it.
Driving through the shining slick of Perthshire,
Once, she mapped out beams on the hillside and
For a second we hovered on the cusp, carved
Out in canvas, sliding in and out of frame,
Painting ourselves in deep rainwater red as the
Artist dotted the home-lights in the distance.
The world streaked by in the half-light and the
Horizon showed up in globules. I see the Artist
Peel back old paint a hundred years away, her
Dark day afternoon established behind bars
By the state and insured for a sum - that
Sombre glow we chased across the hillside
Last lifetime and held against us, breathing.
Now, the Artist, wisps of grey hair clipped up,
Cold winter hare under barbed wire, casts
Flakes of pearly oil and chinks of that old
Scottish maelstrom lurking in the uplit
Gloom escape, living, into the future.

27 January 2009

Maurice and other boys

For Jimmy and Michael, brothers-in-arms

Sat up late last night, couldn’t sleep. I’ve been writing none stop recently. Yesterday I re-read Robert Harris “Imperium”, his novel about the great Roman lawyer Cicero (a must read) then sat giggling to Stevie Smith poems for an hour. She was an uncommonly wise and hilarious woman:

Ceux qui luttent
Ceux qui luttent ce sont ceux qui vivent.
And down here they luttent a very great deal indeed.
But if life be the desideratum, why grieve, ils vivent.

Stevie’s poem is such a smart and succinct treatise on life, and so artfully artless as to be perfect. Another one that had me laughing out loud (or ‘lolling’ as seems to be the fashion these days) was her tale of a party drunk possibly with a dark secret. Maybe even a drug habit. I definitely identified with this poem, and my friends will testify to this.

Everything is Swimming
Everything is swimming in a wonderful wisdom
She said everything was swimming in a wonderful wisdom
Silly ass
What a silly woman
Perhaps she is drunk
No I think it is mescalin
Silly woman
What a silly woman
Yes perhaps it is mescalin
It must be something
Her father, they say…
And that funny man William…
Silly ass
What a silly woman
Elle continue de rire comme une hyene

Brilliant stuff. Laughing like a hyena indeed. Stevie Smith turns the establishment on its head at every turn so I am glad that she has become such a national institution, like some kind of mad avenging Edward Lear with a twinset and pearls. I had to just get some light-ish humour in there, as next last night I had to dip into E. M. Forster’s ‘Maurice’, as I had read his letters over Christmas and only having had read a ‘Passage to India’ (and loved it, and subsequently loved the film), and two and a half hours later I had to sit down at the laptop and say something. Because I’d just read my story and of course that was going to get me scribbling. So, a few questions. If you are to be vilified by breathing, why breathe? If you are told what exists within your very core is wrong, why not run from it? A question I am often asked as a gay man from the most thrillingly intelligent people is “What’s it like being gay?” I have spent a lifetime avoiding this question, because it insults me. Other questions, with hyene laughter (but non-funny, in this case) in the background, include “What do you do in bed?” or “Do you give or receive?” Most often this question is asked by women who hardly know you but immediately jump into bed with their new gay best friend. Some gay guys lap that shit up – why wouldn’t they, they are desperate for love, just once to be told “That is OK”. But really they are often exhibits in a rather garish zoo. How to be? That is the question we should all be asking, and in different ways we do. But this is more than mere existential angst, this is making good out of a very dark place. I remember telling my friend once that it had been easy for me growing up gay in the 1990s. Why shouldn’t it have been? But of course, it is easier to say that, than to retell each shaming sequence. The lusting love after friends, the misunderstanding of signals, the need to be touched but the knowledge that you are to be rejected. I realise that a lot of heterosexual people will read this and think ‘the boy is begging for sympathy’. But that is a typical inbred homophobic stance, in a way. The one simple different between Western straights and gays is that the straight people have never once been asked “What’s it like being straight?” or “What do you do in bed?” The natural response is FUCK OFF. I have a million of those little stories, and you probably don’t care. I just need to record all this for posterity so one day I look back and remember that not all I have said and done is a charade. Today on the radio, when America should be rejoicing, I heard some Alabama freak cursing the “black Marxist” for supporting “marrying the gays” and of course we have the horror of Prop 8 to deal with, which to gay couples and gay individuals goes back to that very simple childhood fear: “We do not like you. What you do is wrong. We do not accept you.” No words can explain how sad that makes me feel, because it just adds such power to all the little homophobic off-cuts we shrug off everyday as friendly fire. In E. M. Forster’s “Maurice”, a novel he only allowed to be published after his death in 1970, firstly for fear of recriminations (he wrote it in a year in 1913) and latterly for more sedate worries about its datedness, he puts forward our case sweetly but with bite. I say sweetly, as it is happily unlike the amazing James Baldwin’s more stormy and ultimately tragic work "Giovanni's Room", because Forster was set on a happy ending. The hideous thing is that Forster wrote in 1960: “Since ‘Maurice’ was written there has been a change in the public attitude here: the change from ignorance and terror to familiarity and contempt…We had not realised that what the public really loathes in homosexuality is not the thing itself but having to think about it.” What’s hideous? It is still true. Nearly 50 years later. However, I don’t despair. Neither do I couch myself in grief. I fight against laziness within the ranks as much as outside of it. But I take great strength from heroes and villains such as Forster, Gore Vidal, Baldwin and others, who although with their own terrible foibles, blaze an intelligent and never easy path for us. Neither do I always see fit to work for the tribe. The tribe can be stupid, and grating. But when I hear of happy endings, like Maurice and Alec (even though, that smart cookie Lytton Strachey said “the relationship of the two rested upon curiosity and lust and would only last six weeks”) or my married friends in the real sphere Jimmy and Sergio, or my friends Dani and Steph who are to be joined in love this March, or Michael who has fought all his life for truth in gay representation with his beautiful daughter by his side, I can still rejoice. Hope is a good thing (and I’m a famous cynic, as my blog readers will know). Alec and Maurice are divided by class, and after many ups and downs Alec decides to emigrate to the Argentine. Maurice goes to see him off to get one last glimpse of him, but Alec doesn’t board the boat. Maurice hurries off to their meeting place to see if he is there, never quite hoping that his heart’s joy is about to come true:

