From Weft to Wight!

crazy woman

My good self performing in durational Live Art / Dance work ‘The Last Knit’, by Annika Kompart. Image: Natalia Iwaniec

“In weaving, the weft is the term for the thread or yarn which is drawn through the warp yarns to create cloth. Warp is the lengthwise or longitudinal thread in a roll, while weft is the transverse thread. The weft is a thread or yarn usually made of spun fibre. The original fibres used were wool, flax or cotton.

Hand looms were the original weaver’s tool, with the shuttle being threaded through alternately raised warps by hand. Inventions during the 18th century spurred the Industrial Revolution, with the “picking stick” and the “flying shuttle” (John Kay, 1733) speeding up production of cloth. The power loom patented by Edmund Cartwright in 1785 allowed sixty picks per minute.

A useful way of remembering which is warp and which is weft is: ‘one of them goes from weft to wight’.” (Extracts from Wikipeda)

katy7

Image and Textile Installation in Detail: Katy Devereux

Local Textile Artist Katy Devereux, Vocal Artist Georgie Buchanan and myself are soon to embark upon Warp+Weft: a multidisciplinary journey through Textiles, Dance and Sound! We doubt it will go from weft to wight as planned, since creative journeys never do stick to a straight path, but nevertheless, we’re very excited about where it might wander. (Just watch out for the ‘shoddy’*, we don’t want anything getting stuck in that pipe!)

To begin, here’s our 100 word extravaganza of a description for the lovely folk at The Arts Council:

Warp+Weft is a two month interdisciplinary collaborative Arts project, interweaving the skills and experiences of local women in Art and Industry to create a multi-layered journey encompassing Textiles, Dance and Sound. Through a series of workshops with a group of local ex-Mill working women aged 55+ the project will engage with Calderdale’s rich Textile heritage to explore wider themes of womanhood, work and industry. It will culminate in a residency followed by a Live Event and Installation reinterpreting local heritage though experimental art and sound, taking place at the 1830 Gallery at The Artworks during Heritage Open Weekend. The project will be documented through a diverse range of media, including blog, film & photography.

Since there’s no word count on this blog, I’ll begin at the beginning. Three ’emerging’ artists (that’s what they call us!), sat in a room. Look out at hillside and mills. Consider collaboration. Put heads together. Goes a little something like this…

Apparently, landscapes remind a person of who he or she is. In the belief that we can only begin where we are, we asked; what about the Mills that are written across our local landscape? Such man-made industrial environments and machinery were at the forefront of a revolution which changed the way human beings lived and worked forever, not only in our local region, but across the world. What of the women who worked in them in years gone by; our families, our ancestors, our sisters across time? We make Art, they made Industry. What’s the connection between past and present, people and place, art and industry? How can we explore those loosely bound threads and weave it all together anew?

Through a process of excavating the stories of a group of local women, combined with construction, occasional deconstruction, and live performance, this collaborative project aims to re-envisage and re-animate The Artworks’ 1830 Gallery, formerly Shaw Lodge Mills (one of the longest running Textile Mills in the local area, owned by the Holdsworth Family, it remained open until as late as 2008).

The Artworks; left, exterior of the building, right, interior of the 1830 Gallery

things fall apart

Things Fall Apart, Exhibition by Katy Devereux, 2010

Based in an understanding of the often under-appreciated embodied intelligence present in all kinds of physical work, the project will explore the experiences of a group of women who worked in Calderdale’s Textile Industry. We want to listen to their stories and experiences, and yup, you guessed it, interweave these with our arty shenanigans!

Perhaps we’ve been reading too much Studs Terkel (author of bestseller ‘Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about it’. Check it out, it’s fascinating and we highly recommend), but we want this project to offer a space for the re-interpretation of the humanity and poetry of the Mill worker in texture, sound and motion, as remembered and lived through the body by local ex-Mill workers.

We want to explore the relationship between man (or woman, in this case) and machine. Between community, industry, transience and transformation. Between three art-forms traditionally associated with the feminine, and the inner workings of the factory floor in the once great Textile Industry of our local area.

Once upon a time in the days of old, workers kept time by song. When the industrial revolution arrived, mechanical time took over and workers would lipread over the sound of heavy machinery. Repetitious and laborious tasks were not universally hated, although they were by some (we have already gathered many a tale of health & safety nightmare, accidents and incidents occurring none too infrequently at times); yet several women have already spoken to us about their enjoyment of this work, of being ‘tomboys’, of it’s smells and sounds.

