Lonely Man Published

Lonely Man FINAL front cover
Cover featuring a detail from Philip Osborne’s painting of Stevie James

In 2012 I wrote enthusiastically about collecting Stevie James’ poems and my hopes of getting her book published over the next few months. Well it took until this Summer, but I now have a box of poetry books sitting in my front room. I’m really pleased with the way it all turned out. 36 of Stevie’s poems show the range of her work, I think, and I love the way it looks, 68 pages of poems sitting between the matt cover with a detail of Philip Osborne‘s extraordinary painting on the front, and a photograph of Stevie on the back holding her face in her hands as if to say “what have I done”. My only small regret is that Stevie and her cover designer Jon Hinds opted not to use the whole painting, (I was fond of a beautiful bowl of daffodils that ended up on the editing room floor, but you can’t have everything). Anyway you can get a copy by sending £6.99, which includes P & P (cheques made out to Leeds Survivors Poetry) to LSP, c/o 8 Beulah View, Leeds, LS6 2LA. Here’s a sample from the poem “I have borrowed all my lives from thieves”:

“I have borrowed all my life from thieves,

Borrowed the sores of Rose of Lima

Robbed with limes and pepper

Those sharp hot dreams dividing the sleep.

I have borrowed the keys

To doors I cannot unlock

From jealous jailers whispering chains against my heart

‘unlock, unlock'”

Ash Tree

Last October, on the 5th anniversary of my brother’s death, I replanted a seeding that had taken root in a pot outside my house to a spot on Woodhouse Moor. Until a few weeks ago it showed nothing and I really thought it might have died. Then there was a bud, then another, and suddenly it’s putting on airs and graces, and quite at home in the Spring.

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Remembering David Oluwale

I was really pleased to read and perform with the Baggage Handlers on Wednesday night at the inaugural event for the David Oluwale site on the cold bank of the River Aire. It’s a neglected little site now, but has great potential, as you can see from the photos on the Remember Oluwale website.

It was bleaker in January. I went there first the Saturday before the performance when Rommi had us rehearsing for about two hours as darkness fell, with Bridgewater House like a great ocean liner just down the way. After a while I was trying to keep my hands from going numb so I could play the guitar. Still, always something exhilarating about being in an unusual place at an unusual time.

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I saw a play about David Oluwale a few years ago in Leeds, so I was familiar with the story of his harassment and subsequent death. One of my friends also lent me the book by Kester Aspden ‘Nationality Wog’ a couple of years ago, but I’ve never had the heart to read it til now. The title itself refers to an entry on a police charge sheet from 3 months before David’s death  in 1969. It’s a shocking indictment of policing in Leeds at the time, but the fact that community police were here in a friendly capacity on Wednesday, supporting the event, was a sign that some things have changed. It was good to have police around since there has been BNP graffiti regularly appearing on the arch at the site, and some concern there might be trouble. We had our own bogus policeman – Owen played that part in the play. It caused something of a stir when he took his loud hailer out in the middle of the performance and started to rant.

Chiioke John Ojukwu started the event on Wednesday by talking about David’s life, and then it was my job to play and sing the 80 or so people down the path pied piper like by the Aire to the site. When I got my cue there was a weird moment when I played a chord and it just sounded plain wrong. I panicked. My guitar had gone out of tune in the cold. But it wasn’t that. In fact my fingers were beginning to get numb and they were just on the wrong frets. I’d put a tune to words the Baggage Handlers had already written:

River, river, river, carry me home forever.

river deep and cold, be my flowing soul

river cold and deep, seek me what I seek

go me where i go, flow, river flow

I first knew anything about the Baggage Handlers piece when I heard Owen Turner read his poem about David. I: loved the script – a wandering riff on the River Aire, David’s life, the mental health system as it was in those days, particularly at High Royds Hospital where David spent 10 years. It was a privilege to be part of it, even though we fell apart at various points, and there were a few rescue acts where one or other of us lost their lines and others stepped in. A theatre group has to be basically socialist.

After us there was a lovely film by Corrine Silva, projected onto a handy wall, of interviews with Nigerian immigrants who’d come to Leeds to settle in the 50s and 60s, some who knew David, interspersed with film of the River Aire. Finally there was a brilliant performance by Leeds Young Authors, who were so powerful and together – they were awesome really. I’d like to see them when I’m not feeling anxious about hypothermia. There was Nigerian food, great music (and light) from Lumen, a little speech from the Lord Mayor and a real mixed crowd. I’m looking forward to other things happening down there – maybe when it’s a bit warmer.