“In a little while he would decide what next should be done, but now his head was splitting, every bit of him ached or was useless and he must rest.
The boathouse offered itself conveniently for that purpose. He went in and found his lover asleep. Alec lay piled upon cushions, just visible in the last dying of the day. When he woke he did not seem excited or disturbed and fondled Maurice’s arm between his hand before he spoke. ‘So you got the wire,’ he said.
‘What wire?’
‘The wire I sent off this morning to your house, telling you…’ He yawned. ‘Excuse me, I’m a bit tired, one thing and another… telling you to come here without fail.’ And since Maurice did not speak, indeed could not, he added, ‘And now we shan’t be parted no more, and that’s finished.’

20 January 2009


For Patty Neil
I haven’t cried, really cried for a
Thousand years, since everyone died
And left us glistening at the bus-stop,
Hemmed in by the mobile phone adverts.
For all those lifetimes I have held it in,
A rock in my chest, a glut, a dam,
It holds my bones together, kind of,
This old skeleton doesn’t need a shoulder
To cry on, that sort of thing. Sometimes
I forget what it’s like to hold on to
That branch in the flood and put my
Eyes up to the sky, right up, and glare
Direct at the moon criss-crossed with cloud.
Not this week, I’ve got clothes to fold,
And fold, and fold again as my bones creak.
I’ve got washing on the line, half-
Alive in the wind, billowing bodies
Dancing and shape-changing and
Filling my garden with long forgotten
Faces. I haven’t cried, really cried for
A thousand years but I know the old language,
My hieroglyph is a tear, a
Drop of water meaning life; no point
In giving up like the others, the one
In the kitchen with the cord round his
Neck, the one snuffing out her soul in the
Garage – this mess of storms and sunlight
On face is what makes this skeleton get up
And walk to the top of the highest hill and
Stop, and, standing still, breathe.

16 January 2009

January in Madrid: Food Edition

The joys of Spain are too numerous to mention. But just a quick run through of the past few days to get your mouth watering. I arrived at lunchtime, so felt the need for a proper menu, of the kind that cost 8 euros and include first, second and dessert, a bottle of wine and real coffee. So I sat down to all that with my Edith Sitwell letters for company. First course was paella, not really the best kind but succulent bits of chicken, an enormous mussel the size of a hoof and some little prawns almost made up for the massive bed of rice that lurked beneath. Then a slab of steak, bloody, with overfried chips and a salty salad. So Spanish, so good, I washed it down with plenty of wine and casera and had an enormously strong heart-attack coffee cortado (with a bit of milk). Everyone smoking around me, the two enormous televisions blasting out gossip television and Miss Sitwell like a harridan at my side. Later we went to Bea´s house with Maribel and Bea´s son Adri. We ate crepes with mushrooms grilled in olive oil and lemon juice, young asparagus treated the same, carne picada, more of that delicious salty salad, fresh white bread and a good ribera, a cold light red wine. Back to Maribel´s for lunch the next day and fideua, a dish like paella that has clams, squid, chicken and prawns cooked up in stock with noodles. Maribel madre is famous for this dish and by god she cooks it well. Being in Spain reminds one that cooking really is part of the fabric of life, and food part of constant conversation. Liberating for an English boy, who despite being from a foodie family revels in Spanish peasant cuisine. Again, a nice ribera (Protos) and more coffee. Delicious. And warming (it´s in the single figures in Madrid, but beautifully sunny, light streaming down on the plaza as I write this. Joy. Life is good.