GEORGIE

Vocal Artist Georgie Buchanan making magical sounds with a ragtag of instruments and her exquisite voice in an attic somewhere. Sneaky peek of her tones on the link below:

One woman who worked in the Mills in latter years even has a theory that certain classic Northern Soul dance moves originated in the movements made by Mill workers! We wonder, can we as live human performers become an art machine of sorts, a human choir choreographed, with machinery all mingled in with the found sounds and noises made possible by the next step in the industrial revolution – electricity! For this, electronic musician and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Smith, who produces under the name ‘Ruma Gilah’ (Malaysian for ‘Madhouse’), will join us.

We’re not sure what it will look or sound like, because there’s still so many stories to hear and experiences to encounter, but we hope you enjoy following us, from weft to wight or wherever we go.

Too rarely is the honest work of local people in industry honoured. So many things these days are boxed up and prettified, dissociated from where they came from, and much gets lost in the process. This project is a chance to tell some stories differently: it won’t be the same, because everything changes, but it will be a little bit of a lot of things, all woven together again.

I’ll leave you with a little dance I did a while ago. Complete with the dulcet tones of our very own Yorkshire born David Thomas Broughton, on forgetting where you come from and returning, along with some words of wisdom on the value of movement by the legendary Dance Artist Steve Paxton.

 

*A local lady we met at an art group told us about ‘shoddy’ getting stuck up the pipes where she worked. Here’s the Wikipedia definition: “Recycled or remanufactured wool. Historically generated from loosely woven materials. Benjamin Law invented shoddy and mungo, as such, in England in 1813. He was the first to organise, on a larger scale, the activity of taking old clothes and grinding them down into a fibrous state that could be re-spun into yarn. The shoddy industry was centred on the towns of Batley, Morley, Dewsbury and Ossett in West Yorkshire, and concentrated on the recovery of wool from rags. The importance of the industry can be gauged by the fact that even in 1860 the town of Batley was producing over 7000 tonnes of shoddy. At the time there were 80 firms employing a total of 550 people sorting the rags. These were then sold to shoddy manufacturers of which there were about 130 in the West Riding. Shoddy is inferior to the original wool; “shoddy” has come to mean “of poor quality” in general (not related to clothing), and the original meaning is largely obsolete”. (Source: Wikipedia)

THE ART OF ACTION (in the eye of the shitstorm)

winterrice

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/winterrice-helping-young-refugee-families-survive#/

CLICK ON THIS LINK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This may well not turn out to be the most coherent string of words I’ve ever sewn together (it’s late and I’m tired), but then again, that’s not the whole story. Coherence is like debate – it can sound convincing, but be simltaneously utterly devoid of humanity. This post is coming from a different place. I’m writing it, person to person, in the understanding that some things need to be felt in your bones, and that this, my friends, is one of ’em. Some stuff spews from the guts. It ain’t always pretty, but I’ve come to realise, nevertheless, that it’s totally fucking necessary.

If you’re connected to me already, whether by blood, friendship, hell or high water, you’ll no doubt already have encountered my ranting, chanting and carrying on regarding the refugee crisis in recent months. My obsessive-compulsive social media sharing, and general banging on about articles, blog posts and campaigns, have received less comments, shares and likes (!) than I might have hoped for. Perhaps I’ve even done everybody’s nut in and come across as holier than thou…?!

Anyhoo, in the end I would like to publicly say SOD IT, FUCK IT, and as girl after my own heart, Kate Brittain, recently put it …. #SORRYNOTSORRY !!! I’ll continue ranting, chanting and carrying on, with all the Yorkshire-rowdiness and flexing of the freedom of expression muscles that I can currently maneuver. Because whilst I love the dancing (ohhh yup I really love that dancing!), I have come to the stark and shocking realisation that protest-dance has a supremely limited ability to help the folk freezing, drowning, and having a totally bloody dire time as they attempt to reach the relative safety of ‘Fortress Europe’.

This blog is called izzabellanecessary for a reason. It’s about calling a spade a spade and an arse an arse. It’s about lessening the gap between what’s considered ‘necessary’ or ‘useful’, ‘intelligent’, ‘arty’ or ‘creative’. It’s something to do with expanding my mind-body matrix in order to see, be and do what’s appropriate. What is necessary in order to navigate the complexity of this world; how can I slowly weed out the ways in which I’ve been furtively trained to see, be and act by society?