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We Are Poets – free tickets to see an inspirational local film

There are FREE tickets available for the screening of We Are Poets, this Friday 7th December 2012, 4 p.m. at Hyde Park Picture House, Hyde Park, Leeds. I saw this film a few months ago, when Benjamin Zephaniah turned up to say how brilliant he thought it was (see his comment below). It really is a great story of a group of young local poets from Chapeltown who travel to the US to take part in a poetry slam competition there. You follow their individual stories as they prepare, then travel to America. It features great local poets like Khadijah Ibrahim and Rommi Smith. Rommi says of it ‘It’s an inspirational film – an affirmation of the transformational power of poetry, it’s also a story of Leeds.  I’d be inclined to turn up early on the day, as there are likely to be queues.’

 Check it out at: 

http://www.hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk/index.php?showing=4550#now-showing

and read a review at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/jun/28/we-are-poets-review  

Synopsis: WE ARE POETS follows six young poets from Leeds over the course of one very special year, as they are chosen to represent the UK at Brave New Voices, the most prestigious poetry slam in America. From their inner city lives to a stage in front of the White House in Washington DC, the poets must prepare for the journey of a lifetime. Cinematic, honest and deeply personal,WE ARE POETS is a testament to the power of creativity, community and the dynamism of young people. Anyone tempted to dismiss today’s youth as apathetic better pay heed: here is electrifying evidence to the contrary.

Free screening – part of the Centre for World Cinemas at the University of Leeds’ Language/Cinema Conference. Tickets not needed – just turn up on the day

 We Are PoetsCritical reaction:

 

  • From its utterly brilliant opening, through to its moving finale, ‘We Are Poets’ is inspirational!

    SHEFFIELD DOC FEST

  • Amazing…It’s poetry itself. Poetry is an art, filmmaking is an art, it takes great sensitivity to bring them together – this film shows us how it’s done!

    Benjamin ZephaniaH

 

A lonely man circling the earth

 

ImageStevie and I have met a couple of times recently at the Art Gallery cafe to talk about the book of his poems we’re working on. (I administer a small pot of money, enough for one more collection at least, the Joe Kerrane Memorial Fund.) Each time we’ve met Stevie has come magnificently dressed, with lush velvet hat, long black dress, necklaces, rings, and glittery fingernails. I’m like a poor city sparrow in comparison, but as we lay the poems out I feel caught up in a grand narrative, the ‘Great Tradition’ of English Literature I heard about in lectures long ago, listening to F.R.Leavis in the lecture hall at UCW Aberystwyth. This collection has been a long time in the gathering. Stevie’s frequently disappeared with the black cat of depression, and the fact that he doesn’t type or like computers much at all, so each poem has to be first found in the dozens of notebooks he’s collected over the years, then transcribed (by me), has meant that we’ve probably been working now for about two years. But it’s very exciting – I’ve always loved Stevie’s ability to produce what sound like fully fledged poems in workshop settings. I’ve often sat with him and in the middle of a series of faltering starts, as the group read our new pieces, he suddenly comes out with an amazing lyrical flight of ideas and images, in his beautiful tender voice, and the room goes quiet and nobody quite knows what to say. So it’s been a labour of love, and at last we have about 35 texts, ranging from a dozen lines to about three pages. He’s agreed to go away and make a final selection, then we’re to meet once more and when all is agreed I’ll send the selection to Paul who will type set for us. There are an awful lot of Divas in there, and Garbo herself rising above them all, enigmatic, striking. Originally the collection was to be called simply ‘Garbo’, but Stevie has settled on ‘A Lonely Man Circling The Earth’ from a reputed quote by her. We plan to use a revealing painting of Stevie by his late lover for the cover, and it’s going to be a problem, getting a decent image. Maybe we’ve dallied too long and the money we now have will no longer be enough to print the book in these inflated times? It’s no matter, as we walk out into the busy corporate Leeds afternoon, fashionable diva and bohemian scruff, I’m suffused by this feeling that all will be well, one way or another.

