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Archive for January, 2013

I’ve returned from a weekend in Warsaw.  It was a slightly random, impulse-buy holiday, spurred by a combination of realising my opportunities for flight are rapidly diminishing (you’re not supposed to go on planes during the third trimester), plus £8 single-fares in the Ryanair sale.  We had a lovely weekend though, walking round in a soft fall of snow.  We saw fragments of the Jewish Ghetto’s wall, and merchants’ houses in the old-town, rebuilt from scratch after it was razed by copying old paintings; children on old-fashioned wooden sledges and the enormous, Stalinist Palace of Culture; the houses of Marie Curie and ETA Hoffman (writer of the brilliantly creepy short story The Sandman) and the church that holds Chopin’s heart in an urn.  Yesterday we went to Praga, the suburb from which the Russians watched the Warsaw Rising crushed, crossing the sluggish river where icy islands slowly collide, twirl then part like waltzers.


The food was great – hot, smoky little cheeses and steaming pierogi, and in the stand-up bars, plates of salty-sour herring with 4 zloty (90p) vodka shots.  Sadly, I had to sip a single shot lovingly for an hour rather than get smashed – especially frustrating as Warsaw is a great place for a booze-crawl (from a bar in an old, communist station to the concrete pavillions behind the Nowy Swiat, where Klapps boasted a wall of illuminated breasts and beer pumps made from dildos…)  Still, nice to get a break from London and the building work, and to see a different culture.  I love the way the language looks, all those brilliant Zs and Ks.  And I was reading Milosz properly for the first time while I was there – his amazing sections on Warsaw in A Treatise on Poetry and the 1945 collection Rescue with ‘Voices of Poor People’ and ‘Songs of Adrian Zielinski’ (‘A carousel drones in the little square. / Somebody is shooting somebody out there.’)

It was snowing when our train pulled back into Liverpool Street Station today, although it’s turning to slush outside the window.  Now I’m back, I should mention a few interesting events coming up for Londoners: firstly,  I’m taking part in The Idler’s free Idle Sundays season at Selfridges and will talking about romantic poetry and silence on the 27th of January at 1pm.

On the 21st of February I’m very pleased to be taking part in an evening of poetry inspired by one of my favourite photographers, Man Ray, at the National Portrait Gallery, with the wonderful Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland.

And I’ve just been asked to be a guest reader at the launch of Magma 55 at the Troubadour on Monday the 25th of February, along with Penelope Shuttle.  It should be a really interesting issue – it’s edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Tim Kindberg and the theme is the Soul and the Machine.

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Everything is Moving

So, 2013.  Nerve-wracking.  For a lot of people these are scary times: climate change is tipping, the global power-balance is shifting, and the Conservatives are destroying the welfare state with such speed my sense of reality is struggling to keep up.  (I keep reading articles about new policies and assuming they’re spoofs. ‘Fat Benefits Claimants Told to Go to Gym or Have Handouts Taken Away’. What, seriously?  Are the unemployed going to end up in some Gulag run by Poundland and Fitness First?)

Still, I resolve to hope.  Today I went to see Everything Was Moving at the Barbican – an exhibition of global photography from the 60s and 70s.  It was absolutely wonderful, and full of reasons not to give up (and it’s only open until the 13th, so do go quickly).  The exhibition is a reminder of how vast and strange and beautiful the earth is – journeying from the colour-steeped Deep South of William Egglestone to the ‘Ganges Modernism’ of Raghubir Singh.  And it shows that the world has always been full of war, injustice, poverty and brutality, but people have risen against it and created change for the better – from the ‘freedom riders’ in Bruce Davidson’s moving pictures of the civil rights movement, to artists like Li Zhensheng (who hid his ‘negative negatives’ under floorboards during the Cultural Revolution, risking his life to bear witness).

(Photos by Bruce Davidson and Ragubhir Singh)

As a self-employed writer at a time when publishing and arts-funding are in decline, it’s easy to feel anxious and insecure.  But there’s still a chance that new, radical art might emerge from these dark times.  And I’m travelling into 2013 hopefully, looking forward to what it will bring.

I’ve been writing a lot of short-stories (a form even less commercial than poetry, but screw it) and am enjoying experimenting within a different genre.  I’m teaching a university course on short-stories for the first time, and have loved drawing up a reading list of my favourites (O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’, Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’, Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’) in preparation.  In poetry, I’m looking forward to judging the Hippocrates Prize for Young Poets, for a poem on a medical theme – an award that encourages 14-18 year olds to think of art and science as linked rather than mutually exclusive (do encourage teenagers you know to enter).

Beyond work, we’re doing up our house and have the plumbers in, so downstairs is cold and cloudy with concrete-dust, and spring will bring a whole garden that needs planting.  And I’m also pregnant, which means my life is going to be completely transformed in June (the baby’s due is two days after the publication date for Ovid’s Heroines, which should make for a, erm, fairly eventful week.) Last night I felt it kick for the first time.

As the news gets worse, it’s easy to look at the future and see diminishment.  But let’s hope for a New Year full of possibility.

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