I’m now beginning to realise that this new approach can really encompass anything. We don’t all have to specialise and separate, creating artificial borders between art, work, life, our ‘selves’ and all other assorted humans, creatures and earthly wonders. There are ways and means of expanding beyond the microcosm.

In recent years my life has revolved around the learning the embodied art of dancing, and practising the odd bit of poetry to go with it. Meanwhile, under the surface, several other concerns have been taking seed. I’ve been composting thoughts, germinating ideas, and more overtly direct practices of ordinary magic had begun to seem necessary. To translate this into less of a tongue twister, I’m beginning to dip my dancing feet and dainty mitts into the art of taking practical action – whether that means weaving willow into a garden fence with my pals, taking baby-steps towards learning about bees and growing food, or tentatively engaging in actual direct action (somewhat delicately, like this little book suggests).

I’ve made a new commitment to collaboration, collective creativity, and taking a pragmatic, integrative approach in helping to heal the problems facing our world. Gahhhh, it’s not like I’m on a crusade friends, but some kind of sea-change has undoubtedly begun.

This might all sound suspiciously like my own personal new-era manifesto, and I will get to the point eventually, promise… However, I’m mentioning all this because I do believe that personal pleas are important. Scrap that, they’re essential, vital, and again, totally fucking necessary!!! People to people solidarity and grassroots responses have provided much of the backbone of humanitarian support across Europe, throughout this all-encompassing, ongoing shitstorm of a very sorry situation.

With this in mind and body, I’m asking you to feel beyond the boundaries of your own situation, and think about sharing, supporting and engaging with this ‘ere little initiative (go back to that link at the top, click it, read, share, and donate if you can). It may seem small, a drop in the ocean even, but it all matters. 

This particular initiative, aiming to provide 100 families with emergency surival kits for starters, has been set up by a super inspiring group of artists in Greece. I spent time learning lots of wisdom and wonder-things with them this summer at The Ricean School of Dance, in relative luxury on an idyllic Greek Island, not far from where refugees are still arriving in their thousands. They are enduring horrendous hardships, inhumane conditions, and have far, far too slender a hope of some shelter from the storm. Whilst summertime RICE focused on creating a temporary, experimental space to explore non-hierarchical, binary-bending, boundary-breaking approaches to art + life, WINTERRICE is a pragmatic response to an urgent situation of epic proportions. It made me smile to see RICE described alternatively in the conext of WINTERRICE as standing for a ‘real institute of civic engagement’. The two initiatives are perfect companions in the book of balance 🙂

Donations to WINTERRICE began thick and fast. I got into my cosy bed one night, and arose to find $1000 more in generosity flowing straight towards some of the people who need it most. After sharing till our fingers bled, we reached our target in record time! Happy days! The decision was then made to increase our target in order to improve the quality of the kits, include longer-lasting food, and to buy and staff a tent for refugees in Mytilene, Lesvos with two volunteers, including a nurse, who would also distribute the emergency kits.  We were ‘featured’ and we were ‘trending’, at the peak of the appeal, but donations have, of course, now slowed.

And so it is. The time has come to rant some more in a bid to keep that trickle a-coming. There’s only six days left, so now is the time!

Consider this a call to action and a serious shout out for a show of solidarity, if you will. I am begging / pleading / requesting that you please please please support and share this initiative! If you feel disconnected from the reality of the refugees it aims to help, or perhaps not fully aware of the extent of the refugee crisis, I ask that you make it a priority to check out the many blogs and articles online (often written by grassroots volunteers who are currently working, organising and helping on the ground across Europe, see the bottom of this post for links).

We all have our own realities, and struggles and action comes in many different shapes, sizes and varieties. I want to emphasize that right now, a series of historical moments are occurring. The full weight of what’s happening in the world, from refugee crisis to climate change, encompassing the full kaleidoscopic multitude of madnesses and back again, will become wholly evident only in hindsight.

I’m asking you to help ensure RIGHT NOW that these people are not forgotten, that these stories are told, and that we make ourselves necessary to the softening of this particular problem.