Jazz came to Coupland Road

Wordle: Jazz came to Coupland Road

This was originally a piece of home work for Rommi Smith’s Poetry School ‘Poetry & Music’ class. I don’t remember exactly what the task was, but to write a piece about our reaction to a piece of music. I self-consciously tried to write in the style of Jack Kerouac, but instead of hearing jazz in San Francisco circa 1950, I was hearing it in Leeds in the mid 1960s. And it was Dave Brubeck, rather than Charlie Parker I was listening to, so quite a difference. I put it on this blog more or less at random because I wanted to see if I could use a blog, and what it might do. It’s really a piece to read out loud, which I never have in public, but I imagine singing the lines from pop songs, andthe tune of ‘Take Five’.

In the early 1960s I would go from the chalkdust and sadism of grammar school afternoons, to inch in smoky buses up the clogged artery of York Road and spend Thursday evenings with my Gran.  In the little Victorian terrace I slept in a damp double bed in the room she couldn’t climb to any more, under heavy frame paintings of green melancholy ladies languishing in flowery gardens. There were big hardwood drawers as high as my chest; cardboard boxes with dusty goggle eyed gas masks; a green and pink flowery ceramic bowl with matching ewer. I was thirteen years old and about to be swept into the psychedelic liberated nightmare vision that was the 1960s. I lived on a council estate in a little pre-fabricated box that had a weird ankle high blower heating system, and I’d lately taken to reading Dylan Thomas and palely loitering beneath the vast tower blocks.

And Thursdays I came to Coupland Road to make beans and chips for me and my Gran which we ate saturated with malt vinegar and salt, and then I made her sit there and listen for the half hour that would provide next day’s classroom talking points.

Top of the Pops!

Music had exploded into my inner ear, first in sentimental Pat Boone ballads and hopeless visions of mysterious U.S situations that fired my teenage interest, and seemed as distant from West Yorkshire as the Crab Nebula. ‘That muddy river took my baby’s life’, and ‘she took her daddy’s car and she cruised to the Hamburger stand now’. That electric urban music, incomprehensible yet, but carried by a legion of long haired hipsters, fantastical, melodious, outraging our parents (impossible to think that I and my spotty pals would grow into such). My gran’s back room come kitchen had a wooden valve radio on its high shelf, magnificent but useless for anything other than weeeeeeeeeeeeird high pitched science fiction noises.

In my gran’s world everything stopped in 1919 when Charles Preston Simpson succumbed to flu in Folkestone and the wounds of the Great War. There was a black leaded oven with the fire banked up and hol-ey grey old lady’s underwear drying on a string; a startled, stuffed fox going mouldy in a glass case, its paw on the crumpled body of a bloody nosed rabbit; a marble clock with pillars like a town hall. Later there would be The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Ilya Kuriakin, but right now it was Pan’s People and a feast in four four time:

Yummee, yummee, yummee I got love in my……..open up your eyes, here I stand with my everlasting…….yellow river, yellow river………she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah

Everything in four beats to the bar, one two three four, that’s what music is, that’s what counting’s for. The future is in fours.

But wait, what’s this? we’ve gone into black and white and this straight old man in tuxedo and white shirt, old enough to be your dad, hair slicked back, is smiling at a grand piano, when everybody knows that – hey it’s the 1960s and only guitars are cool these days. But he starts anyway to play this weirdly lolloping tune, cool, relaxed, and you can’t put your finger on it and only later do I understand that this cat is playing in fives! It’s 1-2-3-4 – Five! 1-2-3-4 – Five!

This is not – Kansas,

any more – Toto,

this is not – pop music,

it’s something – else though!

And this crazy little tune, like nothing else,

I’ve ever heard, before or since,

Got a whimsical kind of lilt, flimsy, but still,

makes you feel sad, such a strange pulse.

Flags waving in the wind, drifting along and then,

dropping in and out of time,

Takes you up, brings you down,

shows you new sides of town,

you can’t help but cross that line.

Paul Desmond, little dapper balding man with unassuming gait steps up to blow his alto solo, meandering high low, like I can take it or leave it you know, no skin off my nose, boo bopaddy boo bo, dabadee do doh.

And the world shifts sideways for a timeless three minutes taken out of context, no words necessary:

Badoo badoo badoo diddle da de do doooo. Bopaddy be bo….

before I’m dropped back into the hype, like a finger clicked back to the reality of blue rainy days in Seacroft, and I look down at my congealing plate of beans and chips, then up at the startled fox and my grandma’s rheumy eyes and I think.

What the hell was that?

Terry Simpson October 2011