If you can’t donate, I feel ya. Let’s face it, I’m totally and utterly shambolically skint myself. I recently extended my overdraft again in order to, firstly, eat, and also to give a mere $20 to the very campaign that I’m pleading for. It’s not all about the cash-money. There are many ways to get involved and show your solidarity. You can write letters, raise awareness, share stories, organise a fundraiser, or make links with organisations supporting asylum seekers in your local area. Just give a shit and do something, basically. Use your big mouth and your unique life, to whatever extent you’re able.

We desparately need to see this situation for what it is, and not merely how the limited vision of the usual media channels represent it.Our governments are not doing enough – almost bugger all in fact, for a bloody change! Border policy and nationalist self-protection, along with ‘economic imperatives’ come first for them. I write simply and from a place of common sense, as you can see. I’m no political commentator.

Even so, what I do know is that this form of knowledge is as valid as any. I don’t need to back up this post with theory and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the complex political maneuvers that have contributed to this crisis. I know enough. I know that we are capable of putting the pressure on those governments, and that we can certainly choose to open our own personal borders to let the compassion out. It might only be a trickle at first, but eventually it can build into a booming expression of the interconnectedness of all things.

We’re all deeply implicated, whether we know it or not. I feel this deep in my bones, in the gurgling processing-pit at the bottom of my belly, and in the blood that boils when I consider the state we’re in. I also experience it in the beauty of the rich and diverse pragmatic practices of ordinary magic ocurring moment to moment, all across the world. It’s in the intelligence of nature, the individuals and communities creating amazing things everywhere, and in the awe-inspiring, warmth-inducing possibilities of the things we might potentially create together. We are a collective of flawed and yet well-intentioned humans, who might just have the ability to see what needs doing, and to spontaneously do it. It’s an invitation innit 😉

Directly after my time at The Ricean School of Dance this summer, I got on a bike (having not cycled in two years, I was really just following an intuition that this was something I wanted / needed to do), and joined the Critical Mass to Calais in order to donate bikes to the people there. It was an experience which was both eye-opening and transformative, and you can read / watch more about it herehere and here. Confronted with the reality of the refugees there, I began to more fully understand the extent of the inherent violence of borders. Policy, policy, policy, but what about people? #noborders #yourborderskill #fucktheborders. That is all I have to say.

The trip to Calais was not without it’s challenges and complications, oh aye; co-ordination and cohesive action is a craft, an art and a lifelong learning curve in itself. However, the kindness and compassion in Calais and the experiments in disrupting the usual modes of communication at RSOD, both served to make it blindingly clear that everything begins with dialogue and connection. This communication between self – environment – other is occurring always, on multiple levels. Much of the act of meeting has occurred before physical touch or ‘action’, as we usually conceive of it, occurs. I came to observe that there is a delicate activism occurring in the communication between everything, all of the time.

So I’ve been thinking about these things. Such as: what is the art of hosting conversations that matter? How does change happen? Does it start with a tiny seed and expand outwards, in a mycellium-like structure, just as mushrooms communicate underground? Is it essentially an organic process? Leading questions, I know, but both Critical Mass Calais and RSOD emphasized and developed further in me the necessity of standing in solidarity with fellow humans, other animals, and also the earth (which is also a part of us, not just another, separate story).

Recent experiences have demonstrated to me that we can develop the resilience that allows us to see these things, and not turn away. It is possible to learn the art of open dialogue and to translate that into the art of action. We can call a spade a spade, an arse an arse, and take on the eye of the shitstorm, in which spades and arses can often become confused and convoluted things, mutated beyond all original intention… You only need to read the news to see that.

We can do all this, amongst other, necessary stories… and fuckshitswine, I’m going to sound like a crappy motivational speaker (pfft, again #SORRYNOTSORRY) … but what I’m trying to spit out is that WE CAN DO THIS TOGETHER.

#winterrice #danceswithoutborders #artofaction #yourborderskill

See below for some related articles, videos and blog posts from recent months…. it’s like a weird little link diary via my social media over-share  and the bookmarks folder that I ironically, originally labelled ‘going home‘. This whole thing began for me by cycling to Calais to donate bikes and other supplies, as research for a DIY 12 Live Art Development Agency workshop, which I never even made it to in the end. Art sent me to action, and action sent me back to art, and I realised that there need be no difference between the two.

Before I sign off… WINTERRICE! WINTERRICE! WINTERRICE! Please be part of this real institute of civic engagement, or start your own … like my hi-vis jacket says on the back, DON’T JUST WALK ON BY! DO SUMMAT!*

*Yorkshire-speak for ‘something’.

TA FOR READING. OVER AND OUT XXX

http://www.huckmagazine.com/perspectives/reportage-2/life-inside-calais-notorious-jungle-refugee-camp/

http://www.weareplanc.org/blog/channelling-compassion-calais-solidarity-and-where-we-go-from-here/

http://mashable.com/2015/09/10/calais-camp-jungle-aid/#RE42PMX96uqR

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/morocco-no-borders-the-forgotten-refugee-crisis/x/12605954#/story

http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/sep/16/first-refugees-head-for-croatia-after-hungarys-border-crackdown-live-updates?CMP=share_btn_fb

https://www.facebook.com/clare.moseley.98/videos/144114715937682/?pnref=story

https://www.facebook.com/theworldwidetribe/photos/a.1613492195603208.1073741829.1526014994350929/1626569714295456/?type=3&fref=nf&pnref=story

http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/zero-refugees-guess-which-countries-have-taken-not-one-of-the-60-million-fleeing-war/#_=_

https://twitter.com/calaisolidarity/status/646331196700553216

http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2015/september/dougal-wilson-reports-on-secret-cinemas-secret-protest-at-the-calais-jungle-camp/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2015/sep/22/kiss-knows-no-borders-photographing-refugee-couple-budapest

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-crisis-the-true-extent-of-the-british-publics-extraordinary-response-revealed-10514341.html

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/five-explanations-to-why-the-majority-of-refugees/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/banksys-dismaland-moves-to-calais-to-provide-shelter-for-refugees-a6669156.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/27/un-official-asylum-assessment-centre-calais-france-britain?CMP=twt_gu

https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-alliance-for-a-safe-world/urgent-france-to-deport-asylum-seekers-to-sudan-on-thursday-four-young-men-from-/764462416996440?pnref=story

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/sep/29/magistrate-nigel-allcoat-resigns-after-paying-destitute-asylum-seekers-court-fine

https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2015/british-artists-launch-theatre-in-calais-migrant-camp/

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/sep/29/magistrate-nigel-allcoat-resigns-after-paying-destitute-asylum-seekers-court-fine

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/tatiana-garavito/migrants-rights-protest-st-pancras-ticket-barrier-shut-down-eurostar

http://time.com/4077370/refugee-crisis-calais-death/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/lliana-bird/refugee-crisis-lesbos_b_8388988.html

http://mariennapw.com/2015/10/29/entry-iii-the-sinking-of-the-nameless-recollections-of-a-volunteerjournalist/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/yvette-cooper/refugee-crisis-lesbos_b_8418988.html

http://gauge-mag.com/

http://www.itv.com/news/calendar/2015-10-30/otley-aid-worker-could-face-jail-for-smuggling-4-year-old-back-to-family/

http://balkanist.net/guardians-of-the-frontier-migration-racism-solidarities-balkan-corridor/ 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/07/europe-refugees-david-cameron-united-nations-warning?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Facebook

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/11/09/whos-in-charge-of-the-migrants-arriving-in-greece-the-answer-will-surprise-you/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/22/greek-concerns-mount-refugees-balkan-countries-restrict-entry

poims @ parcel bar

Back at the start of August I was the visiting poet at Puzzle Poets up in Sowerby Bridge, in my hometown Halifax.

I’m fairly used to doing one or two poems, ten minutes of poetic ramble here or there … but this was a proper opportunity for some longer ranting, chanting and carrying on 😉 I had a super-good night, and folk there were very appreciative of my new poems, which is lovely and encouraging! After a year devoted entirely to the daaannce, it was a good while since I’d got my poetry on.

The compere, one John Foggin – well, I dunno how he does it. Flummoxes me how he comes up with those descriptions on the spot! And the open mic was just brimming with wordy goodness. I particularly loved ‘Barry The Bacteria’ and the one about public libraries – just ‘don’t mention the books’ these days – it’s all about new wave digital whatever communication… It was pretty spot on as an event, with poems covering folk festivals, the Trans-Siberian Express, dropping in splashes of haunting lyricism, ‘the sack of history’, and some Binyon and Hardy and Yeats to ‘remind us where we all come from’ (Foggin’s words!)

Afterwards, a lady grabbed me and asked me to do a gig at her bar in Hebden Bridge. Well shittin’ hell! That was my first request for a proper poetry gig by someone I’d never met before – not a group I’m involved with or a mate running an event or whatever… WOWZA. Exciting times. HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY !!!!

Feel free to have a gander at what I did…

Poim listing as follows…

once again, i find myself in a relationship with a character from the beat generation
mind-body remix
the white rug of love
night-bus
the battle
crap consciousness
i’m not a nun, but…
stop making sense song
the good life
the healing fields
fuckyoga.com

the black box sessions

Some relaxed solo raves, from a tired day in a black box, when I was knackered and at the end of my tether. Performance day was on it’s way and I felt uncertain, like I didn’t really know what I was doing. This was attempt number three at finding some sort of coherence. Big thanks be to Robbie Pallet for filming 🙂

dancing / borders / bicycles / crossings (and other matters)

People are on my mind. After the amazing, discombobulating and enlightening experiences of RICE on Hydra and Critical Mass to Calais with Bikes Beyond Borders… here are some words to get out of my head and into the world as soon as possible. It’s sort of an update / poem in progress / repetitive, related mashup of bits and bobs that I wrote here after the Climate March in September. More detailed write-ups to come on both experiences / events later, when the bladdy thesis is fnished… !!
11886175_10154226312832575_5784141183343789169_o 11949368_10207211001775910_4887703939505527844_n
photos by minou tsambika (the circle, my new non-dualistic symbol for love, the universe and everything), zoe tsaff (map of the sunrise to sunset dances on hydra for which i took on the role of nomadic care-giver), and two crappy phone shots by me (a bird flying free between dover and calais, and three well-intentioned pairs of cyclist’s feet, on their way to donate bikes to people in ‘the jungle’, calais).
what i am interested in is the borderline. the crossing. the communication between individuals and the whole. the tipping point. how the individuals make the whole. how change must, and can only happen organically. how everything is organic really. how each person does what he or she can, under their particular circumstances. how radical compassion must mean radical understanding. because i am you, you are me and the world is us, yes, but it’s all so easily misunderstood ! for years I was living with i am you, you are me and the world is us, so why can’t you be a little bit more like me, please? and i never even noticed. how anger and and action and force might be necessary, sometimes. how they open the way for the rest of us. but how not to forget the quiet ones, or the ones who compose thoughts more slowly and speak more carefully… and what are all the different ways of knowing anyway?

how to be a practical, pragmatic poet?

because, make no mistake about it,

i just love dancing and writing poems,

and whilst i’ve toyed with the idea

of becoming a full time activist and living in a tree –

for the moment, i’ve just got to accept that i’m me.

i can plant small seeds, help ideas germinate,

i can create. but i can also do flash mops

to the sound of 80s electro-punk

and make myself izzabella necessary on occasion.

how to be useful…

it’s all even more complicated than i thought.

how to build a boat. how to build bridges.

how to take bicycles beyond borders

and build radical dance schools of the future.

how to get clean water.

how to facilitate. how to have a different kind of conversation.

what is the art of hosting conversations that matter?

how to be tolerant but not be a dead fish…

how to live a good life but know that you’ll always

have to co-exist with the whole world and it’s plentiful shit?

how not to ignore it, but not sink in it either.

there is no shortcut through that shit! like my wise mum says.

how to just live well and be helpful, in a world as complicated as this?

two short tales

DSC_0247

me and my notebook. image by katte proberto

Rooting through my old notebooks today in preparation for moving to London, and I stumbled across these two little tales. They’re not quite stories, not quite poems – but something in the hinterland between. It seems I was thinking about death! Or endings, or something like that. Anyway I think they’re quite interesting, so I thought I’d post them…

the lost village of (h)ours

we came to the lost village of hours, with nothing more than

a bison’s whistle, a stopwatch, and the book of laughter and forgetting.

we knew our bodies were not our ours, and we looked down on them as though we were dead.

you tried to touch the shifting worlds as they passed, but i couldn’t move.

i had a belly full of knives, by the end, in the lost village of hours.

the moors (‘which seem carved out of weather, ghosts and distant music’ said the great angus balbernie)

i went to the moors to find out what my bones hold.

i had been looking for grace for a long time,

but grace isn’t really something you can grab hold of,

i began to understand – and the moors are a lonely place.

i went home windswept, understanding a little bit more

but still unsure about my bones.

absence makes the heart grow fonder

and the truth of death is a peculiar thing.

Brand New Ancients

Brand New Ancients. Even the title gets you right in the gut! Because didn’t you know we’re all mythical, people? Forever trapped ‘somewhere between the heroic and the pitiful’! Damn straight Kate! Nobody puts it better. Epic is a word bandied around often to describe Kate Tempest’s performance poetry, and yes, I’ve got to concur. Kate’s work is so bloody grand in its scope that it now makes perfect sense to me that she describes herself, not as a poet, but as a human rights activist, on that good old Book of Face.

So there it is, I’ve made my point. Brand New Ancients is more than just a legendary tale. It is myth made modern and radical compassion in action (if that sounds dubious, just go see for yourself. It needs to be seen, felt and experienced – the words on the page don’t offer the same engagement of senses). This is a tale of the everyday epic, spanning generations of interconnecting lives. In Brand New Ancients, fate, choice and circumstance intertwine, and only one certainty remains; who are we to say what another man or woman might rise or fall to in a lifetime? This poem/show/masterpiece won Kate the prestigious Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry, and rightly so. Stuff like this is rare; we might all be gods in our own little lives, but we haven’t all got the ability to see it or say it quite like she does.

Beginning with a welcoming intro focused loosely on the act of radical compassion, Kate was natural and real from the start. This intro was important. It made sure that it wasn’t only her up there on the stage and us sat in the dark listening. Instead, the whole room was with her, taking part in something rather than just passively ingesting entertainment (which is basically what mainstream society teaches us to do.) So if the picture Kate paints with her poems is slightly soiled, that’s because society is, humanity is, and she’s not afraid to say so.

Thankfully though, Kate’s social conscience is anchored, or freed, depending on which way you want to see it, by her ability to see beyond the daily grind. Brand New Ancients is a work which thrives on small beauties, tiny acts of heroism and the miniature daily battles happening in every high street, backstreet, suburb, small town and city. For some reason the image of the ‘woman by the post box fighting with her brolly’ stuck with me particularly. A metaphor for life, maybe?! We all have our moments, and yet ‘we all need to love and be loved and keep going’.

You may think, as I once did, that making gods out of everyone may not be so wise. ‘The gods are in the betting shops, the gods are at the caff, the gods are smoking fags out the back’. But the point is that potential is there, and we’re all just doing our best with whatever we’ve been given. It’s a hard truth to swallow. It hurts. We all like to think that we’ve made our own life, but reality is murkier. Life makes you just as much as you make your life. It’s a rare soul who rises up in a cloud of triumphant fairy dust, with all the dead weight just dangling, gravity-less. This realisation cuts through any thoughts or feelings of superiority or privilege you might have (and we were sat in a theatre, so let’s be honest, most of us had ‘em).

It didn’t take too long before I was crying like a baby. I think it was the love story that did it. But it wasn’t only me, people all around me were crying tears of Kate-created radical compassion. Brand New Ancients chiselled deep. It broke me down and opened me up, like in the poem, ‘she’s the type of girl whose scars run deep’. It made me understand my own troubles and the troubles of others just a little bit more. Because I’ll tell you a secret; much as I loved this performance, it presented a challenge to me. It’s taken me a while to organise my thoughts and write this, not only because I wanted to do it justice, but because I was struggling with my very own everyday epic.

I’d actually heard Kate Tempest perform once before. I stood straining to catch her set from the entrance to an overflowing tent at Shambala a few years back. I couldn’t see much, but I could certainly hear her. She sounded intense. Almost like a modern-day preacher-poet, talking about ‘the end times’ and a tortured life of rum set to the complications of love. This first Kate Tempest experience left me feeling a bit cold. I had no patience for what I saw as the glorification of human suffering, and the lengths we’ll go to to escape it. I didn’t want to hear a rant of distress at a festival. I hated the old stereotype of poets being all wrapped up in their own woes, and I balked at the way that her poetry had this fatalistic tinge to it. My viewpoint was that while ‘pain is inevitable, suffering [is] optional’.  So get your shit together. We’ve all got choices, even if they’re difficult ones.

Time has told me that life is not quite so simple. Back then, pain and filth and dirt offended my fragile positive thinking sensibilities. I saw choice and free will in the lives of others, where I now realise that there was sometimes very little in reality. You’ve got to be able to see a different pathway to even think about taking it. In reality, whatever progress we make in our own life is both relative, and heroic. It’s not to be sniffed at or judged by the parameters of others. One of my favourite sayings comes from Krishnamurti, and it goes ‘I am you, you are me, and the world is us’. I’ve thrown it around for quite a while, but I suppose it’s only now that I’m realising that this does not translate to, ‘I am you, you are me, therefore we are all equal (equalling essentially the same, so why aren’t you a little bit more like me actually!)’

Obviously there’s a limit. Radical compassion doesn’t mean losing your own self and feeling ‘sorry’ for people, or blindly hoping that others will rise above their circumstances, or even worse, you trying to act the saviour or boss people around because you ‘know better’. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you might say – I know all this. Nature versus nurture… blah blah, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Still, it’s so much more complex than that when you try to put this into action in this real thing called life.

In summary, this is the story of how Kate Tempest helped me to organise my thoughts. After a difficult period in my personal life, Brand New Ancients came at just the right time – as these things often tend to do – and belatedly, I realised that ‘the stories are there if you listen’. You don’t have to love ‘em, you don’t even have to put up with ‘em if it’s not good for you, but you can always strive for a more radical compassion. Safe in your own self, you can know where you end and others begin, whilst still understanding that there is no real division. It’s a strong position from which to give and receive love and compassion in your fallible human relationships.

And like Kate says, and she’s talking to all of us, ‘a god remains a god, no matter what it does, and a god becomes a god when it has got the guts to love’.

I’ll leave you with this:

‘You were born for greatness;

believe it. Know it.

Take it from the tears of the poets.’

PS. This link is also well worth checking out. A friend sent it to me and I thought it was remarkable. It’s an article by another poet focusing on so-called ‘sink’ estates, all through the lens of his own life experiences. I think it demonstrates well another angle on many of the issues I’m thinking about in this post.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26254706

the windowsill of impermanence

a child’s first shoe.

tiny, personal antique,

that child was you

once.

five chubby toes,

one unblemished heel

lived

here!

and you teach us all

a lesson in living, little shoe…

it’s something to do with a ludicrous dance,

which i think is called self-preservation.

as a postscript

i spy – your casio watch!

broken, beaten, but not defeated,

it still tells the time

as if it mattered.

up ‘ogden

Ogden water is a great place to get some nature in my home town, Halifax. It’s somewhere I often used to go to walk, and even run sometimes, during my more energetic periods. I went there a lot as a kid, so the place holds really special memories for me. There’s a wind farm there, and I don’t think it detracts one bit from the natural beauty of the place. How can something so harmonious with nature be something for some misery guts to whinge about. I wrote this little poem whilst thinking about that !

separate yet together,

we walk,

side by side

amongst moor-deadened heather.

during these times

it’s rare we talk,

keeping eyes steady on the horizon

where skies are spliced with white,

and graceful structures circle,

filling the benign spikes

of these mills

with life of a kind.

once again, i find myself in a relationship with a character from the beat generation

this is about my ex-boyfriend. it’s a bit embroidered, there’s some fiction amongst the fact, and it’s all in completely the wrong order! it’s also about a certain kind of stereotype / cliche i guess.

he is long-legged and slim of stomach

with sharp ribs,

has a liking for chain smoking spliffs,

telling outrageous fibs

and never, ever showering.

he is the ideal height –

still a kid inside but in a man’s size,

so that, onstage, i forget my fright –

worry more about him,

his fear of normal people – and formal situations;

like theatres, yes,

but also banks,

government-run institutions,

any decent restaurant and…

of course, all employment-related places.

he prefers the peripheral;

the crumbling buildings, urban wastelands,

a good old graveyard, all glass covered, so you’ve got to be careful,

watch your arse when you have sex on the headstones,

for example.

it goes without saying, i swoon;

he is a fine specimen,

all rugged, rootless and booted

rescuing fruit and veg with his dogs

and surviving on left-overs from tesco’s.

i lollop along. he swaggers.

we trail white lines of washing powder from the bin

all the way back to a squat

with no washing machine.

we wade through so much shit in each other every day,

i wonder – when did we become such a cliche?!

he’s in a love-affair with a

not-yet-purchased van,

wants to set off on the road

with only water and not stop till *africaaaa*.

instead, he has cycled on an upright

wicked witch of the west style

bicycle, all the way to wonderful,

wonderful, Copenhagen.

but at least now i can laugh at this:

the rebel tattoo on his ribs in indian ink,

which he said was actually RE-BEL,

and also the one on his ankle which red ‘ana’,

that he always said he wanted to change to ‘banana’

but of course, he never did!